Jesus said, “He who receives you receives me,
and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.”
St. Matthew 10:38.
Chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel is a “commissioning speech” that Jesus is making to His disciples; it’s a continuation from last Sunday where Jesus told His followers “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Jesus is telling us not to worry about what others might think or say about us; and that we should care more about what God thinks of us; and we should live out our lives being kind, welcoming, encouraging of others.
Jesus had gathered this group of disciples; He taught them everything He knew; He healed, He preached; He performed “miracles”. He showed them a worldview they had never seen; and He talked about hope in a way that they had never heard before. And, if that wasn’t enough, amidst all the miracles and the teaching and the instruction, Jesus made this audacious decision to actually commission this group to go out and do the same things He was doing; healing; teaching, sharing the Good News - and to do so with authority.
Jesus told them how hard it would be. He told them that it would mean leaving much of their given life behind, but He also told them that they could do this! Jesus gave their lives a purpose; He gave their lives a new meaning; and He helped them to see what they could become and set them on a new path. And when they did that - when people received them on their journey and into their homes, then people would actually be receiving Jesus!
That, in essence, they would be “Christ” to those people; and when people met them, saw them, received them, they would meet and see and receive Christ; People would see them and, through their witness, they would “see” God. And this ragtag group of disciples said “Yes!” They said they would do it - and they changed the very future of the world.
So these last verses of this “commissioning speech” are the last words that the disciples hear before Jesus sends them off. Certainly Jesus knows that they will encounter opposition and persecution, many of them will suffer for being a disciple of His - even be put to death for their faith and witness.
But Jesus is encouraging His followers to find those who will support them, uplift them and encourage them as they go about their ministry.
The better translation for the word, “welcome,” is “receive” which is deeper than just friendliness. To be “received” means taking the disciple in, heeding the words proclaimed, accepting the teaching, praying for the apostle: “Whoever receives you, receives me and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome do you think? If there is an end to such a list of who is welcome, what does this mean?
And if not, well - what does that mean?“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me”. There are numerous other examples and variations of that message throughout the New Testament record. But the bottom line emphasis surely seems to be on inclusion, on reciprocity, on welcoming and doing for others; all those things it takes to build up community and to genuinely and sincerely to include the stranger as neighbour.
If we can believe the record of today’s lesson and so many other passages, Jesus and the early disciples, and later apostles, put a high value on welcoming and proclaiming the presence of God. But let’s just take a minute to stop and think about the present day and about division, about exclusion and about keeping people separated and kicking people out. There may well be legitimate and compelling reasons to consider the economic impact or national safety issues in such things… But if an inhospitable, exclusive attitude goes along with these ideas - then they are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus who talked so very much about welcome, inclusion and hospitality. Such an understanding of hospitality, of the obligation of welcome, dates back to well before the time of Jesus. But where and how do we experience such welcome today?
“Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” Is this what we hear today - or do we hear, instead, words of separation, division and exclusion; words of breaking relationship, words of opposition and repudiation? So many of the ugly and dangerous attitudes playing out on the world stage and on the news channels right now have spilled over into our own communities. Where is our witness to welcoming others, and, thereby, welcoming Jesus and the One who sent Him?
The Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul which is tomorrow invites us to think about Peter and Paul… you know, those two didn’t get along too well; in fact, they didn’t agree on many things and, finally, they went their separate ways in the proclamation of the Gospel. What Peter and Paul had in common, though, was the conviction that God had visited humanity in the person of Jesus Christ; And that Jesus had brought something new; and something remarkable to humankind; something demonstrated in a way to live, a way to relate; and a way to witness to God’s love. And both Peter and Paul understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a place in God’s kingdom.
We may believe differently about the details of faith, as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians are wont to do... We may understand civic responsibility differently; we Scots have always held a variety of opinions on things. But for us as Christian Scots or Scots Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel text asks: What does it mean to “welcome”, and how do we do that?
What does this welcome look like in our churches, in our communities, in our national policies, in our very attitudes? For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom, living that faith in a Scottish context of privilege and challenge.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but He pretty clearly told us to be welcoming; and don’t forget that in welcoming others, and the gifts they bring, we open up new imaginative horizons, and bring incalculable enrichment and enjoyment to life. Don’t forget that it’s in welcoming others that the glory of God is humanity truly alive. When we do that, and get it right, I think we most compellingly anticipate the life of heaven in our lives on earth.
Of course, like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything. But as we live out our Christian faith in daily practice we, as a Christian people, are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God - can we at least agree on that?
Every single one of us was born into this world a unique, irreplaceable and beautiful creation, ready to bring forth incredible things. Things that only we can do; and if we don’t know that about ourselves yet, we need to know it now; because that’s the kind of creative work that God is in the business of. We are created with love and with purpose because the truth is that life can get really hard. Somedays we get bogged down with the details and the annoying frustrations of life; and other days we face challenges that seem insurmountable and we just can’t see to the other side of it.
So we need to be reminded to keep moving forward; to keep believing that God has created us to do good and beautiful and tremendous things in the world; and that the things we do each day and the work and the witness we undertake really does matter! And, yes, God knows, it’s very hard work. But we need to think about living this out by talking about the way we represent Christ in the world today.
For whom, then, will you be Christ’s representative in the world - right where you are, in the places where you already find yourself?
We have all experienced some involuntary social distancing and isolation over the last three months; We have all felt an enforced exile from the security, comfort and community of regular social life - and some have found their biggest challenge has been to keep their inner-life buoyant; and fight off feelings of listlessness and spiritual malaise. Sometimes it’s all too easy to be outwardly positive - but inside feel anything but. I’ve seen how fear, confusion and anxiety has been a debilitating daily reality for people. But our Christian faith encourages us - in the words of one Biblical writer - to “keep my soul awake”.
We are all looking for silver linings right now, in the midst of a rather big and very black cloud. Covid-19 has provided us with a heightened experience, a chance to work out what is important to us, and what isn’t. This crisis will pass, because everything passes… But I do hope and pray that the positive transformation that has taken place amidst the pain will enable a richer future for us all.
Be encouraged, then, in your own faith and witness this morning because God, in Christ, is with you; Support others this week in their ministry. Encourage them in their service, welcome them and receive them as from Christ Himself. Pray for them instead of criticizing them. Put the best construction on what they say or do. Encourage others in their own faith and witness. Where is your witness to welcoming others and, thereby, welcoming Jesus and the One who sent Him? Who will see you this week - and, in seeing you, also see God?
Almighty God, us grace to love You with all our heart,
all our soul, all our mind,
all our strength,
and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting.