What does it mean to welcome another person in the name of Christ?
Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to think more deeply about what it means to welcome another person.
What does it mean to welcome another person?
What does it mean to welcome others?
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Jesus is using language here that the Jewish people would have understood at that time.
For the Jewish people to welcome a messenger was the same thing as welcoming the person who sent the messenger.
So, to receive a servant of a king was the same thing as welcoming the king.
The Jewish Rabbis would teach that to welcome a holy man is to welcome God.
Here Jesus uses this Jewish teaching to speak about himself.
If people accept and welcome his disciples then they are welcoming him.
God sends Jesus into the world.
Jesus is God’s messenger who preaches and teaches us about God.
Jesus sends each one of us out to spread the Gospel.
We are God’s people who give witness to the Lord.
We teach and proclaim God’s Word.
We live our lives in the ways of Jesus.
We learn about God.
Then we pass on what we ourselves have learned about God.
Finally, we too welcome God’s people and God’s message and in doing so find true life for our souls because we have in fact, welcomed Jesus.
This text foreshadows the Bible reading that we read later in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus speaks about meeting him when we feed the hungry, visit those who are in prison, help the sick, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger.
In a very unique way this text struck me because we will be doing something next week that we have not done in over three months.
We will be welcoming one another back to worship in this space.
Now not all of us will be here next Sunday.
Some of us will continue to worship on-line at home because that is the safer option at this time.
But some of us will be here next Sunday.
How might this Gospel reading apply to us next Sunday?
How do we welcome one another once again when we have been apart for so long?
Especially how do we welcome each other back when we have to maintain some distance and some separation still.
Maybe this will be hard for us.
And if we think now more widely about this how do we welcome other people during this unusual time?
This is hard to do.
We have to think much more creatively here to find new ways to welcome each other during this pandemic.
At such at time what does it mean to welcome another person in the name of Christ?
This is a question that we should always be asking.
We should never just assume that we are doing a great job at welcoming people.
For example, we may think that we are a very welcoming person while others may think that that is just not so.
Let me give you an example here to illustrate this point.
When I was in seminary it was required to take an anti-racism training class.
I thought that I did not need the class because I was not one of “those people” needing to take such a training class.
I am a welcoming person I thought.
I am not racist.
Truly I was wrong.
The first thing that I learned in the anti- racism class is that the attitude that I had of feeling that I was above such a class, is the most dangerous attitude to take.
I learned that all of us need to examine our biases, our prejudices, and even our unconscious biases, those biases that we are not always aware of.
Everyone of us need to consider the ways that we often fail to welcome others and to include others.
Now some fifteen years later since I took that course, I still think about that class that I took and I think about how I might apply what I learned in that class to my day to day living.
How do I welcome others?
Are there some people that I find easier to welcome?
I know that if I am honest with myself, I find that some people are much easier to welcome than others?
I know that I have some biases and judgments.
Some of these biases I am unaware of and some of these biases are unconscious biases.
I know that I am a part of a larger system at play in the world that is deeply enmeshed in systemic racism and prejudice.
Everyone of us has some kind of bias or prejudice.
We need to name this sin and call it for what it is.
Maybe we could blame it on the ways our brains are wired but even still Jesus holds us accountable here.
Jesus will not let us get a pass here.
This is hard work.
This is not easy.
But Jesus gives us a promise in the Bible reading that if we even just give a cup of cold water to someone in need than we are doing the Lord’s work.
Jesus calls us into being disciples who compassionately welcome others.
Jesus calls us to a live a way of life that is not centered on personal gain but rather is always looking out for the other.
Can the Holy Spirit stir our spiritual imaginations in such a way that we discover new and faithful ways of reaching out to our neighbors no matter who they are?
This is the work of the church for sure, but it is also our work in the world.
It is work that God calls you and me to live out in our daily living.
To go out living our day to day lives with this teaching in our hearts.
Will we be perfect here with this calling?
No, we will miss the mark again and again.
That is why we need to be continually asking the question – am I welcoming others in the name of Christ?
And if not, we need to catch ourselves and then get back on track – never giving up on this calling.
We are called by our Lord to participate with the Holy Spirit in creating a more just, more kind, and more hospitable, welcoming world.
God did not give us life so that we can take more and more but rather so that we can give more and more.
And the giving does not need to be some kind of heroic deed that only a saint could do.
Jesus uses the example of giving a simple glass of water to someone in need.
By asking this question this very question, of how to welcome others, over and over and over again we grow in awareness.
We learn how we fall short here and then we find better ways of welcoming others.
When we learn and correct ourselves, we then do better.
We begin to see the people that we leave out and we stop leaving then out.
We open our hearts to receive Christ through them.
We become faithful to the calling of God, we welcome others, and in doing so discover that we welcome Christ.
We discover that in the process of welcoming others we meet the loving embrace of Christ.