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Jesus... I am wondering...

Reverend Philip Stringer

Matthew 10:40-42

LET US PRAY: We ask, O Lord, that the words which we hear this morning, and the worship which we offer, may bear fruit in our hearts and be acceptable in your sight, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN

At the beginning of chapter 10 in Matthew’s gospel, he tells of Jesus selecting the 12 disciples and effectively, the entire chapter is all about Jesus giving them instruction related to his sending them out into the towns ahead of him on his way to Jerusalem. We have heard bits of these instructions over the past few weeks and today we reach the end of the chapter.

Our gospel reading is short— but as I contemplated the implications of Jesus’ words here, I had a hard time deciding onto what I should zero in— and so I decided not to decide— instead, I thought I would do something a little different today— I decided to invite you into my head and then I wrote a letter to Jesus— a meditation of sorts— in which I search out meaning in his words for us. I have written it in “first person,” so where I say, “me” and “I”— you should consider that as meaning you, the listener.

So I invite you to listen in as I read this meditative letter to Jesus in hopes that in hearing, God’s Spirit may speak in your own hearts with insight into the meaning of Jesus’ words in your own lives.

Jesus, I’m thinking about the gospel lesson for today. You said to your disciples, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,” and I’m wondering: are you speaking to me? These words that you spoke to your disciples, are you speaking them to me, too? I think that you are. I hope that you are. I want to be your disciple, although I know that I don’t follow you perfectly. Still, I hope that you are speaking to me when you say, “whoever welcomes you welcomes me.”

Do you mean to say that when I go to someone-- anyone-- with love and goodwill in my heart, that it is really you who is coming to them? Is that what you mean? I don’t mind saying that that is amazing to me-- and I don’t fully understand it-- but I hope that it is true. I hope that you will work through me-- that you will reach beyond me to welcome them, just as you have welcomed me.

You DO welcome me-- I remember this. I remember that YOU come to ME, and yet you are the host. Before I ask, you know what I need-- sometimes in spite of what I ask, you know what I need. You provide for me. You prepare a place for me-- a feast and a home. You make me a child of God and welcome me into our Father’s house. You are always welcoming to me. Lord, make me welcoming of you.

Jesus, I’m thinking about the gospel lesson for today, and I am wondering: are you speaking to me? Or are you speaking to someone else? I have always thought that you were speaking to me. . . . . but now I am wondering: are you speaking to me, or to someone else. Am I listening as you speak these words to someone else-- someone who will perhaps be coming to me? Are you saying that if I welcome them, I will be welcoming you? Yes, I think that this must be true, and I am wondering who it is. . . . who it will be who comes for me to welcome.

Maybe. . . . . well. . . . . I think that I know, and it scares me a little. I know what the answer is. Everyone is coming to me, and that scares me because it is so overwhelming. . . . . . There are more than 8 billion people on the planet! Do you mean to say that you are coming to me— that I will meet you in every one of them?

Jesus, I am thinking about the gospel lesson for today, and I am wondering what the world would be like if we wanted to be welcoming people. I am thinking about the Ukrainian people and the Russian people. I am thinking of Palestinians and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis and Chinese and Afghanis and Americans, and I am wondering how different the world would be if we sought every good thing for our neighbor, instead of trying to make sure they are never strong enough to threaten us. . . . . .

Jesus, I am thinking about the gospel lesson and I am wondering if you are talking to the nations of the world. . . . . Because to forgive our enemies really is a welcoming thing to do. . . . in forgiving our enemies we are welcoming them into a new relationship. Jesus, are you saying that when we pray for our enemies, and when we forgive our enemies, we are welcoming you? Are you saying that we will meet you in our enemies? That we will meet you in the Taliban? That is hard for me Lord. . . . . Give us the strength to forgive, Lord. . . . and to trust you. . . . . and to believe. . . .

I hear your words, spoken to the disciples, and I think of the church. I think of how you have said we are your body. . . . . and I wonder if we are welcoming as YOU are welcoming.

