Have you seen or heard the old fable, "The Rabbi's Gift?" It's a cheesy but effective presentation of Sunday's gospel lesson (Matthew 10:40-42). If you haven't seen it, you can watch the six-minute video below, or you can keep reading and I'll tell you what happens.
Spoiler alert! The story is about a old, declining monastic community that seems to be on a path that leads to its eventual closure. The abbot of that community shares his concerns with a colleague, a thoughtful and friendly rabbi, and the rabbi tells him that the messiah is among the monks in the monastery. When the abbot shares that news with the rest of the monks, everything begins to change. As the monks begin to imagine that one of their brethren could actually be Jesus, they start caring for one another in a new way. Their prayers and worship and service intensify, and, soon, the monastery is receiving visitors and, then, new novices. In the end, of course, the monastic community is thriving and all because the rabbi helped them see what was true all along--that the messiah was among them not as an individual but as a spiritual presence that gave them their true direction.
On Sunday, Jesus will tell us that anyone who welcomes a disciple of his welcomes Jesus himself, and I'm curious how a deep commitment to those words might change the way we do church this Sunday.
When the bishop comes, everyone kicks into high gear. The organist and choir are at their best. The flowers are especially beautiful. The reception in the parish hall after the service is topnotch. Everyone sings a little more joyfully. Everyone smiles a little more sincerely. And why--because the bishop came? Spoiler alert: bishops are great, but they're not that special. If we put on our best show for the bishop, what might we do if we thought Jesus was coming to church this week?
Welcoming someone into church is not the same thing as saying hello and handing her a bulletin as she walks through the door. Welcoming someone in the Lord's name is not the same thing as smiling and shaking his hand at the Peace. Providing a true welcome just as we would welcome Jesus himself is far more than being friendly. It means honoring whoever walks through the door with the same reverence, devotion, and love that we would show Jesus himself if he came into church. If you are a part of a church that wants to grow, think about welcoming everyone--from the life-long parishioner to the first-time visitor--with the same care that you would give to Jesus. Isn't that how we show ourselves to be the Body of Christ?
This week, by the time we get to the sermon, it may be too late to rewind and welcome everyone just as we would welcome Jesus. So don't wait until the sermon. Start thinking about it now. And start thinking about next week, too. What does it mean to be a church that welcomes everyone just as we would welcome Jesus? The message of this gospel lesson is that by welcoming them we are welcoming Jesus--not as an analogy but in literal truth. We welcome Jesus as we welcome everyone else. When you welcome them, you are welcoming Jesus. Don't lose sight of Jesus when he walks through the door.