“We Welcome You!”
July 2nd, 2017
Matthew 10: 40-42
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us now open our hearts and our minds to this reading of our morning’s scripture lesson, taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter ten, verses 40 thru 42.
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.”
“May the Spirit of Christ now rest upon our hearts as we consider this message from Jesus, regarding the nature of welcoming.”
As many of you may know, I was brought up in a Congregational church in western Massachusetts, in a little town called Leverett. Of course, it was the First, Congregational Church, and my grandfather was the pastor. In 1957, the church became part of the United Church of Christ, which is the coming together of four denominations. But, lets save those details for another day. Now, my grandfather was more conservative than I currently am. However, in his time, he was a very progressive theologian. I know this based on a few facts which I have gleaned over the years.
You see, Grandfather Dixon, founded a Christian camp in that area; a summer camp. During the winter, this pastor would secure promises for children’s scholarships from the wealthier members of the community. Note, he did not limit his requests to just his congregation! It was a well-known fact he reached across all ethnic, social and economic norms to get those pledges. And he wasn’t the sort that made commitments as a pastor that he did not fully buy into! In other words, he couldn’t be bought with financial pledges! No sir! He personally ran that camp the way he firmly believed it ought to be run. And he did it with the support of a large range of folks in that local region!
During those years, everyone was extravagantly welcome to come and be part of this enterprise. Scholarships were given to those that needed them. No one was excluded because of their race or greed! That’s right, some none Christian children came to Camp Anderson in the summers! No, they were not excused from going to chapel every-day! Likewise, no one was excused from helping out, keeping the camping area spotless at all times and every-one got a turn at washing dishes as-well-as assisting in the set up and take downs at meal time! Everyone got to share in everything that went on in the camp. Arts and crafts, hiking, swimming activities and over-night camping experiences in what was then called ‘Rattle Snake Gutter.” Out of curiosity I looked on Goggle Earth the other day and ‘Rattle Snake Gutter’ is still on the world map! Personally, I never got much sleep on those occasions! I never saw a rattle snake, but raccoons, bobcats and skunks, and a variety of little creatures, liked where we put our sleeping bags also!
It was quite clear that my grandfather was ahead of his time. Long before it was ever discussed at General Synod forums or Congregational Meetings, or even hot topics for The Deacons or Spiritual teams of the church to discuss, young people and visitors were always welcome at the communion table. I can still hear him responding to the exclusion rule the Priest made at my sister’s wedding, whom became Roman Catholic to get married. Seems us protestants, we were not allowed to take communion and all of us protestant grooms men and bridesmaids, were not allowed to join the bride and groom and take of communion during the service, nor stand within the rails of the alter area. Neither was my grandfather, a properly educated and ordained minister with standing from the United Church of Christ. However, he was authorized to not only take communion but to serve it to others, in any church within the United Church of Christ in the country! Consequently, The Reverend Herbert Dixon, my grandfather, blurted out for all to hear: “At least in my church ‘everyone’ is welcomed to the table, to break bread and drink from the cup of our Savior, Jesus the Christ!” The Priest did not ban him from the wedding, but they did not cordially chat with one another either!
e was quite the man. I understand he had a great sense of humor too. Also, he had a taste for music. Seems, when he retired in the early sixties in Daytona Beach, he went to the churches with the best music! Oh, did I mention, his favorite was a Black Baptist church with a large choir. Guess no one told him there was segregation and such still in place! I do believe he stood for what we firmly believe in the United Church of Christ today: Everyone is welcome here! If he had been a bit younger I suspect he would have boarded those buses in Selma, Alabama, with his African American brothers and sisters too! Standing up for their right to sit in the front of the bus and to drink from the same water fountains as their white counterparts did!
On our own website, here at this our church we have the following words written boldly on the first page! “God’s Love Has No Strings Attached.” Further down on that webpage these words are written: “We are a Christ-centered church, open to all people. Riviera United Church of Christ is a Christ-centered church, open to all manner of God’s people. Whether red, yellow, black or white; young, middle-age or old; handicapped or able-bodied; gay, bisexual, transgender or straight, you are welcomed and honored here just as you are – a beloved child of God’s.” It goes on to say: “We are committed to do Christ’s mission throughout Brevard County, the Space Coast and beyond including Palm Bay, Melbourne and West Melbourne.”
