Our Welcome Matters

by Anne Grizzle

This sermon is based on Mark 6:1-13.

Statler Brothers singing.  Fireworks in Gypsy Hill Park.  Hotdogs and cotton candy.   All part of the Staunton hometown celebration of Fourth of July when I was growing up here.  Having lived most of my adult life in New York and Houston, here I am back in my hometown for Fourth of July weekend.  Jesus comes back to his hometown as an adult too. But it was not to fireworks or a warm welcome.   And without that welcome, we read in today’s gospel that even Jesus, the Son of God and worker of many miracles, “could do no deed of power.”

The Greek word for power here is dunamis, also translated marvelous work or miracle.   This dunamis power is what came upon Mary when the power of God overshadowed her for the incarnation itself. This dunamis power of God is what Paul discovered was made perfect in his weakness. This dunamis power is what Jesus promised to his followers before he ascended saying, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” This Spirit came at Pentecost, and we are in the season following Pentecost.  We call it ordinary time yet as Spirit doused disciples, that power is available always.  That can turn it into extraordinary time. But for that power to be released, our welcome matters.

In last week’s readings we read about Jairus begging Jesus to come heal his daughter and the woman with hemorrhages having the guts to push right through the crowd up behind Jesus and actually touch his clothes, believing he would make her well.  And Jesus met their welcoming faith with the miraculous dunamis power of God’s healing.

This very same Jesus comes to his hometown, Nazareth, but the people begin questioning, “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  Not only no welcome here but skepticism and critique. What does Jesus do?  He leaves and goes to other villages.

And as he then sends out the twelve disciples two by two with authority, he lets them know they too will find different attitudes.  Some householders will welcome these motley strangers without suitcase or money to contribute to their stay. They will pull out the extra toothbrush, add food to the pot, and provide for their every need.   Others will not welcome the disciples and refuse to hear their good news. Jesus instructs the disciples to “shake off the dust that is on your feet”, and leave those unwelcoming ones.  My goddaughter has learned when she encounters a frustrating situation or unwelcoming person to literally shake her feet and tell herself, “Shake the dust off your feet.”  Don’t let the frustration or bitterness stick in your system. Move on to better possibilities.  I do not want to be the unwelcoming dusty soul that lovers of Jesus are shaking off their feet.

What a contrast, between the begging Jairus and desperate believing sick woman and the skeptical neighbors of Nazareth.  Between those who welcome the disciples, and those who do not.  Some welcome Jesus or his followers, and God acts with power.  Some question and do not welcome, and they are left without the powerful gifts of God.  We have this same choice which makes all the difference in whether the dunamis power of Jesus will be released in OUR lives and neighborhoods – or not. The Son of God, the omnipotent, omniscient God works with OUR faith to manifest his power in our lives.  We have a God who ASKS what we want, RESPONDS when we reach out, and moves elsewhere when we do not offer welcome.  So the question posed to us from these gospel lessons is: Do we greet Jesus with seeking or skepticism?  Do we come to worship with wide welcome or wariness?  The answer makes all the difference in whether we will experience the dunamis power offered.

It can be easy as we settle into routines, old familiar places, people, and liturgy to fail to be open to new movements of the spirit.   We can become like those in Nazareth who did not expect God working through one of their home town boys.  We can become complacent so we do not recognize or look for the miracles or wonderful power of God amidst our everyday lives.  And surprised when Jesus appears.  I remember one such time for me.  I was at a training session for healing prayer at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas about 12 years ago.  After some teaching, the priest asked us to “practice” in pairs of two.  Ellen Mallay and I were paired and I prayed for her with a typical type of prayer.  Then she asked what she could pray for me.  I really did not have any big health problems but remembered my right foot did have a lot of pain when I walked long distances so asked her to pray for that.  Now Ellen brought the sort of Jairus, bleeding woman prayer of pleading, believing faith to any prayer. After that I never had that aching in my right foot again. I brought routine prayer.  She brought pleading faith.  Whenever I hike, I give thanks to God for feet that have experienced the dunamis power of healing.

What does a welcoming faith for Jesus look like in our congregation, our family, and our neighborhood?  Consider three areas for exercising this faith:  wide welcome in worship, wonder amidst the ordinary, and risking something radical.

Jesus visits out hometown congregation every Sunday (actually every day). We can offer a wide welcome to our worship:  praying ahead of time for our whole congregation and the power of the spirit to be present,  coming a little early to bring attentive begging hearts to worship, listening to the Scriptures as lectio divina living love letters speaking to us personally today.  Perhaps most especially as we come to the communion rail we can kneel and lift our hands with that pleading heart wish to truly touch Jesus.  I know I sometimes get to communion and my mind has been somewhere else (which firework was my favorite and what’s for lunch).  Jesus promises to feed us his body and blood and mystically to be really present with dunamis resurrection power in that feast we share each week together but the welcome we bring to the rail matters.  And for those of us who need healing, we can bring our pleading faith to the Trinity healing prayer service any Wednesday at 10:30.

Amidst everyday life, our Nazareths of sorts, of cooking and cleaning, walking and working, we might try to see where God is in our midst and offer gratitude rather than apathy or criticism.  Wonders of God are all around us, and we easily pass by.  Mary Oliver in her poem on prayer writes, “Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it.”  St Benedict invites us to greet everyone as Christ.  Jesus is right there in the family, friends and strangers that are our opportunities to daily welcome.  If we pray and look to serve Jesus amidst the ordinary actions of love we offer, we might just be met with some surprising dunamis – altar guilding, acolyting, singing, gardening, cooking, waiting in line with love at the grocery store?

And what about reaching out a bit more radically with our welcome?  We all witnessed a radical welcome that Christians in Charleston gave a white supremacist to their Bible study and then more radically when family members offered forgiveness to the killer – that dunamis power of Jesus reverberated far into the hearts of this country of freedom. As Allen Chapel members were joined by pastors and people in Staunton of all congregations and colors, welcoming faith was put in action that can be followed up with yet more steps for racial reconciliation.

What small step of radical love might each of us be called to make this week?  A welcoming call to a family member or friend who has hurt us?  An invitation for a cup of coffee and conversation with someone very different from us, out of our normal pattern of socializing? Stepping out into service beyond our comfort zone?  Following up on some crazy idea for loving that came in worship or prayer?

We Episcopalians witnessed some dunamis power of Christian unity last Saturday when Michael Curry was elected as the next presiding bishop overwhelming in both houses on first ballot.  Bishop Curry said, “We are part of the Jesus movement, and nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in the world.”  In this hometown, in our home country, in this parish of prayer, we want to offer a wide welcome for the dunamis power of Jesus to show and to flow.  I close with a prayer from Paul for this power: May God by His power fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.