(Excerpted from a recent sermon with the same title)
Jesus once told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me” (Matt. 10:40), as if it might actually happen, as if those disciples who go out to spread the good news of a coming kingdom might actually be welcomed by some.
It happened to me not long ago.
I walked over to “my” block here in the neighborhood, the one I’ve been trying to get to know and love. I walked around the corner and saw a woman reclining on a wicker sofa on her front porch, reading a novel. I started to walk by but then I stopped and said “Hey!” in a friendly way and scared her half to death. She sat bolt upright, dropped her book, fumbled with her glasses. When she recovered we began to talk and eventually she invited me to come up and sit on the porch for a while. We talked for half an hour and by the time I stood up to leave we were old friends.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus says, and I thought about this woman. I was walking around her block only because I thought it was the kind of thing he would want me to do, and I said hello to her because I thought he probably would, if he were walking by. So although it was just me and not Jesus, when she invited me up on her porch it was as if she were inviting Jesus to come up and sit for a while. She didn’t have to do it. She could have told me to go away. In fact, I was fully prepared for that. In Luke chapter 10 Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever rejects you rejects me.” In other words, “Don’t take it personally.” So I was ready. If she had told me to go away I would have moved on down the sidewalk muttering, “Fine, then! Be that way! But it’s not me you’re rejecting: it’s Jesus.” Instead she welcomed me, and I had to resist the temptation to take it personally. It would be easy to think she invited me up on the porch just because I’m so friendly and affable.
“Nope,” Jesus says. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” If Jesus is right (and I have a feeling he is), it wasn’t me this woman welcomed on her porch. It wasn’t even Jesus. It was God himself she welcomed. And if I’m right about this (and let’s hope that I am), she welcomed him because God knows how difficult every human life is, and how much sin and death and sorrow each one of us has to face. That’s why the Bible deals with those difficult problems and shows us the solution. That’s why God sent his only son into a world desperate for salvation. And that’s why his only son sends us to startle people on their front porches and strike up conversations. Because he loves those people, and he wants them to know it. So, if this woman should show up in church someday because I stopped by her house, and if she should hear the Bible speak to the very situation in which she finds herself, and if she should end up worshiping God with tears of joy streaming down her cheeks, I won’t be able to take it personally. Because it won’t be me she’s welcoming into her life:
It will be Him.