“How We Welcome Others”
Matthew 10:40-42, June 28th, 2020
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
“At a time like this, you are welcome to hear the words of Jesus, as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter ten, verses forty thru forty-two.”
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.”
“In this present time, we have heard the words of Jesus, speaking to us of what it means to welcome one another. Let us open our hearts to this timely message!”
“How We Welcome Others”
Just saying ‘good morning’ to someone is a good start. Meaning it from the bottom of your heart is even better! I have been the pastor here in Palm Bay for over six and a half years. Together we have seen a lot of life and have endeavored to do a meaningful amount of ministry. It is fair to say, Jesus would be pleased with our efforts. The size of our congregation that gather’s here in this sanctuary has fluctuated a lot; yet, whether high attendance or low, we, as a community have prided ourselves as being an open and welcoming church! A simple view of our scripture this morning would suggest we have done well. The question for us, all of us, that includes all of you whom are not here in this sanctuary as well; The question for all of us is this: “Are our efforts to be welcoming truly enough?” Truly, if you are hearing this broadcast, whether it be just today, your very first time, or you been watching and listening for months, you are part of this message today; this question is for you to consider as well! The scripture is speaking to all of Jesus’ disciples; everyone who is seeking to know God through Christ are included in this challenge from the words of Jesus, spoken so long, long ago!
The truth is ‘every congregation’ that has ever been asked the question feels they are ‘a welcoming church’! Folks who would take the time to listen to a preacher like me on a Sunday morning, all would respond the same if asked. Of course, we try, we ‘make an effort’ to welcome others who wish to fellowship and worship with us! To say otherwise would constitute blasphemy we think! The question for us to really look hard at: ‘are our efforts enough! ‘Do we go deep enough into the theology of what it means to be welcoming’? Here at the, Riviera United Church of Christ, we pride ourselves in being open and affirming, meaning we welcome everyone, no matter their race, creed, or color. It does not matter if you come from the wealthy side of town or are now forced to live on the street, you are welcome here. We do not care if you are gay or straight, bisexual, or transgender, you are welcome here. If you have a handicap or have a deformity, we still welcome you, with open hearts! Young, old, or somewhere in between come join us, you are welcome here! No matter your political persuasion: you are welcome here. The question for us all to ponder still stands; “is just saying it enough?”
Author and writer, Kathleen Norris, of South Dakota speaks to our lesson today. “True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.” Jesus is not with us today to clarify for us in English, ‘exactly’ what he was trying to instill upon his early disciples with this simple message surrounding welcoming someone. Yet, the idea of respecting another’s dignity seems to set a tone, a tone which feels like Jesus would respect. When you come to visit or we come to visit you, we each have a responsibility to respect one another for who we are. If you are gay and I am straight, we each need to respect who the other person is. And a little bit more. By more, means that if your gender causes you stress because of how others treat you, yet mine is well accepted in my community then, I need to seek ways to support your right to be who you are. That is what is truly welcoming to another!
Perhaps ‘if’ we use a similar example you will be able to get the concept easier. Let’s say a woman comes into church with a walker or a cane, she certainly is welcome! And most certainly she would be given special attention because of her disability signified by the walker or cane. Does not everyone recognize that this woman deserves some special attention, simply because she is not longer able to do everything the way she once did! Of course – she is! It is apparent that a truly warm welcome needs to be more than a simple ‘hello’ and ‘nice to have you with us’ greeting! Prayerfully, our church would or has decided to ‘made arrangements’ to accommodate her needs, and the needs of others in her situation! This is only one situation. The over-ridding issue is the question: ‘was and or is’ the church willing to respond to this woman’s needs, bearing in mind her need for dignity?
Let me give an example. A man in the church I served in New York, was scheduled to have his foot removed because of bad circulation problems. Over the course of the next two years, bit by bit he lost both his legs below the knee because of his illness. It took some time, but the church responded to his need. There was a twenty-four-inch drop from the gathering hall entrance and the sanctuary, due to the original structure of the church. Sure, there were stairs but that was of no use to a man in a wheelchair! A committee was formed, and it was decided a hydraulic lift was the only solution. The cost was estimated at ten thousand dollars. The community also determined they saw no possibility their budget could fill this need. After much debate and hand wringing, it was decided that they would ask the congregation to help decide the fate of the project. After the first donation of one thousand dollars came in, they agreed to keep asking. A year and a half later the hydraulic lift was installed. This was a community coming together – to truly ‘welcome’ this man by ensuring his ‘dignity’ while coming and going from church.
