Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who welcomes us. Amen
Today we have a very short gospel text
where the word welcome
is repeated over and over.
Now when we hear this word
we perk up a bit because “welcome”
is such an important concept in Christianity,
particularly because we are called
to keep expanding the community
Sharing the message of Christ
Growing the community
So when we hear this passage
as Professor Rolf Jacobson remarks
we hear it as a command.
We place ourselves in the role of the welcomers
who will receive the reward that Jesus is talking about
and yet when we back up
and look at the whole passage that this little chunk of gospel is a part of,
we realize that rather than a command,
this passage is a promise
and the disciples are not the ones who will be doing the welcoming,
rather they will be the welcomed.
Our gospel for today
comes at the end of what is known as The Missionary Discourse,
we’ve heard parts of it over the past two weeks.
Jesus summons his twelve disciples,
gives them power over unclean spirits
and then he sends them out
instructing them to travel light,
not to pack extra sandals or clothes
not even food.
as they travel they are to proclaim the good news
that the kingdom of God has come near
and to rely on the hospitality
of those they encounter for their livelihood,
it’s a very vulnerable position
and Jesus tells them up front
that it’s not going to be easy,
“see I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves” he tells them,
and predicts that they will be beaten and driven out of towns
that the message they bring will divide families,
that as disciples they are to take up the cross
and in following Jesus expecting to lose their lives,
but do not be afraid Jesus tells them,
this is something bigger than just yourselves
and at the very end, our gospel for today,
Jesus promises that despite all the hardships
the disciples can expect
there will be those they encounter
who will welcome them and take care of them
and in doing so these people they encounter
are welcoming Jesus and his father.
The disciples represent the full presence
of the one who sends them.
Those who welcome the disciples
are the ones who will receive the reward.
Jesus’ call to discipleship
is first and foremost a call to vulnerability,
to dependence on others,
a call to be present with others,
to accept their hospitality
and in that way bring the presence of God.
Now this is a very different picture of discipleship
and even evangelism than we are used to,
we’re used to being on the action end of things,
of going out and making things happen
Of doing things for people,
which sometimes turns into doing things to people,
We generally think it’s others
who are supposed to accept our message
and way of doing things.
But that’s not what Jesus tells the disciples,
he tells them simply, go and be among people,
to offer the message of the kingdom of God
and to expect that most people will reject it and you,
but some will receive it and you,
and that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
This is a hard for message for us
who are so individualistic,
who love to depend on ourselves,
who like to make things happen,
but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.
of mind, of way of being
takes the small everyday presence of many people.
I’ve experienced this a little bit myself,
as a woman pastor.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women
in the predecessor bodies of the ELCA
and it took ten more years before a woman of color was ordained.
The big decision was made 50 years ago
but the culture didn’t change overnight,
it took years of my foremothers serving
to get to the place where I could pursue ordination
without my gender being the primary focus of my resume.
And yet along the way
there have been reminders
that it was not always so,
my seminary was built in the 1960s,
they didn’t anticipate female students,
so on the main classroom floor
while the men’s bathroom was just across the hall
the women’s bathroom was tucked back in a corner
by the office section,
and not all denominations ordain women,
I’ve been in some places
where I’ve been the first female clergy that people have encountered
and they haven’t quite known what to do with me,
especially on CPE where most of the patients in the hospital
were either Baptist or Catholic,
I often got ‘are you a nun?’ and ‘what do I call you? Mother?’
And I would tell them what to call me
And go on with my job.
My presence a stronger argument than any words
For women serving as pastors.
Some interactions are not so mild,
one of my friends,
upon meeting a new colleague out in the community,
(she wasn’t wearing clergy attire at the time,)
introduced herself and was treated warmly
but as soon as she got to the part
where she explained that she was the new pastor
the colleague withdrew his hand from the handshake
and refused to acknowledge her existence,
but her presence in that community
was a living testament to what the colleague rejected.
Jesus gives each of the disciples gifts
then sends them out to be the presence of God wherever they go.
Jesus gives each of us gifts
and calls us to be the presence of God wherever we go,
discipleship, evangelism is a way of life,
it’s not something we do on Sunday mornings
or at special times
and then go back to doing whatever we want,
who we are, how we live,
the way we treat others
all show those around us what it means,
for us at least,
to be in relationship with God
and when our actions fail to reflect the ways of God
One of the major critiques of religion
is the hypocrisy of those who practice it imperfectly.
People notice how we live
And yet if the expectation to live perfectly sounds impossible,
you’d be correct,
no matter how hard we try
we will never be perfect,
God knows this
which is why God offers us grace
in Christ who is perfect,
Offering forgiveness when we mess up and confess and repent,
allowing us the chance to grow in faith and life with God,
sending others into our lives,
to bring the presence of God
with their own God given gifts
To bring the kingdom of God near to us.
this is the life that Jesus calls us to live,
lives that give witness to the grace of God
who receives us as we are
and who encourages us to witness
to the kingdom of God with our whole selves
even as we are called to grow and be changed
by the witness of others we encounter along the way.
Rather than attempted perfection
I think the opportunity for forgiveness
and the commitment to growth, to do better
is a much more compelling way of life
The grace of God sets us free from the need to be perfect
and the accompanying fear of failure
The grace of God calls us to be vulnerable
To dare to be the presence of God
And to allow others
to be the presence of God ,
with their own God given gifts, to us
And Jesus knows that at times this is difficult
that some we encounter will expect perfection immediately,
or will reject the message of grace,
That in the process of living this way
we will lose our lives,
the lives where we’ve always done it this way,
but in losing our lives we will find new life,
and God promises
that there will be people along the way who will welcome us,
and encourage us,
even if it’s as simple as offering us a cold cup of water.
All this is possible because Christ first welcomes us,
And sends us out.
The kingdom of God has come near. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.