I rarely post my sermons. But, I thought you might like to know what it is I told the fine folks of Zion of Amor last Sunday. So, here you go. Sermon for Zion of Amor June 26, 2011
"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."
Good morning, Zion of Amor. I bring you tidings of great joy from the community of Humble Walk in St Paul. If you were not around this community five interns ago, my name is Jodi. I was number 8. I am the intern who gained 40 pounds during my first 9 months (10 of those were a baby named Elsa).
It's so great to be back. Home, really.
In St Paul, I have the honor of being a part time solo pastor of a small upstart called Humble Walk Lutheran. In October, we will be three years old. We began meeting in a coffee shop on Sunday nights and then moved to our current location, a store front on the busy business area of West 7th street and Randolph Ave in St Paul. We rent that space for two hours on Sunday evenings. The rest of our church functions happen in public spaces. In coffee shops, bars, parks, yards, alleys.
In the Gospel today, in just three short verses from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the word “welcome” six times. Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome. What does it look like to welcome someone? Well, in this Gospel from Matthew...Jesus gives us a concrete example. It looks like offering cups of cold water.
At HW, we don't really expect anyone to seek us out. So, we continually find ways to be the church in the world. We look for places where our skills of hospitality, these cups of cold water, might be of use.
One place is through Summer Homework. Some of you know what this looks like already because a crew of Zion folks joined us last year for Summer Homework.
On the first Saturday in June, we worked on 6 homes in our neighborhood. Early in the morning, we gathered on our deck for a cup of coffee and work assignments. Then, we anointed one another's hands with oil and a blessing that God might use our willing bodies. We worked for the morning and then broke for lunch and came together for Roosters chicken and fries.
When I went to pick up our order of chicken, the owner of Rooster's said, “Are you working on homes? I remember you. You did this last year.” I could see his wheels turning, trying to make sense of it. And then he threw in a couple orders of cheese curds just because.
During this lunch, our community grew. Not just from the fried food, but in numbers. Neighbors were invited in to come and eat and see. An hour and ½ later, people were still visiting in the yard. One person commented that it was so nice to eat a meal with other people—and to be treated. “On my budget, I rarely get to eat out.”
One volunteer group spent most of the day landscaping for a family. Its a family that is not part of our worshiping community, but the next day when they dropped off a thank you, it was addressed, “To Our Community.” Cups of cold water.
Last fall, during announcements after worship---someone said, “I think we should pick one day a week and give away coffee at the city bus stop on this corner. We need to extend our hospitality outside the doors. ” Everyone shrugged and said, “Okay.” So, that very week...three people showed up with thermos of coffee and donuts and fresh bread. For an hour, they greeted people waiting for their morning bus. The next week, they did it again. Week after week. Pretty soon, they learn names. They have regulars. This presence is weird and surprising and sometimes awkward. But it's also beautiful and brave. One of their regulars came to worship last week. And then this Friday, he came to help serve the coffee. Cups of water.
Once a month, Humble Walk gathers in a local bar for Theology on Tap. Think of it as adult confirmation in a bar, with nachos and beer. What's interesting to me is who shows up. Some from our worshiping community, friends of friends, some who hear about it on FB. There are plenty of folks who take their faith quite seriously. I often hear, “You mean THIS is what I learned in confirmation class? How come no one told me?” (Note to confirmation kids, what you are learning is really interesting and life giving. Especially when you are 25 years old). We invite a guest theologian to join us each month. And a group of twenty or so people show up, sleeves rolled up, ready to learn. We have atheists and agnostics and those who are curious. Some come every single month. Cups of water.
During our Advent Kickoff party last winter, our youth and family intern led a beautiful learning time. She modeled how to do an evening devotion and we all made candle wreaths. During the evening, our intern talked about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Pretty standard fare for an Advent kickoff. A five-year-old interrupted her and asked, “Wait, who is Jesus?” Pregnant pause...and then you could have heard a pin drop as she went on to tell him about Jesus. Cups of water.
At 4:30PM, Humble Walk will gather for the last time in our rented store front. We found out that the owners of the building want to use it for office space. So, last week...we sent all of our physical assets into foster families. We made a pile of Rubbermaid bins, paschal candle and stand, hula hoops, coffee pot, art supplies, altar clothes. And asked people to sign up to take them home for a month. We will move to a local park for the month of July. And then perhaps have a new place lined up by August or Sept. When you make claims that the church is not bricks or buildings...that the church is actually people gathered around word, water, wine and bread...sometimes you actually have to live that reality.
Now the law—the bad news—the way the world might see our congregation well, we probably look like a motley crew. We are not financially viable or stable or self sustaining. In fact, we are about 12K behind where we need to be. Some of us are unemployed. Some live below the poverty line. A few are homeless. Half of our tithers are under the age of 8...which means about 50 cents a month. Some people are gainfully employed. Others are full-time students with part-time work.
Seen from the world's eyes...this whole endeavor is ridiculous.
But the Good News—the Gospel—the story of Jesus and God's redeeming love for us gives us another view. We are welcomed into the story of God's redeeming love—and that changes everything. Then we look at our community and see one another as holy and blessed. We wonder who is doing the welcoming and who is being welcomed. We receive the offering and marvel at the sacrifice and generosity. We know bricks and buildings only shelter us from MN winters, but they don't make us church. It's the Spirit, who has called us together for the sake of the world. And that is anything but ridiculous.
Perhaps not all are sent to be wandering missionaries or to start mission churches. But that doesn't leave us off the hook. The entire baptized are sent into the world to tell and embody the good news of Jesus Christ. All are sent to bear Christ to others with humility and vulnerability, being willing to risk rejection. What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and instead took seriously our calling to live out the gospel in the world. What if the church doors were left unlocked? (This is you, Zion). A wandering cyclist could come in and get a cup of cold water. What if skilled laborers got up before God and drove to St Paul to remodel a bathroom and gave and received a cups of cold water.
What if a congregation welcomed an intern pastor for a year and poured out cup after cup of cold water. And then did that year after year after year? What if this was just the start?
What would happen if we truly believed that we bear the presence of Christ to every person we encounter, in every home, workplace, or neighborhood we enter? What would happen if we saw every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace, every interaction as an opportunity to embody Christ's love for the neighbor? Cups of cold water.