TEXT for Today: The Gospel of Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever 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; and 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.”
This is a sermon of run-on sentences
just to make the simple complicated,
which is what we love to do in religion.
When the dream
that God has for us
becomes part of us –
as in second nature,
as if an appendage we use
to eat or drink with –
then there is no ambivalence
about right and wrong,
no query about punishment and reward,
no appeal to greater authority.
Instead, when we are in sync with God’s
best dream for us,
we are held with a kind of
and determination even, to complete
what we were born to do.
Another way to say this,
somewhat more secular I suppose,
is that when we are on our game –
in the groove,
deep in the zone,
or when we’ve got our chops –
then it is just clear as crystal
who and what
we are all about.
SO, whoever welcomes you –
meaning us but including whoever –
welcomes you and welcomes me,
which also means
you, they, or us, welcome Jesus.
Let me re-cap just to be clear:
You see where we are going with this, don’t you?
Whoever welcomes a prophet –
who is not literally a prophet
but a metaphor;
for whoever speaks for God;
who are often people
who are not very welcome at a great many places –
like Jeremiah who was a prophet of doom
in a seemingly prosperous time.
He was one of the whoevers who wasn’t very welcome –
and in fact, they got so exasperated with Jeremiah
that they abused him
and threw him in a hole to die.
They treated him like a whatever
instead of the whoever
he really was.
Again, here is just re-cap
because this is a complicated guest list:
but including whoever,
and welcomes me – meaning Jesus.
And…whoever welcomes a prophet,
meaning whoever speaks for God,
is welcoming one of the whoevers.
That brings us to the righteous whoevers.
Righteousness is not righteous
as we know righteous,
but instead is metaphoric –
and sometimes even a legal term.
Righteous means either:
faithfulness or justice.
The righteous whoevers
are those who are in a covenant relationship
with God or one another, and
who have been faithful
to the terms of the covenant.
OR, they are also those
in a covenant relationship with God
who have been wronged by others –
by other whoevers;
they have been wronged and hurt,
and by the very act of being wronged or hurt
they are made righteous.
The poor are righteous.
The marginalized are righteous.
The neglected are righteous.
Even if their behavior is not so righteous
THEY are righteous
by virtue of having been wronged
by other whoevers.
That’s not my opinion, it is a Biblical idea.
SO, here is where we have gotten
on our guest list:
welcomes me –
meaning also Jesus.
AND…whoever welcomes a prophet –
meaning whoever speaks for God –
welcomes one of the whoevers.
Since the righteous are a whoever
that are supposed to be welcomed,
whoever welcomes one of the righteous
is welcoming whoever.
That brings us finally,
to “one of these little ones”
which is another whoever-metaphor
for whoever is vulnerable,
and whoever sits at the bottom
of the pile of the most vulnerable,
underneath the pecking order
in a dog-eat-dog world
are eaten more than they welcomed.
Whoever not only welcomes but actually SERVES
one of the little ones at the bottom of the pile,
where they are likely to get their hand bitten
even while trying to offer a cup of cold water.
Whoever does THAT
is welcoming the prime whoever –
who is God.
Now, all of that
boils down to something so
that you might rightly ask why
I made this so darn complex.
To your question,
that you didn’t really ask,
I would respond:
because that is what we do.
We take the simple and
insistence by God, through Jesus,
that we welcome whoever,
and we turn it into
ethnocentric and racially segregated,
All those things
have a place in human society
because we are who we are,
and we can celebrate our differences
as well as enjoy our similarities,
but when they become an obstruction
to the over-riding dream –
a dream we don’t even have to dream
because we just know it
as part of the air we breathe –
then our religions
cause us to be inhospitable
which is an affront to God
and an embarrassment to Jesus,
When our religion becomes inhospitable
to any of the whoevers,
then those religions are an endangerment to righteousness
and to righteous people everywhere.
That little paragraph we read in Matthew today
is the end of Chapter 10,
and the conclusion of a speech
Jesus makes as he sends his followers off
on their own
to preach and model
the kingdom on earth.
He describes to them their mission:
he tells them what they are likely to run into,
and he tells them what to look for,
and he tells them they are servants not royalty.
Then he concludes
by telling them who to welcome:
He tells them that the Gospel he preaches
will divide families,
over-ride class affinity,
and tear open nationalism.
Then he says that what makes us family –
what unites us and what makes us, us –
is God’s best dream for us.
That dream includes sharing a table with whoever.
God’s best dream for us includes our becoming people
who welcome whoever –
not for the reward
or because it is noteworthy
or because it is a cause-celeb.
But because it is what we do –
because it is the only thing we know how to do.
It is not a dream,
although it is God’s best dream for us.
Instead we know how to do it
in the grittiness of life as we live.
It is really this simple:
Whoever welcomes whoever
Whoever doesn’t, doesn’t.