We have a hard history, you know, with terrible scars. Great and terrible scars like the crusades and the Inquisition, and the “Christianization” of the Americas. . . . . and your church is still making scars. We hear the accusations made of some clergy who have betrayed their office and have used and injured those who should have been welcomed in your name-- and we all feel the scars.

We hear and read in the news, words of division and hate— words of discrimination spoken by church leaders.

We hear the bickering and the name calling that flies between denominations. . . . Lord, how can we welcome strangers if we cannot even welcome our brothers and sisters?

Jesus, I am thinking about your gospel lesson, and I am wondering what you would have us do.

I am thinking about St. Michael Church in High Point, and I am remembering that we gave generously at Christmas so that some children could have gifts— and that we gave generously to the food pantry, and that felt really good. It felt good to know that because of us, some of the fear and stress that haunts those families was taken off of them for a time. I am glad those gifts were given through the church.

I think that we welcomed you when we gave those gifts. . . . . but I am worried, Lord.

Did we give to them because it was safe? I am wondering about how much of a sacrifice we have made for them. I am wondering if we have really risked anything by welcoming them without meeting them.

Lord, I am thinking about the refugees who are coming to Guilford County and I am wondering how welcome they will be. I am wondering how much we are willing to risk in order to welcome them. I am wondering how much time we will have for them and how much of a disruption to daily life we are willing to accept.

When you welcomed us, you risked everything. You shed your power and glory and made yourself vulnerable to us. And when we crucified you, you did not turn away from welcoming us-- indeed you loved us so much that you welcomed us into an Easter life.

How much have we risked for our neighbors? Are we afraid to welcome them as more than passing visitors in our midst? Are we afraid to let them into our family? It won’t be the same if we do, you know. But we cannot be TRULY welcoming if we will not step out of our position of power over them and come to them as servants. Will we be able to do this?

Jesus, I am thinking about your words, and I am wondering, am I the one listening as you are speaking to refugees? And am I hearing you say that if I welcome them I am really welcoming you? Yes I think that that is what you are saying, and that scares me a little. . . . and I wonder, why am I afraid to meet you?

Perhaps what we need to do is just to trust you, and to love you enough to risk a little-- maybe even to lose some things-- in order to meet you. It is so easy for us to welcome people who look like we do and sound like we do and think like we do. . . . . why is it harder to welcome the marginalized of the world and the marginalized of our own culture-- those without power in our own neighborhoods and town. Jesus, help us to welcome those working hard in fast food restaurants, and as lawn cutters. . . . Be patient with us, Lord. Baby steps, but help us try, and help us grow. Help us to risk meeting you in our neighbors.

Jesus, I am thinking about your words, and it can get rather confusing, trying to decide who is going to whom, and who is to welcome and who is to BE welcomed. . . . . and I am wondering if you are making a promise to us. Do you mean to say that you are present in the act of welcoming, whether we are the welcomer or the welcomee? Do you mean to say that ultimately and always, YOU are the one who is welcoming? Yes, I think that this makes great sense. For truly to welcome or to BE welcomed is to enter into relationship. It is in the event of welcoming that you come both through us and TO us. So I think that you are saying that we are to give AND to receive-- to always understand that whether we are the welcomer or the welcomee-- you are present. . . . . . You are the host. . . . .

Jesus, I am thinking about what you have said. . . . . . I am thinking that you are the host. . . . . I am thinking about this table, and how you welcome us to it. . . . .

Jesus, I am thinking about all of the ways I have failed to be welcoming, but still you welcome me to this table. . . . . I am thinking about all those who have been welcomed to this table before me, and those who will come to the table with me, and how we should welcome each other at this event before your table. . . . . . . I am thinking about how we should endlessly struggle to be a more welcoming people, and I am convinced that it is because you welcome us here, that we are becoming more welcoming always. . . . . I am thinking about all of those whom you long to welcome at this table who are not here. . . . .

Jesus, I am thinking about your words, and I am wondering a lot of things. . . . . and all of my questions lead me here. . . . . Lord Jesus, you welcome us as you welcome a stranger. . . . . give us faith to welcome in your name. . . .



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