You can listen to Sunday’s sermon by clicking here – or read on!
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” It is my great pleasure then to welcome each and every one of you as children of God to Saint Paul’s this morning. Many of you have been welcomed here hundreds, if not thousands of times before. Some of you have only been welcomed here a few dozen times. For a few of you, this might be your first time to experience our community of faith. Whether this is your first or four-hundredth time at Saint Paul’s, I hope you feel welcomed as if we were welcoming Jesus himself into our midst this morning. Even more, I hope you feel welcomed and embraced as a beloved child is welcomed home at the end of a weekend at grandma’s house. That is, after all, the way Jesus invites us to welcome each other into the Kingdom of God.
The slogan for The Episcopal Church is, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” and by and large, that slogan is an outright lie. The Episcopal Church welcomes its own. The Episcopal Church welcomes attractive looking young families. The Episcopal Church welcomes people who look, think, and act like members of mainstream society. Granted, I think things are different here at Saint Paul’s, but I also think we have room for improvement. Raise your hand if think Saint Paul’s is a friendly church. OK, here’s a slightly different question, think about this one for a second, raise your hand if you think Saint Paul’s is a welcoming church. Now, you don’t have raise your hand for this one, just think about it: almost every week, we are blessed to welcome guests at every service on Sunday morning, Think about the last four Sundays you were here, how many of you have talked with someone you didn’t know at least once over the last four Sundays?
Sure, for the most part we welcome people well enough here at Saint Paul’s, but we are still falling short of the radical welcome that Jesus calls for in today’s Gospel lesson. Maybe I’m taking this child thing too literally, and maybe I should leave the parables to Jesus, but I heard a story this week that offers a glimpse into the sort of welcome that Jesus demands, and I felt compelled to share it with you today.
Read the story – Sitting Down to Eat
When Jesus took a child into his arms and told his disciples that when they embrace one such child, they embrace him and the one who sent him, he was calling them to reset their priorities. Children have nothing to offer. They don’t tithe. They can’t set the altar. They don’t sign up for coffee hour teams. Yet, Jesus uses the least and the lost to redirect his disciples toward radical hospitality.
When Jesus took a child into his arms and told us that when we embrace one such child, we embrace him and one who sent him, he called us to become a more welcoming church, making room for who- or whatever comes through our doors because, “if there is room for us in the Kingdom of God, there is room for the other.” Whether we are welcoming a family of six or a widow of eighty-six; a single mom or a confirmed bachelor; an elephant from Alabama or a tiger from Auburn; a giant blue whale or a tiny caterpillar; we are invited by Jesus to welcome the stranger with open arms, even if it means the whole house will eventually fall down.
Last Sunday, we took another step toward total hospitality. By splitting the 10 O’clock service into two, we took a space with room for one-hundred-and-forty and made room for two-hundred-and-eighty. Extra pew space is nice, the experts tell us that, but the real place where growth happens is in relationships, and that depends on you. I rarely say “you” in my sermons; most often I’m preaching to us, but hospitality, I’m afraid, is up to you. A guest who is welcomed by a clergy person has a 20% chance of returning to that church, but a guest who is welcomed by a lay person returns to that church 4 out of 5 times – that’s 80%! I’m no statistician, but I think that means that you make a whole lot bigger difference than me when it comes to welcoming someone to Saint Paul’s.
As we gather to eat at God’s Table this morning, I pray that he would fill us with the desire to make room for whoever comes to join us. After all, in Jesus, God made room for all of us. Welcome, Children of God and be sure to welcome children of God. Amen.