June 28, 2020 Romans 6:12-23
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, nourish us through your word, nurture us through your grace, feed us through your Spirit, and fill us with your love for your name’s sake. Amen.
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcome me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
We have a short Gospel lesson today. What is this Gospel about? Is it about the disciples, the twelve? Yes, of course, it is about them; these are Jesus' final words of instruction to them and astonishing words they are! "Whoever welcomes you guys welcomes me," Jesus says, "and whoever welcomes me welcomes the Father who sent me." Their mission was God's mission; their words were God's words; the people whom they met encountered God through them and their teachings.
These are strong words, but we know these disciples turned the whole world upside down with their proclamation. Whoever welcomed them did indeed welcome Christ and the one who sent him.
But what is it about for us today? These disciples are long gone. Do the words still apply? How do we welcome them and in so doing welcome Christ and the Father? One way is by receiving their witness, by joyfully believing the New Testament scriptures. When we receive the message they wrote down for us, we receive Christ. It's the old, old story, as a hymn says, but it's new in every generation and those who want to hear it most are those who already know it best. Faith comes by hearing, as the apostle Paul wrote, hearing the word of Christ as it was spoken and written by the disciples and by others who were converted by their words.
Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbor or family member, or work colleague, or elected official, or mother-in-law, or next door neighbor, or chatty seat companion on an airplane, or grocery checker, or barber, or the UPS driver, or the kid who hit your new car with a baseball…and so on and so forth…welcomes God? We could have fun with this! But would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome? Is there a line for you where the list ends of who is welcome? What does this mean?
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. And whoever welcomes any one of us welcomes Jesus, welcomes God.
The message we hear in this morning’s gospel reading from Matthew was important enough to Jesus and to the early church that some variation on this theme shows up in each gospel, and often more than once. Also in Matthew’s gospel from chapter 18 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” and from chapter 25 “The king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these …you did it to me.’” Mark includes similar verses. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus declares that “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” The Jesus in John’s gospel, declares in chapter 13 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”
The church is not a club of like-minded individuals; it is not a voluntary organization gathered to do good or meet needs (important as these things may be); it is not a powerful institution whose product is religion. The church is a body of believers who welcome the apostles' teaching -- who trust it and live it and continue the work of mission.
It seems, there was a farmer who was putting up a fence with another young farmer, to help a neighboring farmer. The first farmer suddenly dropped a heavy fence post right in the middle of a mud puddle. Both men were splashed with mud. Later, an eyewitness asked the first farmer, "Jim, did you drop that post in the puddle on purpose?" The farmer nodded his head, saying, "Yes, I sure did."
Puzzled, the man asked him why he would do a thing like that. The farmer grinned and said, "Why, Willy, the boy I was working with had on a new pair of overalls. And we weren’t getting any work done because he was so worried about getting dirty. So I dropped the post in the mud hole and got him dirty. Did you notice how much faster the work went after the baptism?"
It seems that generally the stance of the world we live in is quite contrary to this – we are encouraged to keep ourselves safe, to establish our boundaries, to take care of number one – to not get our overalls dirty. And yet the Gospel and the words of the scriptures are radically different.
Pause for a moment and think about what we’ve been hearing through all this election drama, protests, and anger, fear mongering which is all about division, exclusion, keeping people separated, and kicking people out.
There may be legitimate and compelling reasons to consider the economic impact or national security issues in such things, but if an inhospitable, exclusive attitude goes along with these ideas, then they are hostile to the teachings of Jesus who talked so very much about welcome, inclusion, hospitality.
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”
This is an invitation of comfort and welcome reminiscent of the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty written by the poet Emma Lazarus. “Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Is this what we hear? Or do we hear, instead, words of separation, words of breaking relationship, words of opposition and rejection?
So many of the ugly attitudes playing out on the national and world stage we see on the evening news have spilled over into our popular culture, showing up in the increase in violence and hatred flowing out into our cities and neighborhoods, among other things.
This Sunday precedes two other occasions marked on the Church calendar: The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on Monday, and our celebration of American Independence on the Fourth of July on Saturday.
A “Peanuts” comic strip shows Linus talking to Lucy: He is saying: “Charlie Brown says that brothers and sisters can learn to get along…He says they can get along the same way mature adults get along…and he says that adults can get along the same way that nations get along… ” and at that point with a frown on his face he says “at this point the analogy breaks down.”
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, and as we sing God Bless America, and as we roast hot dogs and hamburgers and marvel at fireworks and the good ol’ red, white and blue, let us also ask ourselves what Jesus meant in telling us over and over again, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
We may believe differently about the details of our faith, as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians are prone to do. We may understand civic responsibility differently; Americans have always held a variety of opinions on things.
But for us as Christian Americans or American Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel asks: What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that? What does it look like in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our national policies, in our very attitudes? For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom, living that faith in an American framework of privilege and challenge.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but he pretty clearly told us to be welcoming. Like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything. And as Americans, we will stand proudly to celebrate on the Fourth. When we put all that together, one possible outcome is that we may have to agree to disagree on some aspects of American policy as we live our Christian faith in daily practice.
Christian people are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. we should at least be able to agree on that.
As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, grant that not only our words but everything we are and do may be offered to you as a living prayer, in the name of Christ. Amen.