Friday, 26 June 2020

The Welcome Journey.

I read of a television programme in the United States where a Mister Rogers famously sang, “Won’t you be my neighbour?” to begin his television show. Apparently, this was years ago. He was a pastor, encourager, and educator of children. Mister Rogers’ work and life focused on being kind and inclusive. His work and life also were focused on teaching. He knew that children are our present and our future. He knew that welcoming a little child is the greatest gift we can give to the world.

Matthew’s use of the phrase “little ones” in our reading from scripture set for this week (Matthew 10:40-42) may be about children, but it also may have meant his disciples, those new to the faith community, those young in their beliefs, or those at risk in the world. It was definitely about inviting others into the way and to join those calling themselves Christian on a journey, taking care of their needs, and taking care of the least or “little ones.” Jesus prepares his twelve disciples to go out into the world. The last part of this sending is our scripture for this week and comes as a teaching moment after the Sermon on the Mount. Welcome is a pivotal word for this passage. In a number of our translations of our scriptures available to us today, the word is used six times in the passage.

However, I have to be honest and say that welcome is not one of my favourite words as it is used in the church. For many, welcome is equated with simple tolerance of those different from themselves. To many who visit churches who claim to “welcome” them, there is a distinct level of distrust. Most marginalised persons much prefer a place that exhibits radical hospitality and full inclusion than mere “welcome.” This is definitely not the sentiment that I hear when Jesus uses the word. He was instituting a practice of hospitality for his disciples on their mission of spreading the good news. Jesus is talking about going on the journey of faith and life with that new person.

If anyone welcomed one of them, they were indeed welcoming Jesus and, by extension, God the Creator. We can reclaim this word for the church by exhibiting the kind of welcome that Jesus is asking of us. So, sadly often we use the word welcome to talk about saying hello, offering material but not about befriending, compassion and willingness to share the journey of faith. The challenge is to all Christian people as they are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God. Can we at least agree on that? As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. 

As this passage from Matthew 10 is the final part of Jesus’s teaching about his disciples being sent out to share the faith, we are once again are also reminded about the need to evangelise others. Unfortunately, the “e” word has taken on many negative connotations over the last few decades. A lot of people see evangelism as a loud, judgmental, and in-your-face practice. The word evangelism can bring about images of knocking on doors, asking if those inside have “found Jesus,” or handing out tracts on street corners declaring the doom of those who do not follow Jesus.

Still the need—yes, the imperative—to share the good news is part of our commission as disciples of Jesus. Sharing the ways, we have been reconciled and forgiven by Christ is part of truly being a disciple. Many Christians are nervous about sharing their faith. Yet one of the things we forget as Christians and as those outside the faith is that one can share their faith, evangelise by our words and our actions in profound ways. In uniting these two themes, we see that telling the story of our faith journey can bring lost ones into the welcoming arms of Jesus. This is a word many need to hear.

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