Service for Sunday 28th June 2020

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations

Prayers of Approach and confession

Lord God Almighty, we worship you; for you alone are worthy of our adoration. Out of nothing you created all things. Testimony to your marvellous might is everywhere to be seen. It surrounds us in the beauty of the undulating hills and in the rolling seas. It is evidenced in the delicate petals of the flowers and the waving fields of grass. It is proclaimed in the gentle flowing stream and the thunderous waterfall. It enfolds us in the starry sky and the warmth of the sun. It reaches us through the song of the birds and the playful shout of a child. All creation abounds in your praise.

Lord Jesus Christ we worship you. You are the one who has revealed to us the nature of the Fathers’ love. You displayed it in the gentleness of your welcome to all who genuinely longed for freedom and salvation. You offered your life so that each generation may experience the depth of your love.

Holy Spirit you prompt us to do works of grace. You bind us together in fellowship with those who believe. You breathe new life into us. Father Son and Holy Spirit we worship you.

God, when we think of your redeeming love we are moved to confess our failure in discipleship and our slowness to learn. Forgive us for the times we have forgotten you and failed to live up to the calling of the gospel. Forgive us for unkind words spoken or selfish deeds done. As we worship you now, we ask that you will welcome us afresh into your family and by the power of the Holy Spirit you will enable us to amend our lives and become more proficient channels of your love.

The Lord’s prayer

Jeremiah 28: 5-9

Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord. He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfil the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

Matthew 10: 40-42

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Text : Matthew 10: 40-42

I believe all churches say they are welcoming churches. I belonged to one church, which took the business of welcoming so seriously, that we hired consultants to show us the most effective way to welcome new comers into the church. They suggested ways to select and train people. They indicated ways in which we might redesign the entrance of our church to make welcoming easier. They helped us create ‘welcome packs’ as well as designating special facilities for welcoming. Welcoming, we realised, was an important business, and was more complex than we thought. It is something that Matthew’s church community seems to be wrestling with in these short verses.

Matthew tells his readers how Jesus sent his disciples out, instructing them saying ‘it’s going to be tough’, this is sheep among wolves stuff, but don’t be afraid, I want you to know even the sparrows and the hairs on your head are accounted for, so don’t worry. Your job is to get out there on mission. Then Matthew says, ‘Let me tell you about welcoming, it is very important to the business of mission.’ Then he do so in three short sayings.

The first is about the welcome you receive, because you have been sent by Christ. The emphasis actually lies equally with the visitor as well as the visited. You are to go out as the representative of Christ. Anyone who welcomes you welcomes Christ. There is a suggestion here, that if you are in some way conveying the good news as the representative of Christ, Christ himself is present. I remember the title of a book written by John V Taylor around 1970. It was ‘The go between God’, which seemed to be a wonderful description, not only of the work of the Holy Spirit, but of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the moment of meeting someone in Christ’s name. It should give even the most timid among us encouragement to share our love of Christ because in that moment the Spirit of Christ is present and it isn’t just the words that are going back and forth, it is the ‘go-between God’ who is present, conveying His word. Isaiah speaks about the word of the Lord in 55v11: ‘My word will go forth and not return to me empty’. This is encouragement for us.

The second saying is about welcoming a prophet or a righteous person. The prophet presents a challenge to us. Historically prophets were not welcomed. Their job is speaking truth to power as the reading from Jeremiah illustrates. He says of Hananiah’s prophecy in our Old Testament reading, ‘good luck with that because it isn’t going to happen!’ Jeremiah becomes a prisoner for his prophetic statements. He is thrown into a ditch and eventually, tradition suggests, carried off and stoned to death in Egypt. The prophets, Jesus mentions in the Sermon on the Mount, are persecuted. In Nazareth Jesus says prophets ‘are without honour in their own country’ and Jerusalem stones the prophets that are sent to them. The prophet’s reward or welcome is not something we would covet. It involves the hard business of confronting situations with the justice of God. The righteous, however, fair altogether better. In Matthew 13:43, they are the ones who shine like the sun in the Kingdom of Heaven. Simply put, this verse is about welcoming both the prophet and the righteous person. They are appointed by God to bring the vital word of the Lord to us, which will turn out to be the seed of eternal life. So be sure to welcome those who bring that precious word of God to you.

The third saying is about ‘the little ones’, I think this is not about children, but about new born Christians. The instruction here is, ‘whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones’, will be rewarded. What a little thing, to give a cup of cold water. Jesus emphasises the same by his use of the word ‘even’ or ‘only’ a cup of water. We imagine discipleship as requiring huge sacrifice. Well – sometimes it comes to that. But at other times, Jesus seems to say, ‘it’s nothing more than giving a cup of cold water to someone in need’, or offering a hug to someone who is grieving; or giving a listening ear to someone who longs to be befriended. It may even be offering a stranger who is lost, directions to find their way home.

Discipleship doesn’t have to be heroic. It is all the small acts of kindness, devotion and forgiveness that go largely unnoticed but nurture the relationships that are most important to us. The life of faith is composed of a thousand small gestures. Except that, according to Jesus, there are no small gestures. Anything done in faith and love, even as small as the gift of a cup of cold water, has cosmic significance for the ones involved.

I wonder if this week we can just be more generous with our smiles of welcome and hugs for the person or pet with whom we live,(in these lockdown days) delight when greeting new, or old, or soon to be friends across the street when you exercise. For ‘even’ or ‘only’ a cup of cold water given spontaneously can convey a generous welcome and may have eternal significance.

Prayers of intercession

Lord Christ you are the place of welcome, where all may find solace, where all may celebrate, where all are valued, where all are loved, and where all find refreshment. So we come to you the ‘One who welcomes all’ and in our imagination we bring with us those who need your blessings:

We bring to you the members of our family and the friends you have given to us.
(Give thanks and pray for those you now bring to mind)

We bring to you in our mind’s eye the members of the church.
(Remember those in your church family)

In our imagination the group grows around you, as we invite those whom we know who are ill.
(Remember those in need of prayer who are ill known to you and those who are not known but are receiving care in hospitals.)

A crowd now gathers, as we stand around you with those who feel oppressed.
(Remember the anger and the anguish shown by people of recent days over the need for justice)

Gathered too, are the needy and the dispossessed, the refugees and the vulnerable.
(Remember those seeking refuge and asylum)

Lord there is such a large crowd gathered around you now in my imagination, each with their own separate needs, and each knowing that your voice can still the storm that rages in their heart. Let each find a welcome and support as you declare your sacrificial love for them. Amen.

The sending So we leave this act of worship to go about our daily business knowing that you have already gone before us and we will meet you wherever there is a joy to be celebrated, a peace to be shared, a sorrow to be soothed and a blessing to be had. We go in the name of God who loves us; In the name of Christ, the great ‘welcomer’ who invites us to come to him, and in the name of the Holy Spirit who breathes the breath of life into us. Amen