Scripture: Matthew 10:40-42
When I was in elementary school my family took a vacation that involved traveling around the East Coast. We visited Boston, Cape Cod, and the highlight I was looking forward to the most was Cooperstown, NY. Home of the baseball hall of fame. Outside of Cooperstown my parents booked a night in a place that was called Lakeside Motel. Cooperstown is located next to a large lake so I think my parents thought that was the lake we would be beside. It was not. The lake was a scum covered drainage pond. This was an era before cable TV was standard, and apparently at this establishment antennas were also not standard because the room TV only got snow. More than three decades later, I can remember specifically thinking how uncomfortable the bed was. In all of my years that was probably my worst experience with a hotel, which I realize makes me lucky. A quick internet search for hotel horror stories will reveal people who have had some truly awful experiences. While I am sure it varies from person to person, we have a bare minimum of what we expect hospitality wise out of a place like a hotel. I imagine most of us do not consider our expectations to be extravagant or grand, but we do have a minimum expectation that we want to see met. This morning’s scripture is about hospitality, but I think it is more about the hospitality we are to give than to receive.
At the same time I was going over and thinking through this morning’s scripture in preparation, I saw a few clergy people I follow share the same social media post. This social media posts explains how we suffer from a bad case of “Disney Princess theology”. Meaning that when we read scripture, we tend to project ourselves in the role of the hero. So for instance we easily see how we are like Peter, and ignore how we are like Judas. We identify with Jesus and never cast ourselves as the Pharisees. Seeing this post at the same time I was going over this morning’s scripture was helpful, because in my initial readings of the scripture I was casting myself and identifying with the role of the disciples, of the ones being sent, and of the one’s being welcomed. However, I think we have more to learn and more to gain in our faith development when we do not see ourselves as the star, but instead we see ourselves as that are doing the welcoming. In doing so we can be confronted with how we have fallen short in welcoming others and we can discover how hospitality is a necessary skill and vehicle for deeper faith development.
This morning’s scripture comes from the end of a lengthy discourse in the gospel of Matthew. It comes from the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out to do ministry and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God was near. In this morning’s scripture Jesus essentially mentions anyone who welcomes the disciples will essentially be blessed. Because by welcoming the disciples they will by extension be welcoming Jesus and thus God. However, if we attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of those who were going to be doing the welcoming we can see that it was quite the big ask.
We have to come to an understanding of what the scripture means by “welcome” because our 21st century American idea is worlds different from the 1st century concept. Today we see welcoming as saying hello, smiling, and if we are really trying to be hospitable offering coffee. In the first century though hospitality was more ritualized and it was much more encompassing. To welcome someone was to ensure their safety and to care for their needs. The host doing the welcoming was expected to put themselves out and put their guest first. There was a level of commitment and risk involved with welcoming someone in the culture of Jesus. There were three major hurdles that would have really made it hard for the people the disciples were sent to that needed to be overcome in order to properly welcome the disciples who were sent. First, the disciples were outsiders. They were being sent to small villages far and wide. These villages were isolated and fairly self-contained. These were places where everyone knew everyone, so anyone who showed up unsolicited and uninvited would have stuck out and raised flags immediately. The disciples were not a distant relation of someone in town, they were not a traveling merchant who had built up trust, and they were not the representative of some official with power and clout. Showing hospitality to the disciples would have been a real risk, a shot in the dark, and a step in faith. It would have required personal sacrifice with no guarantee of a return, just because it felt like the right thing to do.
Worst though, and the second hurdle is that the disciples were not just outsiders. They were radical outsiders. We live in a culture that has been shaped by centuries of Christian influence, but in the time of Jesus his message was radical and out there. The disciples would have come with the teachings of Jesus, and as we can see throughout the gospels the teaching of Jesus regularly pushed hard against the religious traditions of the day. There are very few cows more sacred than religious tradition and the disciples would have been challenging than that. So not only were the disciples outsiders, but they were upstarts who were questioning how things have always been done. Anyone who showed them hospitality would have been stepping out of line with their community.
