“The Welcome Challenge,” The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20th 2015
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20th 2015
Jeremiah 11:18-20 / Psalm 54 / James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a / Mark 9:30-37
The Welcome Challenge
Pastor Peter D. S. Krey
In our pastors’ Bible study, a pastor spoke about the importance of welcoming people, because the word is repeated so many times at the end of the lesson and it related to her Filipino tradition of hospitality. She wanted to know what the Greek word was that was being used. It was dexomai. Another pastor sent us her word study of it in an email:
The Greek work used for “welcome” (dexomai) carries with it the sense not only of some generic welcome but of a literal receiving someone into ones arms. The picture is not of someone in an airport quietly holding up a little “Welcome home” sign on a piece of paper, but of the parent or grandparent down on their knees, arms splayed wide and just waiting for the loved one to come running down the ramp into those waiting arms.
Jesus spoke of welcoming children in that way when his disciples tried to prevent them from getting to him. Here in today’s lesson, when the disciples argue about who is the greatest, Jesus holds up a child as the greatest and, in those days a child had no status at all. The commentary noted that 30 percent of the children died in childbirth and 30 percent died before they reached the age of six, which means the world was not baby-proof not safe for children.
The way some parents fight with each other in the presence of their children and traumatize them, nations go to war and many children have to die as a result. The world and we ourselves were all recently shocked when we saw the picture of that little three year old boy, looking like a little Pinocchio, washed up on that Greek shore – just another little refugee among so many victims of our current wars.
Jesus does not say, if you welcome me, the Messiah, then you welcome God. No, he says, whoever welcomes such a child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes my Father in Heaven, who sent me.
Thus we welcome Christ, when we welcome those who have no status, no rights, those who are rejected in our society, those who are vulnerable, the very least of these, with open arms embracing them with the strength of our love and compassion. This is the challenge we take upon ourselves by being Christians and following Christ. It is very difficult being a genuine Christian.
A student asked his rabbi:
“Rabbi, why don’t people see God today as they did in the olden days?” The wise old man put his hands on the student’s shoulders and said, “The answer, my son, is because no one is willing to stoop so low.”
We have to bend way down and welcome children.
In our Gospel lesson, the disciples, who did not understand Jesus, were struggling and arguing about whom among them was the greatest. Jesus had just finished saying that he would be betrayed and killed, so they must have thought: “Which one of us will then take charge and be the greatest disciple in Jesus place?” When Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, they were silent, because it was embarrassing. Like recently in the basketball finals, it took some chutzpah to say: “I am the greatest basketball player in the world.” The Golden State Warriors made him eat humble pie.
Now it is all right to want to be first, but the point is to become first in the way that Jesus taught us: by way of becoming last, by way of becoming a servant and even a vulnerable suffering servant. We have to become like a child in order to lead God’s people.
Another word for a servant is “minister.” You can hear the “mini” in that word. We do not become “Magisters” or big shots, but “mini-sters” bending down low to serve and help the very least of these.
Doesn’t old Pope Francis make us proud? He lets his palatial rooms in the Vatican remain empty and lives in a small dorm room in its guest house. Coming to New York he’ll be receiving the women in prison who sowed the altar cloths for the mass – even though they have very questionable backgrounds and he plans to visit other prisons in his schedule as well. He could have so much pomp, wealth, and prestige, but he bends down and kisses a very deformed and disabled man, whom we usually wouldn’t look at, let alone want to touch.
How can we welcome and receive children in our sorry world when 35,000 children under the age of five die each day in poverty stricken areas. Churches need to be planted to tell them of God’s love. According to our commentary for today, it would only take about 2 and a half billion dollars to save them. How many children do you imagine are dying in this historical movement of people out of the war-torn Middle East, Afghanistan, and Africa into Europe? War makes the world unsafe for children and other living things – do you remember that poster from the sixties? And in our Epistle James explained why we have wars.
Some countries in the European Union are furious with Germany for extending a welcome to the refugees. By the end of the year, Germany will be inundated by a million refugees and they will probably go under for a while, but just watch the beautiful way God will raise them back up into a new quality of life plus a rebounding economy. By welcoming and receiving these people, they are receiving Christ and the One who sent him. It requires a strong faith, because life is paradoxical: those who want to save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ will save them. It is not easy. It takes a strong faith.
The welcome Jesus invites us to give in our Gospel lesson challenges us to let our hearts become one with outcasts and the rejected, so that we can throw open our arms and receive those through whom we receive Christ, and through Christ, God the Father, who sent him.
I wonder if you may have read Kazantzakis’ The Greek Passion? Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek and other novels. In The Greek Passion he describes how in a Greek village the people regularly put on a passion play during Holy Week. While they were rehearsing for the performance, because of an earthquake, some refugees poured into the village and the villagers turned to violence to drive the desperate people back out. Those playing the parts of Christ and Peter and James and John suddenly really became Christ, because standing up for the refugees made the village anger turn on them. Their passion play became very real.
For the main part, the river of the world and of our own society flows in the opposite direction from the welcome of Jesus, but swimming against the current in that river we have to cleave to the cross of Christ, especially should hate-mongering bring about a flash-flood that could destroy many people. When we resist and swim against the current, then one person after another will cleave to that cross with us, and we can slowly turn the tide and change the course of that mighty river into a welcome, because our very lives depend upon it. That presents quite a challenge.
Our prayer for today reads: “O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.” That God welcomes us as beloved children is pure grace, a grace we need so much but cannot deserve. But God accepts us even though we are unacceptable and with that makes us acceptable. God accepts us and with open arms welcomes us as beloved children. Let’s imitate God, give thanks, and live a life of welcome, the welcome we ourselves have so mercifully received. Amen.
 This info comes from the website of Calvin Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching.