Sermon: Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.
Proper 8A: Sunday 28 June 2020
Matthew 10.40-42
Rev. Daniel Mossfield
(Crookwell Uniting Church)

As the state of Victoria begins to lockdown again due to a spike in cases, and global outbreaks of COVID-19 continue to grow, any allusions we held that life would simply return to ‘normal’ are now fading into obscurity.

And as this naïve optimism drains away, we are realizing that this season of life is more than just a passing storm but a winter we will need to endure for quite some time.

So, here we are.

We gather for another Sunday, not in person, in our building, but dispersed, via a screen, from the solitude of our own homes – not even sure who we are worshipping with, exactly, but hoping, trusting that somewhere out there others are joining with us, even though we cannot see them.

And then, as if to rub it in, Jesus comes to us in our gospel reading today speaking about welcome. About receiving guests. About offering a cup of cold water to others, even as we are unable to share morning tea for fear that passing a cup to our neighbor could help the vicious spread of this virus.

‘Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me’, says Jesus. ‘Those who receive you are also receiving me.’

But Jesus, how can we speak about welcome when our doors are closed out of love for our neighbours and ourselves? Why do you speak to us of hospitality at a time when family BBQs have become a risky and selfish act with significant consequences for our community?

I mean we’d love to be hospitable. We’d love to be welcoming. We’d love having people come to visit our place. Our Church. Our Home.

At least, we think we would…

At least, we would if they were polite and respectful…

We would if they didn’t disrupt or upset us…

We would as long as we didn’t have to risk anything…

*******

But now I hear that pesky voice of Jesus again, repeating this refrain, like I still haven’t got it. Like I haven’t quite understood:

‘Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me’, says Jesus. ‘Those who receive you are also receiving me.’

So, I look back over the passage. I read the rest of chapter 10. The chapter which we looked at last week. The chapter in which Jesus is sending out his apostles into the world. Jesus is sending out his apostles into the world.

He is sending them to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom’s arrival. He is sending them to challenge evil and demonic powers that seek to enslave others. He is sending them to bind up the wounds of the broken and bring new life to the dead.

He is sending them to be prophets. To be truth tellers in the face of power.

He is sending them to be workers of justice and righteousness.

He is sending them to be little ones. To be vulnerable. To be weak before the world.

He is sending them…

He is sending us…

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We have become accustomed to the idea that being the Church means welcoming others to our space, making the task of being the church near impossible in the age of COVID-19.

But, here comes Jesus disabusing us of such an idea, by reminding us that the call of the church is not to be the host, but the guest.

We shouldn’t be surprised really. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the one who said ‘the first will be last, and the last will be first’ is now the one saying ‘the guest shall be host, and the host shall be guest.’

 

The problem is, we much prefer being the host, because being a guest, throwing ourselves onto the hospitality of others, is inherently risky.

When we are the host, we set the terms. We decide ‘who gets to come to our church, and the circumstances in which they come.’ We decide what the meal will be, what time it gets served, and who gets the largest helping.

But when we are sent out, when we have to be the church in the world from the Main Street to the Paddock, it means we are no longer in control.

We risk being rejected.

We may even find that the one we are reliant upon to offer us welcome, and to receive us, is in fact the very one we have left out in the cold.

The very one we said couldn’t come to our place, our party, our church, because they loved the wrong person, or had the wrong skin tone, or didn’t want to worship the way we do.

And we become afraid that suddenly they will treat us the way we treated them. That we will know what it is to be the rejected rather than the rejector.

Jesus, it seems, is flipping the tables on us…

*****

And, as if this wasn’t bad enough, Jesus then gives us a code of conduct for how we are to act as guests in the world.

For Jesus tells us, that we are to look for those who welcome us as prophets – as those unafraid to speak truth to power even if it costs us everything.

We are to look for those who welcome us as workers of justice: as those willing to stand up for the broken, the marginalized and the vulnerable. We are to be guests of those communities that know what suffering is and are inviting us to suffer with them.

And we are to look for those who welcome us as little ones. As broken, flawed, and needy people. As those who are vulnerable and weak, not triumphant, and successful. As those who name their woundedness and acknowledge the ways we have wounded others. For sharing our vulnerabilities includes being willing to speak truth against ourselves and acknowledge our part in injustice.

And Jesus tells us, when we do this – when we go as guests into the world to speak truth, do justice and be vulnerable, we will be despised, rejected and drawn into conflict with those who benefit from the status quo. Perhaps even those from our own tribes and families.

So, we have elected to stay locked in our churches, playing host. Offering a half-hearted welcome to those who drop in, and not risking ourselves in the process.

At least, we have… until COVID-19 has pushed us out into the world again.

But now we are forced to wrestle with these words of Jesus again.

Jesus who is coming to us, even today with the refrain:

‘Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me’, says Jesus. ‘Those who receive you are also receiving me.’

And, as we protest that we simply aren’t up to the task of being guests, Jesus speaks. ‘You have missed the point,’ he says.

‘Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me!Those who receive you are also receiving me!’

That is only possible, because ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

And suddenly, the penny drops. Jesus does not send us out alone.

Jesus goes with us, as a guest into the world, to be welcomed and rejected with us.

That’s the good news of this passage.

It is Jesus who gives us the words of truth and the courage to speak them.

It is Jesus who suffers with us as we suffer with the marginalized.

It is Jesus who shows us his wounds and enables us to be vulnerable with others.

And it is Jesus, who was rejected and despised on a cross, that sits with us in our own stories of rejection showing us the hospitality of God.

As we seek to be the church in our community in this strange moment in history, may we encounter Jesus with us in the world, speaking truth, living just righteousness, and daring to be vulnerable. Amen.