Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity
2nd Jul 2017
Trinity 3 Year A
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”. Matthew 10.40.
In this morning’s gospel Jesus repeats the word ‘welcome’ and reminds us that at its heart, The Christian Faith remains a welcoming faith. In other words, it’s not the possession of any individual or group and its attitude is always inclusive and reaching out in welcome. It invites us to step out of the strange and the unfamiliar and into the realm of radical inclusion. And to be included is to be accepted for who you are. To be included is to belong. To belong within the Christian community is to belong not only to your Christian brothers and sisters but also to find that belonging in God. And to find belonging in God is to be healed and to be hopeful. And so Jesus can say with confidence “whoever welcomes any of my disciples welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”. It is to be, for us and for Christ, an intensely personal invitation. As the song from the musical ‘Oliver!’ goes, ‘Consider yourself at home, consider yourself one of the family’.
Jesus gives us the example of a disciple who welcomes his guest from the hot dusty road and then follows up with the offer of a cup of cold, refreshing, water. And in Jerusalem today it is quite common when you are browsing in one of the religious souvenir shops to be invited by the owner to sit down and share some coffee (this also happens to be a good sales ploy, too!). And it is worth mentioning that the three great religions of the world, Moslem, Jewish and Christian all place high status on the giving and receiving of hospitality and welcome. All express the need to see the world through the eyes and with the mind and the voice of someone other than yourself; it comes as a desire for deeper communion. In 2007 the Bishop of London and I shared coffee during Ramadan with local Muslim and Somali leaders at what was then the Somali-owned Cromer Street Café.
Christian Faith is a Faith of welcome and hospitality, because this binds us together. But more importantly it derives from the oneness that exists between the Father and the Son, whereby God is called ‘Abba’. Think of how many Gospel stories involve shared hospitality: the Wedding feast at Cana, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and of course the Last Supper and the supper at Emmaus and the woman sharing water with Jesus at the well. Each occasion not only binds together the participants but also tells us more and more about Jesus. And so the occasion for hospitality and for shared meals becomes the occasion in which Christ is very specially present, and this is truest this morning as we share in this Eucharistic meal. “We break this bread to share in the body of Christ” we say, “Though we are many we are one body, because we all share in one bread”... To be hospitable is to practice generosity at it most accessible.
Last Sunday I attended a celebration event for the Muslim observation of Eid, marking the ending of Ramadan. It took place in a Leisure Centre in Swiss Cottage. But this was no ordinary religious gathering, since it included residents who had the night before evacuated their homes from the nearby Chalcots Estate. Members of the police, Camden Council, volunteers and local care agencies and Christian and other leaders were present, including the new Mayor. This Muslim religious feast was transformed into something much, much more. Local restaurants had managed to supply the food displaced residents were being supported and a lot of close and no doubt reassuring conversations were taking place. The new Leader of Camden Council, the young Georgia Gould addressed the gathering with real authority and with words of care and calm. It was very impressive. I must say I had believed that councils like Camden have, over the past ten years assumed something of a bunker mentality with a depersonalised service. An example of this is that it is now almost impossible to get face to face or one to one contacts to answer queries or grievances. My experience has been that you leave your communication online only for it never to be answered. The ubiquitous online facility promises efficient and easy access but in fact delivers very little, and being radically impersonal, only contributes to a feeling that councils and the people they serve, and especially the poorer citizens, have voices that are not being heeded. The Grenfell Tower fire has of course challenged councils not only to re-think their building policy but also to begin, after what seems like a long time, to listen once more to the lives and voices of those people which have been treated as a kind of unwanted and unheeded static.
At the wider level, people in modern life feel the need of communities of hope which exist to offer a real sense of welcome and of belonging. Places of ingathering and of thoughtfulness, of wisdom and sensitivity and of care. Places of rest and refreshment. Places of real inclusion. Perhaps for the many, God-filled places, too. This is a challenge to the current state of affairs in which, grid-like, impersonal solutions are delivered to human problems online (that is, if you can get through), and the answer to the human voice is pre-set on a list of aggregate responses displayed on your computer (if you have one) as an unappetising à la carte menu. The needful questions ‘they’ think you are asking have already been anticipated. There is no expectation of any meaningful contact or involvement other than one already predicted. It’s the exclusion of responses in which human contacts are real and transactions are verbal (spoken), listening (heard), sympathetic (shared), and taking the person seriously (understanding). The Feast of Eid meal at the leisure centre gives the evidence in our diverse London communities of an upsurge of strong community spirit and a real willingness to find ourselves in one another, and finding in shared voices and hopes and fears that place where God wants us to be.
More than ever, the Church at the parish level, our church here at Holy Cross, is in the best position to offer itself as a real and kind place at the local level where all may find a welcome. This is a vision, as one of our parishoners reminded me last week, of ‘…a Church in this country for everyone, no matter what their circumstances or affiliations’. This is the hope and the call to service for a more Godly and God-like Church, a Church which is become radically inclusive. A Church which reaches beyond itself to find itself. And in this way we pray in today’s collect that we may serve Christ and our common humanity in this way:
“Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God”.