28 June 2020

St Dunstan's Anglican Church Camberwell

When I was five my mother thought that she had better learn to drive as I had about a mile to walk down to school, which was fine in the morning but difficult when I was trudging home uphill after the school day. The weekend after she got her licence she decided that she and I should drive to Coolah where her sister lived. It was more than 300 kilometres and we set off in her brand new (well, new to her but very 2nd hand) Bull-Nosed Morris which was British Racing Green and named Arnold. We arrived quite safely had a good weekend and then set forth to come home. Our route lay over the Blue Mountains and the longest ascent was from Hartley towards Mt Victoria, up a very steep incline called Cherry Tree Hill. As we drove up, in 2nd gear, and then in 1st, the car began to boil. Mum found a place where she could pull off the very narrow road and we sat there until the boiling had subsided. She got out, threw up the bonnet and then realised that the radiator was completely empty.

In 1965, as some of you remember, we had no mobile phones and didn’t commonly carry bottled water, though after this incident my mother always had a jerrycan of water in the boot.

Even though it was a main road there were no cars at  Sunday lunch time. Ahead the road passed through very wild mountain scenery with no houses, but back down the hill I remembered seeing a house. Actually, I had noticed the horse in the paddock and the house only incidentally. So, abandoning the car, with its bonnet open so that people would understand that we had broken down and hadn’t just recklessly left the car there, we began to walk back down the steep hill.

It was much further to walk than it had seemed to me and Mum was beginning to think I had imagined the house when we heard a dog barking and saw a gate. We walked up the long drive, the barking dog becoming more and more frenzied, until we came to the house gate. Luckily the farmer had heard the dog and came out to meet us. He looked around perplexed to see where we might have come from.

Mother explained our situation and the man was not very impressed. He didn’t say so but the bloody woman with the boiling car was plainly interrupting his Sunday Roast. Luckily his wife came out, and she immediately welcomed us in with, ‘Oh you poor things, you must need a cup of tea.’

She put the kettle on, while Mum phoned the NRMA (the RSCV for Victorians) carefully leaving sixpence on the phone table, and the husband grudgingly said he would take some water in the truck and see if he could get the car going. 

We were so very grateful for that water, both for the car engine and in the teapot that helped us to keep going. We were welcomed and received the cup of water, for which we little ones were grateful. 

And so it is where ever you go in the bush, people always help one another, whether willingly or unwillingly.

Jesus is speaking into a society where the welcome of strangers was part of their law, but also part of their custom. The words we read today are a continuation of that long chapter of sending out of the disciples, as I alluded to last week. Jesus tells his followers that the going out to others, in his name, is not going to be easy and that their reception was going to be varied. The important thing here, I think is that when the disciple is welcomed, so are Jesus and God who sent him. The disciple is an emmisary, not acting on their own behalf, therefore, if they are rejected, as Jesus tells them earlier, it is God who is rejected.

It is easy for us to think that this passage is an injuction on us to be welcoming, in Jesus’ name. And that is of course true, but not the point here. We are, like my mother and me on our journey, the ones being welcomed, the one to whom courtesy is being extended. It is very easy for us to pride ourselves on being a welcoming church and be done with it- it is much harder to see ourselves as God’s emmissaries, sent in Jesus’ name,  to our world.

Did you notice that having established that what we are doing we are doing in God’s name, Jesus gives us a picture of three types of people we might be that are welcomed? The first is that we might be prophets and given a prophet’s welcome. Now if you refer to the OT you might find that you don’t necessarily want to receive a prophet’s welcome. However, I believe from my reading  that there was a particular code for the way different types of people were to be welcomed and presumably a prophet ought to receive a noble welcome and reward which in this passage are not quite the same thing. But if you don’t see yourself as having a prophetic ministry to those whom you are sent you might be welcomed as a righteous person, that is one characterised by justice and mercy and compassion, and so be rewarded. And if you are just a ‘little one’ or the least of these you are still to be given the cup of cold water which is the most essential kind of welcome in a dry and dusty land. Jesus says that those who welcome us have to ‘take up the reward’, just as he has told us we must take up our cross, and indeed the two may not be dissimilar.

The question is, how does this look for us, right now, in the midst of a pandemic? Well, we cannot be welcomers, can we? Our doors are shut- there is no prospect of the visitor being offered either the sacrament or a cup of tea at St Dunstan’s. This makes us feel very challenged and constrained at the moment. But as I say the boot is on the other foot we are to BE welcomed. So, how do we go out in order to be welcomed?

It’s easy for me, isn’t it? I get to visit people in their homes now that the lockdown has eased a little, and take them the comfort of the sacrament or just of my presence, in Jesus’ name, and I receive a welcome cup of tea from those able to give one. I am going into homes via the internet, being welcomed and receiving the benison of comments and interactions. But what about you? You are also disciples. As prophets, or righteous people, or even as little ones, it is important for you to make contact that is meaningful with others. You must give others the opportunity of welcoming you, in whatever form that takes. When we phone each other as buddies, we are both in the role of welcomer and welcomee, or host and guest, as we care for each other. When we reach out to others in our community, as their friends, or as strangers, we are, even if unbeknownst to us, going in the name of God. When we take someone in need some food, we will be welcomed. When we give to an agency our gift will be welcomed, albeit at a distance. It is about the sharing, the giving and receiving, the words of love spoken and the words of love received, it is about the cups of cold water given even to the little ones. We are called to be prophets of God, speaking into our world, calling out injustice and lack of mercy. We are called to be righteous people showing God’s compassion to others both friend and stranger, and we are called to be those without status, little ones for the sake of the gospel, that is the good news of God’s amazing love for all. Everyone who receives us will be rewarded. And the going, and the giving are both rewards in themselves. 

Jesus, as he tells us right at the beginning of the chapter, sends us out in the power of the Holy Spirit, so we do not go alone and we go in his name. This is our reality, we witness to God whether we know it or not. So go and be welcomed in Jesus’ name.

from “The Vision of Sir Launfal” by James Russell Lowell

[It is the voice of Christ speaking]

… The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,

In whatso we share with another’s need;

Not what we give, but what we share,

For the gift without the giver is bare;

Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,

Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.”

Vicar Roberta Hamilton