Sunday, June 29, 2014

Extend Welcome

Why yes, in fact I DID deliver a sermon this morning about my dog!
Let me explain....
I've been on the schedule to speak today for quite some time.  I LOVE it when I have lots and lots of time to prepare because it allows me to explore a variety of options.  This particular idea - that of using my dog as an illustration - came to me about a month ago, and I just couldn't shake it.  My friends helped out with pictures of their own beloved dogs.  (Note to self, when you ask for dog pics on FB, everyone you ever knew...even marginally...will come out of the woodwork to offer pictures!  Dog love is MIGHTY!)  What follows is the meat of my sermon.
Extend Welcome, June 29, 2014
Our scripture for today:  Matthew 10:40-42 (NRSV)
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.   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; 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.
First, we had a discussion of the tradition of hospitality/guest rights in the classical world to help explain the scripture above, which is part of Christ's instruction to the 12.  (Insert joke about my minor in the Classical Greek language finally coming in useful!)  We then talked about how the idea of hospitality translates into the modern world, and about the fact that it's a foundational aspect of Christianity. 
"Patti asked me to speak today because of the fact that I'm the Mission Initiative Coordinator for our congregation.  It's a big job title, and honestly I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it means.  One part of what I'm to do, though, is to help facilitate a welcoming environment here in our church. 
The more I get to thinking about that, though, the more I have to laugh.  I've said often that God seems to have a sense of humor in what He's calling me to do. 
You see, I'm a person who is well known for not liking people all that much.  I'm an introvert with a Capital I, and a personal space bubble so big that it often excludes even my daughters and my husband.  There are a lot of things traditionally associated with hospitality that I am not.  I am not a social director.  I am not someone who likes having company in my home.  I am not someone who enjoys fact, I actively avoid them.  If any of this is a surprise to you, congratulations!  That's a sign of how much I love my church family, and of how comfortable I am around you.
The point being that to a certain extent, I don't have much to draw on when talking about how best to extend welcome. 
Fortunately, I have the perfect role model.
 This is Winston, my dog...and my teacher.
 We brought Winston home about a year and a half ago.  I was over the moon because I adore big, black dogs.  The girls were allowed to pick his name, and after great debate they settled on "Winston" because it was a name that had been used on the Puppy Bowl just a week or so earlier. 
I included here a bit about Winston Churchill and The Black Dog...about how I've chosen to embrace the beast, and about how making friends quite literally with a black dog has been a healing and helpful experience. 
One of the things I love the most about Winston is his unabashed enthusiasm for EVERYTHING.  He's particularly fond of meeting new people and new dogs.
Each and every time he meets someone new all he sees is a potential friend, and believe me...he LOVES EVERYONE!
 Winston likes little dogs with big ears.
 He likes silly dogs with funny faces.
 Winston likes dogs with funny haircuts who could maybe use a trim.
 He likes dogs who wear clothes.
 Winston loves fancy-pants dogs who just like to be pretty and adored.
 Winston likes dogs with a crazy mixed-up ancestry.
 He likes dogs of indeterminate origins.
 If you already have a friend, GREAT! That's one more!
 Winston likes dogs who some people think look tough.
 He likes dogs who might have a bad reputation with some.
 Winston likes the very young.
 And the older.
 Winston likes the teeny-tiny.
 And the great-big!
 Winston likes dogs with fancy pedigrees.
 He likes dogs who look as if they are close to their roots.
 Winston likes dogs who have this service dog.
 And he likes dogs who have an instinctual need to work.
 He also likes dogs who like to lay around and relax. 
 Winston likes dogs who have what some people see as defects - like Lentil with his cleft-palate.
(Lentil, is an ambassador dog for the Children's Craniofacial Association, and does amazing work to help kids.  I don't actually know him, but I felt strongly that he needed to be included as he's come up in my sermons before!)
 And Lizzie with her missing eye. 
He likes dogs who like to have matter what their challenges.
 Winston even likes dogs when he can't understand why they don't act like dogs.
Winston is a happy guy...and with each and every dog he meets all he sees is the potential for friendship.  He doesn't care about differences.  He doesn't make judgements.  He doesn't care if you aren't just like him.  He just wants to be your friend.
Now close your eyes for a moment and think about the dogs that we just looked at.
As you are thinking, I'm sure that you can call to mind times when you've met people that fit these descriptions. 
Can you see the people in your life who've maybe had big ears? or needed a haircut?  Who were either very young or very old?  Very small or very large?  People who may have a bad reputation or who look tough on the outside?  Who have you met who has a mixed up background?  Or who has that fancy pedigree?  Have you met people who love their work?  When have you come face to face with people with disabilities?
It is my message to you today that each and every one of these people has been a God-given opportunity for you to extend make build relationships.  It is my firm belief that before we can share the Good News of Jesus Christ we must learn to build listen to each love each accept each other just exactly as we are.
My challenge to you today is be like Winston. 
The next time you are out in the world, try to set aside any judgements that may be in your heart and look at people around you with the excitement and interest that Winston has for his fellow dogs.  Try to look at each new person who comes into your life through the lens of a potential friendship, and see what amazing things can happen. 
Christ has called us to love each extend welcome to each other...and what better way to do that than as Winston does, with enthusiasm, warmth and acceptance.
And on that note, we finished up with a second challenge to go out and invite people to attend church with us!


Carrie said...

What a gentle and loving message - in all of its silliness it is still deep reaching.

Karen said...

Lovely.Well said, and well shown. :-)