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You Are Welcome

Thomas J Parlette

“You Are Welcome”

Matthew 10: 40-42

7/2/17

The Irish liturgical theologian Siobhain (Chavon) Garrigan, tells an interesting story from her travels around Ireland while researching her book The Real Peace Process. Arriving at a Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland, Chavon was pleased to be greeting at the door by two women, church members, who seemed to invite her into conversation. Chavon realized that these women were ushers  of some sort, whose job it was to stand at the door of the church and interview new comers as they arrived. They quietly asked her name and the first names of any other approaching strangers who wished to join in the morning worship.

Then Chavon figured out what was really happening. Hearing those names, the ushers would draw conclusions about the cultural and religious identities of each of the visitors. Those with Protestant names were welcomed warmly and shown their seats. Those with apparently Catholic names – the Mary’s, the Catharine’s and the Patrick’s – were told that they were surely in the wrong church and sent on their way.

You might think, “Well that sounds like she did her research 30 years ago- back in the 70’s and 80’s, surely no church would act like that any more.”

But in reality, Professor Garrigan’s research was done just a few years ago. This happened just about 6 or 7 years ago.(1)

But that’s in Ireland, not here. We don’t have the history of “the troubles” that they have. We’re not like that. Here in America, here in Minnesota, here in Rochester, that would never happen. We would never turn anyone away like that. I hope not. And while I am confident in our welcoming, hospitable attitude, this passage, nevertheless, calls us to think about the importance of our welcoming nature, to examine our practice of hospitality, to consider how generous we are, and can be, in offering kindness.

For the simple, basic acts of kindness we perform in genuine welcome of one another are all that God asks of us.

This passage reminds us that God wants us to look around, see who is in need and then do something about it. Christian faith advocates compassionate welcome that encourages us to trust, to be open, to share, to avoid manipulating others, and to live a way of life that is beyond personal gain. We are also to be realistic about those things that distort and prevent us from showing compassion.

This passage really hinges on two ideas that we know well – but it never hurts to give ourselves a little reminder.

The first idea is about hospitality. In these three short verses, the word welcome is used five times. So we know that it’s a pretty important concept in Jesus’ mind here – welcome, hospitality. We are reminded to welcome “these little ones.” The term “little ones” used here refers not only to children, but to all those, of any age, who were considered inferior, or unimportant or vulnerable. These references to “little ones” foreshadows Matthew’s other well known phrase, “the least of these”, referring to those who need help, assistance or just simply compassionate kindness. We are to welcome the little ones, show hospitality to the most vulnerable, the ones most in need.

This idea of hospitality is certainly not a new one in Christianity – but it is a concept that we need to keep in proper focus. For instance, hospitality is not the same as entertaining, or being a successful hostess.

As Karen Mains reminds us in her book, Open Heart; Open Home: The Hospitable Way to Make Others Feel Welcome and Wanted…

“Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, and my cooking.” Hospitality seeking to minister says, “This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as God desires.” Hospitality aims to serve.

Entertaining puts things before people. “As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated and my cleaning done – then I will start inviting people.” Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture – we’ll eat on the floor. The decorating may never get done – you come anyway. The house is a mess – but you are my friends – come home with us.”

Entertaining subtly declares, “This home is mine, an expression of my personality. Look, please and admire.” Hospitality whispers, “What is mine is yours. You are welcome.”(2)

The other idea central to this passage is generosity. We are called to go the extra mile, to give a little extra effort to show hospitality and compassionate kindness. There is a wonderful little detail that might go unnoticed in these verses. Jesus reminds us that “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…” Notice that Jesus says a cup of COLD water. A little detail that we might overlook, but one that is of utmost importance. Jesus didn’t have to say a cold cup of water – he could have said just a cup of water – but he didn’t. Jesus specified COLD.

You might think, “So what, what’s so great about cold water. That’s easy enough. We have some right around the corner over there at the drinking fountain.”

But in Jesus’ day, cold water was hard to come by. In the days before any type of refrigeration, you had to go to the well or to the river to get cold water. Most people drew water early in the day and kept it around the house in clay or stone jars. So by the time dinner rolled around, the water was at best room temperature, maybe even a little tepid. It didn’t have that cool, fresh flavor because it had been sitting around all day. So if someone offered you a cold cup of water, that meant they had gone to the extra effort of drawing that water fresh, just for you, just for this occasion. It was a generous act to offer cold, fresh water.

That’s what this passage calls us to do, to generously offer hospitality and compassion to those who most need it. As disciples of Jesus, we know that we have been welcomed into God’s good graces by the work of Jesus Christ. In turn, as disciples of Jesus, we are to welcome others in the name of Christ. Jesus says to us, “You are welcome – so now be welcoming.” That in essence is our faith in a nutshell, the complete Christian message – “God has welcomed you – so welcome one another.”

On June 18th, 1815, the combined forces of Austria, Russia, Great Britain and Prussia under the leadership of the British General Arthur Wellesly Wellington, engaged the army of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in a climatic battle to decide the outcome of the war for the European continent. There, near the Belgium town of Waterloo, those two armies collided in fierce combat. By pre-arranged agreement, the British army at the end of the day was to signal back to the coast the outcome of that battle through a series of smoke signals. The message would then be communicated across the English Channel and hand delivered to the King of England in the city of London.

As evening approached at the end of that day’s fierce fighting, in which more than 25,000 men lost their lives, English communication experts on the coast awaited the smoke signals declaring either victory over the French or defeat at the hands of Napoleon. Hope or despair hung in the balance.

Soon their wait came to an end. Over the top of a distant hillside, they were able to make out the distinctive smoke signal message from Waterloo. The first word was unmistakable – “Wellington.” The second word soon followed – “Defeated.” But just as that second word was received, the wind suddenly shifted and the sky was filled with dark, low clouds. It was impossible to determine if there was more to the message or not. They were left with the message, “Wellington defeated.” In great sorrow, that message was communicated back across the channel and on to the King and the people of England.

That night, all of England lay in deep sorrow, heartbroken that their General, Arthur Wellington had been defeated by Napoleon. Now it seemed that Napoleon could not be stopped, he would conquer all of Europe, there was no hope.

After a long, dark night of despair, the following morning British soldiers once again searched the skies for a message. And once again they saw the word “Wellington” signaled to them. The next word came, “Defeated.” But this time, in the bright blue skies of clear morning, a third word appeared – “Napoleon.” The full message was “Wellington defeated Napoleon.” And the rest is history. Napoleon’s army was defeated and freedom for the European continent was secured.(3) It always pays to hear the complete message.

For us, as Christ-followers, the first message we hear is, “You are welcomed, you are saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.”

But there is more. The rest of the message is, “Since you are welcomed – be welcoming to the little ones. Be welcoming to those most in need. Be generous in your hospitality.” That is our complete message of faith.

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “We have it in us to be Christs to each other…to work miracles of love and healing, as well as to have them worked upon us.”(4)

As we gather around the table this morning, let us strive to be Christs to each other and to the world around us. Let us live in the confidence that we are welcomed – and in turn, may we be welcoming to all those in need.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.                           William Goettler, Feasting On the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, p.188.

2.                           Homiletics, Vol. 29, No. 4, p.17.

3.                           Lee Griess, Return to the Lord, your God, CSS Publishing, 2007, p165-166.

4.                           Pam Driesell, Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew Volume 1, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 278