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"All Means Y’all" 5th Sunday After Pentecost - July 2, 2023

Welcome to St Andrews! If you are visiting for the first time or were baptized in this church, in person and online, we’re happy and we’re blessed to welcome you!

Welcoming someone is kind of a big deal in our faith. It is after all the hallmark of hospitality. That’s why Jesus concludes his instruction for mission in Matthew’s Gospel today by teaching the disciples how one is to properly welcome a person and also which persons to welcome. There are different ways to welcome somebody when you first meet them, aren’t there? I think there are 2 to be exact. One way to welcome a stranger, the way Jesus teaches, accomplishes to make a person feel like they belong in this place. And the other way makes a person feel like they must work on fitting in.

Having immigrated, I know the difference between belonging and fitting in too well. While my process of immigration was comparatively easy, there were times when it was almost impossible to feel like I belonged.

My mother-in-law, Marci, and my sister-in-law Claire were amongst the instrumental people, helping me to feel like I belonged. For my first Christmas in the States, Marci made a stocking for me, with my name on it, we don’t use these in Germany. And for another Christmas, I received a big package from Grand Junction where Marci and Claire live. In it were Christmas ornaments. Lots of them, all of them unique, it was not a set. Every single ornament had attached a little note that explained why they chose this ornament for me. You see, it’s a Scott family tradition to buy one ornament for the children each year that represents their personality, likes and dislikes that year. And Marci and Claire made sure that I am a part of this family tradition. Talk about welcoming someone into belonging!

It is that kind of hospitality Jesus calls his disciples to. They are to welcome people into belonging, into God’s kingdom. And what kind of people, who all are the disciples called to welcome into belonging? Prophets, righteous persons, and little ones. “Little ones” here does not mean children, but rather people of diminished social status. People in crisis. Disappointed people. Powerless people. People that depend on other people. Even people low in faith. Prophets, righteous persons, and little ones. What a group. It’s a Triad, a group of three people. Not an altogether unfamiliar concept for Christians, really. Just this Triad is a bit off. After prophets, and righteous people, one would usually expect the third member to be on the same level when it comes to the importance, the value society views them with. Prophets and righteous persons, yeah, that fits, that’s a no brainer. But little ones? One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. For the disciples then and for us now, this is quite an unexpected third member. Prophets, righteous persons, and sages. Or prophets, righteous persons, and saints. That sounds alright. To us.

But in God’s kingdom, the inclusion, the representation of the little ones elevates the least powerful member of the community into a position equal in importance and value to that of prophets and righteous ones.

At the beginning of this discourse, Jesus sends his disciples on their mission without any means of support or defense — no gold or money, no bag, no change of clothes, not even a staff or sandals. They are little ones. They are completely dependent, first on God and then on the hospitality of the communities that receive them. Their vulnerability, their dependence is the key to the success of their mission. Therefore, little ones are of equal value. They belong. Everyone belongs. And in a world, in a kingdom where everyone belongs, when we give a cup of cold water, we belong. And when we are given a cup of cold water? We belong. Jesus binds those who offer welcome integrally with those who are welcomed. So, then, whether you are the giver, or the given, God rewards you. “Truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” Jesus says.

But see, we know from last week’s Gospel reading that this kind of activity can result in all kinds of harmful situations. For example, people suffer from broken relationships, even within the family. Sometimes welcoming people into our lives results in other people leaving us. Sometimes our efforts to help are ineffective. Yes, sometimes when we offer this kind of radical hospitality, it backfires. And instead of feeling rewarded right then and there, instead we feel ill-used, betrayed, maybe even taken advantage of. Nonetheless, just like the disciples in our Gospel reading, we are called to continue to offer it, our welcome to one and all. We are still sent out to proclaim the good news. Reward and hardships are not mutually exclusive in the service of Christ, they co-exist. The inclusion of the vulnerable, the powerless little ones together with the powerful prophets and righteous people demonstrates that God levels the playing field. It is God’s power at work here. The power at work on this mission we are sent on is fundamentally different from any form of human power. Only in God’s kingdom do vulnerable people have the power to bless the privileged. It demonstrates that we all depend on God.

So, raise your hand if you are comfortable with being dependent on someone or something. Dependence is utterly contrary to our cultural values. We live in a “pull yourself up by your bootstrap society.” To depend on someone is sure to earn you pity at best. Yet, dependence on God is crucial to the integrity and distinctive character of the community Jesus is building. Dependance is a crucial and integral character of God’s kingdom. It seems, like it or not, we must acknowledge our dependance.

What does that look like? What are we to do?

I have a weird thought. A quirky idea: Nothing. Do nothing.

When we feel vulnerable, when we feel betrayed, or taken advantage of, when our efforts did not produce the result we counted on, the outcome we prayed for, we feel the need, sometimes frantically so, to fix the situation. The way we see fit. Those actions are solely done to make us feel in control. We’d do anything not to be a “little one”!

Try doing nothing. Next time, and there is always a next time, let’s try to remind ourselves, that once we put forth the effort, once we have done our best to the best of our capabilities, we have done God’s will. We are responsible for our own effort. We have no say in the outcome. When the result of our actions makes us feel like one of the “little ones”, low in status and low in faith, we are still not diminished. When we can accept that, when we can bear doing nothing, and letting God be God, we affirm our call to the discipleship. We affirm our relationship with God, and with one another.

Being a disciple is no small or easy undertaking. We can only do it together.

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