July 2, 2023
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us to welcome others
as he has welcomed us. Amen
the word appears six times in our short gospel for the day
so clearly it is something important to Jesus,
but it does beg the question,
what does Jesus mean by welcome?
It helps to put this little section of scripture back into context,
it comes at the very end of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples
as he is about to send them out on their own
- we’ve heard from what is called ‘the missionary discourse’ the last few weeks.
Jesus has appointed twelve of his disciples,
given them authority over unclean spirits
and the ability to heal
and tells them to go out to the lost sheep of Israel
heal those they encounter who need it
and proclaim to them “the kingdom of heaven has come near”
oh and they are not to bring anything extra
or even essential for their own comfort and maintenance on the journey,
not an extra pair of sandals or coat,
no bag or even a walking stick,
the disciples are to depend entirely on the hospitality
of those they encounter to meet their needs.
And Jesus knows that not everyone they encounter will be friendly,
Jesus instructs them “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”
And he goes on ‘do not fear, the spirit is with you,
God knows and values you’
and finally he wraps up with these words on welcome,
where Jesus, reinforces to the disciples
that they are representing him to the people they encounter,
just as he, Jesus,
fully represents the one who sent him, to the disciples,
and even the smallest act of welcome is noticed and appreciated.
In this context then
welcome seems to go beyond the friendly greeting
that we often think of,
to include caring for the needs
of those on the receiving end of the welcome.
Needs that might include a cup of cold water sure,
or shelter and food,
or even replacing or repairing a broken sandal,
mending a torn shirt.
And more than even the physical needs
Are the emotional and spiritual needs too
The need to be accepted into a group of people
The need to be listened to, really heard
The need to make connection.
This is a much deeper vision of welcome than we are used to,
than even the disciples were used to,
this is welcome beyond social niceties,
this is in fact the welcome of the kingdom of heaven
the welcome that will be the norm
when the kingdom of heaven comes in its fullness.
A welcome that ensures that all have what they need for abundant life.
Jesus is teaching his disciples about the kingdom,
even as he is having them help share the good news,
and he is teaching them through experience.
And I think it is significant
that the way the disciples will learn about the welcome of the kingdom of heaven
is to the be on the receiving end of welcome,
a position people are often uncomfortable with,
Because it is the less powerful role in the relationship,
think about it,
the one who is doing the welcome
is in the more powerful position,
if you are welcoming someone
it usually means that you are home or a place where you are comfortable
and have resources whether they are material or even relationship resources,
and you have enough power
or are sure enough of your position
to accept one who is outside all of this
and who has a need or desire for some of it,
and if you have the power to offer this
you also have the power to deny all this
leaving the other person with little recourse to change the outcome.
Jesus is having his disciples learn about welcome
by intentionally giving up power,
even the little bit that comes with having a change of clothes.
It really shouldn’t surprise us,
this is what God is doing in Jesus,
as the Christ hymn in Philippians says about Jesus: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)
One of the things that makes Jesus so compelling,
for us as humans
is that he knows what it’s like to be human,
he has experienced it,
in the flesh,
the good and the bad,
and so we trust him because his knowledge is not just theoretical,
he’s been there
he knows what we need
because he has needed it himself.
If you are always powerful
you do not truly know what it feels like to be powerless.
If you are always the one offering welcome
you do not know what it feels like to be the one in need of welcome.
And if you do not know what it is to need welcome,
how can you even begin to know what the other needs?
especially important if welcome,
is ensuring that the other has what they need for abundant life.
As disciples of Jesus we are called To welcome others
As Jesus has welcomed us
Which means seeking to experience both sides of welcome
Serving others and letting others serve us
Providing what we have to fill others’ needs
Humbling ourselves acknowledging that we have needs other can fill.
And in this mutual care
The kingdom of God comes near.
Go out and experience need of welcome,
Jesus tells the disciples,
yes it is a risk
but God knows what you need
and God works through people,
however imperfect they may be,
some will receive you like a prophet,
some like a righteous person,
some may not have much beyond a cup of water
and yet they will offer you what they have
and it will be a great gift,
you will share with them the good news
that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Amen