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Welcoming Jesus: Matthew 10: 40-42 A Sermon for Lectionary 13, 4th Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2017, 7:50 am
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Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ,

I’ve been focusing on Genesis for my preaching these past weeks, but you may have noticed that we’ve been reading through the same section of Matthew. Jesus is teaching his disciples as he prepares to send them out.

He’s reminded them

of their mission field- the lost sheep of Israel,

the work they will be doing- proclaim the good news, heal the sick, raise the dead,

their packing list- not enough to last without help from others.

He’s prepared them for the fact that not everyone will welcome them and listen to what they say. Their family and friends might think they’re crazy and pull away.

He’s warned them that they might even be in danger because of their work.

 

Now the warnings are over, and the blessing is proclaimed.

Jesus finishes his instruction with the passage we read today beginning, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

 

What Jesus is saying is really amazing. The disciple is the teacher. The Son is the Father. When someone opens to the door to you, disciples, that person is opening the door to me, Jesus. A person will know Jesus by knowing a disciple.

 

The disciples carry Jesus’ presence to the world. They’re not trailing behind Jesus, they are bringing him forward.

 

What a responsibility! And yet- it makes sense, what else would they- would we be doing? Disciples carry Jesus, bring Jesus, show Jesus, enact Jesus for the sake of the world- and that’s how the world will know Jesus.

 

In this chapter, Jesus is preparing his disciples, but he’s also preparing us. We, too, are called to be little Christs for the world. As baptized Christians, you are united with Jesus Christ, so that you can carry on his mission and bring him into all the places you go.

 

When I was a junior in high school, I travelled with my dad and a group of local Lutherans to Puerto Rico. We went down to join the work of Lutheran Disaster Response, working to repair homes after hurricane damage.

 

One hot, sunny morning, we were assigned to walk through the neighborhood and pick up trash. The neighborhood was a squatter’s village, none of the homes were legal, and there was no garbage service. Some houses were basically corrugated metal connected together. I had never seen anything like it.

 

It was hard to tell what was damaged from the storms and what was a result of poverty. You can imagine the hurricane did nothing to help the living conditions. After the hurricane, FEMA had drilled down tarps to cover roofs. It had been a quick fix, but didn’t take into account the long-term needs of the people. Lutheran Disaster Response stayed longer than any other agency, attempting to make a lasting impact for good. We had come at the end of their service, so that day, we weren’t needed for building and were sent through the neighborhood.

 

I remember walking down the dirt road in a haze of heat, and this man came running up to us. I had taken years of French… so it took a while to grasp what he was saying. We’re walking past his house and he wanted us to wait a moment. Not long after, he ran back out to us, carrying Styrofoam take out containers overflowing with freshly scrambled eggs and toasted bread.

 

Here was this man, who had what looked to me like so very little, but who recognized that the abundance of his life was found in sharing and gratitude. I may have thought I was there to serve. But he also had something to offer.

 

Sometimes Jesus looks like a man in a forgotten village with a big smile, a talent for cooking, and a gift for hospitality.

 

Hospitality is of central importance in Jesus’ culture, and its importance goes back for centuries. That’s why we read two weeks ago that Abraham welcomed in those three strangers and fed them the best food. By entertaining strangers, you might just be entertaining angels. In a culture in which there was no Super 8, people depended on the hospitality of others.

 

Hospitality is feeding and housing people. It’s helping them feel comfortable, making space that was yours also theirs. At its center, it’s an act of recognizing the worth of the other. It’s recognizing myself in the other- as if to say, “yes, you also are a human being” —and— it’s recognizing Jesus in the other.

 

We meet Jesus in other people.

 

I wonder if we might treat others differently if we saw them as beings who carry Jesus within them. When we look into a cashier’s eyes, we see Jesus. When we are cared for by a nurse, we are cared for by Jesus. When we hold the hand of someone telling their story of struggle, we hold the hand of Jesus. They are people Jesus has created, loved, forgiven, and chosen to dwell with and in.

 

I’ve travelled and been to enough yoga classes to know this sentiment is not unique. Namaste – the greeting at the end of class- is a blessing meaning I bow to the sacred in you.

 

It’s not unique to us Christians, but it’s important enough to be reclaimed. As a whole, I think Christianity has lost sight of the central tenet that we have an incarnate God. We have a God who created and then chose to land right in creation and dwell here among us. Throughout the Old Testament, we get a vision of a God who tents with God’s own people. When we get to the New Testament, we meet a God who leaves behind all the privileges of divinity in order to become one of us, so that we might be brought in to God.

 

Jesus chose to be among those the world saw as less than. He invited into his inner circle people others avoided. So, now, as we look for Jesus present and at work in the world, we need to look among those Jesus chooses to especially be among- the poor, the outcast, the judged, and the afraid.

 

Instead of having Christians known as judgmental, holier than thou, what if we were known as the people who saw the worth of every person? What if we gave people dignity?

 

So many churches advertise themselves as “welcoming,” but then have unadvertised qualifiers as to who exactly gets to be welcomed. It’s important that we welcome as Jesus welcome us- as we are, right now, with all our goodness and all our struggle. We’re called to give a class of water, to give love to others before they meet all our expectations. God has created us as diverse, fascinating people, with differences that are meant to be known and honored.

 

When you welcome another, you welcome Jesus. When you go out, you bring Jesus with you. Wherever you are, Jesus is with you, at work to restore the world.

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