June 29, 2014 - The Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Matthew 10:40-42

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”

There is an old story, a folktale, about a monastery that in its heyday was a thriving community, hundreds of faithful monks serving God. But over the years, the community began to wither. No one knew why. Fewer young men came to join the order. The older ones died. Until there were only five, disheartened monks left. And while we shouldn't call them old, they were in the autumn of their life, none younger than seventy. 

The monastery lay next to a forest. And out in the forest, an old rabbi had a retreat house. One day, the Abbot saw that the rabbi was there. It is unclear how he knew. Some versions of the story say that the monks were so holy, they simply had mystical knowledge of this fact. Other versions say they saw the smoke coming out of the chimney. Take your pick. Either way, they knew the Rabbi was there, and the Abbot came up this brilliant idea to go visit him, and see if the Rabbi didn't happen to have some wisdom to help them understand what the problem was. So off went the Abbot. 

The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot in with open arms, a reunion of two friends who had not seen each other in too long. They had a spot of tea, and talked, and prayed, and read Torah together. And finally, the old Abbot shared with the Rabbi his concerns and the purpose of his visit. "Do you have any advice for us?" he asked. 

"I'm so sorry," said his friend, the Rabbi. "I don't. It is the same for us. Fewer folks come to the synagogue. Fewer children come to learn Hebrew. I don't have any advice for you." Then after a bit of a pause, he added, "There is one thing I know, however: one of you is the Messiah." 

"The Messiah!?" the Abbot thought as he rushed back to the monastery.
"Which one of us is the messiah?" When he got back, his brothers anxiously awaited his news from the visit. "What did you learn? What advice did he have?" "He didn't have any," the Abbot reported. "All he had was this strange comment. 
He said the one of us is the Messiah." "The Messiah?!" they all thought. "Which one of us is the messiah?"

Could it be the Abbot? He's been our faithful leader for a generation. Certainly he must be the Messiah, if any of us is, but he's a bit strict at times. Could the Messiah really be that strict? 

It couldn't be Br. Phillip, could it? He's a bit slow on the uptake, but then again, he is so faithful in prayers, and whenever you need someone, he is always there. 

Br. John certainly couldn't be the Messiah. He is so grouchy, crotchety, and opinionated. But then again, he is usually right. Maybe?

Could it be me? I wouldn't really know how to be the Messiah. It couldn't be, could it?

And so it went as each one of them went through each monk thinking about how the monk could or could not be the Messiah. Not knowing who it was, a strange thing started to happen. They started to treat each other with a bit more kindness and respect. They started to treat each other as if the other was the Messiah. They started to treat them themselves with more kindness and respect, in case they were the Messiah. And it started to transform them, breathing new life into a declining, depressed handful of monks. The Abbot was a bit more compassionate; Brother Phillip tried a bit harder; Brother John was a bit less grouchy. 

Now, the old monastery was in a beautiful spot, and town folk liked to come for picnics. And something new started to happen. The people who came to the area felt the transformation, too, as they came near this community that treated each other as the Messiah. And soon a few young men asked if they could become novices. And the monastery buzzed with life again.

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”

Jesus makes it clear in our Gospel today that there is this mystical connection between him and us and God. And so when we welcome another person, we welcome Christ.

Matthew takes this farther later in the Gospel - in chapter 25 - by sharing with us a parable of the final judgment in which Jesus also makes it clear that when we feed someone who is hungry, we are feeding him; when we give a glass of water to someone who is thirsty, we are giving that water to him; when we visit someone in prison, we are visiting him; when we welcome the stranger, we are welcoming him. 

Jesus is saying that Christ is in each one of us. Christ is in you. Christ is in me. Christ is in your friend in the pew next to you. Christ is in the stranger you will soon meet. What an amazing claim. To have an encounter with the divine, with the holy, with God, we do not need to look any farther than the next person we meet, if we would just welcome the Messiah, the Christ, within them. 

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”

This isn't always easy, of course. The Christ within another person isn't always obvious. Especially when that person does something we don't like, or acts in a way that we don't agree with, or holds beliefs that we don't hold. I had a friend once tell me what comfort he took in the fact that the baptismal covenant has us promise to seek Christ in all people, not to necessarily actually see the Christ in them. That one letter makes a difference. But the goal of seeking that Christ is, of course, ultimately to see the Christ in them. And to treat that Christ with the respect and dignity the Messiah deserves. 

When we do, it is transformative. When we start to see Christ in others, welcoming the Messiah, just like those disheartened monks, our lives will change. 

It is like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time. I still remember that day in third grade when I came home from the eye doctor with my first pair, and I could see the individual leaves of the tree instead of the big blob of green that it had become for me. Seeking and serving the Christ in others, treating each person as the Messiah, welcoming the divine in each other, is like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time: the whole world is clearer in some mystical way, and you can see the world for the way it really is. 

“Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Welcome the Messiah who is among you. Welcome the Christ in each other. Welcome the Christ in yourself. And see yourself and the world transform. Amen.