Proper 8 July 2 2017 near Independence Day
Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
A few weeks ago someone got a welcome here in Bellingham. He dined at table with one of our parishioners on Saturday evening, who then delivered him to the door of our home.
He came in wearing black pants and a black clergy shirt and black vest, with a small satchel slung across one shoulder. After some conversation and a glass of wine with us, Fr. Dale Johnson went downstairs to the quiet and privacy of our guest room to rest and sleep before a morning of worshiping here among all of you at St. Paul’s. On Monday morning he appeared briefly for some toast and coffee, then disappeared again into our guest room for a full day of quiet and reflection and writing; a time of respite in his schedule going here and there proclaiming the Good News of God’s love and telling the story of his beloved refugees in the Nineveh Plain of the Middle East. I dropped him off on Tuesday in Mt. Vernon, leaving him with a gift for his travels and one of my clergy shirts, bringing his total number of clergy shirts in his wardrobe to two.
Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous, and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Sharon and I were rewarded by his presence, which was reward enough. In his presence we always feel the mysterious presence of a generous God who suffers with us and laughs with us and cries with us and who promises to lead us into the ever-widening circle of God’s love for all God’s creatures. Dale knows tremendous suffering, but he also knows tremendous joy.
Dale’s God is our God, and God is calling us through Jesus to the mission on which he sent his first disciples;to bring bring healing to the sick, life to those given up for dead, re-entry for those excluded, liberation for those oppressed by evil spirits. We are sent on that mission. All of us.
We are to be open to interruption in our lives for the sake of the kingdom; receiving the message and the messengers who come to us through “little ones” like Fr. Dale, who may be “little” in the eyes of the despots of the world, but who comes as Christ enfleshed to those who are crushed under the heel of those same despots.
That same God will have us be interrupted by each other; we who are intensely pressured to be divided one from another, to believe the lie that we are enemies one of another, to cut ourselves off from one another; we who also live in a time of intense loneliness and isolation and fear.
Jesus wants us to give out cups of cold water to one another, to take from the Bread of Life at the Eucharist and be bread for others, as Sara Miles so beautifully puts it in her book Take This Bread:
“...[Christianity] proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn't promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God's.
The collect today says that the Church is founded upon this interruption for the sake of the kingdom of God. This interruption, the chief interrupter being Jesus, is our reason for being here, for God’s sake.
The Church has a message for us as we approach the anniversary of our Independence. God wants citizens who are willing to be interrupted by the revelation that God “has made all the peoples of the earth for God’s glory, and that a “zeal for justice and strength of forbearance” to “use our liberty in accordance with God’s gracious will” is God’s charter for patriotism.
And if you’re thinking that this all sounds both alluring and incredibly challenging and difficult, well, you’re right.
My hope for St. Paul’s is that we’re always willing to be interrupted for the reign of God, that we’ll hunger for the reign of God.
So I ask you: Is this church community being used by God to interrupt your life, open your heart to God? Does this church offer you a cup of cold water when thirsty, some measure of healing for your soul, some measure of liberation for joy?
I’m asking you that if you don’t find that here, for God’s sake find it somewhere.
And if you do find that here, I ask you today that if you aren’t already doing so, that you begin a habit of supporting this church by your financial giving, by some measure of your wealth.
All gifts, no matter how small, are important. Full participation is the aim. I need not belabor the point that the way in which we’re doing mission requires money. This Church is growing in numbers because we’re doing more. If we could literally get by on cups of cold water, that would be great, but I ask you to consider that one way of offering a cup of cold water to each other is to support with your financial giving the community that interrupts our lives with the startling Good News of God in Christ.
In your pews are pledge cards. You can fill one out and put it in the offering plate, or mail it in. You can give online. You can drop cash in the plate.
Let us pray:
O God, with the Psalmist we are persuaded that your love is established forever. Open us to interruption for the sake of your love and your reign of justice and peace.