This morning’s scripture from Matthew is a preachers dream. A few weeks ago when I began preparing for our first week together, trying to get ahead of things before our move from Chesapeake to Arlington, I read these lines from Matthew’s Gospel and thought to myself, “thank you Jesus!”
“Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me.”
Or those who receive me and also receiving Jesus, and those who are receiving Jesus also receive God, the one who sent Jesus.
This is a preachers dream come true.
This is the prefect text for this first Sunday of my ministry at Mount Olivet. It’s like the organizers of the lectionary, the three-year cycle of scripture that helps communities read through the whole narrative of scripture, knew that on this Sunday, July 2nd, pastors across the conference would be preaching their first sermons in their new churches. It’s like the organizers of the lectionary knew that I’d be with you here this morning.
When we are receiving someone, we are engaging in the act of welcoming. In order to receive something, whether that something be a real, living person, or perhaps another Amazon Prime box from UPS, the separation that once existed between us goes away. Upon our act of receiving we are welcoming that person, or object, into our lives. Just as they or it are.
And this plays out perfectly for us, does it not?
Part of our charge as disciples of Jesus is to make more disciples so that we can transform the world, sharing the Good News with the world, being a light to the world, the light of Christ. We are part of a multi-billion member, global organization, that was and is charged by the Giver of All Life to transform the world.
Taking it a step further, we are part of the Methodist family, specifically the United Methodist Church, where our slogan is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Have you heard that slogan before?
The slogan of the United Methodist Church pairs perfectly with our scripture this morning. Matthew’s writing tells us welcoming someone, anyone, is the same as welcoming Jesus and thus God. And with our open hearts, open minds, open doors in the UMC, it’s hard to not see the correlation between what Jesus said and what our denomination advertises.
This morning’s scripture from Matthew is a first Sunday at a new appointment, his first appointment, preachers dream.
From the first time I drove by Mount Olivet to just the other evening when Allison, Camden, and I were taking Rosie P. For a walk I could tell this church and the surrounding community is ready to receive others in the name of Jesus. From the sign in the parking lot, “A Welcoming Congregation” and the signs throughout the neighborhood letting all people know they are welcomed neighbors, to the church’s Facebook banner, “Inclusive. Life-changing. Serving.” This church and its members have proclaimed to the community and the world that you are ready to receive anyone in the name of Jesus. I found out those words become reality each month during community assistance. We saw that this past week with VBS as children were invited to take over the church and learn more about Jesus, and my family has seen it as you’ve welcomed us into your community.
Our text this morning from Matthew is typically a rallying cry from pastors to their churches, imploring them for the need to welcome everyone who walks into the church, and that’s good. I think we can all acknowledge the new people into the life of the church is a good thing to do.
But the problem is, the problem with the lections for thisa Sunday is that they are not limited to just the Gospel reading. There are 2 Old Testament readings, 2 Psalter readings, the Gospel reading, and an Epistle reading.
And that’s where this morning’s scripture being a preachers dream come true on his first Sunday at his first appointment, to now getting complicated.
The problem is that we no longer live in a world where people are beating down the doors of the church to get in. Our post-Christiandom ministry field requires us to re-think, re-examine, the techniques and methods of evangelism that worked so well when the church was at the center of each community.
That’s where Paul’s letter to the church in Rome helps us this morning, Romans chapter 6.12-17:
“So then, don’t let sin rule your body, so that you do what it wants. Don’t offer parts of your body to sin, to be used as weapons to do wrong. Instead, present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead, and offer all the parts of your body to God to be used as weapons to do right. Sin will have no power over you, because you aren’t under Law but under grace.
So what? Should we sin because we aren’t under Law but under grace? Absolutely not! Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, that you are slaves of the one whom you obey? That’s true whether you serve as slaves of sin, which leads to death, or as slaves of the kind of obedience that leads to righteousness. But thank God that although you used to be slaves of sin, you gave wholehearted obedience to the teaching that was handed down to you, which provides a pattern.”
Paul continues in verse 18:
“Once, you offered the parts of your body to be used as slaves to impurity and to lawless behavior that leads to still more lawless behavior. Now, you should present the parts of your body as slaves to righteousness, which makes your lives holy.”
The problem with our United Methodist sales pitch of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” is that we think that just by having this printed on advertising materials we somehow now welcoming, ready and willing to receive anyone who walks through our doors.
But what happens after a person or family walks in, and then the honeymoon period is over? What happens after we’ve welcomed someone in and we realize that he, they, she, think differently that we do? Maybe their theology isn’t as Wesleyan as we’d like it to be. Maybe they’re too conservative or not enough. They could be too liberal. Maybe they love the wrong person or have made some decisions in their life that you or I would never make.
When the honeymoon period is over, we forget that we’ve been brought back to life from death by Christ. We forget that as disciples charged with living a righteous life that we need to be aware of our own individual tendencies that allow sin to take power over the relationships we have with those whom we’ve committed to living together with in a faith community.
If we are truly going to live as a church with “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” truly being welcoming, and anxiously awaiting the opportunity to receive new disciples of Jesus Christ, then we need to understand that because our relationships with one another, those sitting next to us and upstairs are a witness the the community declaring that our hearts, minds, and doors have been opened. This is what Jesus is talking about, and Paul then elaborates on, tells us that receiving one another with grace just as we are, as people who sinned this morning, will do so tomorrow, and the day after is the same way we are received by the One who receives everyone.
Grace is at the center of what we do as disciples of Jesus and why I love our Wesleyan theology. We know that we have the love of God given to us without cost, given preveniently, and we know that when we accept the grace offered to us but Christ that we are justified before God, and can then move towards sanctification. We know that for ourselves and but how often are we affording grace to one another?
Our witness to the community, the invitation of welcome to a new life in Christ, comes from the way we love one another.
Our slogan of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” is empty if we do not live out the same attitude with one another.
If we understood receiving and welcoming as our having been welcomed unnaturally by God in Christ our slogan would be “Opened Hearts. Opened Minds. Opened Doors.”