3 Pentecost A—6/28/20
Pr. Scott Kramer
Back in March our worlds were turned upside down by a virus. Back then, who knew that a virus was only the beginning? Not only do we continue to adjust our lives to the challenges of COVID-19. We also have experienced headline news that has demanded everyone’s attention: Ahmaud Arbery, Brionna Taylor, George Floyd, to mention a few of the most prominent names. The ancient voice of God’s prophets persists in our own day: Black Lives Matter.
We as a congregation have seen God at work in the world! Months before racial injustice dominated the news, our church body had planned two consecutive Sundays in June for a special emphasis: First, for a commemoration of the Emanuel 9. Then, last Sunday, for Juneteenth, marking the official end of slavery in the United States. Months ago, we didn’t know when these worship services were planned that they would be so timely. The Holy Spirit is on the loose!
But it doesn’t stop there. Today is Pride Sunday. For the past many years, on the last Sunday in June we at Lakeridge Lutheran have joined millions of others in celebrating the gifts of the LGBTQ+ community. We have acknowledged, as well, the ongoing challenges and barriers to acceptance that remain.
Normally, worship for many of us on this day is followed by a quick exit to join thousands of others, including other churches, at the Pride Parade in downtown Seattle. Not this year! No–everything, of course, is online.
And yet, we celebrate! We celebrate the bright rainbow hues of God’s creation, the rich diversity and abundant gifts represented in all of God’s beloved people.
But, you might ask, what does it all have to do with us?
Today’s reading from Matthew is only three verses, but six times within those three verses appears a single powerful word: “Welcome!” Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
These past weeks in our nation and around the world have been all about welcome. When we say or hear people say, “Black Lives Matter!” it includes a question put to you and me and everyone who hears those words: “Well, do they matter?” What about our priorities and beliefs, including our religious beliefs—what about Christian voices and actions–says, “Black Lives Matter!”?
When Jesus spoke these words about hospitality—about welcome—you know to whom he was speaking. He was speaking to people who had been ignored or kicked by society to the side of the road. To be a follower of Jesus in those days was to be a fisherman or someone who was low on the “food chain.” Or, it might be someone with privilege who had chosen to use their privilege–or even set aside that privilege–for the work of welcoming sons and daughters of God who had been left out.
The message hasn’t changed. Those who follow Jesus today are those who welcome! But what defines us is not simply our love for those whom we know or love already. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. Well, Jesus himself was an outcast, and his welcome was especially for those who had been ignored, despised, left out, thrown under the bus.
Let there be no doubt–Christ is alive today! He’s not just some historical figure we admire from a distance. He’s not merely some spiritual being who lives in the privacy of our hearts. This Jesus walks with and joins the chorus of those who say, “Black Lives Matter!” Welcome, black people! Welcome, people of color. And speaking of color, look at the flag he carries! He’s the one proudly carrying the rainbow flag at the head of the parade. His siblings are gay, lesbian and trans. Welcome to all!
One of the stories that jumped out at me in the news this past week was an essay in the Seattle Times by Krystal Marx. Krystal Marx is deputy mayor for the City of Burien and a Burien city council member. She’s also executive director for Seattle Pride. Here’s a quote from her article on Wednesday:
The best way we can honor our LGBTQIA+ history is to stand up for injustices in a new way, so we can move together toward a world where diversity is embraced, mutual respect is practiced and equal rights are achieved. We call upon our white LGBTQIA+ community members to actively embrace the work of anti-racism and denounce white supremacy wherever, whenever and however it surfaces across our lives.
What inspires me is that Krystal Marx isn’t calling attention to herself and her own group. She didn’t say, this is supposed to be Pride month, so can we talk about gay rights? Instead, she connected the dots between racism and homophobia, both of which are very different from God’s welcome. And that’s one way to know that the Holy Spirit has shown up: diverse people coming together and celebrating each other, rather than just their own group.
Another way of saying it: We celebrate our own group best when we celebrate other groups and work for their dignity and justice. These were the priorities of Jesus during his time on earth. They have been his followers’ priorities ever since, and continue to be our priorities today.
Today’s message is about as simple as it gets: As always, the good news of God’s love for all people is love. And love is just another word for…God’s welcome.