The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 10th Chapter
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Rob and Sally were members of my first congregation in Wisconsin. They lived in Rob's old family cabin on Lake Poygen which they had converted into a year-round home. Soon after we arrived, Rob invited the new pastor to come over for a visit. He told me that he would need a lot of counseling and in order to insure the privacy his counseling would require, we would go out in their boat onto the lake. Also, so we wouldn’t raise any suspicions about what we were doing out in the middle of the lake, we would need to bring fishing rods with us and fish, so that it LOOKED like our primary purpose was fishing when in reality it was pastoral counseling.
Because he was CLEARLY in need of pastoral counseling I immediately agreed. The day for “counseling” arrived and I got to their house early in the morning. Sally greeted me at the door and took me through the house and as she showed me out into the backyard and down to the boathouse, she handed me a small cooler packed with water, sodas and snacks.
Rob greeted me in the boathouse and we got the boat into the water, loaded in the cooler and off we went out onto the lake for “counseling.” Rob had grown up on this lake. He and his brother had fished it as kids and sold their catch to a local restaurant for their famous Wisconsin, Friday night fish fry so we always caught fish. We talked too. I learned way more from him than he learned from me. About 11:30 we headed back to the boathouse and pulled out the catch of fish. Rob cleaned all the fish. I was not allowed to help. I was his guest.
We then went back to the house and opened the door to the overwhelming smell of fresh baked bread. And there in the kitchen was “just a little lunch” as Sally called it. Fresh bread, meats and cheeses, pickles and condiments all laid out with the deepest of care. Rob showed me his favorite way to eat this lunch… a slice of Sally’s homemade bread with meat and cheese and some garlic sprinkled on top and then toasted in the toaster oven. It was perfect.
The three of us chatted over lunch and when it was done I thanked them both and Sally put into my hands a bag with the rest of the fresh baked bread and Rob handed me a cooler with all the cleaned filets packed in baggies on ice and they both told me they would need additional counseling… probably in next couple of weeks.
Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me. Rob and Sally welcomed me. By welcoming me, they welcomed Christ and by welcoming Christ they welcomed God. That wasn't true just because I was a pastor. It's true for every human being and it was very obvious that this wasn’t the way Rob and Sally treated a few select people now and then, this was how they lived… day in and day out… this is how they welcomed EVERYONE! This is the way they treated all of “the little ones” this lesson talks about. This is how they cared for the “the least of these” as Jesus refers to all of humanity later in Matthew’s Gospel.
The way we show welcome to “the little ones” and “the least of these” is how we show welcome to God! How welcome is God in our churches, in our homes and in our hearts? None of us needs to convince anyone with our words, how we welcome God. What we DO in welcoming the "little ones" and "the least of these" SHOWS how welcoming we are to God. And it’s clear that “the little ones” and “the least of these” are not some sub-set of humanity, "the little ones" are ALL of humanity and nothing less.
So how do YOU show welcome? How do you welcome the visitor to the church, the new neighbor to your neighborhood, the new pastor or priest to your church? How do you welcome the stranger and all the rest of God’s little ones? The first step is to NOTICE them. You first have to SEE them. Not for what you might get out of them, how you might use them or how you might fear them, but for who they are at their core. No matter where they are from, what they believe or what language they speak, they are nothing less than a child of God! This lesson challenges us to REALLY see them, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because when we SEE them and welcome them, we do nothing less than see and welcome God.
This church is so much better at noticing, seeing and making a place for all people than many congregations out there. I've heard some of you say, "well, all churches do that." They should... but no, they don't. But the challenge this Gospel lesson gives to all of us… whether we’re calling a new pastor/priest, distributing clothes and toiletries or living out our daily lives... our challenge is to not take a break from providing a lavish welcome to all "the little ones"... a lavish welcome worthy of God.
Imagine what the world would become if we all began to really live into Jesus' call to provide an extravagant welcome. Imagine how the world would be transformed if we practiced this not just for clergy searches, or on Sunday mornings at church, but in each and every moment of our lives with every single person we met. What would the world be like if we lived like we truly believed that verse in Hebrews, that we should not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it?
Imagine how the church would be different. Imagine how your neighborhood would be different. Imagine how the city, state, country and world would be different if we welcomed each person as if we were welcoming one of God’s angels. Imagine how the world would be different if we acted like we were welcoming God!
You may have noticed, that's not the way the world currently works. So someone needs to lead the way! So, lead the way! Go into the world and provide an extravagant welcome to one new person this week. Greet that new person in the same way you would greet God’s angels… Greet that new person like you would greet one of Jesus’ disciples. Greet that new person like you would greet Jesus. Greet that new person as if they were the Divine, standing in your presence, because if we take seriously what Jesus says here, THAT is exactly what you will be doing. Amen.