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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:40-42

 Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

It has been a tense several weeks now in our country, with police and protestors clashing in the streets of our cities. But in the midst of the chaos and violence, there have been some heartening moments as well.

In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a young African-American man walked up to a group of police standing in formation in riot gear on a hot afternoon. He walked up to them with a shrink-wrapped case of bottled water. He said, “I’m not mad at you.” He thanked them for being out there to keep things under control. He put the bottled water on the ground in front of them and said, “I know y’all are thirsty out here.” As he backed away to rejoin his group, there was a chorus of surprised but sincere “thank yous” from the police officers. It wasn’t even really about the water. It was about the gesture. It was about the hospitality. It meant something. It meant a lot.

In New York a 10-year old African-American girl was in her front yard when a white female police officer walked past her house. The girl was so afraid she immediately put up her hands and shrieked. She stood there, trembling and sobbing. The police officer put her own hands up and approached her gently. She assured her that she wasn’t there to hurt her. She got down to her level so she wasn’t so threatening. She put out her hand to give a high five, which the little girl tentatively returned. With deep emotion starting to show up on the officer’s face, she told the little girl she has son about her age. The officer later said in an interview that her mom instincts kicked in and she just needed to comfort this girl. This brief exchange was captured on video and has gone viral. It was featured on Good Morning America, where both parties were interviewed. This simple act of welcome, of hospitality, of care, was fraught with meaning, giving hope to a hurting nation.

Last week we heard Jesus warn his disciples that as they went out into the world to bear witness to him, there would be challenges. They would be called names. They would be rejected. They would be ostracized, perhaps even by members of their own families. He did not come to bring peace, he said, but a sword. He came to bring peace with God, to be sure, but that wouldn’t always lead to peace with other people.

This Sunday we pick up right where we left off last week. Jesus continues to speak to his disciples about what they can expect as they go out into the world to spread the gospel, but now Jesus has something more positive to say. Here Jesus tells them that there will be moments of grace as they are welcomed by others. He tells them that they will receive hospitality by some – and that this hospitality will mean something.

The reading for today is so short, I can give it to you again in its entirety: [Jesus said to the twelve:] “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 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.”

 Jesus acknowledges the challenges the disciples will face as they go out to bear witness to him. He doesn’t candy-coat it one bit! But Jesus also wants them to know that there will be moments of grace where they will be welcomed. There will be times when there will be simple gestures of hospitality towards them. And when these things happen, there is more going on than what can be seen on the surface: those who welcome them and offer them hospitality are welcoming and showing hospitality to Christ himself! And in receiving Christ they are receiving the one who sent him! In this there is a reward. There is blessing. God himself is present. God’s kingdom is getting a toe-hold in the midst of a broken world.

What an encouraging word this must have been to the disciples. As he sends them out into a dangerous world where they will face all kinds of difficulties, he assures them that some will welcome them. Some will provide hospitality. And no matter how simple or insignificant those gestures might seem on the surface, the Good Lord will be in it, handing out the rewards and the blessings of his kingdom.

A promise like that was enough to get them out there to bear witness to Christ. This word of encouragement, of hope, this word of promise was enough to get them out there to carry on Jesus’ ministry of mercy and healing and reconciliation.

How about us? Putting ourselves in a position of being welcomed – or not – is scary. Putting ourselves out there to be received – or not – isn’t easy. It is much easier to stay home and stay quiet. But that isn’t what we are called to do as Christians. We are sent out into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry. We are sent out to bear witness to him, to be agents of his reconciliation.

Not everyone will welcome us – but some will. With gestures that mean more than they even realize, with acts of hospitality that might seem small or insignificant, some will welcome us.

And when that happens, Christ is there. When that happens, God is present. When that happens, there are blessings and rewards. God’s kingdom gets a toe-hold in the midst of all the brokenness and pain, and there is hope for a hurting world.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church