Laying Out the Welcome Mat

This is an exciting day. Every day that we can sense the presence of God and worship together as a community is a wonderful day, but I think especially so on this particular Sunday. For today we find ourselves at the start of new season of life.

Today marks a new beginning for each of us. Together we embark on a new season of ministry and life. It is a season filled with possibilities, hopes, and dreams for you, for myself and my family, for ClayLick, and for our greater community. All of us are filled with anticipation and a desire to experience what God has in store for us in this season.

I am excited to be with you as we begin this new season together. It is a thrill for me, Abbi, and Noah to begin to walk with you towards what God desires has for us in this season of ministry and life. We want to thank you for how you have welcomed us and have made us feel at home. From praying for us, greeting us, and introducing yourselves to us, these signs of welcome and hospitality are much appreciated. They have made us feel like we are home. We look forward to further opportunities in the days to come to get to know one another and to learn more about this special place and community.

As I have reflected on the welcome you have extended to us, I cannot help but to think about other times when I have been welcomed by others in my life. This has led me to think about my first few weeks as a freshmen at West Virginia University. At WVU, I was a small fish in a very large pond. I grew up in a small town and going to a large university was overwhelming. What I remember was that there were people who helped me to find my place. There were people who helped me to move into my dorm, showed me to my classes, or what the various campus traditions meant. Each of these acts made me feel welcomed and accepted by the community.

All of us can think back to moments when we were welcomed by someone into a new community. It may have been at a new job when someone showed us around the office. Perhaps we moved into a new community and someone took the time to show us the best places to eat or how to get involved in the schools. Perhaps even we could think back to our first day at ClayLick when someone made us feel welcomed and part of the community. All of these, and others, are examples when someone took the time to care for us and made us feel like a part of the community.

These experiences help us to see what Jesus calls us to live into in this passage from Matthew 10:40-42. Jesus invites us to extend expressions of welcome and hospitality to those sent to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. At first glance, we might think that Jesus is only speaking about a specific kind of hospitality given to a few people. However, the hospitality and welcome Jesus calls us to offer is much more than the act given to a few. What we see is that Jesus calls us to welcome and love one another as we live into our mutual mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
We receive this calling to welcome and love at the end of a chapter-long discourse from Jesus. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the disciples out into the mission field for the first time. Jesus organized a core group of 12 disciples who he spent the most time with and invited them to join him in his ministry of teaching, healing, and bringing about God’s kingdom. He is now sending this group out to the “lost sheep of Israel” to teach, heal, and care for the least of these. They are commissioned to share God’s kingdom through their witness of Jesus’ love.

As Jesus sends the disciples out to the mission field for the first time we get the sense that the work he calls them to live into is difficult. The work of making disciples and sharing Jesus’ name comes with risks. Some will accept the message. Others will refuse to have anything to do with it. The disciples are sent out into the mission field knowing that the work is both plentiful and difficult.

The work of sharing Jesus is difficult and challenging. It is a work that we all have a part in. All of us are among those called to share Jesus through our words, actions, and deeds. No one is exempt from the important work of “making disciples of Jesus Christ.” Each of us have a part in making Jesus’ name known throughout Salvisa, Lawrenceburg, Mercer County, Anderson County, and all the places we have influence and connection.

Because the work and mission is difficult we all need people who will come along side us and care for us as we are about this important work. I think this is why Jesus concludes this commissioning with a word to the disciples to care for one another. Jesus says we are to receive one another, to welcome and love each other, as an act of love done in response to our love of Christ. What does this mean? Jesus desires us to welcome each other, and the entire church, into our hearts and lives. This is the act of encouraging each other in our roles of sharing the love of Christ with others.

None of us can share Jesus without someone supporting or encouraging us. Ministry and mission cannot be done in a vacuum. Jesus encourages us to walk along side one another for strength and support. We each need people who will love us, pray for us, support us, and even challenge us when we need it. These are the acts of welcome and care that we all need as we seek to be the church today. A community that encourages one another and supports one another in their mission is the community that is better able to live into their witness of Jesus Christ.

I recognize it is not always to admit we need the help of someone else to do the work that is asked of us. We are often taught that we must care for ourselves and support ourselves, yet  where would each of us be had someone not come alongside us to help us be the people we are today? Where would we be without the love of our parents nurturing us through our lives? Where would we be without teachers encouraging us in our studies and dreams? Where would we be without the support of friends in difficult moments? Each of these are moments when someone welcomed us into their lives and cared for us in the same ways Jesus calls us to live into with each other. We all depend upon the care of others.
If this is true in our daily life, just imagine how much more important it is to have people around us in our walk with Christ and our mission of sharing Jesus with the people around us. Where would we be had someone not encouraged us to read Scripture or attend a worship service? Where would we be if someone did not spend time praying for us? Where would we be if someone had not spent time with us in a difficult moment, visited us when we were in need, or cared for us when we were experience a time of trial? None of us can walk this journey alone. We need each other to express elements of love and grace to us in ways that encourage and strengthen us for both our growth in Christ’s love and desire to making Christ known through our lives and witness to others.

Welcoming and caring for others are simply not acts we do for ourselves. It is a gift we give to Christ in response to our love for the Lord. Note what Jesus says about this. These elements of welcome and care we express towards each other are truly acts done for Christ. Jesus says something similar later when in Matthew when he says that when we care for the least of these we have cared for Jesus himself. Jesus says in these passages that our expressions of welcome and care should be gifts given to Christ. That in caring for others we are truly caring for our Lord and seeing Christ in the heart and lives of each other.

We extend elements of welcome, love, and encouragement to each other not because they are simply acts of good nature, but because they are loving and living responses to our faith in Christ. We do these things for the benefit and service of our Lord and in ways that makes his name known. The ways we welcome and love someone is an expression of how Jesus has been welcomed into our lives as both our Lord and Savior. Our welcome and love is a living and holy response to our desire to love Christ and share the Lord’s name.

So as we begin this new journey and season of life together, I wonder how we will support each other in our mutual ministry of “making disciples of Jesus Christ?” How will we encourage each other? How will we be there for each other? How will we walk beside one another as we share in this important work?

I’m confident we will find ways to support each other in our ministry of sharing Christ with our communities. I know you will be praying for one another, loving each other, supporting one another, offering words of encourage to each other, and, even, challenging one another in love when those times are appropriate. As we do these things, we actively are doing the same things Jesus does on our behalf at the Father’s right hand. Jesus actively prays for us, loves us, supports us, encourages us, and challenges us in our faith and love of him.

As I know you will live into things, I want to make a promise to you in this new season. My promise to you is that I’m going to be right there beside you on our journey of making Jesus known in our communities. I’m going to love you. I will be by your side supporting and encouraging you. And yes, sometimes I will challenge us all, myself included, to think about what God might be asking of us in this time, this place, and in this season of life.

Today we begin this new season of life. In doing so, let us live into Jesus’ desire for us to walk together on this journey. May we find way to offer the same love that Christ has offered us to each other, so that we may go out and share our love of Christ with our community and world.

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