June 28, 2020
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Andrew and I purchased this small sign in Scotland several years ago. We were leading a joint trip with our congregations from North Carolina. Hopewell Presbyterian, the congregation I served, was and I imagine still is really into it’s Scottish heritage. They are one of the seven pre-revolutionary congregations in the Charlotte Presbytery, and celebrated 250 years of ministry while I was there. The main entrance to the church has this same Gaelic saying engraved over the walkway. It means “A hundred thousand welcomes.”
A hundred thousand welcomes. It reminds me that welcome is more than a phrase.
It is posture of reception. It is a commitment to hospitality.
It is a partnership with those who are welcomed.
It demands that those who enter are a part of shaping the community.
When we come to our reading in Matthew today, we hear:
Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome
—six welcomes in the the span of two verses!
Jesus is at the end of preparing to send his disciples out into their ministry. He’s told them it’s going to be difficult. Jesus told them earlier in the chapter that they will be challenged, there could be conflict in their closest relationships, and that welcome will not always greet them. Still the Disciples are sent out to proclaim good news, heal, cleanse, and reconstruct, because God is in the business of life.
Then, Jesus, turns the conversation to the “little ones”—you know the least of these, the widow and the orphans, those precious in God’s sight, those on the margins, the unexpected bearers of Christ. And Jesus’ charge expands past the disciples at this point to all with whom they will come in contact—whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones.
A simple act of hospitality, a tangible gift of welcome, a needed source of refreshment and strength.
A friend of mine who volunteers as a chaplain with the Red Cross shared with me that when she arrives to accompany a family who has lost their home to fire, the first thing she does is offer them a cup of water.
A simple kindness. One that gives life.
Welcome, like love, is a word that only takes on its full meaning when the speaking of it is matched with action.
We know when we feel welcome somewhere and when we do not.
Violence against Black people in the United States and prejudice around the world is a tragic sign of the divisions in access to healthcare, voting, and wealth. To welcome all people means to live as if Black Lives Matter. It’s more than a phrase that some embrace and others baulk at, it’s a call to offer a cold cup of water.
Who are the prophets in our midst offering healing, good news, and life?
Rev. Dr. William Barber, II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis rekindled and reimagined Martin Luther King, Jr’s Poor People’s Campaign two years ago. They have been organizing across the country to welcome those who are poor and of low wealth. They hear stories from the poor and help mobilize coalitions of diverse people to amplify their voices. This past Saturday, June 20, there was a virtual mass poor people’s assembly. The Poor People’s Campaign welcomes voices from Alaska to Appalachia, New York to First Nations people, Detroit to DC, Mississippi to Minnesota. Maybe you heard about it on NPR this week or maybe you watched the 3 hour assembly.
Poor people are in need of a cold cup of water—they are in need of life. 140 million Americans are poor and low wealth. The pandemic has thrown many Americans who were one emergency from financial crisis into a downward spiral.
The Church is in the business of life, because God is in the business of life.
That is why Barber calls on people of faith and all people of moral value to live into this time with the power they have in their collective voice. The Poor People’s Campaign is a non-partisan moral fusion movement. This coalition sees that death is here on our doorstep, 700 people a day die from poverty, but life is possible. As Barber concluded his remarks on Saturday, choose “life, liberation, and love.”
And it is what we are called to as the people of God—to offer cold cups of water to those who need it.
Maybe you’ve been offering life to the “little ones” through your skills and love in videos in Virtual Vacation Bible School this week, or joining in VVBS and supporting Arm in Arm.
Maybe you are offering a cold cup of water by saying Black Lives Matter and following that up with advocating for just and life-giving policies in your workplace, school, network, or neighborhood.
Maybe you are asking hard questions of yourself of where you have fallen short of welcoming the prophets God has sent into the world, and committing to offer compassion to them and to yourself.
And just as there are a hundred thousand welcomes, there are as many ways to offer life.
The pandemic demands boundaries for many who are vulnerable in how they can engage, not everyone will be able or feel comfortable to gather in person for a long time. And, I wonder, if this season might bring us back to the charge at the end of Matthew 10 to the disciples—there are those who will be sent out, who will risk life and relationship, and there will be others who’s sending is not as far but just as vital to give a cold cup of water to one of these little ones who carry God’s good news of love and life into the world.