We were forced off once again at 4th. No problem. I went down to Broad St., took a right, and made my way into St. Elmo that way. I will admit that the added detours did add a tad bit of stress to my morning, but they also added something new and exciting that I wasn't expecting. And, it all worked out.
When I arrived at St. Elmo, I parked in the parking lot and made my way to the sanctuary where I found my contact Becky. I also met the pianist. I learned we had a connection from my days in Dayton, TN. We shared a wonderful conversation. Then I spoke with a couple in the back of the church. It turned out that he was a retired Methodist pastor, living now in Flintstone, GA. [Gulp!] Making my way back to the front (after taking a picture from the back of the sanctuary "to check in", I greeted several folks. Then, on the front row, I recognized the gentleman. He was as surprised to see me as I was him. It has been several years since he was in my Spanish classes at UTC. We talked shop for a few minutes, catching up on where we both are now in our lives. That was a wonderful surprise. Then, a friend and fellow Costa Rican missioner who attends there came up to greet me. Even with one person being gone to Nicaragua for a mission trip, I found that I did know several folks and I met several new friends too. (I met so many new folks today that I am hesitant to name them all due to the likelihood of leaving someone out. That is why I haven't name anyone other than my contact person.)
Everyone was super welcoming and kind. I am blessed to say that has been my experience at every church I've been to thus far. Thank you St. Elmo today for your welcome and hospitality!
I enjoyed the opportunity to worship with you today. I was blessed by the bulletin cover, the children's message, the pianist's playing during the offertory, the choir, the prayers, and the fellowship.
Here is the sermon I prepared to deliver this morning. It isn't the exact sermon I delivered (it never really is), but it will give you a fairly close idea of what was shared.
At least two things are not the same as what I shared in person and what is on "paper".
1. Since I wasn't sure whether or not I was to give the Benediction, I had one prepared. It turned out I didn't need to offer that. But I'll leave it with the sermon anyway.
2. What isn't written, but something I shared is a poem that I found in this issue of Alive Now. The May/June 2014 Alive Now issue was on my bedside table and it caught my attention late in my sermon preparation. The theme for the issue? Hospitality. I found a poem that (to me) fit, so I shared it. It was "More Than Welcome" by Ann Freeman Price. It is on page 8 of the issue.
Blessings on your day and on your journey,
"Finding What Is Lost"
St. Elmo UMC
June 29, 2014
Matthew 10: 37-42
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
LEADER: This is the Word of God for the people of God.
ALL: Thanks be to God.
At first read, this passage might seem slightly confusing. You may be wondering why would anyone preach on this? I began to wonder that myself as I struggled through sermon preparation. This passage is a Lectionary selection for this 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (meaning this is one of the given Scriptures for this week in the collection of Scriptures for those who follow the church calendar readings).
As I spent time with the passage, the verse "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" struck me as a summary statement in that this passage is all about following Jesus. It teaches us about themes of "hospitality" and "discipleship".
Before we get into these themes, let's first look at the setting and context in which these verses appear so we can more fully grasp what is going on in the bigger picture.
We look to the beginning of chapter 10 to get the context. Jesus is giving authority to and preparing to send his disciples out into the mission field to heal the people and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Our verses today are the end portion of his instructions and exhortations that he began in verse 5. In verses 11-14 he gave instructions on looking for a place to stay with someone who was willing to welcome them. If they weren't welcomed, he told them to move on. Whoever welcomed them was welcoming him, and whoever welcomed him welcomed God. Jesus also teaches them in these preceding verses that they will be hated and persecuted because of his name and that there will be strife among family members. These aren't exactly the most encouraging words to hear as one is gearing up for a mission trip into the unknown. But Jesus is laying it out there. He does tell them to not fear (verses 26-31).
That gives us a little of the background in which our verses are found. Now let's take another look at our verses for today.
What is Jesus saying here? Could it be that Jesus is pointing out that we are prone to losing our way in living out the ways he has taught us, in following him?
