June 26th, 2011
Matthew 10:40 – 42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me .Whoever welcomes the 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 and whoever gives 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.”
Arriving at a Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland theologian Sioban Garrigan was pleased to be greeted at the door by two women, church members, who seemed to invite her into the conversation. Garrigan realized that these women were ushers of some sort, whose job it was to stand at the door of the church and interview newcomers as they arrived. They quietly asked her name and the first names of any other stranger approaching strangers who wished to join in the morning worship.
Then Garrigan figured out what was happening. Hearing those names, the ushers would draw conclusions about the cultural and religious identity of each. Those with protestant names were welcomed warmly and shown their seats. Those with apparently Catholic names were told that they were surely in the wrong church and sent on their way. It could be safely assumed that Garrigan must be referring to research done decades ago; surly no church would act in this way any longer. Unfortunately it was discovered that this “selection” process remains in current practice today.
This story might be considered as foreign to North Americans because it is about a faraway congregation of Irish Presbyterians, who are nothing like us at all, still fighting their Protestant-Catholic battles. Luckily we have no such issues. Our society has moved past such discriminatory behavior. We have elected an African American president, after all, and knocked down all the boundaries and walls. In our worshipping communities everyone is welcome.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…”
Confronted with the unsettling image of that Protestant church on an Irish hillside, we want to immediately dismiss such boundary keeping as abhorrent to the gospel. Perhaps, however, it is more familiar then we want to admit; a barring of the door may not be as unknown to us as we like to pretend. The churches we know would never ask the name of a stranger in some covert attempt to find them out and send them off to where they belong.
Nevertheless, if we are to be honest about the church that we do know, we would have to confess that, though we define our borders differently, we define them still and more subtly.
Perhaps we are curious about education or profession. We may wonder what neighborhood a guest may live in, or what their life status is like – married, divorced, single, above age 55 or below age 55, retired or still actively employed, children at home or children away with children of their own, members of the Elks or the moose clubs, republican or democrat, gay or straight, locals or visitors, live in a hose or a trailer. While none will be turned away from our doors we will tell ourselves that we simply have more in common with those who are “like us”.
In the twinkling of an eye, during a brief “hello” and handshake what are we doing at our doors? Is there a dominant social or political perspective that one needs to present in order to be promptly welcomed? Is there clarity about the norm for sexual identity or family model that really must be established before the doors of the church are flung wide open in welcome? The Gospel lesson today invites us to ask all of these questions about the quality of the welcome that we offer one another within the body of Christ, the church.
“……whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous and whoever gives them a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple…”
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that there exists through him a singular means by which we are all made equal. He uses the term “righteous” or “to be made right in the eyes of God”. Our equality as humans rests solely in his offering of himself in love as the great equalizer, a love that makes us “right in the eyes of God”. No person can ever boast of a greater status or be minimized by a lesser status since all have been made right or equal in the eyes of God through the love of Christ. Jesus says take the love for family that love of your closest community and extend it, extend it further then you thought possible and then extend it some more! Welcome all those who have been made righteous – and that would mean ALL humankind – including those you do not know or understand. We don’t have to make others “right” – Jesus did that. We are called to simply love as we have been loved. This is good news my friends; good news for those who have not felt worthy to be welcomed in the past and good news for the gatekeepers who can let go of their prejudices and rejoice in the equality of all in Jesus.
Are we brave enough to preach, teach and live the way of the righteous in the name of Jesus? Our work on this side of the cross is to welcome, to offer and give a cup of cool water. Or reward her promises us will be great.
Portions of this text come from Feasting on the Word, 2011, Westminster John Knox Press, William Goettler, commentarian.