The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 5A (6/8/2008)

All Are Welcome in this Place

Lessons:      Hosea 5:15-6:6      Psalm 50:7-15      Romans 4:13-25      St. Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26      Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:           Genesis 12:1-9           Psalm 33:1-12

Prayer of the Day:      O God, you are the source of life and the ground of our being. By the power of your Spirit bring healing to this wounded world, and raise us to the new life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

9.9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district. 

St. Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Let us build a house where all are named, Their songs and visions heard And loved and treasured, taught and claimed As words within the Word. Built of tears and cries and laughter, Prayers of faith and songs of grace, Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: All are welcome, all are welcome, All are welcome in this place

"All Are Welcome" by Marty Haugen, © 1994 (GIA Publications, Inc.)

"All are welcome in this place." This declaration stands at the heart of Christian community. Jesus makes a bold witness to that in the Gospel lesson we consider this weekend. Despite the objections of those who hold great power in the religious systems of his day, Jesus continues to eat with "tax collectors and sinners." (Many tax collectors and sinners, St. Matthew tells us.) Jesus refuses to acknowledge these kinds of distinctions, however. As the Apostle Paul would later claim, "There is no distinction... they are all now justified by his grace as a gift." [Romans 3:22-24]

As if to emphasize this teaching, the healing power of Jesus goes out. First (and not surprisingly) to the family of a leader in the synagogue. Their hearts were broken at the death of his young daughter, but Jesus raises her from death, and the people are amazed. But then (and quite surprisingly) a woman touches the fringe of Jesus' cloak. She is an unclean woman - one who had been contaminated by an issue of blood for more than a decade. Proper piety would have insisted that she not come into any contact with a rabbi. But not this rabbi. She touches Jesus, and she is healed.

It is one thing to agree with the sentiment that all are welcome. It is entirely another thing to live it out. It is a messy business. It is an uncomfortable business. But it is central to what it means to live together at the foot of the cross. It is central to what it means to be united by our need for God's grace and forgiveness.

The Christian faith proclaims that all are welcome here. The poor are welcome here (and so are the rich). Those of differing skin color are welcome here. Those who understand sexuality differently than I do are welcome here (as are those who agree with me). Those with physical, emotional or intellectual challenges are welcome here. Those whose social skills are underdeveloped are welcome here. (Those who are supporters of that other political party are welcome here, too!)

The Christian faith insists on this radical commitment to be a welcoming community. It does so out of its desire to take seriously those things that were important to Jesus. But there is a more practical reason it holds to this commitment: if there is some line, beyond which one is not fully welcome in the Christian community, who is to say that I am inside that line? However, if all are welcome here - if there are none who are beyond the reach of God's grace - then without a doubt God's grace can be for me too.

The Christian community is a fellowship in which all are welcome. This is a word from God that cuts like a two edged sword. On the one hand, it comes as a challenge to our own prejudices. Those whom we would keep at arm's distance are as welcome in this community of faith and at the table as we are. And to the extent that we would prevent them, this passage judges us. On the other hand, if all are welcome, then there is no doubt that I, too, am welcome. This is the very promise of God, and for that we give God thanks and praise.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Which "fringe" members of society did Jesus reach out to during his earthly ministry?
  2. Why did the religious leaders of his day object to his inclusivity?
  3. How did he respond to those religious leaders?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. Who am I tempted to think of as "unworthy" to be part of the Christian community?
  2. What is it about me that makes me unworthy of the grace God desires to give me?
  3. Under what circumstances would I be willing to stand up and defend another person's place in the Christian community?