Monday, 30 June 2014

'You're welcome!' - a sermon for Ordinary 13A

Texts:
Ps 89: 1-2, 5-16
Matthew 10: 40-42

One of my favourite kids worship songs
is a song by Fischy Music.
It’s a simple, cheery, song of welcome,
and the words are short and to the point:
‘Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here    
- said x three -
gathered in this place.’
Who knows, I may yet get the chance to teach it to you all 
before I leave in September -
and this particular welcome song comes with actions - 
so you’ve all been warned!

Welcome...and actions...

In our gospel reading this morning,
we find Jesus talking of welcome,
a welcome that comes with actions...
a welcome that is, in this instance,
quite specifically aimed at those,
who follow God,
being made welcome.
Jesus says -
‘whoever welcomes you’ - Jesus is talking to his disciples here...
‘whoever welcomes God’s messenger’ -
prophets and preachers and anyone who proclaims the good news of God...
‘whoever welcomes a good man’ [or woman!] -
other versions of the bible translate this as
‘the righteous’
and lastly,
‘whoever welcomes the least of my followers’
and here, we have an action:
the welcoming of the least is linked to the most basic - 
the most fundamental - act of hospitality:
providing a drink of cold water.
In this passage, then, we see various
kinds of follower,
from the very visible, to the barely visible:
from the great and the humble, to those in-between.
And we learn that to welcome any who follow Jesus,
is to welcome Jesus himself.
Here we get a glimpse of how the followers of Jesus are, 
in effect, the body of Christ.
And we also get a glimpse of how we should see one another:
for in order to welcome someone,
we first need to see them.

The God who sees us
calls us to see each other -
but more than that:
to see the spark of the divine in one another:
to see God in each other.
There’s something of the sacred then,
in the act of welcome.
But, in order to recognise God in one another
how do we see God?

The way in which the writer of our psalm sees God,
whilst singing God’s praises,
give us some helpful clues concerning the nature,
the character of God.
The psalmist sings:
‘O Lord, I will always sing of your constant love;
I will proclaim your faithfulness forever’. ...
In the reading, ‘constant love’ and ‘faithfulness’ just keep cropping up -
in this particular extract, we get to hear about
both of these attributes three times.
Then there’s the uniqueness of God:
no one in heaven is like you...’
God is seen as ‘awesome’,
‘none is as mighty’,
God is ‘powerful’ and ‘strong’.
 We see how God’s strength can calm the
‘angry waves’ of the sea -
which, several centuries later will be demonstrated by Jesus,
on the Sea of Galilee,
in a boat,
in the midst of a fierce storm...
The psalmist praises a God who is
supreme,
creative,
imaginative:
The heavens, the earth -
belong to God,
who created the world
and all therein...
And in the midst of the psalm,
we have a key statement which gives us a huge steer,
not only in how we see God,
but how we see each other -
how we welcome each other.
That statement?
‘Your kingdom is founded on
righteousness and justice;
love and faithfulness are shown in all you do.’

At Presbytery on Thursday evening, the Moderator 
reflected on the various fruit of the Spirit: 
love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 
gentleness and self-control -
this list coming from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 
And it got me wondering about how these are demonstrated
each time we see one another -
each time we welcome and worship and walk with God together.

While some of these may come a little more easily than others,
the list serves to help us begin to tease out
those kingdom values of
righteousness and justice
that the psalmist sings about,
for righteousness and justice is bound up
with building each other up
in love, in joy,
by being patient and kind,
good and faithful, gentle,
and having some modicum of self-control...
okay, let's just not mention chocolate biscuits!!

But welcome is not only about us.
While our gospel reading 
‘invites us to explore in depth the quality of the welcome 
that we offer to one another within the Body of Christ...
we must also reflect on the welcome we offer
to those who are not yet a part of this body.’ [FOTW]
For, echoing last week,
we worship a God who not only sees us,
we worship the God who sees the outsider:
in the case of last week, Hagar.
How then, might we extend God’s welcome
to those on the edges or outwith
the community of Christ’s followers?
...Sometimes, it may be as simple as a random act of kindness...
acts like the ones in the wee film that [ppt person]'s going to play for us now...

[FILM]

Who are the people around us,
unseen,
unnoticed,
ignored by the wider community?
As we wander through our neighbourhoods,
or along the High St,
who might we see?
who are the unwanted ones?
the unwelcome ones?
who are the thirsty ones -
the ones that we could give a drink of water to?
That we could extend God’s welcome to?
the ones who we see
as God’s beloved ones -
or even,
as Christ, in the stranger’s guise?

One very practical thing, that you,
as a congregation are already doing,
has recently been to come alongside
the work of the [name of local group] Project...
seeing young homeless folk,
and helping them to turn a space into a home
when they’re offered housing.
[Seaside Parish community worker] was telling me on Thursday morning
that through your care and kindness,
the second of the starter packs
has already been given away.
Another young person has been given more than a cup of cold water:
that particular way of extending welcome is a ‘welcome to your new home.’
That’s just ...awesome...
I may be biased, but...so are all of you -
Keep up this good work:
the work of active welcome.

Practicing acts of kindness -
whether random or intentional -
is part and parcel of extending welcome:
to welcome someone
is to acknowledge their existence.

In a time and culture that’s geared towards suspicion and mistrust,
the act of welcoming someone is perhaps 
the most radical thing that we can do:
and welcoming those deemed
the last and the least -
those who some would prefer to be
out of sight and out of mind,
is a pretty random act of kindness indeed:
something that seems to make no sense...
And yet,
in God’s kingdom of righteousness and justice it makes complete sense.
For in the radical act of welcome,
as you see,
really see others
you may just come face to face with Christ.


And now, to him be all glory, honour and praise.  Amen.

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