Sunday, June 28, 2020 – Pentecost 4

June 28, 2020  

Pentecost 4 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Matthew 10:40-42

I read a great commentary on our gospel text!

I read commentaries in the Christian Century as I prepare sermons. The commentary for this week was written by a Lutheran pastor who now ministers to a parish in Texas. She wrote about her first sermon preached on this text in her first parish twenty years ago, not in Texas but in South Dakota. During the week that followed her preaching her sermon, there was a stranger floating around the pastor’s small South Dakota town. A member of her church told her that, remembering the pastor’s sermon, the member gave the stranger a sandwich. The pastor, hearing the parishioner, was excited, thinking “People do listen to what I am saying…” (“June 28, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time” Christian Century June 17, 2020 p. 23).

Her words remind me of when Sally Fields won an academy award and she went to the podium and she said “You like me, you really like me!”

As the writer of the commentary reflected on our short scripture reading from Matthew again twenty years later, she wrote that she felt, in previous sermons on this text, “there is something that I skipped right over in this passage. It’s the very first phrase, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” She wrote about those words: “This makes me uncomfortable” (ibid).

I’ve been thinking about her story and about her words “This makes me uncomfortable.” I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

The writer’s discomfort comes from being a guest; her discomfort comes from wondering if, as a guest, she would be welcomed.

I’ve been asking myself: How privileged is it to have the luxury to feel uncomfortable imagining ourselves as strangers needing to be welcomed? How privileged is it to imagine ourselves needing to be fed, and then to find that discomforting?

How privileged are we when we just automatically put ourselves at the head of the table, as the host or hostess? How privileged is it when we automatically think: We’re the ones welcoming the strangers! We’re the ones giving out the bread to eat. We’re the ones giving out cold cups of water.

Going even further, how privileged are we when being a “stranger” is a choice we get to make?

Some of us will never have to be strangers if we don’t want to be. We can work with people like us and we can go to church with people like us and we can go shopping with people like us and we can have fun with people who are just like us.

It makes sense, if that’s our reality, it makes sense that we are uncomfortable imagining Jesus saying to us “whoever welcomes you welcomes me”– like it is a great big deal if somebody lets us in the door or invites us to sit at their table.

The privilege many of us have allows us to assume: of course they let us in. Of course they let us sit with them. Of course they feed us.

Unless of course, they don’t. Which is probably what happened to the first disciples of Jesus. Which is probably why Jesus tried to give the disciples some encouragement: whoever welcomes you welcomes me.

Imagine always being the stranger.

Worse yet, imagine, being “welcomed,” and then wondering if the welcome is real or not. Imagine waiting for the other sandal to drop. Imagine expecting your welcome to be taken back if you say just the wrong thing just the wrong way, or you do the wrong thing wrong. Imagine if you did nothing when someone thought you should do something and then, bam! You are no longer welcome.

I’ve been thinking… if we pride ourselves in how we welcome others, we need to ask ourselves why we are always the welcome-ers and rarely the welcomed. Are we expecting others to always come to us? How is it that we came to be the ones who set the table? How can we change this?

This is a real challenge, a challenge to all of us who represent the most “historically traditional” aspects of the ELCA. How can we change this?

Then, a tangential thought: I’m thinking most of us sharing worship today have dedicated our lives to being disciples of Jesus Christ. How is it that, as his disciples, we exempt ourselves from experiencing the uncomfortableness of sharing his gospel message with friends and neighbors and yes, even strangers?   We say we’re too shy. We’re too “nice”. We don’t want to offend anyone or embarrass ourselves…

How is it most of us get a free pass when it comes to boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, that he loves the world and has saved us all from our sins?

I’m asking this because, if we were really preaching and teaching and living the way Jesus wants us to preach and teach and live, our lives would often be uncomfortable. We would be wanting, we would be needing the comfort of hearing Jesus say to us “When they welcome you they welcome me.”

I can’t believe I’m saying this but, there is good news for us as we live in the midst of a pandemic while simultaneously being confronted by centuries of systematic racism.

There is good news for those of us who might be beginning to think comfort isn’t quite achieving the dream Jesus had for us.

Right now, we have what policy-makers describe as a “window of opportunity.”

Right now, opportunity lies in the fact that, when we all go back to our respective ministries worshiping in our respective places, we are going to be required to change the way we do things.

We know we are going to have to change the ways we worship; we know we are going to have to change the ways we learn; we know we are going to have to change the ways we gather and the ways we share the gospel…

We know: we just have to. The pandemic alone will require we make changes.

As we embrace those opportunities, why not take the opportunity to evaluate everything we do, not just through the lens of contagion but also through the lens of privilege.

I’m asking “Why not?” as if we have a choice.

We don’t have a choice. Not really.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, it is our call, to evaluate everything we do in order to do better, in order to be the people Jesus calls us to be. This kind of change is our call.

This kind of change is our hope. Because when we dare to change, moving forward with hope, we are walking not alone, but with Jesus, who said “When they welcome you, they welcome me.”