“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me...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’ve decided that 2020 is the year of taking two steps forward to get knocked four steps back. We need to rely on God now more than ever to pick us back up and send us on our way. But there are days when as I lay on the ground and wonder...if God is coming.
This sentiment is as old as time. Thousands of years ago, an ancient poet put these words to paper. And they’ve been passed on through the generations in the book of psalms. Psalm 13 is a heartfelt cry that opens with this lament, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
Do you ever feel this way? Abandoned by God? Left alone to suffer with the pandemic and political unrest? Have you ever thought that maybe God has forgotten us? Maybe just walked away for good?
How much longer, Lord? As this question echos in my heart, I hear the faint, tender voice of Jesus answering my pleas.
Our reading from Matthew’s gospel, concludes the instructions Jesus gives the Twelve before they go out on their first mission trip. You might recall the previous instructions to from two weeks ago: Go heal the sick and cast out demons, take nothing with you, rely on the goodness of others, be careful of those who aren’t good. Read all of Matthew 10 to get a complete list.
Today, Jesus concludes in a way that I believe speaks volumes to the discipleship of the church. We who are called to give are also called to receive. Read Matthew 10:40-42.
Emerging from this text is the theological idea of compassionate welcome. It’s no surprise why. In these three short but powerful verses Jesus uses the word “welcome” six times; pointing us to the importance of hospitality in furthering God’s Kingdom of love and grace. This is the goal of the church, and for anyone who accepts to follow Jesus.
Yet there still are so many who are too afraid or simply unwilling to truly welcome all people in the name of Christ. You might have been a part such a church, or perhaps you have been rejected by one. If so, I hope this message speaks to you. Today, we are going to look at what it mean to welcome someone with the same compassion that Jesus gives to us.
The first point I'd like to make is:
We must be like Jesus and approach one another and every situation with a God-filled heart.
As Emilie Townes notes, this is where “genuine human relationships emerge.” Whether they are close, loving relationships or distant, occasional ones, with God at the center of our welcome “we’ll find our rich rewards.”
On Wednesday, I had everything in order and ready to go to refinance the house. But when our lender began the process, we discovered that Wells Fargo had put a forbearance against our house – a precautionary measure made at the beginning of the pandemic.
After being on hold for an hour with the bank, Kathleen and I decided to go there in person. The young man who greeted us was eager to help, but honestly, I was not eager to accept him. I was angry, frustrated and had little compassion in my heart. So, I let Kathleen do the talking. She’s the diplomat in these kind of situations. Better able to see the divine in others, when I can’t.
Kathleen knew it wasn’t this man’s fault. He didn’t mess up our refi...someone at the corporate office did. By this small understanding, she was able to enter into the conversation with a Christ-soaked heart. A heart with God at the center. Despite his best efforts to remedy the situation, Kathleen and I left - with me still angry and frustrated but her quietly calm and at peace.
By placing God at the center of this ordinary, albeit unwanted situation, Kathleen knew God was working it out. And by the next morning, everything was good to go; the forbearance had been removed. No matter how big or small a situation might seem if God is in the middle of it, so too is God’s compassion and power. This is our reward.
Which takes me to the second point:
We must practice our compassionate welcome all the time, no matter what.
I’m not saying you have to always do grand heroic acts of mercy, or put yourself in harms way. All God wants is for to act, to do something that helps the other. Jesus said it’s as simple as giving someone a drink of cold water.
As Marcea Paul observed while most of us prefer to be the heroic quarterback, Jesus leans his heart towards the water-boy. She reminds us that a God-centered life of faith is made up of many small gestures of love. Yet, according to Jesus, every gesture is large. And eternally significant.
Two days ago, while Colleen was out walking the dog, she passed a guy working in our neighbor’s yard – a day laborer who was sweating profusely, and fatigued from the monotony of hauling dirt from the yard to a dumpster. His hat was his only source of shade from the hot sun.
