A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
Fifth Sunday of Pentecost
July 14, 2019
In this hour, at this time, in this place, may God’s word be spoken; and God’s word only be heard, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost … and according to our liturgical mandate, we are to proclaim the good news. In fact, as I’ve said many times before, the task of the preacher on any occasion is to declare the Gospel of Christ and to further its theme of love and justice, tempered by mercy. That certainly makes sense when we gather together as a community of faith, and it follows that we need to understand as clearly as we can what the good news is all about that we are called upon to share with our neighbors.
Suppose for just a moment you were attending church here for the first time. What would you see? Chances are, if you happened to come through the double-doors downstairs leading toward the parish offices you would see the handwriting on the wall, that quite literally and plainly says – Trinity Church “Welcomes All to Worship and Walk with God.”
Now I would contend, without trying to be too cute or whimsical, that this cryptic Mission Statement says it all. The motto, or slogan, or inspirational and uplifting words, however you choose to define what’s there on the wall, in point of fact, is our ‘signature-piece.’ It’s all about who we are and what we do. And in truth it pretty much sums up everything that is important about Trinity Church, and it lets the world know that whatever brings you here is considered relevant, valued, and important – so much so – that ‘all are welcome’ (including the poor, the hungry, the scorned, and the otherwise unwelcomed), indeed everyone is invited into this community of faith. Think about it for a moment. That’s our statement to the world; yet it’s also a challenge to those of us who already belong here; a place where we “live and move and have our being”. As such, we have a special task to make the “welcome” work. Indeed, we need to act graciously and honorably whenever anyone walks through the doors or threshold of this sanctuary. In the history of the church this “holy room” is considered a “safe haven” worthy of respect and care.
And in light of that; what can newcomers expect of us? What takes place by way of worship in this church where we are at pains to proclaim that “all are welcome?” Well the chances are pretty good as you enter, an usher will greet you, say hello, and give you a user-friendly worship bulletin which guides you through the liturgy taking place in the sanctuary; sanctuary being the aptly named room set apart as ‘sacred space.’ The point is this: As Christians, we welcome people into a spiritual opportunity to deepen our faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we worship God in praise and adoration, right here, right now; and we do it in a proscribed fashion that is authorized and set out in the Book of Common Prayer, the ecclesiastical guide to our particular way of life as Episcopalians.
And what’s most interesting about our liturgical services is that the lectionary theme in the church calendar during this portion of Pentecost is focused on the act of welcoming – comprehensive welcoming - welcoming others, welcoming strangers, welcoming Christ, and ultimately welcoming God into our lives. Like most things in life though, this is probably much easier said than done. And similar to most other things in life, including the church’s life, we need to be especially careful that we do not dismiss anything out of hand. Said another way: do not overlook the importance of this welcoming message simply because it is complicated and a bit challenging.
This summer of 2019, we recognize that the theological task now before us acquires a new dimension, and shifts ever-so-subtly into the quixotic realm of interpretation. What do we really mean by “welcoming?” How do we interpret it? And in a related way, what is so unique about Christian hospitality loving both neighbor and enemy that Jesus seems to be fixated upon it; telling us that whoever welcomes him, Jesus, welcomes the one who sent him, namely God? Why is the hero of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel lesson the Good Samaritan; and not the priest or the more religiously orthodox Levite?
Well, the answer to all these complicated questions is really quite simple. God is always a welcoming God, always drawing people into the heavenly kingdom, always beckoning people to trust and obey the commandments, and always assuring individuals that loving behavior will be rewarded in the eternal realm. Furthermore, the subsequent responsibility each of us has is to demonstrate the same thing – welcome others, reach out to them, and thereby offer the possibility of reconciliation and forgiveness. When that is done genuinely and sincerely, matters of regret, remorse, and injustice are corrected. It is only then that we develop a clear sense of being “right with God.” By welcoming others we do the right thing, which in turn leads to correct behavior summed-up in a word – “virtue.: encapsulated in a paraphrased couplet – “ethical hospitality:” and promulgated in religious terminology as “following the path of righteousness”…hospitable righteousness.
Tucked into this religious truth, there is a lesson for the wider community. ‘Hospitable-righteousness’ as a basic ethical principle has implications and consequences for all people of good will and faith.
Think of it this way. I would suggest that a greater spirit of ‘Religious Welcome’ is in order, if not overdue. To overcome fear and greed and sleaze and deception and betrayal and mistrust, and all the other awful things in life, there is but one corrective, only one – that of love – which can best be expressed by engaging in behavior that is focused on others, not by dwelling exclusively on ourselves. It’s not about “me,” and it’s not about “you” either, it’s about God. That’s what Jesus is teaching; and that’s what he is quoted as saying numerous times in the various Gospel lessons during the whole season of Pentecost…and beyond.
So in the name of the Episcopal church I encourage you to welcome others, just as Jesus urges you to do, and then to welcome people to share in the wider realm of God’s family, as God Himself wants us to do. That’s a commandment of God – Welcoming the stranger.
And remember, this hospitable behavior is best accomplished when we acknowledge that it is done right here at church in the spirit of the Mission Statement written on our walls, bulletins, and brochures. Trinity Church since 1819 is the place
where all are welcome to worship and walk with God.
We ask all this:
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.