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A Circle of Welcome

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, A Circle of Welcome, HERE.

The Bible reading this morning is brief, only 3 verses. Yet it is full of circle upon circle of “whoevers” and “welcomes” which invite us into God’s extravagant hospitality. And interconnected circles can be healing. To put the verses in context, “This week’s reading from Matthew follows immediately on last week’s; Jesus is commissioning the disciples into the countryside to preach and heal, and as they go, he wants them to think of themselves as intimately participating in him and the One who sent him, so much so that their identities overlap: Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me..”[1]

This is a moment in which Jesus is preparing those who followed him… which means he is also preparing us… for what lies ahead. He knows doing God’s work will not be easy—so he tells us to watch for the welcomes.

For moments of welcoming will happen—and are happening.

So, watch for the welcomes.

At Memorial United Church of Christ, we like to use the statement, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” You. You are welcome here. How does that feel to you? Does it resonate as true to you? How might that statement feel to someone who has not experienced an arms-open-wide place of hospitality?

I can’t help but think that during the pandemic God is stretching us as a faith community to reimagine what generosity and hospitality look like.

For it can be really hard to talk about receiving and giving welcomes with all that is going on around us. If you are joining us for our virtual worship service from outside Dane County the city that our church calls home, Fitchburg, lies on the southside of Madison, Wisconsin. Our city does not have its own school district, so the children living in the northside of Fitchburg go to school in Madison. When things happen at our State Capitol, it feels close to home. It is close to home. It is… our home.

And wow, things have been happening at home! Over the past week in Madison, statues have been brought down. But then statues are just things. Things that have meaning, for sure, but statues can also hold different meanings for different people. Statues can be repaired. Replaced. Even changed. Moved.

But what about the people who work at the city-county building, which was firebombed Tuesday night? Or the state senator who was attacked Wednesday evening near the Capital for taking a picture of the protestors who were gathered? Earlier in the week, a woman who was Black was hit by a truck at University Avenue intersection near State Street. A few days later a young woman who is Black was burned, the victim of a hate crime. Their wounds, physical and mental, will take time to heal

The wounds in our community run deep. They too, will take time to heal.

The violence and destruction make it hard for me to understand the hate that underlies the damage we see happening in the news. On one level I sort of get it. For many years I have slowly and purposefully been working to detangle my own ignorance around issues of racism. The recent protests—both the peaceful gatherings and the moments of violence—remind me I have so much more to learn.

The violence and destruction also overwhelm my thought processes.

Yet on the other hand, I believe these events can provide us with a pathway along which we… and here I am talking about those of us who are white in the United States… can begin to grasp the depths to which hate has been woven into our country, our state, for generations—and why this time is ripe for God’s extravagant welcome.. if only we are open to leaning into the moment and not backing away.

I also know that if I am feeling worn out, overwhelmed, discouraged, I cannot begin to imagine how much more so must my siblings who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, and/or a part of the LGBTQ+ community who have been living in this embedded violence their whole lives must be feeling in this moment. Where do they receive welcome, and cups of cool, life-giving water?

How might God be nudging us… all of humanity… to re-envision what gives life in the 21st century? I can imagine Jesus sitting down with us virtually, via Zoom, and telling this story once again because, well, repetition is always good! I offer you my own retelling of Jesus’ words through the lens current events:

Jesus says, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, whenever someone welcomes you as you are, they welcome me. No preconditions, just God-filled Love.

This isn’t easy, but whoever welcomes a prophet, which, by the way, might be as close to you as one of your own friends or family members who is an elder in our community living in a nursing home which is under lock during the pandemic, isolated. You need to see them, and hear them. Call. Send cards. FaceTime. Skype.

Or, a prophet can be the mother and her child who are living right here, yes here in Wisconsin, who have fled the violence in their homes in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. How are you welcoming her as a prophet?

What about the women who are transgender shouting out that transphobia is killing them? These women are prophets too.

As are the youth and young adults that are out on your streets. People who have Truth to shout out and share are everywhere!

So wherever you are on life’s journey, you have an opportunity to listen to your gut. What is right and good? Listen to God and the Spirit that lies there. The rewards of the prophets and righteous are many… but the reality is that they also face persecution (Matt. 5:12), rejection (Matt. 13:57), and even death (Matt. 23:30-35, 37).

Yet they can also change the world.

That brings me back to you. You can be that cup of cold water that brings life to one of God’s beloved children.

Remember God is with you. Always. As you go, watch for the welcomes.”

A cup of cold water, maybe with a slice of lemon in it, sounds sooooo refreshing. Doesn’t it? It is with a cool, calming sense of connectedness that I share with you this next story. As you listen, ask yourself the question: How are we to embody Jesus’ mission today? How do we understand our “no matter where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here” in light of being a Virtual Church in the upcoming months?

This past week there were unsettling events in our community. Yet Jesus reminds us there were also great welcomes. Here is just one:

Tuesday, I took part in a community discussion (on Zoom, of course!). One of the participants is a teacher in the Madison School District. She told the story of the students’ response to the riots that took place on State Street earlier this month. After the glass was swept up and the broken windows were boarded up, her students worked together to paint one of the many images that have emerged downtown which tell the story of how racism has impacted the lives of the Black community. The youth who are Black and other youth of color designed and painted the artwork. The youth who are white stood nearby, providing cold water and snacks. 

That… was a welcome. A public, sacred space in which the youth who are Black could tell their story. Their truth. In art. Bottled water was distributed to refresh. To give life. Provide solidarity. Each of these youth was doing a small part to change lives. Change our community. These are the spaces in which healing can begin to happen. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me…”

 Jesus prepares us for these moments of welcome. God movements of welcoming which are happening, even in the most unsettling of times.

So, watch for them.

And may God’s extravagant welcome live in our midst.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Matthew 10:40-42 offered June 28, 2020

[1] Myer, Elizabeth. “All the Families of the Earth: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Fourth Week after Pentecost.” SALT Project. SALT Project, June 23, 2020. https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2020/6/23/all-the-families-of-the-earth-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-fourth-week-after-pentecost.