Pentecost 6A Matthew 10:40-42
Welcome. Welcome is such a simple word. It is one of those words which is learned early when one is learning a foreign language. I looked up the word, “welcome” on the Internet and found a website with 325 languages and 325 ways to say “welcome.” http://www.elite.net/~runner/jennifers/welcome.htm
In seven Northern European languages, the word “welcome” sounds similar to one another. Listen.
In Norwegian, the word welcomes sounds like Velkommen.
In Danish, Velkommen
In Swedish, Välkommen.
In Germany, Willkommen.
In Iceland, Velkomen.
In Scotland, WalkomIn
But when you listen to the word, “welcome” in the other languages, you hear other sounds.
In France, Bienvenue.
In Spain, Benvidos
In Arabic, Marhaben.
In Cantonese China, Foon ying.
Hawaiian, Aloha mai
Hebrew, Baruch haba
Japanese, Yo koso
Can any of you in the congregation say the word “welcome” in a language other than English? Would you stand up and volunteer the word and tell us what language it is?
Many of us have welcome mats outside of our front doors. Have you ever had a welcome mat at your house? Often, our welcome mats simply say, WELCOME. Sometimes, we have welcome signs hanging outside the front door of our house. Sometimes we have a welcome plaque hanging in our entry hallway. We want to communicate to those who are entering that they are welcomed.
The word, “welcome” is associated with a special guest. That is, you don’t normally welcome your wife into your home when she has out in the garden. Nor do you welcome your husband in from the garage after fixing the car. Usually a welcome is extended to a special guest.
We welcome people in many different settings. For example, we see or experience “welcomes” at the airport. We come off the airplane and walk to where people are waiting. There is a group of people welcoming a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, whomever. We are not the person being welcomed but we see all the action. This welcome committee has balloons and signs and smiles a mile wide. The loved one approaches and the welcoming family cheers, breaks into smiles and tears, and overwhelms the loved person with hugs and embraces. We know the story. We have seen a welcoming committee at the airport; we have been received by one; or we have been part of one. Welcoming committees at the airport are fun.
What does it mean to welcome someone? You are glad to see them. You are delighted and pleased. You are very happy. You have a happy smile on your face which sends a message that you are happy that the person is here.
From years ago, I especially remember one “welcoming committee.” A group from our congregation was visiting a school that we sponsor down in a small village in Haiti. We came to that school, almost two hours late, and there were hundreds of children out there in front of the school. There were hundreds of beaming smiles, hundreds of singing voices, hundreds of pure joy and elation that the guests had arrived. It was an electric moment. We knew that we were wanted. We knew that we were appreciated.
What are memories that you have about being welcomed or welcoming someone? What are such stories in your story bank?
It is with this mood and these images that we approach the gospel teachings for today. We are reading from the Gospel of Mathew during this summer series of sermons. We know that Matthew was a tax collector who not only collected taxes but also collected stories about Jesus. Unlike the other disciples, it is theorized that Matthew the tax collector knew how to read, write and keep account of who paid taxes and who didn’t. He was a tax collector and an organizer. Matthew organized the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew organized Jesus’ teachings into Matthew 5,6 and 7, also called the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew organized many miracles of Jesus into chapters 8 and 9. And Matthew also organized many of Jesus’ teachings about discipleship into chapter 10. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us what he expects of his disciples. His twelve disciples are to carry out their mission to preach and teach and heal. They are to dress simply. They are to expect persecutions by government and family. They are to pick up their crosses and follow Christ. They are to love God more than their family.
We now come to the last teaching about discipleship in Matthew, chapter 10. Please turn to your bulletin insert and we will do a brief Bible study. We focus on the word, “welcome.” We hear the word, “welcome” six times in this brief teaching. Circle the word, “reward.” We will hear the word, “reward,” three times.
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Circle the word, “you.” “You” refers to the twelve disciples. Jesus was sending the twelve disciples out into their countryside and villages. Whoever welcomed one of the disciples welcomed Jesus himself and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the Lord God who sent Jesus. The disciples were being sent out into their mission field and whoever welcomed them into their homes welcomed Jesus himself. The first disciples were ambassadors for Christ. The first disciples were representatives of Christ. Whoever welcome this representative welcomed Christ himself.
We understand this when we think of ambassadors for a nation. Whoever welcomes the ambassador is welcoming the president of the nation whom the ambassador represents. The disciples were ambassadors for Christ and whoever welcomed them into their homes were welcoming Jesus Christ himself and also the Lord God who sent Jesus to this earth.
