Jun 24 | “Whoever welcomes,” (Sermon, June 24th 2020)

Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a 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; 42and whoever gives even 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.’

Matthew 10:40-42

Over the last few weeks, despite all of the strangeness that the world has laid upon us (I saw one tweet the other day referring to the date as May 56th, and doesn’t that feel true), Hineni House has been advertising for the one spot that will be available this year.

Our applicants tend to find us through social media, although a few are recommended by contacts we have like fellow clergy, former residents, or other intentional communities. They fill in the online application, and I always set up a phone call after I read it – sometimes people are better talking in person than in writing. I also contact the reference they’ve provided for more information. If I like what I hear, we set up an in-person interview with me and members of Hineni Council, and we try to find ways to connect the person to residents to see how they interact with one another.

Hineni House, photo by Hannah Fonseca-Quezada

It’s always exciting to read these applications. We have people of all spiritual backgrounds and educational experiences, people united in a quest for something deeper than just a regular roommate experience. A few have told me that they considered applying for a long time before actually doing so.

I’m always happy when I hear that. It’s a big decision, and a big risk to take. Some folks have anxiety about conflict or meeting new people or talking about big concepts and ideas, conversations with higher stakes than what anyone could necessarily expect to have with ordinary roommates. What a lot of people are looking for is, in a sense, permission to talk about this stuff. You’d be surprised how many applicants and residents we’ve encountered who have never had these talks, because if you grow up without any religious background at all, there might honestly never be a point where these topics come up: How do you think the world came to be? What do you think we’re doing here? Where do you think we go when we die?

It’s not that they’ve never thought about these things, but that secular society hasn’t always figured out how to provide a safe and open space to address them with others.

So it’s a big risk to come and be with us. It’s a big risk to come into a house where you know, by its very nature, that none of these conversations are off the table. And a lot of them do decide to take the risk, and what happens as a result is all too often beautiful and a little awkward and definitely, certainly, Godly.

Today’s passage from Matthew, at the very end of Chapter 10, is a welcome bit of peace in a troubling set of warnings from Jesus. While there is excitement and apprehension at the new adventures awaiting the disciples in their new mission of being sent out by twos, Jesus has instructions. In verse 16 he says, “You’re not going out like soldiers. You’re going out like sheep. Don’t take anything with you. Don’t receive payment. You were healed and welcomed freely, you have to pass it on.

“Oh by the way they’re probably going to hate you.

“Parish council will drag you in to ask you to explain yourself. When the state finds out what you’re doing – going around and making a mockery of their rules – that same council will throw you to the wolves.”

Jesus says they risk being dragged in front of governors and kings. We children of the twenty-first century might wonder why the state would get involved.

Well, the last time something like this happened, things got really ugly.

Around the time Jesus was born, a messianic revolt brought down the wrath of the Roman general Varus, who had two thousand Jewish rebels crucified on the side of the road.

Jesus is telling them, “If it comes down to you and your unsanctioned community reintegration and the literal lives of their congregants, religious leaders will be happy to disavow you and hand you over.”

But don’t worry about it, Jesus says. I’m with you, and I’ll be with you, always. At verse 26 he says, in effect, “Leave the justice to me and to God. All of the secrets, all of the lies, all of the broken systems that hold up this unjust Empire, they’ll all be revealed. Stay strong. Have faith in God’s power to overturn injustice and oppression. It’s worth the risk.”

As oppressed people themselves, brown illiterate Jews, it was all his disciples had.

Going on, in verse 34 Jesus does his best to impress upon them the severity of the situation. He wants to be honest with them. He wants to be honest with us. Standing up for what’s right, what’s lifegiving, is risky business. Like the disciples we live in a world where leaders hold onto power by convincing us that poverty and violence and division are inevitable because the world is a terrible place, and the only thing that will save us is a firm and punishing hand. We can see this playing out right in front of us today, on our TV and computer screens. People across North America and around the world are asking tough questions about the way we administer so-called justice, and the response has been naked brutality and rage that they would even dare to ask those questions.

Jesus speaks directly to us in this time. He grew up during the years surrounding the death of King Herod, installed as a puppet king to keep that upstart Judea in check. When Herod died, the people revolted, but they were no match for the Roman state, an Empire accustomed to revolt, an Empire that truly believed peace was only won through bloodshed, just like our nations believe that peace and justice can only be won through violence, prisons, and police.

Proposing a new system of unity and peace which flows out of treating everyone as though they are worthy of love and dignity probably seemed ridiculous then and still does now. We hear that often from political leaders: “It’s just not practical. And it’s too dangerous to even try.”

Knowing this, the disciples probably felt hopeless. We can sympathize, can’t we?

And that is when we get to today’s passage.

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

Things seem hopeless, but they’re not. And we’re not alone.

The Kingdom is forged in the work of building communities of love.

In a time like this, we need to be creative about our allies. The good news is that the more open we are, the more likely we are to find them. It’s like when you commit to living with gratitude. When you decide to do it, you see things sprouting up all around you that are opportunities for gratitude. It’s the same with friends. The greatest tool of those who oppress is fear of the other. Jesus was killed because he encouraged people to come together. He brought together people from all social classes and genders, and he healed outcasts and forgave sinners, bringing them back into community. And his resurrection, the ultimate Sign, was a sign that even death cannot separate us from a community of love.

In welcoming people to Hineni House, St. Margaret’s takes up that work in its own utterly unique way. Having welcomed dear Shalet and Gail from India, we can now truly say it’s a worldwide ministry! With your support, you welcome people without judging their theology or their past. You live out Jesus’ wisdom that whoever is not against us is for us. You take the risk and invite in hope that those who come will become our friends. You welcome them, because in welcoming them, whatever their colour or creed, you welcome Christ, and you make our family a little bigger. And the bigger our family is, the more hope and love the world will receive through us, and the more beautiful it will become.

I ask your prayers as we continue in our work, and I give you my deeply heartfelt thanks. The work we are all doing is Kingdom work, and the Kingdom is forged in building communities of love.

Never forget it.

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