This weekend, delegates from all around the country have descended upon Baltimore, Maryland for the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. General Synod meets every other year to discuss the business of the National Church and set the direction for the next two years. The theme of the Synod and the coming few years is “A Just World for All.” This campaign and direction came about after a survey was completed throughout the church this past fall and winter.
A Just World for All will focus on three areas, Love of Children, Love of Neighbor, and Love of Creation in what is being called the “Three Loves.” All of these “loves” have roots in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serve a guide for us in the local church. If you are interested, and who would not be, the sessions of the Synod are being streamed live from Baltimore ad you can tune in watch what is taking place. Because I am a wicked Church Geek, I tuned in yesterday morning, and I am glad I did.
As many of you know, there are four setting of our church, and we are in a covenant relationship with all four. There is us here at the local church, the full expression of the Church of Jesus Christ, but we also belong to an Association of other local Churches in our geographic area, and that Association belongs to a Conference of all the Churches of the United Church of Christ in our State, and that Conference belongs to the National Setting. Each of these settings serves a purpose, yes they do serve a purpose, and that purpose is to equip us, here on the front lines, for the ministry of Jesus Christ to our local community. When joined our voices are a witness to the world of the love that Jesus has for all people.
As with any organization, there are offices and committees to be filled just like here at our Church. Yesterday, when I tuned in, they Synod was in the process of nominating a person to fill the role of Executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, and that person is the Rev. Traci Blackmon senior minister of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO, Pastor Traci is a dynamic preacher and blessed soul and her acceptance speech was awesome and inspiring.
She spoke of the Church and our role in the world, and she talked about those who say that the church is dead, or id dying or is on life support, and she exclaimed that they are wrong, the church is alive because the church is made up of the people of God, us right here today, and, I don’t know about you, but I am very much alive this morning!
But she also spoke about welcome, and this point brings me to the topic today, Holy Welcome. Pastor Traci said that “If we are to be the church of Christ we have to be a church that welcomes all.” Not welcomes some, not welcomes just those who look like us or act like us, but a church that welcomes all and that is the point of the short passage from the Gospel of Matthew that we heard read to us this morning.
So what is Holy Welcome?
I always find it useful to start with definitions of words and concepts.
Holy – Dedicated or Consecrated to God
Welcome – An instance or manner of greeting someone.
So Holy Welcome then is “a manner of greeting someone that is dedicated or consecrated to God!” In other words, greet people the way God would greet them. How would God greet them? The answer is right there in verse 40, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” When we welcome someone, to Church or our home, we are welcoming God into our midst, that is holy welcome.
When Jesus spoke of welcoming all this was a radical idea, in fact, it has been called radical welcome or compassionate welcome or hospitality because of whom he welcomed into his midst. The 1st-century middle eastern culture was set up in such a way that the different classes did not integrate, and each stayed in his or her place if you will. Jesus came and broke all of that down. He ate with and hung out with some of the most wretched people on earth, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, women caught in adultery, women in general, and he did not judge any of them, he welcomed them in as children of God.
In another place in the Gospel Jesus is reminding his followers of the duty we have to care for those around us who are less fortunate, clothing naked, feeding the hungry, etc. and he tells them that by doing this we are serving Him and serving God. Compassionate welcome or hospitality is a form or service to Christ. The simple act of giving someone a cup of cool water is ministry to those in need; it is a basic as that.
The simple, basic acts of kindness we perform in genuine welcome of one another is all that God asks of us. We must look around us to see who is in need and them we must do something about it! Compassionate or Holy Welcome means approaching each other through God. Compassionate or Holy Welcome says when we look at another human being we see Christ in them and if we cannot we need to work on ourselves.
But we know that our welcome and our love is not always received in the way it was intended. Sometimes love is met with crucifixion; yet we are called to love in the midst of hate – even if those times when it appears that hate has won.
The apostles could have given up after the saw their friend and leader crucified, but they did not. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the drove on and continued to practice this Holy Welcome that Jesus modeled for them during his time with them. This is what we are called to do; this is what we are commanded to do each day.