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; We circle the word, “reward.” We circle the word, “reward” twice in this verse and once in the next verse. We recall that the Gospel of Matthew likes the word, “reward.” Matthew uses the word, “reward,” thirteen times in his gospel. John does not use the word, “reward,” at all and Mark uses it only
once and Luke twice. In other words, “reward,” is a favorite word and concept of Matthew, the tax collector.
As people welcomed the early prophets, righteous leaders and disciples into their homes, they would be blessed by God for doing so.
When we walk in the Lord’s ways, we are blessed for doing that. When we give a cup of cold water to the needy, we will be blessed for doing so. Yes, God will bless us for giving a cup of cold water to those in need, for being generous to the poor and starving, for being prayerful and devout…not in order to impress others and receive applause from other people. Also, God will bless us when we welcome new people who are new disciples into our Christian communities. Similarly, God will bless us when we welcome anyone into our fellowship of love. When we as human beings walk in the way of the Lord and walk in the ways of God’s welcoming generosity, blessings will flow from God. God will bless us for being welcoming people.
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." Circle the phrase, “a cup of cold water.” A traveler in hot dusty Palestine would appreciate a cup of cold water. What a treat. What a reception. What a welcome. A drink of cool water. Not just a drink but a full cup of cold water. What a reception. What a way of telling someone that they were welcome into their home.
To give a cup of cold water was a symbol of meeting another person’s essential need.The giving of a cup of cold water was a pure gift, a meaningful expression of hospitality and genuinely welcoming another disciple into one’s home or community.
This concludes are Bible study of the text for today.
So what does this teaching have to do with our lives twenty centuries later? What is Jesus saying to us today about what it means to welcome others with the Spirit of Christ? Originally, in Jesus’ day, this teaching was about welcoming the “sent disciples” into homes. How does this teaching apply to our lives today? That is an important question.
First impressions are so important. A new person or guest sizes up a community within minutes about whether or not they are accepted or not, whether they will make friends or not, whether this is potentially a friendly community or not.
I need to tell you four stories about the importance of welcoming. These four stories are so important in understanding this Biblical text for our world today.
The other Sunday, we had a “Godspeed” for Sharon who was a choir member and soloist. In that Godspeed service, she wanted to publicly thank the congregation. She told one story, that story of showing up at choir practice ten years ago alone, nervous and a little edgy. She told the story of how so many people genuinely welcomed her into the group. That first impression was so important to Sharon. What a relief! The choir has been her spiritual home since, for the past ten years. In the first night of choir practice, she was royally welcomed, not in any formal or ostentatious way but in numerous informal ways. Little conversations. Little looks. Little head nods. The spirit of the choir made her feel welcomed and important. As the years went by, when Sharon got sick, people took care of her. When others got sick, Sharon took care of them. It was in the first welcoming evening and in the repeated similar events through the past decade that Sharon found a new community which transformed her life. That is what Sharon told us during the Godspeed service recently.
There was so much power in the welcoming. The way that she was welcomed was a sign of the refreshing love and acceptance she would experience for the next ten years. Her first impression of the openness and acceptance of the choir drew her into the choir and she remained there for ten years before she moved to another city.
In the Bible story for today, Jesus encouraged people to give a cup of cold water as a sign of giving something enormously valuable to the visitor. To give a cup of cold water is to give a special gift to that person. When other members of the choir gave Sharon love and acceptance, that was the gift that she needed. It was a precious gift to her. Love and acceptance was like a cup of cold water to her. Certain people in the choir gave Sharon what she needed. It was refreshing for her to be loved and accepted into that group where she could use her talent and sing praises to the Lord.
The quality of the welcoming is a sign, a signal, a symbol of what will happen later. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, you may be loved and accepted later.
Another example. A second example. I think of seventh grade confirmation which I teach. Genuine welcoming, friendliness and acceptance by other kids in the class are so important to any seventh grader. I think of Mark 9:37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus was clear: When confirmation students welcome new kids into the class as new friends, we welcome Christ and God. New students who “stick with confirmation” are often students who experience a genuine Christian community of friendship, caring and love. They feel welcomed; they feel accepted; they feel that they are significant and important. First impressions are so crucially important. First impressions of friendliness and openness are a clue, a sign, a signal that there may be the possibility of genuine friendships here in this room.