Simply put: “Everyone is welcome here!” And no, we are not going to fix you once you settle in so that you conform to our ways or our choices for living. Our budding theologian, Angie Wright said in her sermon two weeks ago, “we are called to love one another not judge each other!” She said it correctly! Everyone is welcome here and we are committed to not judging you for your choices, nor shall we judge your orientations, either sexual or otherwise! Judgment is left up to God. My grandfather clearly believed this back in the sixties when I was a teenager, and he lived his life as a power of example for others to follow. Today, we, as members of the United Church of Christ, believe in these concepts of equality and stand firmly together on many such social justice issues! We celebrate with our brothers and sisters in Christ, marking this anniversary mile-stone – sixty years – after the birth of the United Church of Christ!
On the first page of the web-site for our national church “The United Church of Christ,” we find this description for “Who We Are” as a church. It begins boldly: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
“We believe in extravagant welcome. This is why we insist that God’s communion table is open, not closed, and God’s gift and claim in baptism are irrevocable. We advocate justice for all. Our congregations extend hospitality as a sign of God’s inclusive love. We teach that evangelism – offering bread to those in search of it – is God’s mission. Our perspective is global, not provincial. We work with – not against – people of other faiths. Why? Because God is still speaking,” /The United Church of Christ, Website/Who We Are/
This weekend marks our entry into what we Americans call the fourth of July week; the actual day July 4th falls on Tuesday this year. “Independence Day, also referred to as the Fourth of July or July Fourth, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago on July 4, 1776. /Wikipedia/ As an American, I encourage everyone to proudly celebrate, with our brothers and sisters this historic event. This is not a time to clarify if you are blue or red on some political map; rather, it is a time to come together, being hospitable to your neighbors and remembering the true meaning of this historic event! We as practicing Christians, need to humble ourselves and recognize that independence is what has fostered our privilege to worship freely, without government intervention dictating to us: who we are, and what we believe. Remembering, the historical fact, that these United States came to be because of social and religious oppression. We have strived to overcome these obstacles through our historic struggle for independence.
These struggles continue. This is why Jesus’ message to us this morning is so powerful! It, is a simple message. I have chosen only three verses. However, it is the first verse, verse forty, which truly says it all! “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” /Matthew 10:40/ This statement is believed to have been delivered by Jesus as he taught the people and his disciples the basics of honoring God and the pathway to heaven. These words were meant for everyone who heard them. Common men and women. Mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren. Hebrews, Romans and even slaves and eunuchs who served the concubines of the elite. There is every reason to believe that Jesus spoke to all the people, not just his inner circle of twelve chosen disciples.
Notice how in verse forty-two Jesus clarifies the simplicity of an extravagant welcome! It doesn’t need to be dressed up in fine lines and silks; nor need there be a spread laid out of the finest of foods. No, Jesus points to the simplest of things “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.” /Matthew 10:42/ “These are the basics of Christian hospitality… no surprises… nothing fancy… just an active awareness that all these “little ones” are our guests of honor… the honor of Christ.” /David F. Sellery/ Whom are the little ones to which Jesus refers? I believe he is referring to those who are lesser than the one extending hospitality. For in the context of this passage, Jesus was preparing the disciples to go out into the surrounding communities and spread his teachings and the things he knew they would come to know about him.
When we extend the hospitality to others in the name of Jesus, as Christians in the Twenty-First Century: “There is no small gesture… cups of cold water, hugs, helping hands, and listening ears.” /David Lose/ So when we ask ourselves, where do we start or how do we continue to offer an extravagant welcome to those around us, we may find ourselves asking this question: “How can I extend hospitality to other Christians, especially those in need?” /Larry Broding/ As we reflect on this question, as modern Christians, we need to expand this subject to include non-Christians as well. Jesus’ love and welcome does not stop with one group of people! He welcomed the Samaritans, the sinners, the leapers, the prostitutes, and even the despised tax-collectors of that time-period!
As we gather at the table today, let us warmly welcome everyone to join with us, sharing in this simple meal, bread and unfermented wine. In the same manner Jesus and his heavenly father shall welcome us!