The final hurdle is that Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing. The disciples would have absolutely imposed on their host, because they had no choice. By design, Jesus sent them out to rely on others. Those who showed hospitality to the disciples and welcomed were doing more than giving them a place to lay their head, they were volunteering to completely provide for them. This was no doubt, an experience in faith and trust for the disciples, but it also had to be an experience of sacrifice and generosity for those who showed hospitality. All of these hurdles would have made it exceptionally easy for people in the villages to look the other way, to make excuses for why this was not their responsibility, or be willing to extend hospitality only if the disciples conformed more to their expectations.
This morning scripture lifts up and celebrates the people who, despite these hurdles, welcomed in the people that God sent. Now it is unlikely that we will ever find ourselves in the exact situation that those who welcomed the disciples found themselves in. However, I think we still find ourselves tasked with welcoming the people that God has sent. After all, if people come to visit us here and attend worship with us, we would likely say that God had some role in bringing them here. The person that God has put in our path that we are supposed to be extending radical hospitality to can be right in front of and we fail to realize it.
There is an old story that you may have heard before and is probably a little too on the nose, but it gets the point across: There was a young boy who came from not the best family and he was from the wrong side of the tracks. He may have heard a preacher on the TV, or it could have been something else but something got into him and he wanted to know more about Jesus. So on Sunday morning, he left and walked across the train tracks and up the hill to the biggest church in town. This was the kind of church that the phrase “country club church” was created for. This was the kind of church that the right people went to so they could be seen. This was the kind of church that took great pride in their stained glass windows, Mahogany pulpit and silver candle sticks. The boy walked into the church and sat down near the back. In a few minutes the head usher came and tapped him on the shoulder and said he needed to move because he was in Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so’s seat. Once the service started this unchurched boy was lost. He did not know when to stand, when to sit, and what a hymnal was. He tried to ask those around him for help, but again found the head usher tapping him on the shoulder and telling him not be a nuisance to others. The service went on, and the boy got more and more confused and impatient. Finally, in the middle of the sermon the boy raised his hand and said “excuse me, can you tell me more about Jesus?” There was silence, and the head usher stormed over to the boy, practically picked him up, and carried him out of the sanctuary. The head usher said, “I do not think this is the right place for you” and pointed to the door. The boy left the church, sat down on the curb and began crying. A man stopped and asked him “what’s wrong.” The boy looked up and instantly knew this man was Jesus. The boy said through sniffles, “They kicked me out of there.” Jesus smiled and said, “That’s OK, they kicked me out of there years ago.”
When we welcome those whom God has sent, then we are still welcoming Jesus, and the one who sent him. The church in the story is obviously a caricature. Very few churches are stuffy and hostile. Every church I have ever been in believes with all of their heart that they are friendly and welcoming, but many churches do end up communicating to people, “I don’t think this is the right place for you.” Every church proclaims that their doors are open to all, but that is not fully true. In order to have truly open doors we need to be fully welcoming as this morning’s scripture points out to us.
We need to be willing to welcome those who are different and outsiders even those who have views that we consider radical. Again, most churches say that everyone is welcome to come through the door, but our attitudes, actions, and words need to back that up. We need to consider this on a personal level. Do my action, do my words, do my social media posts communicate that I truly welcome every person or are there people that I treat as outsiders. Are there people who I express towards either intentionally or unintentionally that they would not be a good fit in my faith community because their views, their appearance, their political stance is too radical to fit in? Those are questions all of us need to ask ourselves, and this is a question to which is an absolute right answer. There are no outsiders to God’s love, so we best not be communicating that someone does not belong. Our job is not to set bench marks for how people are supposed to look or believe. Our job is to show hospitality, our job is to be welcoming, our job is to love. If we are truly to be a church of open doors we love everyone. Period. Full stop. The Holy Spirit’s job is to change hearts and mold people to be more Christ like. If someone needs to change, let’s trust God to do that work. Our job is to be welcoming, to meet needs, and to create an environment where truly anyone can experience the love of God.
I believe this morning’s scripture has a message for us, not necessarily as the ones being sent but as the ones who are to be welcoming and show hospitality. May we be aware of the people that God send our way. May they find us to be a welcoming oasis in a cruel world. If they have needs may we meet them and way serve sacrificially. May we welcome those who God send our way because in doing so we welcome Jesus into our midst as well as the one who sent him.