In this last week of my summer field education assignment at the Carlsbad-By-The Sea (CBTS) retirement home I prayed and thought about the sermon for the coming Sunday based on the Gospel reading of Matthew 10:40 to 42. The idea of welcoming strangers, how we work each day and how the unsung heroes in our community are recognized and rewarded started to form very early in the week.
At the Monday morning management meeting, Joan, the Exec Director, read out a card from one of the residents who had noticed that due to staff schedules all the Directors were volunteering to take on tasks outside of their management roles such as clearing tables, serving meals, staffing the front desk, helping put up and take down equipment for residents events. This card stated that this had been noticed by many residents and they were so grateful and blessed to have such a team helping them. The faces of the management team lit up and I could see that this is the type of reward that reflects a calling rather than a job. It meant so much to the management team it will make them even more determined to make sure any staff shortages did not impact the residents.
As I reflected on this week Gospel, I thought that the passage is not talking about anybody in particular but about all the anonymous people who work hard, carry out God’s will but get little recognition. In our three small but powerful verses this week we see:
· “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” has a focus on how we see Jesus in all the strangers that join our community, how we welcoming Him and let God into our lives. There is an emphasis on inclusion of all, and of building up a group of strangers into a welcoming community of neighbors,
· “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” is explaining that those welcoming, providing hospitality and support to any of God’s workers will receive the same reward as the person they are supporting. Here at CBTS we have many people working and being seen by the residents but also we have an army of people working in the background. Despite not being seen the residents know they are there and value what they bring to the team effort. The thoughts and thanks expressed in the card that Joan read out at the Directors meeting was also an expression of thanks (a reward) for all the team, seen and unseen. Joan intends to read this card out to all the staff at the next employees meeting. Apart from being paid this is exactly the reward that all the employees are striving for,
· “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.” provides a strong conditional statement of the actions we all take on a daily basis. There may be people who seek to do something great but overlook what they accomplish by their countless small deeds undertaken with self-sacrifice and love. The size of a loving deed is not what counts the most it is the motive behind it and the sacrifice that accompanies it. God notices every good deed we do or don't do as if He were the one receiving it.
When I observed the welcoming, the small deeds, support, and rewards it takes to build and maintain our community at CBTS I was reminded of St. Paul’s statement in Romans 12 that the body is comprised of interdependent parts that cannot function alone.
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully”
Later in the week we had a Chapel Committee meeting about the weekly worship service and I was pleased to notice that the members were now comfortable with me and trust me to the extent that they felt they could suggest changes. These included such changes as having someone from the community witness something in their life rather than my homily each week, multiple people reading the prayers of the people, some new Lesson and Psalm readers, and including a violin solo at the offering. Unfortunately, as the team now trusted me they were also comfortable with disagreeing with change. It reminded me that St. Peter and St. Paul did not always agree on many things, and I suspect their supporters (their unsung heroes) also disagreed with each other.
Peter insisted that the early believers must follow the old ways, must be circumcised, and must adhere to the Jewish Law as defined in the Torah. Paul’s vision led him to proclaim faith in a risen Christ and urging believers to conform their lives to Jesus’s New Covenant. What they had in common, though, was that both understood that the welcome of God was an invitation to a place in God’s kingdom.
At this time in our maturing CBTS worship community we are also seeing the same sort of division between people who do not want change and others who want to expand what we are doing spiritually and in worship. As this is a multi-denominational community we do have some people who are conservative in their religious background gravitating to what they know and others with a more evangelical background wanting a less formal and changing environment.
My role in this situation is to bring them all together the best I can as a welcoming and worshiping community irrespective of their backgrounds and the deeds they do, especially those on the Chapel Committee who others look up to.
Jesus didn’t say that we have to agree on everything, but He did tell us to be welcoming.
Here at CBTS we are so blessed to have a community made up of many Christian denominations, living, worshiping and praying side-by-side as a common body.
As with St. Peter and St. Paul, we won’t all agree on everything and we may agree to disagree on some things on our faith journeys but we are called to be welcoming.
In my sermon at the end of the week I urged the community to:
· Welcome all you meet, including strangers,
· Support all community members, irrespective of their ability, in what they are trying to do,
· Carry out even the smallest of tasks in love and look forward to God’s reward.
As we do this each week I can see that we do love all our neighbors in thought, word and deed!.