We gather each week at the Lord’s Table. We proclaim that this is an open table, because Jesus welcomes everyone to the Table. We gather this morning outside in this circle, which includes a cross representing Jesus and his mission, a peace pole inviting us to embrace the shalom of God, and a rock that honors the memory of a child who did not get to experience our world. In the gospel of Matthew, the rock represents the Good Confession that Peter made, upon which Jesus builds the church.
Here in Matthew 10, Jesus tells the disciples, whom he had just sent out on a mission to proclaim the realm of God, that whoever welcomed them, welcomed him, and the one who sent him. The essence of this brief passage is that those who welcome the missionaries into their communities will be blessed. Indeed, if you give the “little ones,” that is, the missionaries, a cup of cold water, you will not lose your reward.
While Jesus speaks of the reward given to those who welcome missionaries, I’d like to re-interpret this word, so that it speaks more directly to us. What does it mean to be a welcoming people? How do we express a welcoming spirit to the stranger? To the one who is different in some way? While Jesus refers to missionaries as “little ones,” we could apply this word to the way in which we as a congregation welcome children. So, as we welcome and embrace the children, we welcome Jesus, and the one who sent him.
It’s one thing to say that we are a friendly church, a welcoming church, an open and affirming church, and actually living out that message in our daily lives, both in the church and outside the church. We have an inclusion statement, which is pretty detailed. We tried to cover all the bases, but even that statement is suggestive and not exhaustive. But there is a difference between a statement and the attitudes and actions of a congregation. The inclusion statement reflects who we want to be, even though we don’t always live up to its standards. What it does is remind us of Jesus’ call to welcome others. When we do this, we welcome him, and the one who sent him, that is, God.
We say that everyone is welcome. There are no fences around the Table. While we focus on the center, which is Jesus, and not on the boundaries, the fact is, we do set certain boundaries. One of those boundaries has to do with the protection of our children. We use background checks to make sure that the people working with them are trustworthy. Safety is a concern. But, we don’t want to erect fences that keep people away from Jesus.
As I ponder the words of verse 40, of Matthew 10, the word that speaks to me has to do seeing Jesus in my neighbor. We can all name different people or groups that describe the neighbor. This morning, as we gather on a holiday weekend that celebrates the birth of our nation, the neighbor who comes to mind is the immigrant, whether documented or not, and the refugee, whether from Syria or the Congo or some other nation. There is a man who comes by occasionally to update me on the state of Iraqi Christians. He wants us to know that Christians in Iraq and Syria live precarious lives. So as we listen to the debate about immigration and refugees, what is Jesus saying to us? What does it mean to welcome Jesus and the one who sent Jesus into our midst?
It is good to remember on a day like this, as we gather freely in the open air, without any fear of persecution, that while we may be American citizens, we are first of all citizens of God’s realm. That means that the values of God’s realm should be our values. So, what does it mean to be a welcoming people? What does it mean to welcome Jesus and welcome the one who sent Jesus?
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
July 2, 2017