Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Jeremiah 28:5-9; Matthew 10:40-42
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Welcoming Jesus – what we welcome when we welcome Jesus
Jer 28:5-9, Matt 10:40-42
Welcome, we say it so easily with a smile on our face. Each Sunday we greet each other with these words and welcome is on our lips as we open the doors of our homes to guests. I have often praised Harrisonburg for being a welcoming city, demonstrated by the fact that we are a refugee resettlement city. The image of giving a cup of cold water to a little one makes me think of Jesus welcoming a child onto his lap or the goats and the sheep being separated by who they have or have not given a drink to. Welcome is a good thing. As Mennonites we might like to pat ourselves on the back and say well done, we are good at welcoming, we are great at hospitality.
But when we look at the Matthew passage again I realize that we are not the ones doing the welcoming, we are to be receiving the welcome. This chapter in the gospel of Matthew tells of Jesus giving instructions to his disciples. Jesus is commissioning and teaching them to be sent out. The disciples are sent out not to welcome others but as the vulnerable outsiders in need of welcome. They have no power, other then the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are witnesses in a hostile world, sent as emissaries of God and God’s love.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me (Jesus says), and whoever welcome me welcomes the one who sent me.” (v.40) We are not extending this welcome but needing to receive it from others.
This can be hard for some of us who are at the center. We find ourselves with the power and privilege brought to us by the color of our skin, our social class, our education, our location in societal systems that work in the background and secure our position, even if it is to the detriment of others. To be welcomed by an outsider would mean setting aside our power and control. Setting down our perfectionism and knowing that we will make mistakes and will be at the mercy of the grace that others extend to us. This is where we see Jesus commissioning us as his followers to step out. Can we be good guests?
Right now for me and for many of us we are being welcomed into conversations and actions around race. I know that I am not an expert. I come, sadly, as a willfully ignorant outsider. How do I receive welcome into these spaces and conversations from my brothers and sisters of color but also turn and acknowledge the great amount I need to do to face the legacy of my whiteness so that I can even see and hear what my place is here on the margins.
“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” (v.41) Hmmm…lets look at how prophets were welcomed. They were arrested, put on trail, imprisoned and at points martyred. Ahh Jesus is this really a blessing? Is following Jesus really this costly?
To get a better look at a prophet we turn to the Old Testament passage for today. Jeremiah is responding to the words of Hananiah who had just spoken publicly to all the priests and people there. The struggle here is for who has heard the word of God and who should be trusted. Hanahiah has declared that the people’s suffering and exile will end within a few short years. Then Jeremiah takes the floor. It’s hard to know if Jeremiah is being tactful or sarcastic when he agrees with “Amen, may the Lord do so”. Then he turns the phrase “but listen now”. The words of the prophet are tested against other prophets throughout time and tested to see what will come true.
Debie Thomas writes
“Jeremiah condemns Hananiah’s prophecy as false and dangerous. You’re offering cheap comfort and false hope to God’s people, Jeremiah tells the rival prophet. True peace is not nearly so easy, and God's favor is not something human beings should take for granted.” (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2672-welcome-the-prophet)
In Jeremiah, we see that prophets are not always likeable and we might disagree with what they say. Part of the challenge here is how do we distinguish God’s voice from our own and the false voices we hear around us? Thomas goes on to write: “this lesson is about welcoming prophets. It’s about the risks and rewards of extending hospitality to God’s provocative, discomfiting, and truth-telling messengers.”
“have dared to tell God’s people hard and holy truths. Hard truths about God’s anger, disappointment, and grief. Hard truths about the need for repentance and return. Hard truths about the high cost of justice. Hard truths about patience, longsuffering, and sacrifice.” (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2672-welcome-the-prophet)
As we strive to welcome and be welcomed, are we ready to have our righteousness tested. Can we step into a vulnerable space, setting aside our power and control and accept what is offered to us? Are we willing to listen and welcome the words and actions of the prophets among us, even with their unsettling words and unpolished ways?
There is a duel challenge here of being the outsider, unseated from our power, willing to be open to the other and humbly except their welcome
AND welcoming the prophet – the uncomfortable voice, that upsets and shakes up our lives. Yet this is where we will see Jesus and God reveled. Again words from Debie Thomas
“What’s the takeaway for us? I believe it’s a call to radical, risky honesty, a call to take our vocation as truth-tellers very seriously. As God’s messengers in the world, we are not at liberty to soften the Gospel for the sake of our own likeability. Jesus has not commissioned us to say whatever is trendy or comfortable or easy or popular. He has commissioned us to say what is true. False hope is not God’s hope. Easy peace is not God’s peace. And convenient justice is not God’s justice.” End quote (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2672-welcome-the-prophet)
What is our reward – this is an invitation into Jesus’ kingdom work. Walking faithfully with a steadfast God. We may not be liked but we will receive God’s welcome.
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