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Today’s reading is the very last section of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples as he sends them out to spread his message of love and welcome into the world. This last section – reminds them that when they are welcomed, ultimately it is Jesus who is welcomed.
And in the same way – when we welcome others, we are offering that divine love to another, we are allowing the Christ in us to meet the Christ in another.
The welcome that we extend at the beginning of worship here every Sunday is something we talk about a fair bit. For some people, it is the reason that they came back week after week. But more important than that welcome is how that welcome has been embraced by this community. If the welcome was just words that I say or Nancy says at the beginning of worship, they might remain just that – but those words of welcome come alive when every one of you embrace those words and take them beyond this sanctuary. When you see someone new in worship and you make a point to make them feel seen. Or when someone is sitting in your pew, and you welcome that person and find a new seat – or sit with them! Or when you miss seeing someone here at church and you get in touch to see how they are doing. Or if you provide a meal for someone who is recovering an illness or procedure.
A welcome has the potential of setting up a power dynamic. Those who already belong have the power to welcome those who do not yet belong. And if you have the power to welcome you also have the power to exclude. I found a helpful description from a church in California of different forms of welcome, each one requiring more a deeper intention than the one before it.
The first level of welcome is a conditional form of welcome – you are welcome to come and experience who we are. And in this form, there’s a clear line between you and us, and an expectation that you can join us if you become like us.
A next level of welcome would be “we welcome you to be who you are and to share yourself with us.” In this diverse form of welcome, you can be you as an individual, but don’t expect US to change! It acknowledges individuality but often falls short of embracing change within ourselves.
In a third level of welcome, it is a transformational welcome – where the invitation is that “we welcome you as you are, and in welcoming you we expect that we will change so that who you are will be a part of who we are.”
Here at Mount Seymour, we imagine and we see ourselves as a welcoming church, but which form of that welcome do we think that we are? Which form of welcome are we extending? You are welcome to come and be just like us? Or you are welcome to come and be who you are? Or you are welcome to be who you are and we know that we might change in the process? I hope that we strive to be the third one.
This transformational form of welcome is where true growth and connection occur. It is when we welcome others as they are and allow their presence to change us, enriching our community and expanding our understanding of God’s love.
As a church community, we aspire to embody this transformational welcome. We want to be a place where everyone feels valued, seen, and embraced for who they are. But let us not limit our welcome to these sanctuary walls. The true test of our hospitality lies in how we carry it beyond these doors into our everyday lives.
The last part of this reading says “whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” A cup of water – such a small offering – but that is all that is required sometimes. Who does the “little ones” refer to in Matthew’s reading? It may have been referring to the disciples – or it may have been referring to the most vulnerable surrounding Jesus.
Last Sunday I knew that this was the reading for today’s worship service, and so I found it very interesting and fitting, when something happened before church. Some of you may have noticed a man outside the church who looked like he may have spent the night there. I didn’t see him there, but some of you came and told me about him. I was so pleased by your responses that I wanted to share and encourage you in that. I know it is a complex and complicated situation sometimes when these things happen – but all of you who mentioned him to me were more concerned about his well-being than anything else. You were wanting to offer him a cup of cold water or a cup of coffee, or invite him in to use the washroom, and see what he needed. You saw him as a child of God – someone who deserved to be treated with dignity and whose worth was valued.We can’t help everyone, but we can always preserve their dignity by acknowledging them. To me that is truly embodying the welcome that we extend at the beginning of church but also extending the hospitality that we learn from Jesus.
What else might a cup of cold water given to someone in need translate to in our own life? A word of comfort or a hug to someone who is hurting? A listening ear, an encouraging word, a helping hand to a stranger? It could be volunteering at the homeless shelter, advocating for justice or simply going out of our way to acknowledge the dignity and worth of those we encounter on the margins of society. I suspect that there are opportunities to offer cups of cold water, sometimes even literal ones, almost everywhere we look.
We must remember that even the smallest acts of compassion can have a profound impact. When we approach every interaction, every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace and embody Christ’s love, we become bearers of God’s presence in the world. Our homes, workplaces, and neighbourhoods become sacred spaces where reconciliation and love can flourish.
Let us imagine the possibilities if we truly believed that we carry the presence of Christ within us wherever we go. What if we saw every encounter as an opportunity to reflect God’s love and extend hospitality to our neighbors? The ripple effect of such a mindset would be immeasurable. Lives would be touched, communities would be transformed, and the world would become a kinder and more compassionate place.
When we extend hospitality to another, whether it is a stranger or a friend or the guy who was hanging out on the church lawn last Sunday morning – each time we extend hospitality, we are participating in the work of God, reflecting God’s love to the world.
So, let us go forth from this place, embracing the joy of welcome as our guiding light. May we at Mount Seymour be known as a community that radiates love, acceptance, and hospitality. May our actions and words reflect the divine presence within us, and may we never underestimate the power of a small gesture of compassion.
As we journey together, let us bear witness to the love of God, building a world that mirrors the boundless and inclusive love of our Creator. May every act of welcome be an encounter with the divine, and may we always remember that in welcoming others, we are transformed, for in the stranger, we encounter the face of Christ. May it be so, Amen.