Though Jesus expresses himself almost rhetorically, he has made it clear that his teachings are for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. So, here he is, telling people that they aren't worthy of him if they love father, mother, son, or daughter more than him. Nor are they worthy if they don't pick up their cross and follow him. They can only find their life if they lose it for his sake. Welcoming is important for Jesus and in welcoming others, Jesus is welcomed. There is a reciprocity of welcome. Also, there is a reward for welcoming a prophet and a righteous person. Lastly, giving a cup of cold water to a little one is lifted up as important.
I thought of your mission team as I read these verses. They just left the comforts of the United States yesterday and headed to Nicaragua to be with, to serve, to serve with, and to love the Nicaraguan people once again. As you likely know, the team has gone with a variety of tasks in mind: VBS, visiting the disabled men's home, building homes, setting up medical and dental clinics.
Being in Nicaragua will be challenging in some areas: the weather, the living conditions, the language. But they go to share the love and light of Jesus and to welcome the other, sharing the hospitality of a relationship with Christ and themselves. By putting aside their agendas, their wants, their needs, etc. for this focused time period and purpose, each person on this mission team is finding their life by losing it, by surrendering it. They have heard the Savior calling and they have responded.
We don't all get to go on a mission trip to show that we can put into practice our discipleship and hospitality.
Another way I see this particular congregation living out welcome and hospitality is in the acceptance of others. I have been encouraged by the van and young people's ministries that I've watched over the years. Thank you for these acts of welcome, hospitality, and following Jesus.
Maybe we aren't represented by any of the particular ministries I've mentioned so far. We can explore how to follow Jesus through areas of hospitality and discipleship and seek to live them out more intentionally.
If we are honest with ourselves, we each have room to grow in our personal and community lives in the areas of hospitality and discipleship. There is likely some aspect that we've lost or neglected.
Because these themes can be looked at individually and/or as a community and because both are needed, let's consider at a few questions:
FOR THE INDIVIDUAL:
· What would it mean to be a more hospitable person?
· What would it mean to be a more welcoming person?
· What would it mean to follow Jesus / to be on the path of discipleship as a person?
FOR THE CHURCH COMMUNIITY:
· What would it mean to be a more hospitable body?
· What would it mean to be a more welcoming body?
· What would it mean to follow Jesus / to be on the path of discipleship as a body?
As you reflect on these questions, is it possible that hospitality and discipleship are lost areas for you? If not "lost", then maybe neglected or ignored? Let's consider some of the ways Jesus led by example and through teaching.
Jesus spent time at table fellowship with all sorts of people, not just the popular and desirable crowd. Jesus took time to walk and talk with people. Jesus listened to others. Jesus offered his time, his energy, his very being. Through his teaching ministry, he taught the disciples how to pray, how to heal, how to teach, and how to serve others, among other things.
In the passage today, Jesus mentions "welcome" and "offering a cup of cold water". Throughout the gospels, Jesus shows us other examples of hospitality, from table fellowship to opening homes to welcoming the stranger and other in one's midst.
Though Jesus doesn't offer specific examples of following him in the area of discipleship in today's passage, he exhorts us to lose our life for his sake and love him above all others. By reading through the Gospels, we can learn what these mean. Jesus exhorted his followers to follow him and learn by doing. They learned to feed the hungry, share the good news, heal those who were sick, diseased, and spiritually ruled by demons. They learned to pray, they learned the importance of getting away from the crowd, they shared their lives with Jesus.
We were reminded in the Opening Hymn, #407, Close To Thee, that our walk with Jesus is a life-long journey and that we choose how we walk it. The first line of the refrain: "Close to thee, close to thee, all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee."
Our closing hymn today, #338, Where He Leads Me, will remind us that we are to follow Christ wherever the Savior leads us.
How is Christ leading you to walk with him? Are you being led to be more welcoming and hospitable in one form or another? Or are you being led to grow in some area of discipleship as you follow Jesus?
If you're not sure, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how Jesus wants to work this message in your life and through you, into your community. As you listen, you will hear the Savior calling.
Go forth now as God's servant, ready to welcome all and follow the path of Christ. Draw strength as you remember that the One who calls will also sustain. May the Holy Spirit be with you all the way.