4 Pentecost; June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
The theme of our Gospel reading for this morning is clear enough: welcoming. The word “welcome” appears six times in just two sentences! We are to welcome apostles and prophets and righteous people. We are also to welcome “little ones” with a cup of cold water. Welcoming is apparently something we need to be doing!
In normal times, I think we are pretty good at welcoming people here at Saint David’s. We certainly try hard. We are a warm and friendly congregation, and we do our best to make people feel welcome, whether they are one-time visitors or people looking for a new Church home.
Historically I have not been nearly as good at welcoming people into my own home. We don’t get many surprise visitors at my house, but when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by, I am more likely to hide than to invite them in. A groundhog has taken up residence in our yard and, rather than welcoming him, I want to kill him. So no doubt I have room to improve in the welcoming department.
But welcoming people has become a real challenge even for the many folks who are naturally better at it than I am. During a pandemic, even close friends are not allowed in my house. Some of you may be more open than I am, but I am guessing that all of us have gotten more restrictive than we used to be, and that is not likely to change anytime soon.
More relevant for us as a parish, welcoming people to worship with us has gotten complicated.
We are fine for our drive-in services. We can take as many cars as our parking lot will hold.
The tricky part comes when we move back inside. A team is working hard to figure out how to be hospitable and still be safe. They are thinking through issues like how people will move through the building without coming too close to each other. In the meantime, wonderful Ellen Rendrick has been making masks so that we can offer one to anyone who comes without their own. Jim, Bob, and Lenny have rearranged the chairs to maximize the number of people who can sit in our sanctuary, while maintaining social distance.
But for the foreseeable future, there will be real limits to how we can welcome people. We can’t touch. We can’t come within six feet of each other.
Most difficult of all, we might have to refuse some people entrance. I think we have worked it out so that we will be able to hold as many people as are likely to come. We are blessed with a large space and flexible seating. But there is a maximum beyond which we will not be allowed to go. We even have to appoint a designated bouncer—though we won’t call it that!—charged with turning people away if necessary.
Those requirements strike me as right and good. As the Diocese says, one of the best ways to show our love of neighbor during a pandemic is by doing what we can to prevent the spread of the disease.
But our Gospel reading reminds us that we can’t simply turn inward, even during a pandemic. Welcoming others remains a Christian responsibility. Now more than ever, we need to find creative ways to show our love of neighbor, to welcome the stranger, even while keeping physical distance.
One simple thing we can do is making food donations to the Parish Cupboard. I suspect some of you are already donating on your own, but we have been putting out a tub to make it easy for folks to donate at any time. This morning the tub is along the exit of our parking lot on the driver’s side. As long as we have drive-in services, we’ll keep putting it out. No doubt there are lots of other things we can do, too.
At the same time, I have been thinking about “welcoming” in a broader sense of the term.
Not long ago, Bishop Scruton gave me a book called Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. I say his name with apologies to any of you who can speak French properly! To spare myself further embarrassment, I will call him “de C.”
De C writes a lot about what he calls “the sacrament of the present moment.”1By the sacrament of the present moment, he means seeing everything that happens, at every moment of our lives, as a gift from God (23).
That is his language. This is now my language, not de C’s. But his point is that everything we experience, good or bad, comes to us with an invitation from God.
We are invited to celebrate the good things that happen with gratitude towards the one who has blessed us. That’s easy, though we forget often enough.
But not only the good things. De C insists that there is a blessing even in the challenges we face. Horrible as these challenges sometimes are, unwelcome as they usually are, God is present with us as we suffer and as we struggle.
The Apostle Paul makes the same point when he instructs us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:16-18), all circumstances, good and bad.
It isn’t easy to give thanks in bad circumstances, of course. When we are hurting, the last thing we want to do is give thanks. When I am having a bad day, my natural tendency, and I think most of us are like this at least some of the time, my natural tendency is to feel sorry for myself and resentful of everything and everybody around me. But I say what you all know. Self-pity and resentment don’t help! They just make a bad situation worse.
De C, and the Apostle Paul, offer us a better way to face the bad times: with gratitude.
Giving thanks in bad times is possible, with a little effort. I will never be thankful for bad things that happen to me or to people I love. But God is with us even when bad things happen. Indeed,
we tend to notice God’s presence more in bad times than in good times. And we can always be thankful for God’s presence, no matter what else is happening.
I think of being attentive to God’s presence, of giving thanks for God’s presence, as a way of welcoming God.
When we think of welcoming that way, it turns out our Gospel reading speaks directly to this moment.
We are living in a challenging time. All of us are afflicted to one degree or another. Some of us are bitterly afflicted. In this moment, we cannot welcome people in the ways that we are used to doing. But God is with us. God is, I suspect, with us more powerfully in this difficult time than in easy times. Our Gospel reading is an invitation to welcome God’s presence even now.
So here is the question for us that comes out of this morning’s Gospel. When something bad is happening, as it is right now, and God is right there with us in the midst of the problem, do we welcome God’s presence? Or do we neglect and ignore our Lord precisely when we need God most?
My prayer for us is that we can accept the invitation in our reading, that we can welcome God’s presence, that we can give thanks for this time. And I pray that in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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