What Does it Mean to Welcome
Your word is light, let this light have its free course. Let us not be hindered by the distraction from this world in the name of Jesus Christ.
Six years ago, as I was applying for reception as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. I had many hoops to jump through to be accepted into the formation process. There was all the paperwork documenting my baptism, confirmation, and ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. I needed physical and psychiatric evaluations as well. This was no surprise to me as I had to jump through the same hoops 20 years earlier to enter Catholic formation for the diaconate. As part of the psychiatric evaluation, I had to write a sermon which would invite listeners to come to know Christ and become part of his Church. Oh, this would be a piece of cake. I already had been preparing sermons for years already, so I sat down and wrote one and sent it in with the other paperwork. This result was a surprise to me as whoever read the sermon and critiqued it said I hadn’t included anything about the cost of discipleship.
The instructions said nothing about the cost of discipleship.The instructions said it was to be a piece inviting people into the Church. If I was trying to sell a used car, would I want to dwell too much on the negative frowning faces from Consumer Reports, or would I focus on all the good ratings smiley face. As Episcopalians, well as most Christians, we usually find it much easier to listen to readings from scripture or sermons that remind us of the love of God: Gods never ending mercy, God’s love for all creation and God’s love for all of us. I am no different. Today’s readings seem to center on another part of our Christian life. Some call it the cost of discipleship. From Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in order to follow God’s command to him, to Paul’s reminder.
We will either be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.
Both readings center on our relationship with God. Being quick to obey God, even when it means ignoring our fleshly desires, and concentrating on the spiritual. Our third reading from Matthew’s Gospel concerns itself more with our relationships with one another. It is more the idea of hospitality: kindness to others, and the way we should treat one another. The readings, when taken as a whole, point to the idea of our relationship with God is linked to our relationships with others. The old vertical and horizontal relationship thing.
Can we say we love God when we don’t love one another?
Even though we live in an increasingly polarizing culture: politically, and religiously. We are encouraged to love one another. I was reading recently about life and culture in the Middle East. There is a history of hospitality there, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Even amid all the political strife, if we were invited into a home in the holy land, Our hosts would make us feel welcome. There is the belief that it is desired of God, the welcoming of strangers who are strangers no longer, but beloved friends, believing that in welcoming people into one’s home they are earning their crown in heaven, doing as God would have them do in welcoming the living God among us. It has been this way since even before Jesus’ time.
Today’s service falls between two holidays. The Feast of SS Peter and Paul this past Thursday and the Fourth of July this coming Tuesday. Scripture reminds us that Peter and Paul often disagreed. They had opposing viewpoints. Peter thought the infant Church should retain its Jewish ways, by keeping the law and retaining circumcision. Paul on the other hand considered himself the Apostle to the Gentiles. His travels exposed him to different cultures, besides Judaism. His belief was that our relationship with God should be based on Faith, Rather than following a list of rules, and that God wanted to extend salvation to all, whether Jewish or not. These two great apostles disagreed on many things, but it is clear they had respect and love for one another. I may not always agree with my neighbors, politically, but I respect them as children of God.
As we celebrate this Fourth of July, and as we sing God Bless America, and as we roast hot dogs and hamburgers and marvel at fireworks and the good ol’ red, white and blue, let us also ask ourselves what Jesus meant in telling us over and over again, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). We may believe differently about the details of faith, as Peter and Paul certainly did and as Christians are wont to do. We may understand civic responsibility differently; Americans have always held a variety of opinions on things. But for us as Christian Americans or American Christians, the question of the day growing out of this gospel text asks:
What does it mean to welcome, and how do we do that?
What does it look like in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our national policies, in our very attitudes?
For we are Christians first, as citizens of God’s kingdom, living that faith in an American context of privilege and challenge. Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but he pretty clearly told us to be welcoming. Like Peter and Paul, we won’t all agree on everything. And as Americans, we will stand proudly to celebrate on the Fourth. When we put all that together, one possible outcome is that we may have to agree to disagree on some aspects of American policy as we live our Christian faith in daily practice. Christian people are called to be welcoming, for in welcoming others we welcome God.
Can we at least agree on that?As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, when we welcome strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. AMEN
The Rev. Dennis Bingham (he/him)
(610) 521-1626 EXT: 24
You can call me Deacon Dennis
Dennis was first ordained into the Order of Deacons in June 2002, at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. In early 2012, Dennis began his journey to the Episcopal Church, serving in a lay capacity. When Dennis retired from his position at US Postal Service Headquarters, he returned to his home in Wayne, PA. Then, in 2017, he began his formation for the Episcopal Church diaconate and in 2019, Dennis was received as Deacon in the Episcopal Church at the Philadelphia Cathedral.
Deacon Dennis's current ministry at CCRP includes helping in outreach, partnering with the Ridley Park Methodist Church food pantry, and seeking ways we can better help the needy from the area. He is thankful for the generosity of our parish, and the outreach already set up here and knows there is always room for growth.
Deacon Dennis has been married to his wife Noel for 43 years. The couple have 3 daughters, 4 grandsons, and 3 granddaughters. A high point in the couple’s lives is visiting with their family in Washington, DC, and San Antonio, TX. Dennis and Noel enjoy good films and TV shows. They are busy taking care of their 5 cats (2 indoor, 3 outdoor).