We pride ourselves on being a welcoming church but sometimes it is a lot harder than we would like. Maybe the key to being welcoming here is by going to other places and seeing how we are welcomed. Confused? Hopefully we, with some help from our mission trip attendees, will be able to bring some clarity to the idea of welcome!
‘He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Before I begin with my message this morning, I want to recognize some individuals who aren’t here today who had a strong influence on our just completed mission trip. Reverend John Weems, who was with us the last time around at Heifer and left an indelible impression on our kids, Reverend Theresa Cho from St. John’s Presbyterian, a friend and colleague who also came and brought five of her youth, and the Reverend Joann Lee, who walked beside me in planning much of what we did. They may not be here physically but I can feel them in my heart. It also helps greatly that Victor and our mission trip participants are here with me so yes, we will manage.
How do you teach welcome? We talk a lot about it and even have a fairly conspicuous sign outside that identifies us as welcoming people but how do we do that as God’s people? In a perfect world, we would know enough about the people we are welcoming, known and unknown to respond to them in a way that would be specific enough to ensure that, but we don’t really know, do we, so all we can do is our best. Which around here is usually pretty good. Maybe instead of just guessing, we need to find a role model for us. Someone who took a group of people on the road to talk and listen to people. Someone like, yes, Jesus.
Our scripture passage this morning, thanks again Chloe, seems very appropriate because one of the dynamics of mission trips is that there will always be attendees that we might not all know that well or even at all. We trust that they are amazing young people with good parents and they generally are but there is always some uncertainty. And when you are on the road and responsible for a group like this (26 people on the road) that uncertainty can be a cause for some anxiety.
We knew that we had challenges from travel to weather to staying hydrated to finding out how to be a community on the road. We were better equipped than the disciples but we also didn’t have Jesus to lead us so we were aware that there might be situations and things new to us. Our adults were prepared to be flexible and patient and aware of any potential issues and asked only that our young men and women mirror that to the best of their abilities and to that point they were exemplary.
As good as we were however, there were a lot of other people there so how were we met? Thanks to God and our friends at Heifer and the other church adults and youth were much the same way. There was an organic quality to our time together from moment one forward. Challenges were met, surpassed, handled. Where there was some stress and even competition in some of our activities last time around, this time there was more of a communal feel to it. If you were with people you didn’t know you didn’t go looking for your friends, you talked with who you were with.
And what did we do? We worked with animals, feeding them and even milking the goats. We herded irritatingly hard to herd birds. We built, cleaned, farmed…
The field workers in the passage know there is something wrong – weeds amongst the wheat- but are not sure how to proceed. They ask: do we attempt to get rid of those weeds now knowing full well that there is something of a lack of precision in that. Do they wait to see what happens knowing that there is also some risk in that? The Master does not waiver however and tells them to not mess with the flow and says to let things proceed, ‘for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Our mission trip this year was singularly unique: we were once again traveling as a blended group, middle and high schoolers, two Presbyterian church that are similar in theology, community focus, neighborhoods. We were more than we usually are with our group numbering 26. And once arriving in Arkansas blended some more with church from Minnesota and North Carolina. We were situated in one of the most beautiful parts of Arkansas which says something if you are familiar with that great state. And it was hot and humid and when I say hot and humid and Arkansas, I hope you understand what that says.
What happened? We were welcomed. And in that spirit of hospitality we responded in kind. The lack of familiarity became moot as we watched our kids relax into each other’s company and then into the company of the other faith groups, Heifer staff and yes, the adult chaperones. Speaking of which, if you are a parent, you know how important the company of other adults can be and our adult chaperones were amazing. Patient and loving, we took care of the kids but we also took care of each other.
We are home now – home among our friends and family and the weather is normal. Did our trip have an impact on Arkansas? On Heifer Ranch? Is that important? And how about our new friends? Will they remember us? I’m not sure how important that is. The thing I do know is that something inside us has shifted a little bit. Shifted perhaps toward a spirit of curiosity and openness and if that doesn’t make us a more welcoming people, I’ll be surprised.