The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

You're Invited -- Matthew 10:40-42

On weeks like this, as a preacher, you read over the assigned gospel text and say, “Well, I could just read that aloud and sit down.” Some weeks, the message delivers itself. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Welcome! 

Though you would not have asked me here today if that was all you needed, so, I suppose I’ll say a few words.

In this tenth chapter of Matthew’s account of the good news, Jesus is explaining to the disciples just what they ought to expect as they go out to continue the work of proclaiming the good news to the world. Over the last few weeks, the lectionary has walked us through the ups and downs. First, Jesus told them who to proclaim to, what to proclaim, and what else they should be doing: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons—you know, the usual. They should take no payment for this work, but rely on the kindness of strangers. However, the disciples will be like lambs among wolves—not ideal. They should be prepared to be arrested and beaten and put on trial because of their affiliation with Jesus. He assures them, though, that the Spirit will move through them in this trauma. 

This really drives home the idea that Jesus was not necessarily the most popular guy in town. And we’re aware of that. Christians are still not necessarily the most popular guys in town. We’re “welcome” in a community (or a conversation, even) based on how people feel about knowing we’re affiliated with Jesus. Because of what most people associate with words like “christian” and “pastor” and “worship” and “baptism” and “salvation” and “evangelism”—the Religious Right—we the Religious Left have a hard time getting our message through before people’s eyes glaze over. 

And that’s a best case scenario! Plenty of folks have been hurt by the church—you and me included—who struggle to believe that “Progressive” and “Christian” can go together. Our own ELCA has had it’s struggles with this, when it comes to the ordination of female pastors and the ordination of queer pastors. 
How many of the first female seminarians—told they could study just as hard and care just as much as their male classmates but were “unfit” for the ministry of word and sacrament—felt welcome? 
How many queer seminarians—told they could study just as hard and care just as much as their heterosexual classmates but were “unfit” for the ministry of word and sacrament—feel welcome? And though we have rules and regulations and Vision and Expectations on the subject, we’re not perfect. 

Pulpits aside, what about you? 
What about the people in our pews and the people not in our pews? What does that welcome feel like? 

While we’re at it, let’s look at that word, “welcome.” Think about how that word works. When someone arrives at the place where you are—your home, probably—you welcome them. Right? Sometimes they’ve arrived unannounced—like if you’re welcoming them to your place of business. They’ve come to you, and you have offered them, at the very least, the word “welcome!” 

A friend of mine, Rob Moss, is a pastor in suburban Denver. Last year, he and his congregation decided to change that word. Because, welcoming someone is “passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable. We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t. Welcoming is about us, not about them.” 

Welcoming people into our church communities assumes that they’re going to know to show up at our door. That they’re going to come to us.  That they’re going to be the ones doing all the work.

Rob and his congregation decided to change their verbiage to being an “inviting” congregation. Because that’s different. In order to invite someone,  “we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.” Pastor Rob synthesizes the whole idea when he writes, “Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join. Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—in the world.”

How does this change Jesus’ words in the text for today? “Whoever invites you invites me, and whoever invites me invites the one who sent me.” Later on, in the text, Jesus says that those who welcome prophets—no matter if you agree with that prophet’s message—will be rewarded as those prophets will be rewarded. How people receive us is going to be affected by how we receive them. How people receive us is going to be affected by how we invite them. 

I can feel you all squirming. Invite someone? To church? The horror! Heaven forbid we engage in evangelism, out loud, to a real fellow human person! Ahhhh! 

Today, of all days, is going to be a great day to do that. After church today, I’m going to watch the Pride Parade, and cheer for all of the incredible performers and floats and groups doing incredible work for everyone in this city—for people of every gender and sexual expression. This is a welcoming day, of course. But today can also be an inviting day. 

If you’re out today, and someone notices that you’re, say, wearing a cross and also waving a rainbow flag—take that opportunity to say, “Looking for a way of being church that wants you, celebrates you, loves you? I’d like to invite you to mine.” If you’re out today, and you run into a protestor waving a horrific sign that puts words in God’s mouth that we’ve never read in this book—take that opportunity not to swear at them or spit on them (though Lord knows we’ve all considered it) but rather to say, “God loves you and me and everyone, actually, and if you’d like to experience that God, I’d like to invite you to my church.” I have my doubts that people will agree on the street to come to worship next Sunday, but they’ll at least think about the idea that you, and St. Francis, and the ELCA, and people who love Jesus could also invite, welcome, and love them. 

We know (or are learning) that God loves us. That we are claimed and loved as children of God despite and because of everything that makes us unique individuals and a motley crew.  We know that though we have not always done everything according to plan—ours or our parents’ or anyone else’s—God has loved us and the Spirit has moved throughout. We know that, as the Apostle Paul claims in this week’s text from his letter to the Romans, though we have been slaves to sin, and we have done things of which we are now ashamed. This much cannot be denied by any among us. But what is undeniable, too, is that we are free from that sin. We are freed by the grace of God. Who wouldn’t want to be invited into that?

Amen.

Let's talk.

Father Abraham -- Matthew 10:24-39