Posts Tagged ‘Reward’

Be Welcomed 7-2-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 10:40-42, I explore Jesus seemingly odd connection between welcome and reward, which wraps up his teaching to the disciples as they prepare to go out and do ministry.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-welcomed-7-2-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Its been my observation, that as kids go through their formative years, beginning around junior high and going through high school and college, they bond with a core group of friends…and typically within that group, their ends up being 1 house that becomes the go-to hangout…I can remember exactly where that place is within my own history…the home where two of the guys who happened to be brothers, grew up.

Now maybe you had a place like this in your history…and you were around so much that the parents of your friends pretty much become like a second set of parents to you…so much so that even years later you still call them Mom and Dad.

This house was that place for me, as well as the rest of our crew. They had a room in the basement which was our typical hangout spot…it served as home base for the various things we did together…and our presence was so common there, that it became one of those places that you don’t even have to knock before you walk in.

I can remember countless times of parking out in the street and walking up the driveway towards the garage…and as I approached the door I could look in through the front window into the living room and see Mom and Dad sitting there watching tv…and they’d just wave. Maybe you know that wave…that wave that says hello…it says come on in…don’t bother knocking, the boys are downstairs…and even now, decades later…on those rare occasions when I make it into my hometown I know I better stop in to say hi to mom and dad…and as I walk up the driveway I’ll see that wave that tells my I’m welcome…that wave that tells me I’m known. (pause)

Now the theme of welcome should be familiar and I’m guessing that it comes as no great shock that I bring it up considering our brief gospel passage for today…the theme of welcome is all over these three verses…but what’s interesting is just where we’re at in this passage.

Today’s lesson marks the end of what has become something of a sermon series. Those of you familiar with my style know that’s not really the type of thing I tend to engage in as I preach week to week, but on occasion we’ll see the ongoing narrative bring us through a larger story that is all connected, and this is, of course the case today.

If you’ve been following along over the past few weeks, we’ve been in a larger story of Jesus preparing to send his disciples out…fully empowered to join in the work of ministry that Jesus himself is already doing. 2 weeks ago we heard of his compassion for the great crowds, that the way that he grants the disciples the authority to proclaim the good news of the kingdom as well as authority over demons and diseases and even death…in short, to join with him in the same work that he’s already up to.

But then, over the course of the next rather large section of gospel, Jesus begins to lay out that rather dire look of just what they can expect as they go out empowered to do this work…and we heard about that last week…and boy, its not a pretty picture…opposition…legal troubles…condemnation…division…you name it. (pause)
But now…finally, Jesus wraps it up with this very brief portion…and as he doesn’t I can’t help but think he sounds a little bit like a broken record…saying pretty much the same thing over and over again. Welcome welcome welcome welcome…and reward reward reward reward. (pause)
Now at first glance, one of these things gets me pretty excited…and the other one, well it makes me a little nervous…can you guess which one is which? (pause) The idea of welcome…well this one that I hope we’re all familiar with…the idea of hospitality…the idea of bringing in the stranger, of making them feel at home.  We hope that we as individuals are welcoming to those around us…we hope that our communities and especially our congregations are a place of welcome, where someone new can come in and immediately feel right at home.

We embody this with our greeters every Sunday…with our invitation to shake hands and greet one another…with the language at the beginning of worship that whenever we are in our Father’s house we are home…we go out of our way to try and be welcoming…and that’s a good thing.

But funny enough…I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus is talking about as he instructs his disciples on what to expect as they carry the gospel out into the world. Jesus isn’t telling them to be welcoming…rather, he’s telling them to go be welcomed. Go out and do ministry…at the mercy of those you are ministering to…and you know what, that’s pretty daunting…that’s really putting yourself out there…

To do this very thing…is to make yourself vulnerable…and that’s something in our individualistic, dog eat dog world that we just aren’t that good at are we?  Because to be vulnerable is to open ourselves up to the very things that Jesus was warning us about last week.  Make yourself vulnerable, you risk rejection. You risk ridicule…you risk opposition or even in extreme cases…retaliation.

But here’s the thing…as we consider the context in which Jesus shares these words, we remember that we are doing the exact same thing he is…and that the results that we experience are the same as his…and in realizing this…maybe just maybe we start to see that in the life of Jesus…in the ministry of Jesus…or maybe we can say in the event of Jesus, God becomes vulnerable…In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God risks rejection…God risks ridicule…and as we see, God risks…God flat out experiences violent retaliation.

And so perhaps realizing this we ask the question of just why would God do that in the first place…why would God willingly enter into our broken reality, becoming fully vulnerable…knowing full well that it would end up like it did….WHY GOD? (pause) Why would you risk it…and why do you ask us to risk the same? (pause)

Now maybe in order to answer that question…we need to take a look at the second theme of today’s brief lesson that makes us good Lutherans a little uneasy…Reward. Jesus talks about the reward several times…a prophet’s reward…the reward of the righteous…the reward of the one to welcome one of his little ones.

And I don’t know about you, but I hear reward…and my brain instantly goes to the idea that we have to earn it…and the Lutheran theologian in me goes into red alert…because we know we can’t earn it right? That’s not how this whole deal works…God’s grace is free right? It has to be or its not grace. So just what is this reward that Jesus is talking about?

I went round and round and round with this one…trying to put my finger on just what he’s talking about…and as I thought about reward or treasure…or wages…things that we put a lot of stock in…and suddenly I was reminded of something that the Apostle Paul says in one his letters…he lists off all these human accomplishments…and then he says I count it all rubbish…trash…or something a little bit stronger language-wise…when compared with knowing Christ my Lord….for Paul, it seems that the reward…the ultimate goal is knowing Christ…is being known by Christ…in short being in relationship with Christ.

And that right there…is where I finally found a connection between the idea of being welcomed and reward…because maybe, just maybe the reward is being in relationship…something that is engrained with us…it’s a desire that is some deeply rooted within our very being…and if we stop and think about it…we can’t be in relationship without the presense of welcome on one side or another.  Because what else is the idea of welcome or receiving another, besides inviting them into a relationship, whether for a moment that is only long enough to offer a smile, or a drink of water…or for a season of life…or for a lifetime…we welcome…and we are welcomed…and the life we share together in that moment of time is our reward.

And if you find yourself wondering just where this deep seeded need for relationship and community comes from, you just need to look back at Genesis 1 and remember that when God was getting ready to create humanity God said “Let us create humankind in OUR image” and it was so. The God that made us in the first place already exists in relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…all of which were in some way present in the beginning…and we were made bearing the divine image of God and I believe that is why we need relationship…that is why we are willing to risk being vulnerable with one another…of being fully present with one another…of opening ourselves up to the possibility of pain and rejection at the hands of another…not because we chose to be…but because that’s how we were created to be.

That’s why we form relationships, because its in our very nature…our nature that reflects the nature of God, who desires community not only within the Trinity, but with us as well…and that is why the divine word of God became flesh…to show us that it is possible for the divine and the human to exist together…and to invite us into the vital work of sharing that truth with the rest of the world.

May we be a people that welcome without question…without pretense…without restriction…and may we be vulnerable enough to go out and be welcomed in the same way…knowing that we bear the image of the one who will never turn us away…the one who became one of us to show us we’re welcome…to show us we are known. Amen.