Welcome

The Rev Becky McDaniel. This sermon is based on Matthew 10:40-42.

 

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

Welcome. There are so many levels of welcome. When we think about welcoming, our first thoughts are often “How do we welcome the stranger? How do we welcome newcomers into our community? Are we, as a community, welcoming enough?” These are great questions, and I think that more often than not we do a very fine job of welcoming strangers and newcomers into our community. In fact, the Episcopal Church has a slogan: All Are Welcome. Just this week I saw a post on the diocesan Facebook page that pictured a sign at Trinity Episcopal Church in Buchanan that read: Welcome All Sizes All Colors All Cultures All Sexes All Beliefs All Religions All Ages All Types All People. At Trinity Staunton, we open our doors every day of the week to a diverse group of community members for Noon Lunch. Many of the congregations in our diocese are venturing outward to “Meet God in the Neighborhood” this year, and people are learning how to listen to one another and particularly listen to the voices of those outside of the church. And this is very good news. But there are many levels of welcome. And I think that sometimes we forget about the call of Jesus to welcome one another on much deeper levels and in particular to welcome one another within our very own communities.

In the past year I have heard two very similar stories about small Virginia parishes facing change due to decline in membership. In both stories, the parishes came to the conclusion that having two Sunday morning services was no longer affordable or reasonable, so they decided to combine their two services into one. They made the decision reluctantly and with a degree of sadness. But then something unexpected happened. When all of the church members came together for one service, they began to get to know one another. They began to welcome each other in fresh ways that led to deeper friendships, more focused outreach programs, and later on, increases in attendance at Sunday services. The congregations actually began to grow again, but in their growth, they kept the one Sunday service, knowing that the decision that had looked like a great disappointment and an unfortunate circumstance had actually been a great gift . . . and a lesson in welcoming.

Some of you may have heard the wisdom of the spiritual teacher Ram Dass, who famously says “if you think that you are enlightened, go home and spend a week with your family.” The truth is that oftentimes we have a much easier time welcoming people that we do not know than we do welcoming our very own. I know of family members who live one street apart from one another and only see each other a couple of times a year. I know of families who because of their political disagreements have stopped coming together for meals. And I am sure that many of you could share a tale of unwelcoming within your own families.
And then there is the level of welcoming our very own self. We struggle on the individual level with welcoming our feelings and emotions, welcoming the challenges and the sorrows, welcoming the depth of joys and sorrows that come to our door each day, welcoming with open arms the experiences of being human and of touching the divine in the midst of this human mess. The Sufi poet Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” is a beautiful invitation to welcome the myriad moments and challenges of being human. I have seen the poem posted in retreat centers, therapists’ offices, and even on a priest’s wall. I think that when you see something in so many different places, God is telling you to pay attention. So here it is:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī was a 13th century Persian theologian and Sufi mystic. A couple of weeks ago I found myself at a Sufi retreat center in upstate New York. I had been invited to attend an inter-religious dialogue retreat with 6 male and 6 female leaders from different religious traditions. I did not know what to expect, but I am so grateful that I said “yes.” In those six days we shared our stories, experiences, worries, expectations, and visions for the future of religion. One of the participants was a practicing shaman trained by Purepecha, Xochimilco and Toltec elders in traditional medicine. She shared a story with me about a healing retreat that had taken place in California where indigenous peoples and white Americans were invited to dialogue and restore relationships across cultural boundaries. One of the exercises in this retreat was a written inquiry addressing cultural commitments and decision making. She told me that the result of the study revealed that the driving force for decision making in white Americans was the feeling of isolation, and the driving force for decision making in indigenous cultures was community wholeness. As she was saying these words, I began to cry, because I knew that what she was saying was true, and I did not want it to be true.

Welcome. There are so many levels of welcome. How do we welcome outsiders? How do we welcome each other within our very own communities and families? And how do we welcome ourselves? As we go forth on this day, may we consider the many levels of welcome, and may we listen to the call of Christ to welcome each other, to welcome ourselves, in whatever state of being we find ourselves today, and to welcome God into our hearts so that we may indeed shine forth the wholeness that the world so deeply desires.

 

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