Communion is generally celebrated on the first Sunday of each month
Sunday School and Nursery 10 AM
One Hundred Thousand Welcomes
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be blessed in your sight o God, Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Welcome one another, therefore as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God!” Rom 15:7
When walking through the doors of the hotel one enters another world
And is greeted with big “hellos”, smiling faces that are strikingly similar, all with blue eyes. Groups of families gather in one area while teens and adults form into friendly clusters. Everyone engages you in conversation in the lobby, elevator, and conference rooms. There are no strangers’ here only friends who have never met. “Caed Mille Failte “, one hundred thousand welcomes.
It’s the Williams Syndrome Conference, which happens biannually. Paul and I are accompanying my mother and brother to the conference in Anaheim there next week.
Built into the DNA of folks with Williams Syndrome, is a welcoming spirit and a desire to connect with others. While my brother Dennis and other folks like him may not be able to add numbers, spell or remember your name, this genetic glitch on their chromosomes translates into a personality of joy, hospitality and with a phenomenal love for music thrown in. Dancing and singing the night away is a hallmark signature event of these conferences…! I can’t wait!
Most folks with developmental disabilities don’t have a jobs that pay more than minimum wage, they tend to live on the edges of society and remain unseen by the mainstream. You might see them at Stop n Shop bagging groceries or in my brother’s case, cleaning cars at the family dealership. But, I guarantee the person with Williams Syndrome will GIVE you the biggest HANDSHAKE AND SMILE you’ve gotten all week…
Imagine if the world practiced welcome like that!
Jesus in the gospel message for today has been teaching his new disciples what it means to follow the “ways of gospel welcome”. They’ve been getting all kinds of instruction from what to wear, who to love (your enemies, the meek, those excluded) and even what to give (just a cup of cool water).
In other translations, the Greek, “welcomes” means to “receives” and, we hear this “give and take” hospitality in today’s short text:
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me… 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.” (Matt 10:40)
Jesus reminds his followers later in Matthew on the Sermon on the Mount that he too knew what it meant to be a “stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)
In the ancient world, extravagant welcome was a necessity; the gestures of hospitality meant a bed and bread for a weary traveler. Wandering prophets and followers carried the gospel from place to place and were dependent on the kindness of strangers on the road.
So, too, in today’s world, we as a church in 2014 are listening to how we are called over and over again to invite, to welcome and show hospitality to the visitors in our midst. We are also studying how we can grow into God’s welcome by opening our doors wider. What does it mean to have our doors open to all regardless of background, job title, ability level, sexual orientation or gender or whom you choose to love?
We are a middle class, predominately white, “in the country” of CT congregation. That is our “social location in this time and place.”
How do we encourage more diversity, how do we branch out to receive those who may be too intimidated to walk through the door…persons of color…
Perhaps developing a relationship with a sister church in Hartford or another city might be a way to open our doors.
In her final book published after she died, Yale feminist theologian Letty M. Russell, outlined in her book, JUST HOSPITALITY the elements to a theology of God’s welcome in a world of “difference and danger”.
Russell teaches that we need to pay attention to the “Power quotient” involved in every relationship, every invitation. What is said and who is saying it. Power is always at work and we need to be mindful of this in our interactions spoken and unspoken.
All of us have varying experiences of power may be based on gender on level, on economics, on ethnic group. Who is IN and who is out?
Of course, what Jesus says is that:
In the kindom of God, we are ALL in.
Nobody is a nobody.
Doesn’t matter if you have a job or you don’t
If you have money or you don’t
If you are born in this country or not.
If you’re in recovery or not ready to commit.
If you are a card carrying member of a church or not
If you are ordained or a lay person.
No one is a misfit.
No one is supposed to have more power.
No one group is “CHOSEN” over any other.
The Kindom of God is Kind of like a Williams Syndrome conference.
Of course, the society in which we live doesn’t operate on Kindom of God principles.
But we can. We aspire to…
We are called to welcome ALL to God’s table. Ideally, we work in earnest to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. Or we make plans to build new seats. Even for the folks we don’t really agree with or like.
Russell (in her book) lifts up the need for us as a faith community to give priority to the outsider. Try to see as the outsider sees.
Our calling by God is to witness and service
While we cannot fully walk in another’s moccasins…we can welcome the other, the outsider,
We can go to them, try to see the world from their perspective.
And invite them to be a part of our ministry. Or join with them in theirs.
In keeping faith with our brothers and sisters in this welcoming way each person is honored, each person participates in the “give and take” of hospitality that makes it possible “for power to be shared rather than used to dominate.” (p49)
The rewards are great
The blessings are bountiful
As we then offer a hospitality that changes “the Other” into a “Partner”.
What in Hebrews (13.2) Paul says,
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
In the gospels, Jesus is seen walking from place to place, and from house to house. All along the road his message has the refrain of God’s welcome. One act of hospitality at a time. One cup of refreshment/blessing for the spirit at a time.
Often, it is these simple acts of welcome that turn into the most welcomed gifts. And so many of you do this naturally!
A card signed by all of us at First Church sent to someone in need.
A cup of coffee shared along with a conversation where each listens to the other
The phone call you made just to check in on how a family is coping…
A bowl of soup prepared for whomever might walk in the door.
And the upcoming church-wide July party at the Ozalas where everyone is invited!
These acts of God’s Welcome are ones this church does day in and day out.
They are signs that Welcome is a verb here at First Church…God’s love moving through us.
How else might we enact God’s welcome moving forward?
If we want to be a church that matters in the 21st century that builds on a solid foundation of our Congregational roots and wings, we need to keep encouraging one another to be a place of God’s Welcome in East Haddam.
In two weeks, on July 13th, we will host a “Bring a Friend” Sunday at First Church. Whom would you like to invite? A friend, family member, neighbor? (no bribery allowed but we’ll make sure the Simply Smiles coffee and treats are flowing at Fellowship Hour) Each of us is challenged to bring someone new…it will be a communion Sunday so I hope our Meet and Greet will be crowded with faces new and familiar.
Poet Jan Richardson (The Painted Prayerbook) says it best:
Here’s one thing you must understand about this blessing: it is not for you alone. It is stubborn about this; do not even try to lay hold of it if you are by yourself, thinking you can carry it on your own.
To bear this blessing… you must first take yourself to a place where everyone does not look like you or think like you, a place where they do not believe precisely as you believe, where their thoughts and ideas and gestures are not exact echoes of your own.
May we be a place of one hundred thousand welcomes!
The Reverend Laura P. Fitzpatrick-Nager
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