Sunday, July 2, 2017

4th Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s gospel is at the end of a section of Matthew called the missionary discourse. The texts from the last several weeks have come from this same speech that Jesus is making to his followers that began with the Great Commission to go out into the world and make disciples, warned them that it would be difficult and challenged them that they would face hatred even from their own families. Here, he speaks about welcome.

Often when we talk about welcome in the church we talk about how we welcome other people into our spaces. We ask if there are physical obstacles, like stairs? Are the amenities, like our restrooms, clearly marked and are there clear direction signs? Is it obvious where to enter the building?

Or, we are attentive to people who are new to us, encouraging each other to greet guests who aren’t regular worshipers, learn names and stories and invite them to lunch or out for coffee.

We make welcome and hospitality synonymous with good manners and kindness, and, especially in the south, we’re pretty sure we learned all we needed about that in kindergarten.

But while we must never forget that Jesus instructs us to welcome the stranger — the refugee and the widow — as though we were entertaining the Christ himself, today’s gospel has a different emphasis.

In this passage, Jesus’ words about welcome are about all of us who go into our communities as Christ’s representatives.

They are not just for me as the called pastor,
or for our council members who you elected to lead,
but for every person who hears them. Especially as culture becomes more secular and more people identify as “spiritual but not religious,” you may be the only Jesus someone ever meets.

More than five hundred years ago, in his essay “Freedom of a Christian” Martin Luther wrote that we are to become Christ to one another. He did not believe that faith should be mediated through a priest and fought against the sin of indulgences that literally put a price tag on God’s free gift of grace.

Centuries later, in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis stated that “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

Jesus’ words remind us that the smallest gesture — even offering a cup of cold water — made in Jesus’ name counts. The truth is that “in the kingdom of God, there are no small gestures.”[i]

The call to discipleship is not a call to heroics. The life of faith is one of showing up — being present — and it is made up of a thousand acts of grace:
calling to check on someone you haven’t seen in a while;
offering a hug to someone who is lonely;
listening when someone needs to talk;
providing a ride to someone who needs one.

God is at work in our individual acts of kindness and generosity,
as grace overflows the wells of our lives and floods into the lives of the people we meet.

The poet Mary Oliver writes,
“[we] have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and to shine.”[ii]

We may not ever see the effects of our being in the world as “little Christs”; our sole responsibility is to live in response to the grace we’ve first been given, sharing God’s love in the world as best as we can. Like a stone skipping across a lake, each act of grace, large and small, causes ripples and transforms lives.

The transforming work is God’s responsibility and promise, but in this missionary discourse, Jesus clearly invites us to participate in God’s work in our community. While we may be more comfortable staying in familiar surroundings, and focusing on things we can control – like how we welcome others when they come to us – here, Jesus makes it clear that we are sent into the world on God’s behalf.

So, let’s pray and let’s go:
Gracious God,
Send us without fear into the world as messengers of your love and grace that the world would know your mercy.
Give us courage to go out when it’s easier to stay home and give us confidence that you are accompanying us and equipping us.
We pray in the name of your Son Jesus,

[i] David Lose. In the Meantime, Pentecost 4A.
[ii] Mary Oliver, “When I am Among the Trees.”

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