Jeremiah 28:5-9, Matthew 10:40-42 (not printed here)

“Representation”

P   Hello, Munchie and Beaky!

M  Hi.

B  Hello… I don’t get it…

P   You don’t get what?

B  How does that work?

M  Well, Pastor said, “Hello,” and I said, “Hi,” and you said, “Hello.”  They mean pretty much the same thing, so what is it that you don’t get?

B  Not that! I mean the welcome you and welcome me and welcome somebody else stuff.

M  Haaaah!?! YOU were listening to the story?

B  Of COURSE I was listening to the story.  Where ELSE do I get all confused?

M  …at the bakery and the mall and math class…

B  HEY!

P   Munchie, are you exaggerating a bit?

M  I’m just teasing…

P   You’re teasing Beaky for listening to the story, sort of like Beaky teased you a few weeks ago, huh?

(Beaky opens mouth wide but says nothing.)

(Munchie lowers head a bit and peeks over at Beaky.)

P   So… what are you asking, Beaky?

B  Well, it talks about someone welcoming someone, but it’s not really that person they’re welcoming, but Jesus.

P   That is how it sounds.

B  And then it’s not really Jesus, but whoever sent him.

P   Actually, it’s not that they are NOT welcoming the person who is right there. They ARE welcoming that person, but since that person is someone connected to Jesus, in welcoming that person, they are welcoming Jesus, too!

M  Ooh!  I get it, I get it!

B  So YOU were just as confused as I was!

M  Yeah… I guess

B  And now we BOTH know that because Jesus is not some kind of lone ranger…

M  Then the welcomers are welcoming God!

P   Right. In some ways, it’s like representation. 

B  You mean like the people we elect to the government?

P   Not exactly. The people we elect have to represent such a large number of people who all have differing opinions on the best way to do things and to get things done.

M  That must be hard!

P   I’m sure it is.  But we represent Jesus, just one person, and we do our best to speak for him to people who listen to God’s word and experience God’s love through us.

B  But different people understand Jesus differently, and represent him differently…

P   That’s true. None of us can perfectly understand and represent Jesus perfectly, but are still important in how God works in this world.

M  Are we as important as our parents? 

P   Yes.

B  As important as the pastor?

P   Yes.

M  As important as the organ, and those who make it sound so… so…

B  Awesome!

P   Yes. We are all just as important, but we have different ways that we help people to experience God’s love. 

M  We can’t all play the organ.  My fingers are so small my whole hand can only press two keys at a time.

B  I don’t even have hands!

P   But you both are getting better at expressing God’s love every day, and you will both be representing Jesus for a very long time.

M  Our whole lives!

P   And, our representation is a bit more than that, too.

B  How so?

P   Well, we of the church are described actually as the body of Christ here on earth.  In very important ways, we are not just representing Jesus, we are being the body of Christ to express God’s mercy and love.

B&M Wow.

P   Wow is right! Let’s pray.  Dear God, help us to share your love every day.  Help us to know how and where we can do this best, as people of Christ, in Jesus.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What is welcome?  In some cultures, welcome is food and conversation, and refusing to eat what is set before you is seen as judgment against those hosting.

I thought about going through several different cultural practices of welcoming, but decided after researching some variations that we’d get bogged down pretty fast, and the more we name, the more likely that someone’s custom would be missed (and seem like it was the ONLY one missed) and it would feel like a slight—an insult, which is certainly NOT welcome… 

So, what is welcome?  Jesus said that those who welcome us actually welcome Jesus himself, and actually, God, but what does that mean?

Last week, we, along with several other churches in the Twin Ports area, received a request from a boy scout troop planning to travel from Kansas to Ely hoping for a facility to use as an overnight rest stop along the way.  Normally, we respond enthusiastically to requests like these, but this is not a normal time.  We are being as cautious as we can, to slow (if not prevent) the transmission of the coronavirus that affects different people so differently.  We won’t have the building open for bathrooms when we gather outside on the lawn in a couple weeks.  (The service will be short.)  We will require masks, and if anyone doesn’t bring one we will have some available. 

So, I responded to the email and said pretty much what I’ve just said to you, that normally we’d be happy to host them, but that this is not a normal time.

Some of you may have seen in the news on Saturday that Douglas County has a couple new cases.  I’m thankful those cases were not in my house, since there was a fever, a sore throat, and some tests administered (negative, thankfully).  There were a few days, though, when I wondered what we would do if I HAD been infected, and was carrying the virus, breathing it out with every exhalation…

We’ll not be hosting the boy scout troop from Kansas, but we don’t want to be unwelcoming… ever.

We’re not yet gathering for worship, and when we do it will be very different, but we don’t want to be unwelcoming… ever.

I know that the issue of masks has become for some people a political statement, but it is not that here.  We see the masks as a tool that will allow us to come together at least somewhat safely (though in an altered format) much more quickly than we could do without them.  It’s such a little thing…

Speaking of little things, a colleague of mine shared her message for today with a group of us.  She says it came out so well she wanted to see if it might help some of the rest of us who are preaching this weekend and still struggling with what to say.

I like that she pointed to the struggle in our first reading between Hananiah and Jeremiah, how Hananiah was promising peace and prosperity without any more cost than a little patience.  I appreciate how she raised up Jeremiah’s response that that would be great, but things in this world usually cost something.  Prosperity for the whole nation means some sacrifice and a lot of hard work.  I like how she ties all kinds of little things together to get to the big advances we need in this world… but her details are not mine, and I know that many her details would be received very well by some of our people and hated by others.

So I take the part of her message that works well with mine, and point to some of those little things, like the cup of cold water Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading.  That’s welcome.  That’s what welcome is.

Welcome is providing what is needed, rather than requiring everyone else to bow to your traditions, even when your traditions are wonderful and life-giving. 

Welcome is recognizing the worth of every other person not because they look like you and act like you and think like you and speak like you, but because God created them.

Welcome is looking out for the ones others despise, or diminish in some way.

Welcome is standing for what is right when the crowd gets caught up in a frenzy of destructive violence, even if your stance seems small, like offering assistance to one who’s been hurt or is in danger.

Welcome works both ways, and becomes most real when we can learn to know one another well.  It does not mean we give up who we are to proclaim that God loves one who is different.

So, I’ve written different words to a tune we all know.  You may not like them.  It may rub you the wrong way.  It may feel wrong because we’ve been soaked in Anna B. Warner’s words of Jesus’ love for “ME” for more than 100 years. 

Today, though, I’m hoping to help this community extend our welcome to those outside ourselves by singing, “Jesus Loves You.” My hope is that this little thing will grow, and that all, even those we see as significantly different, will one day experience God’s welcome, in Jesus’ name.  Amen