July 2, 2023. Sermon preached by Rev. Katie Holicky

7.2.23 First Sunday Life Together             Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector Matthew 10:40-42

The word “welcome” appears six times in these four verses from Matthew and four times alone in this first sentence that Jesus speaks in this passage. So today, it seems like we are supposed to talk about welcome. Have you ever felt a good welcome? Like a really good welcome? (wait for answers) I have had a lot of great welcomes in my life, and some that have not been so great. The great ones have helped me feel joy, safety, love, healing and more. 

My mom, Lynne, does a great welcome when we come home to Virginia. There are often new fresh sheets for us, some of the snacks she knows we love, great big hugs… lots of great big hugs. On a literally smaller scale our cats Ralph and Chaley (show picture of cats) welcome me whenever I come home from work. They rush to the door, not unlike dogs, mew and chatter, rub against my leg and express general joy that I am back home and general disgust that I would dare leave them for so long. And I love to welcome folks into our home too. I am always ready with a cold Spindrift seltzer and baked goods. We have even been known to keep an extra pair of slippers on hand for a friend who we know gets really cold feet. (show picture of slippers) 

Being welcomed and welcoming is a big gift to us all. So I wonder… What does welcome mean to you? What does welcome look like to you? What does welcome feel like for you? (wait for responses) 

Here in the Gospel of Matthew we find ourselves at the end of a section that is all about instructions. Instructions that help followers of Jesus to know just how to do the work that Jesus has taught us about (WBC, 471). We are reminded that God’s reign is different from that of the empire or the way of the world we live in. God welcomes all, listens to all, cherishes all, and invites us to do the same. When we receive those sharing the good news of God we extend the welcome of the reign of God. When we share what we have with others we welcome God’s reign into our lives and the life of the world in real and embodied ways. Real welcome is more than a sign on a door or words on a welcome mat. (picture of Episocpal church welcomes you sign) 

But why do we really do this? What, beyond being told we are supposed to, inspires us to extend the welcome Jesus instructs us to? Because God welcomes us! We know as Christians, especially here at St. Paul’s, what it feels like to be welcomed, accepted and fully loved by God and we GET to share that with others. For me, it is probably one of the most important and relational parts of our faith. 

Womanist Theologian Emilie Townes wrote; “The simple, basic acts of kindness we perform in genuine welcome of one another are all that God asks of us. We must look around us to see who is in need and then do something about it” (FOTW, 188). She goes on to say that, “In these four short verses, Jesus helps us to steer away from distorting others and ourselves through false dependencies, unreasonable expectations, and unjustified hopes” (FOTW, 190). We are brought through the complexity of our humanity into this instruction to simplicity and kindness that truly connects us to one another in the love and radical welcome of God. So, an authentic welcome contains a simplicity that is totally within our reach. 

Would you agree that welcome is also about compassion? (show compassion word cloud) Emilie Townes also says that, “Compassionate welcome means approaching each other through God. This is how we recognize that genuine human relationships emerge from putting grace-filled hospitality of God’s love at the center of our lives and at the center of all our relationships” (FOTW, 190). And so, to live into this welcome we must also acknowledge and address the ways we are part of systems and structures of oppression that cause folks harm and it might also mean that we need to acknowledge and address some of our own individual and collective modes of superficial welcome that aren’t actually steeped in God’s love (FOTW, 192). 

 You have been hearing a lot in the last months about Intergenerational Ministries. As head of these efforts I want to specifically highlight one way God is calling us to welcome one another and others in new and deepend ways. This growing mission in our own community is not just a reflection of the vibrant healthy church community of today, it is also the future of the church. We know that faith communities are declining in our nation. We also know that those who have more intergenerational points of connection are the ones that are doing more than surviving. They are thriving! (show picture) 

Have you joined in an activity beyond First Sunday Worship? Maybe this was making s’mores, going to Wolfe’s Neck State Park, The Desert of Maine, maybe you have worked together to make flower arrangements for Lay Pastoral Visitors to deliver. If you have done any of these things… Did you feel Christian hospitality and so too the welcome Jesus calls us to? (wait for answers)

If you have yet to join in one of these offerings please know you are invited, you are welcome, and your presence is desired… in fact we long for it! We truly long to get to know one another in different ways, of course in our worship, and also in our outreach and fellowship… so let’s get to it! 

So, having heard me say all of these things about welcome, let’s reflect together on what this means for our community…. What does it mean, look like, or feel like for us to be a welcoming community? (wait for answers) Let us with simplicity and authenticity keep practicing and grow our practice of welcome to the glory of God. May it be so! Resources: Feasting on the Word, Women’s Bible Commentary