If we put a sign outside and invite people to come get cooled off from the summer sun, we best have our air conditioner working. Likewise, if we invite a gay man or woman to come worship with us, we best be willing to stand up for their rights in this community! And we have done that! If we are inviting people who have a different ethnic background than us to worship with us …we need to be willing to respect who they are! They may have different customs and have an accent which will take some getting use to; they may have a different color skin than our own. We may need to educate ourselves and respond to their needs. We have a truly great opportunity to learn more about at least one other culture – right here in our church. MITSPA, a Haitian start-up church is renting our sanctuary each Sunday. I have a good relationship with their pastor and have met his family. They have worshiped with us a few times before they started meeting to build a faith community. Their language is Creole French. Feel free to welcome them to this our church!
I am not a ‘native’ Floridian, yet, I feel like the community I live in has welcomed me and are seeking to support my needs. I am also Caucasian, I am white. Most of or surely ‘the majority’ of my neighbors are also. It is easy to be assimilated when you look like those living near you. However, there are several families who do not look like me. Many of my neighbors are young adults raising children. They wave to me when I walk our small dog. A few others seem to have large families… as there are usually four or five cars in their yards on a regular basis. The fellow next door told me his wife’s BMW incurred twelve thousand dollars’ worth of damage while it was parked in their own driveway. Seems the other neighbor has a disability which cased the accident. The fellow with the BMW seemed to be understanding, he just hoped the garage would take care of a few issues which were still outstanding regarding his wife’s BMW.
To truly understand another’s reality, we need to imagine being them and what life in their realm of the world might be like. A great many of us, here gathered, are what is considered ‘privileged’. Many of us are white, and lots of us own a car and live in a home, which we either own or ‘are able to’ rent. Of course, ‘most us’ have a mortgage on the home and car payments to make to continue the privilege of calling our transportation something we own. I do not know the faces of all who are logged in and are viewing this talk, so please bear this in mind as we work through this analogy. We who are thus considered ‘privileged’ need to imagine what it might be like for those who are not! This shall be a rather challenging thought for many of us today. But, with the “Black Lives Matters” movement in the news everyday – we can no longer ignore it.
Not once in my life have I though I would be pulled over in my car, by law enforcement, simply because I had been ‘profiled’ due to the color of my skin. Nor have I needed to show my credentials to prove I was not an illegal immigrant living and working in this area of the country. Many authors, theologians such as Barbara Brown Taylor, a highly recognized theologian currently teaching seminary students their responsibilities when preaching, have challenged us with the phrase “What must it be like!” I remember when I was in Nashville Tennessee attending a conference on preaching. Professor Taylor was the keynote speaker. She looked out at us preachers, over six thousand from a cross section of Christianity, she looked at us and challenged us to “actually tell the people what we believed, what we know the scripture is saying to those we are preaching to!” A chill went up my spine! I understood fully what she meant.
To teach what I believe Jesus meant as true hospitality, a truly welcoming welcome to everybody, I must be willing to set the example and walk the way I talk! It is one thing to say I believe that the gay community has a right to be gay and still be accepted by Christ, it is another to walk side by side with my gay brothers and sisters publicly in the Pride parade each September. I have only missed one parade in the last five years. I do not know if the parade is still planned for this fall or not yet, due to COVID-19. I pray you all stand with me in saying that God created us all equal, at least in the sight of God. This begs the challenge for us to respond to: how do we stand with these who are marginalized, victimized, and pushed aside because of their sexual orientation and or the color of their skin! Many have been wrongfully sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. Others have been killed. We are called by God to welcome them with integrity!
How we welcome others is crucial and important! Jesus keeps it simple. Start with a cup of cool water and offer it to one who is thirsty! Jesus said: “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.” /Matthew 10: 42/