Colleen noticing how thirsty he looked, and having no clue what I was preaching on today, ran home and got the man two bottles of water and a big plastic cup filled with ice. While I wasn’t there to see it, I can only imagine how surprised and grateful the man was to receive such a thoughtful gift.
Jesus knew that a cup of cold water is one of the smallest of gifts - one almost anyone could give. Yet, it’s precious – even life giving – to the person who is really thirsty. The smallest of acts done in love.
It happens every time you say good morning to a neighbor or check in on a friend who lives alone. It might not seem like much but it’s amazing how powerful it can be for the one receiving that gift from you. When we put God at the center at everything we do, then everything we do becomes a holy act.
Which leads me to my third and final point:
Our righteousness is intimately tied to how we show compassionate welcome towards one another, especially those who are most vulnerable among us.
Jesus made this perfectly clear in his final parable in Matthew’s gospel – the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In that parable, Jesus reminds us that the way we treat others is, ultimately, representative of our response toward him. This links directly to our reading today with Jesus declaring, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and the One who sent me.”
To follow Jesus is to live into his way of righteousness – which is to say God’s way of righteousness – giving water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, justice to those who are oppressed and imprisoned. You don’t have to turn on the news to see that people in the world are hurting. Men and women, kids and grandkids are suffering in our country, in our communities and on our streets. How we show the love and grace of God in the world matters. It has eternal consequences.
As followers of Christ, we are called to promote compassionate welcome like he did. This requires us to trust God, to be vulnerable, and to share what we have with one another ... if for no other reason when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ and the One who sent him.
To borrow again from Marcea Paul, “Our efforts to welcome and love others are important because Jesus sees it and receives it as worship.” Like I spoke of last week, this is how we are to be as a church, to be as a people who dares to call Jesus our Lord and to make this world holy through the simplest gestures of compassion and kindness.
After a decade off from religion, I found myself back in a church – one that was filled mostly with men who had been denied or forced out of other churches because they were gay. The moment I walked through the front door I was quickly greeted by an overwhelming sense of God’s Spirit. And a lot of kind, authentic faces.
It was refreshing to see a church so welcoming and inviting to me, a nervous stranger. It’s something, I am sad to say, that I hadn’t really experienced in a church. Which was probably why I stopped going.
After a few more visits, I decided to partake in the Eucharist. An experience I don’t remember doing as a child. And only did so because the priest invited everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” From the altar the priest explained that in this church no one would be denied a chance to receive Christ’s love.
Love which was fully alive in the bread and cup ... just as it was alive in the hearts of every person kneeling at the altar rail and in every priest dutifully serving. To experience my first communion with a community built on such compassionate welcome ... moved me to tears. Literally.
By the time I got back to my seat, I was sobbing. Yet I felt no shame or embarrassment; only an overwhelming sense of God’s love engulfing me. Love that was made manifest to me in a woman named Judy who moved closer to hold my hand. And in a man named Jose who wrapped his arm around me and allowed me cry into his shoulder.
Here we were, three strangers with God in the center of our most vulnerable selves... welcoming and loving each other in our belovedness. Because of those simple, small gestures, I am where I am today. This was the God I desired. And the Lord I wanted to serve.
Friends, Jesus is calling us to continue his missional work. I know it sounds scary and daunting, but it’s not. It takes only the smallest amount of faith in God’s love for you, and the willingness to be vulnerable in that love, so that you can give God’s love away in all that you do.
Because of his love and compassion for all people, Jesus sends us to share the Good News; to meet those crying out and alleviate their suffering; to meet real needs, to work real miracles of love and healing through acts of kindness if only because they too are God’s beloved.
I invite you to answer the call. The call to be the visible presence of Christ to one another. It doesn’t take much to be hospitable, welcoming, and accepting of other people in the name of Christ who is our greatest, most blessed and eternal reward. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
Godin, Seth. Everybody Else. June 25, 2020. https://seths.blog/2020/06/everybody-else/ (accessed June 25, 2020).
Paul, Marcea. episcopalchurch.org. June 22, 2020. https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/even-one-cup-pentecost-4-june-28-2020 (accessed June 26, 2020).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”