Generations: Faith, Hope, Love
Look back, behind you. Do you see the multitude who have helped you make it to this day? Do you see the resilient heroes who have made you possible? Of course, Jesus is there alongside Moses. Now notice your other ancestors, your loved ones. Who else stands behind you, hoping you into the future?
“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.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Invitation to the Fam
All through this pandemic, Calvary has welcomed new people through online videos. Many have requested information about the church and asked to be included on our mailing lists. We don’t know much about you, and that is theologically exciting. We don’t know what you believe, who you love, how you vote, whether you vote. We barely know where you are, but we say welcome. Being People of the Book, we know that God’s kingdom will come with us, but oh how I want to experience God’s reign in my lifetime—Love and Justice like a mighty stream. We will continue these online services even after the crisis, and you will have a place here. I invite you to claim your membership in a family that will love you if you let us. Inevitably, we’ll need to learn faithful lessons about how best to love one another. What an adventure waits for us!
In today’s text, Jesus says: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” If anyone tries to tell you otherwise — and oh they will — remember what I’m saying to you. You are created in the image of God, imago Dei. God created humankind in God’s own image. Male and female God created us, not male or female. No matter where you find yourself along the gender spectrum, whether you are cis- or trans-gender, you are created in God’s image. Whether you adhere to traditional norms or have broken the mold, God’s image gazes back at you from your mirror. If you are Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, New Age or a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, God’s image is stamped on you, and we are irrevocably related through the Holy Spirit, through the Body of Christ and members of the family of God. No matter what, God’s family includes you.
My entire adult life, I’ve tried to help the church become truly welcoming, especially for those who have been behind behind and marginalized. Later in the service, you’ll hear from the Rev. Janie Spahr who taught me early on how to accept whatever backlash I experience over being honest about who I am as a gay Christian. When we undertake the work of Jesus outlined in Matthew 10—Love, Justice and Welcome—all the fragile bullies in the world can’t stop us. After being tried in church court over and over, this year Rev. Jane Spahr was elected by the people to be the community grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade. I like to think that she was rewarded a vote from every person whose life she helped to save, and that includes me.
Because of her ministry, I stand in this historic church and tell you how much I thank God that I have a husband who tells me he loves me every day of my life. I can be honest about who God made me to be. I thank God for Calvary’s sense of welcome.
Of course, people often say one thing and do another—or worse, they say welcome and then do nothing about it. Perhaps that’s why Jesus goes on in verse 42: “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.” Here the Greek word mikrōn, translated “little ones,” also means those who lack power, those who are trivialized by the dominant culture. This verse reminds of a line from the 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild. A schoolteacher name Bathsheba tells the small children in her class: “The most important thing I can teach you. You gotta learn to take care of things smaller and sweeter than you are.” Mikron, the vulnerable people that get by on the margins.
The Legend of St. Mark’s Methodist
Matthew 10:40-42 comes up in worship every three years and, consequently, has been read on many LGBT Pride Sundays. That is a holy coincidence, aka as the work of the Holy Spirit. The longer I follow Jesus, the less I believe in coincidences. Here’s a story to explain what I mean.
Three decades ago, in 1990, at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in midtown Atlanta, Georgia, the bishop had just assigned to them a hospice chaplain to be their pastor. The church was dying but it sat on a prime piece of real estate and, gossip was, the Rev. Mike Cordle was to go to St. Mark’s to hold their hands as they slipped away. Matthew 10:40 was read on that day. As the service concluded, he opened the front door to stand there and shake hands, only to see a parade of colorful people marching down Peachtree Street.
Rev. Cordle writes, “I thought how nice, they’re welcoming us to Atlanta, but then I realized it was the gay pride parade. They gave my little girl balloons, flowers and whistles as they went by. As they walked by, I realized they looked like me. They weren’t freaky or unusual. They looked like my family and most of my congregation.”
In 1990, in big mainline churches there was no explicit welcome for LGBTQ people and plenty of explicit condemnation. Rev. Mike Cordle says God spoke to him saying, “These people deserve a church home.”
Ever since a brave person had come out to the St. Mark’s family, several years earlier, the church’s board had prayed for a pastor that would help them invite in their LGBT neighbors. Led by Rev. Cordle, they took out ads in the local gay newspaper. You could hear the eyes rolling in the gay community, but the next year, on Gay Pride Sunday, they decided to put feet to Matthew 10:42 by handing out cups of cold water to the Atlanta Gay Pride Parade.
Across the street stood the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. The Southern Baptists had decided to observe Gay Pride on the steps of their church holding signs with scary Bible verses and yelling messages of condemnation. Before you blame this on the South, let me assure you that I have witnessed this same behavior in the Bay Area.
Now, it’s hot in Atlanta, and the humidity can really do a number on you. So, when the Southern Baptists start yelling about hellfire, the discomfort of the weather can drive anybody to consider their point. Back at St. Mark’s, a small group of aging Methodists stood in the street with aluminum trays, Dixie cups brimming with cold water. Someone asked the Methodists if they really knew who was marching down the street, and they said “oh yes we know. Our welcome is sincere.”
Before Rev. Cordle came to St. Mark’s a hundred people was a banner day. After revealing a welcome explicit and sincere, soon they averaged 200 visitors per Sunday. The flummoxed bishop insisted on a policy of I won’t ask, and you won’t tell me. Pretty soon they were 800 people filling that sanctuary. It was like Sister Act but with rainbows and glitter. The church’s website tells of how group of women carpenters banded together to rewire the electrical system and perform major upgrades. And that year, the Christmas decorations were so much better.
Inclusive Welcome always comes with controversy. A few older couples felt the ground beneath their feet change too quickly, and they left that congregation feeling confused and angry. Saddest of all, they missed their reward described in today’s gospel: the joy of knowing God more deeply, the startling realization that Jesus really did mean everybody after all, the a-ha moment that insists that we loosen up.
No one to hold onto the deadly past while expecting to be welcomed by a loving, life-giving future. Everyone is required to loosen their grip. Everyone has to compromise and make room for the new thing God wants and God will do. Fear runs deep in every tribe, separating “us” from “them,” but today, more people are realizing that our church and culture stand at a crossroads with a choice. One way leads to more of the same, digging in. The other way requires us to step out on faith, march forward together, everyone included—no greater thans, no less thans. Never give up on the win-win scenario that will usher in the kingdom of God. The reward is Love.