To give a cup of cold water to a seventh grader is not to give that student permission to get a cold drink from the drinking fountain. A cup of cold water is a symbolic gift. It is giving a new seventh grader full acceptance, recognition, importance that they are in the class at all. It is this deep sense of acceptance which is like a drink of fresh, cold water.
The quality of the welcoming is a sign, a signal, a symbol of what will happen later. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, you may be loved and accepted later. The quality of welcoming may be a sign of the possible genuine friendships and acceptance.
Seventh graders only love confirmation is they have good friends in the class. The way a new kid is welcomed is crucially important. Will the new kid come back? Yes, if he or she senses a genuine welcome and the possibility of real friendships.
A third example. I think of the small groups in the Bible study I teach of THE LIFE OF CHRIST. During each session, there are three small-group discussion questions and interactions. If someone feels welcomed by people at a particular table, they feel a sense of relief. They want to come back to that table of friends. They want to experience genuine Christian community and love. They want to listen. They want to share. They want to discuss. They want to pray. Yes, human beings are wired in such a way that we want to be part of genuine, loving, open and welcoming communities.
Whenever a group of people welcomes someone into their friendship pattern, that new person normally comes back. The power of Christian group friendship is enormously transforming.
A fourth example. Years ago, I used to do “worship, preaching and evangelism” workshops around the country. I distributed some research entitled, Congregational Tools for Effective Evangelism. It was a survey of people who joined a congregation. These new members were given a list of 48 items why they joined a particular congregation. The “seven highest ranked reasons for joining” were:
1) 2.95 Because of what the pastor was like as a person.
2) 2.84 Because members made me feel welcomed when I attended.
3) 2.78 Because it helped me in my attempt to live a Christian life.
4) 2.68 Because I especially like the worship services.
5) 2.63 Because it was a place where my children could receive good religious education.
6) 2.56 Because the pastor preaches good sermons.
7) 2.53 Because I felt that something was missing in my life.
What was the second highest factor? “Because people made me feel welcomed when I attended.” What was the sixth highest factor? “Because the pastor preaches good sermons.” In other words, the power of welcoming by the laity was more important than the power of preaching by the preacher in helping people determine if they wanted to join a particular congregation. What the laity said in the pews to each other during and after the worship was more important to people’s joining a congregation than what the pastor said from the pulpit. It is not that what the pastor preaches is unimportant; it is that what the laity say in “welcoming” is also very important. Often we as Christians undervalue the power of being a genuinely and deeply welcoming community. Often, too many Christians don’t “get it” about the power of everyday welcoming during our worship services.
The quality of the welcoming is a sign, a signal, a symbol of what will happen later. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, you may be loved and accepted later.
The people who are visiting are congregations may be seekers or they may be old time disciples. Either way, in the text for today, Jesus wants us to welcome them as we would welcome Christ himself.
I have given you four examples of the power of welcoming within the church. I have talked about choir, confirmation, Bible study and worship services.
BUT there is a problem. Inherently, in every choir, in every confirmation class, in every Bible study, in every worship service, the natural inclination is to be friendly to your old friends and not truly and genuinely incorporate new people into the choir, the confirmation class, the Bible study and worship. This pattern is as old as the human race. We continue to be friendly with our “old friends” and often unconsciously screen out other new people from our friendship patterns. This happens in choirs, confirmation classes, Bible studies and worship all the time.
These new people are often disciples of Jesus who are seeking a new community, a new choir, a new church, a new place to be where they can grow in Christ.
What are some of the rewards or blessings of being a genuinely welcoming community? There are so many blessings when we are a welcoming community. For example, Sharon sang in our choir for ten years and she graced us with many a solo. We see so many new kids in the confirmation class who have been brought by their friends, they make new friends at class, and they grow up as little disciples of Christ who become mature adults. In the Bible class, people find a small community of friends to discuss religious questions with. In worship, our services are transformed with all the new people.
Sharon’s life was blessed as she gave her gift to the Lord and sang to her heart’s content. Young people in confirmation grow up to be mature young adults in Christ. It is such a blessing to be part of a small group Bible study where you care share honestly and personally and grow in Christ. It is such a blessing where new people bring vitality into our worshipping community.
Jesus said, “Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Welcoming. It can be said and done in so many different ways. Velkommen.Välkommen.
Willkommen.Velkomen.Walkom. Welcom. Welcome. Amen.