We Are Missionary People Who Welcome Others: Pentecost 4

We Are Missionary People Who Welcome Others: Pentecost 4

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: June 28, 2020

Year A, Proper 8: Psalm 13; Genesis 22:1-14; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

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I was tempted to preach on our lesson from Genesis – it’s a reading fraught with tension and full of action, a rather chilling story that I suspect grips most of us with fear, maybe even a little anger. How could a parent ever consider what Abraham considered – killing his son? I react in horror as God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son. The good news – as Abraham prepares to kill Isaac, tragedy is averted at the last minute in the form of divine intervention, an angel commanding Abraham to not kill his son. There’s a lot to unpack in that reading and, it certainly seems a lot more commanding in its impact than our gospel reading, which is three short verses.

Summed up, here is our gospel passage from Matthew: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.” In the entirety of these three verses, there are five whoevers and six welcomes.

This is the shortest gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the last part of what is called the missionary discourse in Matthew and the continuation of the teaching that Jesus was giving his disciples after the Sermon on the Mount.

But the ideas packed into these verses are worthy of more than a cursory reading. If you’ve missed what’s happened in the preceding verses of this chapter: Jesus, seeing how lost and troubled those people were who came to hear that Sermon on the Mount, pities them, and decides that his disciples are to go out to spread God’s kingdom. Jesus has been preparing the disciples for their first mission alone. They have been given the authority to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has arrived and to demonstrate that claim by curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons.

Here’s a reality about the hospitality the disciples will encounter. Matthew’s context of hospitality is vastly different from what we commonly understand as hospitality today. For most of us, hospitality is our coffee hour after church, it’s hosting a meal. It’s a word signifying comfort, security, and refreshments on the porch or patio of a neighbor’s house or our own house, maybe sipping an iced drink in the cool of evening. Perhaps welcoming family or friends to stay for an overnight or two in our home. Usually, we understand it to mean that we open our homes or churches to people we know or to people who know people we know – at most, hospitality is extended to people who do not threaten us in any way.

Hospitality in the disciples’ world is something very different. They will not be welcomed everywhere[1], and they can expect to experience the same hostility that Jesus often does, for he is sending them out “like sheep into the midst of wolves”[2]. They can expect to encounter persecution and trials[3] and they have to be prepared for the painful divisions that will occur within their families.

Amidst all of this, they will have to depend upon the hospitality of others.

Hospitality in the Bible is very different than our present-day understanding. In Genesis, we hear of Abraham’s encounter with three mysterious visitors[4]. When Abraham commands Sarah to prepare hospitality for the visitors. In Matthew 25, we hear Jesus talk about the hospitality shown to the most vulnerable –  “truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”[5] For the entire Mediterranean world of the time – Jew, Christian, Greek, Roman, all others…there are divine implications in hospitality. A stranger may be the God of Israel, or the Messiah, or one of many other gods and goddesses of the ancient world. Answering a knock at the door could be dangerous.”[6] And it’s in that context that Jesus sends his disciples to do exactly what he does, notwithstanding the heartache and challenges. Above all, the disciples must love Jesus more than anything. They must be a missionary people.

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That’s what this text gets to being about – missionary people. Welcoming people in the name of Jesus Christ. And being missionary people is, I believe, the common thread, indeed the unity, the communion with God’s work, that is present in Matthew’s time and in today’s world. This ever so brief gospel passage truly represents the heart of Matthew’s gospel. It’s a timeless call for the church to go out into the world in Christ’s name, as well as to receive and welcome the “little ones” in Christ’s name.

Most of us won’t ever be missionaries in the typical sense of the word – leaving all behind, called to go to another country, another culture to minister in the name of Christ to the world. Some are called that way – Marty’s niece, Naomi, is a Mennonite missionary – she has served in England and Australia and is set to go to Germany. Try and do that amidst wildfires, a worldwide pandemic, and borders that are being closed. That’s what missionaries in today’s world face.

But, how ARE WE called to be missionary people in the world around us? What else are we called to do?

Jesus offers a pretty simple answer: “If anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”[7] That’s what we hear later in Matthew.

A cup of cold water. That’s pretty amazing to think about a cup of cold water being analogous to hospitality when you’re talking about the spread of God’s kingdom. It seems like a minuscule act of kindness. How is that cold cup of water any meaningful extension of hospitality?

We already offer “cups of cold water.” At Emmanuel’s Table Food Pantry, Saint Andrew’s Community Luncheon, Easter baskets, Christmas gifts, backpacks, support for so many good causes…the list goes on and on. But how else?

But, do we really know each person we serve? Do we let ourselves into that dangerous and wonderful place of welcoming a stranger, knowing that we are actually serving Christ himself and the God who sent him? Or, do we offer our hospitality, welcome, and service on our terms, retaining our own control? Do we recognize another’s gifts, vulnerabilities, need for shelter and sustenance

Renowned author and theologian, Frederick Buechner, writes, “we have it in us to be Christ to each other…to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us.”[8] We have it in us to offer those cold cups of water.

We have it in us to be Christs to each other. We have it in us to look for Christ in others…to seek and service Christ in all people, striving for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.[9] That’s what we are called to do in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s probably the most important thing we’re called to do. That is the mission work we are given to do and the hospitality we are called to offer.

Think about who we need to offer cups of water to.

We need to offer a cup of cold water to the soldier back home after six tours in the Middle East, who now suffers from depression and PTSD.

We need to extend kindness to the teenager whose parents kicked her out of the house when they discovered she was gay because their church teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

We called to be nicer to the men and women living in the shadows because they are afraid of being deported – the same men and women who work tirelessly in the fields to provide food for us.

We’re called to practice hospitality in listening to one another, whether we think monuments should be removed, or whether we disagree, we’re called to listen and to be open to one another.

We’re not all called to be missionaries flung across the globe, but we are all called to be missionaries in our lives and our community. We’re called to offer that cup of water, we’re called to take it to a place where we all are EQUALLY loved by God, and each of us has a place in God’s kingdom. Hospitality is to be exercised most often in the ordinary, not necessarily the extraordinary. That’s what Jesus is getting at in telling us to offer a cold cup of water.

Lest we forget what we have to offer, we have Jesus’ promise: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” And we are all welcome and loved in the name and in the sight of Jesus Christ.


[1] Matthew 10:14-15, New Revised Standard Version

[2] Matthew 10:16, NRSV

[3] Matthew 10:17-23, NRSV

[4] Genesis 18:11-21, NRSV

[5] Matthew 25:41, NRSV

[6] Lewis R. Donelson. “Exegetical Perspective: Matthew 10:40-11:1.” Feasting on the Gospel: Matthew, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-13. A Feasting on the Word Commentary. Eds. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013). Kindle Location 9269.

[7] Matthew 10:42, NRSV

[8]A Room to Remember: Uncollected Pieces. (San Francisco: Harper Collins Books, 1992), p. 136

[9] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305.

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