I am remembering this now how a good friend of mine tried to instill this kind of welcome in the workings of the Emergency Department which she directed. Again and again she would tell her young staff to treat everyone who came like they were their grandma. I can distinctly remember the joy she took one day when a decrepit old man was brought in. Without question age and a hard life had finally caught up to him. She made it a point of telling her staff that “Jesus” was in bay four. They would look puzzled at first and then at least some of their faces would break out into a huge smile as they ‘got it.’
And this is what Jesus offers now, a whole new way of seeing each other in the reminder that again and again we are called to see others as bearing the face of Jesus and in ways large and small to offer ‘welcome.’ And it all starts in the ‘seeing,’ doesn’t it? It all begins in our expecting that we will see Jesus in each other over and over.
And so it is that most of the time when I sit with these words, this is where I go, listening to Jesus’ urging to extend this kind of welcome. And while these words are true and meant for us as reminder that part of our call is to be welcoming, I find myself in a little different place today. For it is so that Jesus speaks these words to his disciples and that the promises here are meant for them as encouragement as they step into the world bearing the gifts of God for those they encounter. There will not always be such ‘welcome,’ to be sure. Nonetheless, there will be ‘welcome’ along the way, sometimes in small ways, which carry them as they move forward in the ways and to the places and people they are called. The same sorts of ‘welcome’ which are also ours to receive as we seek to live into the words of Jesus now.
- I think now of a hospital call I made so many years ago. The one I was to call on was the daughter-in-law of an active member. I had heard that she was sick and so I asked if I could go to see her. As soon as I walked into the room it was as though she opened her arms in such kindness, seeking to make me feel at home in a space which was too much her ‘home’ by then. It doesn’t happen every day that such kindness is extended from one stranger to another, particularly by one who is so vulnerable, which is perhaps why I remember it so well.
- Or I consider a moment at our Vacation Bible School last summer. The children were playing when one of them, a nine-year-old, stepped away from the group, ran to me, and without speaking a word, threw her arms around me and then returned to her friends. Many a Sunday morning now is marked by this child doing the same and I am grateful every single time. Indeed, I am taken back to a time so many years ago when I stood quietly among a crowd after worship and a child just came and stood quietly next to me. It was in those first weeks after my dad had died and this small one perhaps sensed my vulnerability. I looked down and asked her what she needed. And she said, “Nothing. I am just sanding here.” I have found that children often ‘get it,’ in ways that I too much miss. And that they, too, have the ability to extend a small gift, like a cup of cold water, which is just the ‘welcome’ needed for us to continue.
- The other day I had stepped into the nursing home where my mother recently died to call on one of our members. As I was leaving, I bumped into one of the CNA’s who had cared for her well in that time. In her pausing, in her remembering me, I felt the kind of ‘welcome’ of which Jesus speaks today — the sort of welcome which eased the ‘hardness’ of that first stepping back into a place where we had lived with such grief for so many weeks.
- Or this. A funeral director who is new in our community paused in our office the other day doing his best to make connections with pastors I might know, reminding me of the large community of others who are also seeking to be ‘welcoming, of which I, of which we, are a part.
- And surely this. The many who pause to make space, to listen, to encourage, to remind me of their prayers. In particular now I think of a spiritual director who has been so very ‘present’ these last several years, providing that much needed ‘welcoming’ space to work out all the hopes and the hurts and the wonderings about where God is at work. And who reminds me when I forget of God’s abundance.
- Indeed, the list could go on and on.
I found just reflecting on where I have known such ‘welcome’ to be helpful. Indeed, think this is important and I hope helpful for you as well as we consider once more Jesus’ emphasis on the importance of such ‘welcome.’ There is gift in remembering that as we are called to see ‘Jesus’ in those we are called to welcome, so many have also done the same for us. It is what we do for and with each other, strengthening us for all that God calls us to. And while it is often small, a cup of cold water, a quick hug, a standing alongside, a reminder of prayer, a word of encouragement, a kind listening ear. I expect we all have experienced the difference they make and that each one is of God and a reflection of God’s intent for us.
It is hard and important work we are called to. There will be days when there will be no such ‘welcome’ along the way, but there are also many, many days where they come to us in abundance. May such moments of ‘welcome’ be gift to you as you follow Jesus’ call into a world which is not always ‘welcoming.’ And may the knowing you have been so very welcome be strength for you as you seek to be that sign of God’s love to others.
- This has mostly been an exercise in gratitude for me today. I find that remembering the very real ways in which I have been so welcomed, I am strengthened once more for whatever this day may hold. And I am more deeply aware of how I might do the same for others. How might this also be so for you? Where and how have you known this holy ‘welcome?’ And how do these experiences strengthen and guide you in doing the same?