Pentecost IV Gospel Matthew 10.40-42
There is a story titled Whoever Welcomes You, Welcomes Me. The story goes like this….
I saw him in the church building for the first time on Wednesday. He was in his mid-70’s with thinning silver hair and a neat brown suit. Many times in the past I had invited him to come on in.
Several other Christian friends had talked to him about the Lord and had tried to share the good news with him. He was well respected, honest, a man of good character. He acted much like a Christian would act, but he never came to church or professed Christ.
After I got to know him well and we had talked about a wide range of subjects I asked him if he had ever been to a church service.
He hesitated. Then with a twisted grimace told me of an experience he had as a boy.
He was raised in a large family. His parents survived the depression but they struggled to provide food and clothing for the family. When he was around ten years old a friend invited him to go to church with his family.
He went – the Sunday School class was great. The songs were fun to sing and the stories, oh the great Bible stories, were exciting to hear. He had never heard anyone read from the Bible before.
As class ended the teacher pulled him aside and said,
"Please don’t come again dressed as you are now. We want to look our best when we come into God’s house."
He looked down at his old hand-me-down overalls that were certainly worn and tattered. He thought about that for a moment and said softly, "No ma’am I won’t ever."
Then he looked at me, the author wrote and said, "...and you know what … I never did."
I am sure that the Sunday School teacher meant well, as we all so very much mean well. And yet how easy it is for us not to measure well as disciples. To live as if we haven’t heard the gospel.
At that moment for that boy, that Sunday School teacher was the voice of the church. For that moment for that boy, that Sunday School teacher was the voice of the church who spoke the words of God.
In fact, the Sunday School teacher may have been representing the feeling of the majority of the folks in that church. What if, what if she had put her arms around the dirty little boy in the ragged overalls and said something like, I am thrilled that you came this morning and I hope you will come every chance you get to be with us, to hear more about Jesus because he loves you so much.
What if, she recognised his raw want for God, and for some of the basic things of life. What if, she talked to her priest and radical hospitality was extended not only for that boy but also his family.
What if …
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Had been heard.
Jesus says hospitality is the measure of a disciple. This is a ministry, a vocation, shared by us all.
Not one of us is exempt. So how do you measure up? How does this community of welcome measure up? Are we living as those who have heard the Gospel? Are we welcoming as those who have heard the Gospel?
One place which is known to have heard today’s Gospel are those folks of Coventry Cathedral and it is known due to their welcome sign placed boldly for all to see, and read.
Now that is a welcome.
That is radical hospitality.
They have heard the Gospel.
And in their hearing - others will too!
I hope we have as well.
The story which I told at the beginning of this sermon, has an ending which goes like this:
Yes, I saw him in the church for the first time on Wednesday. I cried as I looked at the immaculately dressed old gentleman lying there in his coffin. He was looking his best. All I could think of were those words of an impressionable little ten-year-old boy echoing in my mind,
"No ma’am …. I won’t ever."