Worthy (begins at 24:38)

December 8, 2019

Series: December 2019

Category: Advent - Peace

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Romans 15:4-13

4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, 

     “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, 

          and sing praises to your name”; 

10and again he says, 

     “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 

11and again, 

     “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, 

          and let all the peoples praise him”; 

12and again Isaiah says, 

     “The root of Jesse shall come, 

          the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; 

     in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 

13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.



          Packing to move is a revelatory exercise.  You find much you no longer need and can let go of.  You are reminded of what is valuable.  You even discover things you had forgotten you had.  When we packed to move the church offices to our temporary location for the renovation, I found this beauty…(Unroll welcome banner).  It’s the welcome banner you made for me for my first Sunday here.  It’s quite something to be welcomed with a banner!

How we welcome others is matter of the highest order.  I spoke a little last week about the importance of being sure we are intentional about welcoming people to church.  The goal of welcome is truly connecting with someone, taking a genuine interest in them, and making them feel at home.  Hospitality is not about expecting in return.  I spoke with someone this week from Scotland whose son has been in Japan for several months.  He’s a fiddle-player and he has been touring sharing traditional Scottish music.  He has been overwhelmed not only by how well the music has been received, but how well he was received, welcomed.  The hospitality of the Japanese culture touched him so much that he expressed to one of his hosts, “I hope you come to Scotland some day so that we can show you the same hospitality.”

          The response was kind but corrective, “We want you to offer that hospitality to all who visit Scotland.”

          In another city, I used to take college students to volunteer at a downtown ministry that offered food, basic medical care, and clothing to those who made their home outside.  They’d line up in the cold at about 5 a.m. to be admitted for a hot breakfast in the warmth.  You’d think with the magnitude of need out there that the ministry would try and operate as efficiently as possible, but this was not the case.  Rather than serving buffet-style, the easiest and least demanding, guests were served in their seat.  Tables were simply but beautifully decorated sometimes with fresh flowers from the garden.  The point was to reflect back to people their humanity, to show them that you recognized they were worth something, especially when they had a thousand messages to the contrary the rest of the day.  At that point in that particular city, there wasn’t one public bathroom, not one.  Imagine how humiliating it must be to not have a place to go to the restroom. 

Another ministry in another city sought to reaffirm people’s humanity by giving people experiencing homelessness choices when serving meals.  Salad was served from a salad bar, ice cream Sundays with a toppings bar.  Imagine not ever getting to chose what goes on your plate.  We don’t like it as kids; we don’t like it as adults.  Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference in restoring somebody’s sense of worth.

          I saw a story this year—perhaps you saw it too—about a Florida elementary school child who was bullied for what he wore on his school’s college spirit day.  If you’ve had a child in elementary school, you can see how quickly they become aware of what it is and isn’t okay to wear.  It just breaks your heart.  This child was a huge University of Tennessee fan, but he didn’t own any of their apparel, so he took an orange T-shirt, the school’s colors, and drew the UT logo best he could on a piece of paper and pinned it to the front.  He was so excited to wear it.  Here’s a picture of it…(show slide).

You and I already know how that was received.  The child was devastated by the teasing he suffered.  A sympathetic teacher posted something on social media about the incident.  It went viral even reaching the university, which in turn, sent the boy some apparel.  They didn’t just do that, however.  They turned the student’s design into an official Tennessee shirt.  Here’s a picture of that…(show slide).   Now if you don’t follow sports, you may not know what a big deal this would be.  Here’s an image of the Tennessee football stadium…(show slide).  It seats over 102,000 people.  Imagine some of those people wearing his shirt.  Here’s a picture of the marching band...(show slide).  If you look closely, they’re all wearing his shirt.[1]  What must that feel like to a child who was told his shirt wasn’t worth anything, which he hears as he isn’t worth anything.         

Reflect somebody’s humanity back to them.  Acknowledge their inherent worth.  That’s the core of hospitality, of Christianity.  The Apostle Paul is not speaking of mere niceties when he urges his followers to “Welcome one another…as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7).  He is speaking of the highest order of deeds, receiving someone else, in his case a fellow believer, as a worthy child of God.  For Jesus hospitality was so sacred that when he sent out his disciples his first assignment was to go in search of an experience of being welcomed in, for only then would know what the reign of God felt like (see Luke 10).  Have you had an experience of real hospitality?  Can you recall the way it made you feel?

Now some may be stuck on the clause, “just as Christ has welcomed you,” thinking, whether we would admit it or not, “When did Christ ever welcome me” or offering an indictment of Christians who haven’t been very welcoming.  Here, a little context is very helpful.  Jesus blew through the typical lines that separate us—religious lines, social lines, economic lines, familial lines.  In Paul’s time, some followers, just as in our time some followers, had a hard time letting go of some of the old definitions.   There were early followers Jesus who believed you had to maintain strict adherence to certain laws and practices, chief among them, circumcision.  Paul made it his life’s work to be sure that those who didn’t follow those practices were invited into the movement and welcomed.  He was a crusader, if I can use an unwelcoming word, for inclusion of anyone who would follow Christ, Gentile or Jew. 

Good Jews, like the best of those from other traditions, have something to teach us about what it means to be the best version of our own tradition.  In 2013, when Michael Lezak, who was one of the rabbis at Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, learned that the elementary school across the street, Venetia Valley, largely comprised of Hispanic children, had suffered a bomb threat, he realized his neighbors were in need.  However, there was scarcely a relationship between his religious community and the neighboring school.  From then on, the synagogue, the Jewish Community Center, and the Brandeis School, all which are housed on the same property, started to connect with the school, whose principal made it a priority of his own to come across the street and build relationship with his Jewish neighbors. 

When Venetia Valley parent Hugo Meija was detained by ICE for seven months, it was the local Jewish community, along with others, who lobbied steadfastly for his release.  Here’s an image of Meija’s spouse speaking outside Rodef Sholom (show slide).  In turn, when a Pittsburgh synagogue was invaded by a gunman killing 11, Jews around the country were shaken by this spike in anti-Semitic violence.  Within 48 hours, Venetia Valley Principal Juan Rodriguez showed up with his school across the street with a banner that said, “You Are Not Alone” so when Brandeis parents dropped their kids off at school they felt as though someone had their back.  Here’s an image from that day…(show slide).

Paul writes, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus” (v. 5), as Christ would have us live.

Who is Christ, in the most basic formulation, but God’s attempt to meet us where we are and reflect back to us our own humanity, perhaps our own sacredness, and certainly our worthiness, and implore us to do likewise with one another?

 You wake up each day as a blank banner that you will carry around in the world.  Have you ever thought about that?  Together we display a banner with the way we present ourselves as a people.  What shall we write and to whom will we inscribe it?


[1] Details from this story taken from https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/07/us/bullied-student-university-of-tennessee-shirt-trnd/index.html