The church cannot be all things to all people. And yet . . . the temptation to over-program and under-preach marks a constant presence in the lives of leaders. We want to offer a group, an activity, a connection point for every person at every age and stage of life. And yet . . . when it comes to proclaiming the gospel, the good news of God’s love through Jesus, we try to say as much as we can without really saying anything, without edging into that hot-button issue that we fear might fracture the congregation.
This week’s brief passage from Matthew 10 may seem like a surface message about personal sacrifice: about the ways in which our faith, and our personal relationships, deepen the most when we are willing to put self aside. It would be easy to talk about all the ways that giving up some of “self” and stuff leads to more meaningful connection with family, community, and world.
However, this passage offers a more challenging route for people who want to question each church congregation’s boundaries of welcome. If a community’s commitment to inclusion means avoiding tough topics, then this passage poses some difficult questions. Jesus exposes the tension between the passive welcome of “something for every-body . . .” and the hard work of giving people what they truly need.
Prophets need to be welcomed as prophets and recognized as such; the needy and vulnerable need to be served with kindness and compassion and with the meeting of practical needs. The passage is a reminder to those who are part of the Church that they can’t just fling wide the doors and expect for lives to be changed and communities transformed.
The hard work of what Christians call discipleship is getting to know one’s neighbours and meeting their deepest needs with our greatest gifts. Let me tell you, we can’t do that without addressing some of the contentious issues that may be off-putting to some members of not only the Christian community but communities in general.
But sometimes losing a bit of ourselves makes room for love and life to grow. This scripture passage reminds us and invites us to question what we might be willing to give up up— as individuals, and as community— in order to truly embody the teachings and call of our God beyond just forming a knitting circle or a car club or a softball team or a dinner group or whatever.
Meanwhile, remember that Jesus talks of “sending” and “receiving” because this message of good news was literally being delivered by hand— before e-mail and texting, before the Pony Express. Those who receive the messenger will receive the one who sent it: Jesus himself. And those who receive Christ will receive the very presence of God. These days we don’t rely on wandering pilgrims to bring us our mail. But we do, in so many ways, rely on strangers to challenge and shape our understanding of God’s grace.