View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mpr8gCgO2A.
Matthew 10:40-42 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
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.”
I sometimes forget
that I was created for Joy.
My mind is too busy.
My Heart is too heavy
for me to remember
that I have been
called to dance
the Sacred dance of life.
I was created to smile
To be lifted up
And to lift others up.
O’ Sacred One
Untangle my feet
from all that ensnares.
Free my soul.
That we might
and that our dancing
might be contagious.
Hafiz – 14th century Sufi poet
When I first read this scripture what struck me was the familiarity. It is so matter of fact, so plain, so obvious. Of course we know this! We know how to treat others, how to welcome others into our midst. We know what is expected of us.
Six times in this paragraph we hear the word “welcome.” And three times we hear the word “reward.” In between we are given a few examples of whom to welcome, or whom it may be difficult to welcome, and how we can expect to be rewarded, or not.
Who do we welcome in these verses? A prophet. One who speaks truths that are often difficult to hear, and that are often dangerous to speak. Prophets shine their lights on what is, and cry out for what should be. It is not easy to welcome the prophets among us. Our reward for welcoming a prophet? Most likely change, which we are sometimes resistant to welcome.
Who else is mentioned in the scripture? The righteous. One that is in step with God; dancing to the divine rhythm of the universe. We want to be near these individuals. We want their light to illuminate us along with them. It seems that our reward is being near to them.
Who else do we need to welcome into our midst, according to this scripture? The little ones, which is a descriptor for any of Jesus’ disciples. Reward them with kindness, offering a cup of cold water to the poor, weary travelers doing the work of God, teaching, preaching, and healing.
Do we need a tangible reward to get us to welcome people? A reward to do the right thing? Did the people of first-century Palestine need rewards in order to show hospitality to Jesus’ disciples as they traveled about teaching and preaching and healing as Jesus commissioned them to do? We may argue that yes, it was helpful then, but we do not live in the same situation now. Most of us are not dependent on the kindness of strangers for our next meal, or for a roof over our heads.
Ah, but there’s the rub. Some, in fact far too many, still do rely on the kindness of strangers. Not all of us in these pews, but definitely some of the members of our communities.
Whether we have difficulty welcoming someone because they bring a challenging message or because they are simply different than we are and we are hesitant to open our door to them, Jesus’ message is clear…
Everyone is worthy of our welcome. Everyone is worthy of dignity and respect and love. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
We have to be careful with the concept of rewards. Does God reward us? If God does, then the flip-side must also be true, that God punishes us. I was raised on that theology but that is not what I believe now. My theology is not so much about rewards or punishments but about right relationships – with God and with one another. Relationships are the reward. The act of welcoming is the reward, or the blessing, for both the one being welcomed and the one offering the welcome.
This community knows how to welcome one another. All are welcome. We pronounce it every week at the beginning of our service. We proclaim it on our website.
How do we know when our welcome is meeting a need? We can ask, and hope for an honest answer. And we can look around and observe if we are growing not only in numbers but in diversity. Are we attractive to those different than ourselves and are we accepting of those different than ourselves? It is an important question to continue asking.
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, says Jesus, and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the one who sent Jesus. It is all in the name of Love. It is all in the name of God.
For me, it is a privilege and a blessing to be welcomed into your homes; into your lives. A privilege and a blessing that I know is extended far beyond my visits, to your families and friends and community members.
How do we, you and I, get beyond the familiar? How do we welcome not only those we know but welcome the stranger or those different than ourselves? It helps to use our imaginations… and it definitely helps to have empathy and compassion.
This familiar passage today hopefully will help us stretch our welcome further out into the world, pressing ourselves to ask how we can be more inclusive and welcoming to those different than ourselves.
What is one example that illustrates welcoming behaviors? The first answer that came to me is that foster parents and adoptive parents offer a wide welcome, often welcoming little ones from another family, another community, another culture.
Next week we will have an opportunity during our worship service to learn about an outreach happening near us, sponsored by many different individuals in many different faith communities in and around Ellsworth.
Join me here next Sunday morning at 9:00 in welcoming Art Worster of St. Andrew Lutheran Church. Art is the coordinator for the Hancock County Neighborhood Support Team which is dedicated to sponsoring families from Ukraine, finding them housing, and providing support as they find employment, enroll their children in school, and navigate the challenges of living in a new country.
When all are truly welcomed the blessings are evident to everyone. When all are truly welcomed everyone is drawn into the dance.
Rev. TJ Mack – July 2, 2023