(Matthew 10: 40-42 40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”)
Our very short gospel passage this morning packs both a social and theological punch. It is the continuation of Jesus’ words to the first disciples as they are being sent into the world as ambassadors for Christ. That is the meaning behind the words “whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.” To welcome is no small gesture. It is a gesture of cosmic importance. This year we took our understanding of welcome to a new level when we became a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation.
Welcome appears six times in these two short verses. Are we numb to its significance? Do we talk about welcome so much that its like a song played too often? Our front doors sport mats with the word “Welcome.” Tourism abounds with signage- Welcome to Minnesota. Welcome to Wisconsin. Even the town Veterinarian gets in on the welcome with their humorous take. Welcome. Sit. Stay.
In the verses that precede our reading, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to have utter reliance on God. Again, not as am empty gesture of trust but as a deep theological understanding that everything they do as ambassadors of the one who sent them, puts them literally into relationship with the Trinity.
Theologian Debra Dean Murphy writes, “Those of us who are sent (the early disciples AND us) represent the functional presence of Christ. The disciples represented the full presence and power of Jesus, just as Jesus bears the full presence and power of God. Matthew stresses throughout his Gospel that this is not about hierarchy but symbiosis.” In other words, a seamless, working together. This entire discourse makes it clear that God’s power is now at work not only in and through Jesus, but in and through his disciples.
Are you smellin’ what I’m cookin’ here?
We’re good at welcome here at Salem. We know it’s about more than just being nice to people. We’re not being nice SO we can socialize others to come be just like us. No. We get that we are being changed by our welcome. Hospitality and welcome are reciprocal. They are about mutual encounter. By seeing Christ in each other, we are inviting God to incarnate among us. That side of welcome bears the potential to change the way we see Jesus. In no uncertain terms, we are called to welcome who God welcomes. To love who God loves.
It’s perfect that this is Pride weekend . If you have any notion that this is a weekend dedicated to the vanity of pride, let me set the record “straight.” Pride events came out of the reality that we lived in a world that would not yet affirm or welcome us. Pride events became a way to collectively care for ourselves, letting our community know that they were not alone. Thanks be to God that today Pride is about celebrating the advancements of affirmation, welcome, and equality.
This week I received a copy of a speech given by a straight friend of mine, Pastor Amanda Zentz Alo, pastor of Central Lutheran Church in Portland Oregon. We went to seminary together. She was asked to speak at a Pride event and this is just part of what she said.
“As a Christian leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America I am called by my baptismal covenant to seek justice in our world and to stand and to speak for those who are vulnerable. In 2009 my denomination voted on a social statement on Human Sexuality. In the statement we are called to cling to God’s grace and affirm trustworthy relationships and social structures that will:
- promote, value, and respect the human dignity of each individual
- protect all from physical, emotional, and spiritual harm;
- demonstrate mercy, compassion, and justice for all, especially the “least of these” – those who are most vulnerable in relationships and society;
And so…I cannot stay silent when the actions of a social structure stand firmly against all of these tenants.
I cannot stay silent when I see the pain in the eyes of children who have been told that their love is wrong.
I cannot stay silent when young adults seeking to live with integrity and faith are told that must be fixed.
I cannot stay silent when an organization encourages people of faith to live in relationships that are not based upon authenticity and honesty.
I cannot stay silent when in our community there are many who can be harmed by this errant theology that is not supported by the loving God of grace who sent Jesus Christ to dwell among us.
[I cannot stay silent when] There is the breaking down of community that God wishes only to have built up.
Our faith calls us to love and serve our neighbors, not to harm them; to build up community, not to tear it down. END QUOTE.
Pastor Amanda’s words and yes, the ELCA’s social statement are statements of welcome. To invite God to incarnate into our lives as today’s disciples is to grow our understanding that it’s not about us. It’s about what God is doing through us. That is why we welcome in worship by saying “ Grace, Peace and Welcome in the name of our Risen Savior Jesus Christ.”
Each time we are offered the Eucharist, it is not I or even the communion servers who are inviting you, it is Christ who welcomes you to the table of grace. And it is Christ who is the gift. The gift of Christ comes full circle as we become Christ for the neighbor who is Christ for us.
That is the other side of welcome. May it be so.