June 28, 2020

“Welcome”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 13

Matthew 10.40-42

June 28, 2020

What does it mean to welcome someone? If you had to choose a visual or a metaphor to describe it, what would it be? I once thought of an open door as sort of the ultimate visual of welcome. When you arrive at someone’s house and the door is open, you know you can enter. When I was in seminary I was an intern at the same church for two years. About a year or so before I had arrived they had put in locks on the outer doors with buzzers and speakers to let people in because they had some strange and dangerous encounters. At the time I thought this was not how churches should be – keeping people out! I still wish churches didn’t have to be locked, but that is the reality of nearly every church I know, and we find other ways to make people feel welcome.

During the time of the pandemic, specifically as we were sheltering in place, the church building itself was closed. Not just locked doors, but that the staff worked from home, too. All places, all churches, many stores had to figure out what closed doors and open virtual meetings looked like, and we’re still navigating that new normal. We aren’t out of it yet. There might still be places you cannot go. Many stores or restaurants have opened but with limited access. At the same time, it doesn’t mean we aren’t welcome. Restaurants have mostly been closed except for drive-thrus, but I would guess they would still welcome you and your business. So, as we have reopened the church building, I hope we have looked at welcome differently. We reimagine welcome, as it is not necessarily just about physical barriers, but how our hearts and minds receive people. What are our greatest barriers to welcoming people?[1]

Barriers are considered part of separation. Yet, in this strange time, barriers have kept us safe. The walls of our homes protect us from storms. Plexiglass protects food from germs in a buffet. Computer screens have allowed us to safely see one another. During this time of COVID-19 people have visited their loved ones through glass windows, being able to see one another and stay safe with the barrier. Masks are a physical barrier right now, but that barrier keeps one another safe. We are learning how to create welcome through more than just physical gestures.

What does welcome look like in this time? Welcome means a safe space for many, being accepted without judgment, feeling heard. I have seen how you have welcomed people, visiting them, sending cards, greeting them with a smile. With the way life is at the moment, it is incredibly difficult to smile at someone and have them see it. We have to be intentional about our words of welcome. We must make hospitality look slightly different. We have to work with our temporary barriers in place.

Yet, in this time, and looking at this passage, hospitality is not just something that is given, it is also received. In fact, Jesus is talking to the disciples about how they are to receive welcome. You are a very giving community, but we also have to ask ourselves how we accept the welcome of others?

Maybe sometimes the barrier is accepting the welcome that isn’t our style, or our preferred welcome, but is of the person welcoming. You might like to show welcome with a basket of muffins, but someone else likes to show welcome with lengthy phone call. You might like to welcome someone with a hug, but they prefer a handshake. How do we negotiate those different welcomes so everyone feels that hospitality? These might seem like small examples, but we also know that first impressions are important, and that everyone is different. If a person doesn’t accept your hand in a handshake, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t feel welcomed, but maybe that their immune system is low, or maybe they have sweaty hands, or maybe they are social distancing.

At the same time, when the welcome is reasonable and safe, we have to just be loved. As I was thinking about this passage I remembered an experience I had shortly after Rob and I were married. To welcome me to the family one of his extended family members sent me flowers. Most people would be thrilled to receive a huge bouquet of flowers, but I didn’t really have a green thumb then and hadn’t been a flower person, and I didn’t know how to receive these. Eventually I was able to see that this was her way of saying welcome. As years went on, her gifts seemed more bizarre to others. Yet, I knew that the books that she gave were ones she had actually read, and that she felt a connection to, and wanted to share that connection with others. I didn’t realize this, though, until I had truly accepted her welcome and was able to become closer to her. If I had shrugged off those flowers, I might not have the important relationship I have with her today. It wasn’t about the flowers – it was about seeing the spirit of her giving, which was welcome.

Welcoming someone is not gifts, though. Sometimes we give something to show welcome, but we can also offer a gesture or a space of listening. During the time of COVID-19 I think the greatest welcome we can offer is meeting people where they are emotionally and spiritually and show them grace. I hope you have felt that welcome in some way, too, feeling noticed and given the space you needed to breathe, re-center, and find the energy you need. I’ve talked about grace quite a bit in this time, and will continue to because this stressful time is not over. Masks are not going away any time soon. And, in fact, masks are another way to show welcome.

Masks that are not medical grade are more protection for other people than for ourselves. What a great visual of welcome. When someone is wearing a mask, it isn’t saying, “I’m afraid of whatever germs you have.” It is the opposite. This barrier of a mask is one that I see as actually opening up welcome to others. It says, “I care enough about you and your health to keep my germs contained.” So, while I know that masks are uncomfortable, and hot, and I miss seeing your faces, I also feel that welcome, and I hope you feel mine. Welcome to this space, welcome to this new way of living in the world, welcome to a place where we can reimagine together and grow together.

The psalmist does not seem too welcoming. The psalmist most likely has some sort of unidentified illness, and it appears blames that sickness or outcome on God. “How long?” the psalmist asks. I know I’ve asked that question many times in the past three months. “How long will we stay in our homes? How long will we wear masks? How long until we can find some normalcy?” The psalmist demands attention: “Pay attention to me!”

The psalmist has a relationship with God that the psalmist can call out to God and feel comfortable doing so. The psalmist trusts in God. The psalmist speaks honestly. I hope we can speak honestly in this time, too. We all come with our own frustrations of this time. This is a space where God welcomes us to name those frustrations, to call out to God, and to seek solace.

God is welcoming us – in this place, in the world, and in relationship with one another. May we find grace here. May we find hospitality. May we find the welcome we so deeply need. Amen.

 

[1] Emile M. Townes, “Matthew 10.40-42” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 188.