McFarland

Third Sunday of Pentecost June 20/21, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39

Prayer of the Day:

Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not ask for reward, except that of knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Lift High the Cross (ELW #660)

I Love to Tell the Story (ELW #661)

We Know That Christ Is Raised (ELW #449)

O Christ, Your Heart, Compassionate (ELW #722)

Sparrow (Audrey Assad/Kyle Lee)

Reflection on Matthew 10:24-39

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

In case you weren’t counting, the word “welcome” is used six times in these three, short verses, so today we’ll obviously be talking about welcoming.

We are familiar with preparing our home in such a way that our guests feel comfortable and at ease.  We do our best to make entering the environment as easy as possible.  Soft guidance is given to help smooth the awkward transition from the front door to the living room.  “Come on in.  Feel free to put your shoes over there.  Have a seat.”  Once, when I was meeting with my spiritual director, the heating unit wasn’t working properly so she had a lap blanket ready for me on my chair when I arrived, in case I would need it.

Matthew writes about such gestures when he mentions giving a cup of cold water to one of these little ones.  This phrase doesn’t necessarily mean the person is a young child but is one who doesn’t carry much social status in the community.[1]  This is not someone for whom you would go to much effort to impress, which matches our concept of offering cold water.  Yes, it’s refreshing, but it’s pretty much the very least I can do for a guest.  But in the first century, cold water meant that someone had made a special trip to the well to get freshly drawn water.  It was safer and healthier than water that had been sitting around in a clay jar all day.  So Matthew is elevating those who are extending extra effort to welcome someone who doesn’t bring any esteem, status, or clout along with them.  It is hospitality at its finest.

We could have a long discussion today about welcoming and hospitality, and how our congregation does a fantastic job of creating a warm, friendly atmosphere.  From the welcome committee, the bread ministry, the greeters and ushers, the kind faces and smiles, and the abundance of treats – our congregation does a great job with welcoming guests into our midst.  While we could continue to fluff our own feathers, which would be fun, and we could talk about the importance of and the biblical imperative for hospitality, I read something this week that brought this story to life in a new way for me.

When I first read this text, I thought it was all about me welcoming someone else, and while that is in there, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.”  Whoever welcomes you.  I’m not the one doing the welcoming.  I’m the one needing to be welcomed.[2]  This should come as no surprise because this chapter of Matthew’s gospel is called the Missionary Discourse.[3]  We’re the ones being sent so it only makes sense that we would be in the position of a guest needing to be hosted, not the other way around.

This painfully obvious realization hit home in a unique way this year – in a way that would not have happened last year.  We are still staying physically distant from one another because of the covid pandemic.  We can’t safely gather in our gorgeous, comfortable, and familiar sanctuary right now.  How we go out – how we are being sent – is more difficult now because we are trying to keep ourselves and one another safe.

How we respond to being sent has gotten complicated, but it’s not impossible.  God continues to send us out with the assurance of God’s love, but the proclamation in worship has moved from Marsh Road to our living rooms.  God continues to send various committees to reach out to the wider world, but instead of mission trips and ministry projects, stories are told, gifts are shared, and Zoom meetings are utilized.  God continues to send us out to support our youngest disciples with their faith formation, but instead of in-person Vacation Bible School, spoiler alert – this year the team has created a curriculum from scratch for families to use together in their home.  Stay tuned because the final product will be launched in early July.  We are still sent with the mission of sharing God’s love with the world, we are just relying on the Spirit’s creativity more so than usual.

So not only is this story about being sent, but it’s also about being welcomed.  All too often when we read scripture, we do so with a certain level of presumption that we are the characters in the story who have the power.  It happened with this story: who can I welcome – how can I welcome them into our midst?  When I am the one welcoming, I am the one in a position of power.  Being welcomed means that I am in a position where I am the vulnerable one.  I don’t know the rules or the expectations.  I don’t know if I should take my shoes off or not, or where I can sit.  I don’t know what there is to drink or even where to find the glasses.  Being the ones who are welcomed means we are the ones who are vulnerable.

Do we feel that God is sending us to new places where we don’t have the power?  To what places are we being called that require us to rely on someone else’s hospitality? 

For some, these places may include conversations on race and justice, or other topics of which we are not yet familiar.  Even if there is not a physical address we can visit or a specific person we can call, there may be books or articles we can engage and let ourselves go into new and unfamiliar spaces – to read about an experience that is different than ours, carrying with us only the love of God and our desire to extend that love to others.

As any guest in any new space, there will be mistakes.  We’re going to mess up.  We’re going to forget to take off our shoes or put our cups down without a coaster.  There is risk in hosting and there is risk in being welcomed – but the alternative is to do nothing, meet no one, and lose out on the opportunity to grow and to establish new relationships.

The coronavirus has forced us all to reformat how we live, shop, work, parent, connect, and be the church and this work has been – to put it very mildly – uncomfortable.  The call to welcome a stranger into our midst or to open our doors to a new idea or unknown perspective is uncomfortable.  The need to be welcomed by someone else or to be sent into an unfamiliar space is uncomfortable.  And no one wants to be uncomfortable.  I actually strive for the exact opposite.  Just ask the Congregational Council and the running joke of my love to crank the thermostat during the winter.  I like my life at a cool 85.  No one is a fan of being uncomfortable.

If you’re like me and have been lucky to avoid many types of discomfort experienced by others, this pandemic is giving us a great – though deeply loathed – experience of discomfort.  We are spending weeks and months getting to know it, to be familiar with it, and we trust we will survive it.  And that hope ties directly into the thread of good news running through the entirety of Matthew’s gospel: remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  God’s promised, unfailing, unwavering presence is how the story starts and how this story ends.  God is with us in this time of discomfort.  That promise doesn’t diminish the impact of covid’s sharp edges or the not-yet-healed wounds it has caused.  That promise doesn’t magically make the losses we have suffered ache any less.  But the promise does guarantee that our discomfort, our frustration, and our boredom are not the end of the story.

When we embrace a new person or an unfamiliar perspective in our lives and feel uncomfortable, God is with us.  When we are vulnerable and are called into new spaces where we don’t have the power or the answers and feel uncomfortable, God is with us.  When we take baby-steps or full-on leaps into a new place, but forget to take off our shoes and track mud in through the door, making us feel embarrassed and uncomfortable, God is with us.  When we are frustrated by the continued limitations placed on us by an incessant virus and feel more than uncomfortable, God is with us.  When we are tired of feeling all the feelings, God is with us.

The promise of Emmanuel bookends Matthew’s Gospel; it is in the opening pages and in the concluding words.  This promise isn’t overruled whether we are being sent or being welcomed, it isn’t hindered by a pandemic or any human feeling we can experience. No matter what, God will be with us always, to the end of the age.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Dennis C. Duling, footnote to “Matthew 18.5” in The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised and Updated NRSV ed. Harold Attridge (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006), 1699.
[2] Rolf Jacboson, “Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher: A Risk Worth Taking” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5441 (accessed June 24, 2020.
[3] Ibid.

Let Us Pray

God of life, reveal to us those who are seeking hospitality, and inspire us to welcome them in your name and to offer them a drink of cold water.  Help us step into our discomfort and be welcomed by others.  Teach us how to be both guest and host, roles that both reflect your care and compassion.  Thank you for beginning each of our stories with the promise that you are always with us, and help us remember this is also the promise that will conclude our stories.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.