June 28, 2020 (Pentecost A +4)
“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says to his disciples, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
We like to think we would welcome Jesus if he showed up on our doorstep, don’t we? We would recognize him immediately, and we’d usher him into our homes with joy. More than likely, we’d find some way to set out a meal for Jesus, knowing that good food usually makes for good conversation, and the gospels all tell us that Jesus liked to eat with people.
But what if Jesus showed up at your door when the larder was empty? What if the beds weren’t made and the place was a mess? What if there was no place for Jesus to sit, because every seat was piled high with newspapers, unfolded laundry – stuff… you get the idea. What if you hadn’t dusted or vacuumed in weeks, and there were dirty dishes in the sink? What would your welcome to the King of Kings look like then?
Sometimes our dreams don’t match reality. Sometimes we don’t see things the way they really are.
“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.” (Matthew 10:40-42)
What does it mean to welcome a prophet, and what is a prophet’s reward for such a welcome? To answer this question, we have to know what a prophet is and what a prophet does.
A prophet is not a fortune teller; prophesying is not predicting what will happen in the future. A prophet is a truth-teller, someone who announces God’s Word in God’s voice. “Thus says the Lord…” usually introduces the prophet’s proclamation.
In the Old Testament lesson Jon read for us earlier, two prophets claim to speak the word of the Lord. Hananiah tells the people what they want to hear. Jeremiah tells them the truth. It’s time to make the best of a bad situation. It’s time to surrender to the inevitable reality that Babylon is going to carry Israel off into captivity. Go peaceably, Jeremiah tells the people.
This isn’t what they want to hear. They are proud. They don’t want to surrender. That’s actually been their problem all along – they didn’t want to surrender themselves fully to God’s purpose, and their pride has cost them their homeland.
This truth Jeremiah speaks sounds strange to them – how can they know peace in exile? How can they welcome this kind of a prophet, who tells them to accept defeat? Sometimes our dreams don’t match reality. Sometimes we don’t see things the way they really are. That’s why we need prophets, to help us bridge the gap between what is and what we wish were so.
But we don’t always treat those prophets so well. When Jesus says, “a prophet’s reward,” he isn’t necessarily talking about a generous compensation package.
In Matthew 13, we read about Jesus returning to his hometown, where his neighbors scoff and he can’t do many miracles “because of their lack of faith” (13:58). Jesus tells them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (13:57). And in the familiar passage we know as the Beatitudes, Jesus tells his listeners to rejoice when they are persecuted, “ for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (5:12).
And when Jesus accuses the Pharisees of hypocrisy, he points out that they are descendants of the very people who murdered the prophets of old (Matthew 23:29-39). Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (23:37).
Sometimes our dreams don’t match reality. Sometimes we don’t want to see things the way they really are. But let’s go back to that idea of welcome, because there is an important piece we might miss if we aren’t careful.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (10:40) In other words, the one who welcomes another in Christ’s name, welcomes Christ and God the Father who sent his Son to save us.
You see, whenever we welcome Christ, Christ is no longer the guest. Christ becomes our host, welcoming us into new life.
Think back to the story about Easter evening. Two disciples are walking home from Jerusalem, confused and disappointed in the way things have turned out. It’s been a long and difficult weekend. A stranger joins them, and as this stranger explains how the scriptures teach Messiah must suffer and die, their hearts burn in their chests.
They want to hear more, so when they reach their home in Emmaus, they invite the stranger into their home. They welcome him to a meal. And the most astounding thing happens. This guest, this stranger, takes on the role of host and breaks the bread for them. They suddenly recognize Jesus, and he vanishes. (Luke 24:13-35)
When we welcome Christ, Christ welcomes us. The prophet’s welcome is the welcome Jesus extends to us. We are welcome in God’s presence, through his Son. The prophet’s reward is living in God’s holy presence for all eternity.
Sometimes our dreams don’t match reality. Sometimes we don’t see things the way they really are in God’s amazing, fabulous design. Our dreams are too small, our vision is too limited.
Some of you might have been hoping I would be your prophet, coming to Willmar to announce your future as a church. I’m not here to predict your future. I’m here to call you into it. My job is to tell you the truth about yourselves, and the truth God is speaking into your lives and the life of this church.
You won’t always like what you hear. But I pledge to you now that I will be truthful with you. And I ask that you be truthful with me. Our work together will be more fruitful if we can trust each other to speak openly and honestly.
Then, together, we can find welcome at Christ’s table, and extend that welcome to others who are thirsty for more than a cup of cold water – they are thirsty for God.