I preached this sermon to the good people of Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, as part of continued drop-in sabbatical coverage for their pastor.
Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.
Last week, I was in my Southern California hometown of Encinitas with my fiancé and our families, doing some wedding planning and celebrating, including a bridal shower hosted by my aunts. There were seven of us staying at my parents’ house—my mom and dad, me, Jonathan, Jonathan’s mom and dad, and Jonathan’s brother. My dad kept laughing as we filled up the dishwasher, again, that there was a lot more action in the kitchen with 7 eaters instead of their usual 2. It was a fun week, packed with appointments but also with plenty of scheduled time to sit in the backyard and look at the ocean. We ate a lot of homemade guacamole. My mom knows how to host.
My mom and her mom (and by extension my aunts) are who taught me about hospitality. Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, graduations, weddings, births, deaths, every occasion has been honored and celebrated in their homes, with our entire extended family gathered in from all over the place.
When we say “all are welcome” we’re not kidding—everybody is welcome any time, any place, whether we were expecting you or not. We’ll pull up a chair, no worries. We were already cooking way more food than remotely necessary, so there’s plenty to spare. We are like this, because we would never want someone to arrive and feel like they weren’t important. We work behind the scenes to ensure that there’s always plenty, and all contingencies have been accounted for.
We all pitch in to make this possible—on Christmas Eve, for example, Aunt Jackie makes the mashed potatoes, Uncle Greg keeps tabs on the meat, I bring the pies, Uncle Mark plays Santa, my dad pours the wine, my teen cousins fill the water glasses, my Aunt Cathy blesses the meal, the young adult cousins wrangle the babies, my brother leads the carol-singing...
Sure, we could function without one of these, but we’d be out of sorts. Since we’ve all put the evening together, we all revel in the chaos of all the kiddos running wild during the gift exchange, and the reminiscences of our 92-year-old traditions. Every Christmas Eve, I think, “the kingdom of God is like this.”
I think that for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I would love to spend eternity with my all my favorite people. But I especially think that the kingdom of God is like Turpin Family Christmas Eve because everyone has a place in it. Everyone who is there is loved and cherished, and their contribution to the success of the evening—whether that’s preparing food, or exchanging gifts, or bouncing a baby cousin while his mom scarfs down her spanakopita, or washing the dishes at the end!—no matter how small, is significant.
Our gratitude on Christmas Eve is intertwined, as we all worked and played together to celebrate. The house at which it’s hosted is certainly a key part of the equation, but it would be an empty house if we weren’t there together. Those who cooked the meal are highly valued, but they’d be wasting their time if there was no one there to eat it. And those who make their way through the kitchen at the exact right moment to hand Aunt Suzanne the potholder she needs are the unsung heroes of the feast.
I don’t know if this sounds like Christmas Eve at your house—but I pray that it is at least a familiar scene. I don’t know what role you play in the foreground or background of your community life, but since you’re here today, I know you at least have one. In our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is speaking right to this. It’s so short and sweet, I’m just going to read it out to you again.
It is written: "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).
When we show hospitality to our siblings in Christ, we show hospitality to Christ himself. These few words call to mind some more famous words from the Gospel According to Matthew. The righteous ask Jesus, “‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’” and Jesus answered, “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).
When we show hospitality to our siblings in Christ, we show hospitality to Christ himself. Here at LCI, you may have a hospitality committee, or something of that nature. Some good folks who make sure that visitors are welcome—especially visiting pastors—and when there’s an event of some kind, they’re making it happen. Perhaps you are part of this committee, or perhaps several different groups of folks share these responsibilities.
Whatever you are doing, here, to bring about the kingdom of God, it is part of the mission and you are important. If you are pouring the coffee after the service, you are important. If you are registering kids for day camp, you are important. If you are formatting the name tags, you are important. If you are vacuuming the fellowship hall, you are important. If you are updating the website, you are important. If you are folding the bulletins, you are important. If you are tuning the piano, you are important. All of the good work that happens “behind the scenes” in the church is important.
It can feel sometimes like the heavy lifting is done by the pastors, or the bishops, or the people on the synod staff. While all those are doing good and necessary work, “the reward is not simply for the preachers and prophets among us but also for those whose calling is simply to pour the drinks and play the host.”  Every piece of the puzzle is critical.
And it doesn’t stop here at church! I saw someone online this week call this the gospel of “five welcomes and five whoevers.” What five welcomes can we offer? To which five whoevers? There are some types of welcome and some types of whoevers that we’re much more comfortable with than others. This plays out on every scale—from visitors at church to immigrants to the United States.
All of us have opportunities to show hospitality to our loved ones and to strangers every day as we go about our lives. We can chose to be open to engaging new kinds of people in new kinds of ways, or we can be closed off. We can choose to share of what we have, or we can hoard it. We can engage our broader communities—the city of Davis, the university, the state of California—to stand for more welcome, more often, for more whoevers.
It is not necessary to do this in big and flashy ways. Our work of hospitality need not be so consequential that it makes the front page of the newspaper every week in order to advance the work of God’s kingdom. “The divine mission is as much about the unnamed people who provide a thirsty servant a cold drink of water as the familiar names that dot the pages of church histories." 
You are important. Your work is meaningful. Everyone around you is important, and the work of everyone around you is meaningful. We are all in this together, working to bring about the reign of God. Each and every contribution is valuable. Each and every person is valuable. This value is not earned or meted out in such a way that anyone is ever exchanging their value for the value of another. Your belovedness comes to you direct from the source, from God your creator. Your life in this community—at LCI, and in your family, and in the work you do or the school you’re in or the retirement you enjoy—is yours because you are God’s.
Truly, I tell you. Amen.