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Aug 01 2014

The Gospel in Dialogue

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me … 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.”
–Jesus, in Matthew 10: 40, 42

On June 29th, Jen Yannaccone and I preached an interactive sermon entitled, “The Gospel in Dialogue”. Together we listened carefully to the Gospel text for that Sunday, Matthew 10:40-42, discussing our reflections and responses. Our preparation included reading all of Matthew 10 and into Chapter 11 in order to gain a rich sense of context. We sat down twice for extended conversation and communicated by e-mail. It was exhilarating, and I learned a lot! The following is the substance of one of our interchanges. We hope that you will be encouraged to employ this approach yourselves – to read the Gospel with someone else, listening carefully to the text and discussing its impact with each other.

Hey P Scott,

We are so much closer to Jesus than we realize, not only through spirituality but through how God views us. We have been taught that it is our job to spread God’s word through our ministry. When we approach others about the Church, or something else that we are passionate about, God sees you as another follower who is spreading His Word. He sees you as someone who is following Jesus’ lead. We need to be accepting of everyone, even if it makes us nervous. We are put in these hard situations to not only teach others, but to learn from others. We can learn so much from others, but we have to be willing and open to others ideas and lessons. We need to realize that those we go to help, or teach about the church, are our teachers. They aren’t the people we picture when I say the word teachers, but they have the ability to teach us about ourselves, sometimes without even knowing it. Even in the most difficult situations, there is room to learn. The situation might be, or seem to be, the worst possible situation to be in, but you have to know that there will always be someone who will accept you for you. Don’t change your perspective on things just because you are looking for acceptance. God wants you to know that he accepts you for who you are as you try to spread His Word, and the right people will do the same. The best rewards are those that are unexpected. Thinking about different childhood times, I remember rewards being the driving force for myself, and other children to do something. In our daily life, we look for rewards in the form of money, toys, food, or even recognition for doing a good job. But when you feel good about helping others, and you learn something about yourself, that is the real reward. Every single thing that happens in your life is a blessing, whether you know it at the time or not. Mistakes are blessings in disguise. You learn so much about yourself from the past mistakes made. What I get out of this talk of rewards is that the reward Jesus is talking about is not what the disciples are thinking it will be, as in money, or possibly recognition. Instead, the reward is the Heaven and what they will be given there. Jesus is saying that those who are righteous and care for others will not lose their ability to go to Heaven. Just believe and accept what others have to say. By listening to Jesus, the disciples are securing themselves the greatest reward of all, which is the Kingdom of God. This section of text is said to the disciples by Jesus, but it can just as easily relate to our lives today. Jesus is telling of how the people in the villages may view the disciples, and the possibility of acceptance. There will be those who accept the disciples, and these people will be rewarded for their hospitality. In modern times, we can look at this text and realize that Jesus is telling us to be accepting of others because Jesus is sending these people to us. Every person we come in contact with is due to Jesus. He sends each of these people to each other, whether it be to teach, or for any other reason. Social contact is the key to this story. Jesus could have told the disciples what to do, but until the disciples moved out to the villages and actually spoke to the people, nothing could be achieved. Humans need social contact; it is one of the things that allow humans to thrive. Service is the key to eternal life in the Kingdom of God. By teaching others, and learning from them at the same time, we are following God’s word. In my life, I can’t always see how each person I meet fits into God’s plan for me. Sometimes those I meet are not people that I would be too keen on seeing again. It’s easy to lose sight of what good can come out of some situations. Even I find it hard to accept others at times. In the same breath, I know that not everyone will be accepting of others. An obvious situation like this is high school. There are so many little groups that don’t accept others because they may not look like them, or not be as smart as someone else. By excluding people, God’s word is not being taught. Something I find easy to do is listening to others and learn lessons from them. A simple conversation can teach you so much, if you are open to it. Talking to the homeless men and women in Philly teach me so much and I don’t think they even realize it. I find that sometimes it is better when people tell you a story with a lesson somehow linked inside the story, rather than coming out and telling me a lesson. By thinking about what is being said, and thinking about what I can take away from the conversation, I am able to see life from the perspective of others so much more easily, which ultimately makes me a better person. Thank you so much for the opportunity to do the sermon with you; it really does mean a lot!

Jen

Jen,

You have many wonderful thoughts and reflections to share. I am tempted to just get out of the way! But let me respond. The presence of Jesus in our lives, and our commitments to “following Jesus’ lead” (I like that! — disciples are people who follow Jesus’ lead), shapes us in ways that we become an expression of God’s living word. Your presence in the world, and the way you live out your communion with Jesus, has a powerful impact, even when you are not aware of it. Imagine, then, the impact that a faith community can have when it is more than just a group of individuals, but people living and loving with great intention together, in the way of Jesus. And a people willing to go where Jesus leads them, even if they wouldn’t go there all by themselves. The principle of welcome is a powerful theme in our Matthew 10:40-42 reading. Jesus teaches us about receiving. You speak very meaningfully about this. And he encourages us: “The one who welcomes you welcomes me, and the one who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” The presence of Christ, and the Creator in you! Awesome, and very humbling, as we will want to make sure that others truly receive Jesus’ Gospel through us, and not some poor imitation of the Gospel. The other day, when we were talking, you grasped immediately that he was also teaching us about welcome others fully — receiving them for who they are, and being surprised, challenged, and blessed by what we receive. The notion that the people we risk opening ourselves to receive often become our teachers — that is compelling, and it is the mystery of God’s Kingdom realm among us. When we are governed by our fear, we won’t get to experience this, because God’s realm is revealed in our relationships. You understand this, Jen, as you have found yourself being instructed by some very important “professors” among people who have been homeless. Because, of course, the presence of Jesus is in them just as surely as Jesus is in you! I love your suggestions that we are “put” in hard situations in order to experience Christ, to learn, and maybe even to teach! Has us seeing our lives a bit differently, doesn’t it?

Thanks for the great conversation!

Pastor Scott

 

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