July 2, 2023
Rev. Scott Landis
I’d like you to think for a moment about what your experience was like today as you arrived at Keawala’i Church today? Did you receive a friendly greeting? Did you greet anyone as you entered our hale pule (house of prayer)? Were you made to feel welcome, and did you have the sense that these are my people – I feel comfortable here. It is good to be here. Or did you feel invisible. No one noticed or acknowledged you. Are you thinking silently to yourself, “I may have made a huge mistake” and have begun wondering why you are here?
Church growth experts will tell you, one of the greatest challenges facing churches today is the reluctance of church members (aka “insiders”) to extend themselves by actively greeting those who are newcomers or visitors. There is no malicious intent in overlooking folks who may be here for the first time. It’s instead a rather predictable social dynamic. As humans, most of us tend to gravitate toward the familiar (in this case those we know) rather than the unfamiliar (strangers or visitors).
Those we know feel safe, predictable, and we genuinely want to find out how things are going in their lives. We share a history, common ground, and we have things to talk about. Being with those we know is comfortable. But extending ourselves to those we don’t know takes some effort. We must break through a lot of unknowns and many of us don’t know how or where to begin. Will I appear pushy? Are they the type that want to be left alone and interact on their terms? Will they LIKE me, us, our church?
Now for the extroverts in the room these social minefields are easily overcome. New folks present new opportunities. Meeting new people to an extrovert is invigorating and any challenge met is stimulating. But for introverts the experience is completely different. Introverts would prefer a trip to the dentist as opposed to introducing themselves to someone new. And introverts hold the fantasy that everyone is just like them. They’d rather be left alone – thereby alleviating any guilt for not inviting someone to Aloha Hour. [Pause]
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus was pushing his flock outside of the barnyard, as it were, by entreating them to do that which most of us main line church folks find very uncomfortable. He sent them out as – dare I say it – “Evangelists.” Now before you go running for the door for fear that I might ask you to do the same, let’s unpack that term. The act of evangelism is nothing more (or less) than to offer “good news” – the evangel – to those coming in our door AND those we see out in the community. And it’s really not all that hard.
To be an evangelist for Keawala’i United Church of Christ does not require a theological degree, or to become a religious fanatic (not that there is anything wrong with that). It simply involves taking the risk of offering what I am calling a “Holy Welcome” to everyone we encounter. It’s the act of hospitality that, I believe, is so vital not only for church growth, but it may also be a lifeline to those who feel marginalized in our world today.
Here again is where that social dynamic I referred to earlier comes into play. We are usually more comfortable welcoming those who may appear to be like us. And we make those judgments based primarily on external appearances. So, if you walk into a room (church or other) and you see a lot of folks that look like you – it may be easier to risk offering a greeting and you might even strike up a conversation and discover you have a whole lot in common.
But enter a place where most look different than you … and you might be a little intimated, or uneasy, and feel just a little out of place. But it’s in those places when hospitality is extended that you really feel a “holy welcome.” [Pause]
Just a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting my family in Denver, my daughter and I decided to attend the city’s Juneteenth celebration. We thought it was an important gesture to show our support for the African American community Denver, to celebrate this important date in American history, and to reiterate our commitment that Black Lives – too often maligned or marginalized in our country – really do matter. Suffice it to say, we were in the minority. The food was different from what I typically eat, the music was stuff I rarely hear, and there was a whole lot of celebrating that I could not fully relate to. We felt a little like outsiders but held firm to our commitment to support this important recognition of the ending of slavery in our country.
But then something wonderful and unexpected happened. We were walking down the street and there was whole group of folks participating in a line dance. You couldn’t get around them and we didn’t want to walk through the group, so they just included us. “Come on. Join us. Dance with us.” A holy welcome. Before I knew what was happening, I was in. Doing what I now know as the “Cupid Shuffle.”
To the right, to the right, to the right, to the right.
To the left, to the left, to the left, to the left.
Now kick, now kick, now kick, now kick.
Now walk it by yourself. Now walk it by yourself.
You see, what I experienced in that moment – besides a whole lot of fun – was hospitality. Kara and I were included, welcomed, made fully apart of this celebration that wasn’t fully ours, but one we in which we were invited to fully participate in. Their joy become our joy and in that moment all sense of difference was gone.
I think that’s the gift that Jesus wanted his disciples to offer as they were being sent out to evangelize. He invited them to offer a holy welcome – to include others in the “Cupid Shuffle” of their day. [Pause]
So, how you might wonder, are we doing the same in our day. In our church. In the way we live our lives.
We are demonstrating it sacramentally today as we participate in the acts of baptism and holy communion. Baptism is the sacrament of inclusion whereby the candidate is invited and welcomed in the broader Christian ‘ohana. It is a grace gift which the congregation affirms as we promise our love, support, care.
The sacrament of Eucharist or Holy Communion is the invitation that ALL are welcome at the table. We put up no barriers, no requirements, no restrictions. We only ask that you seek the presence of the Risen Christ in your lives. Each one is affirmed as a child of God.
In both of these sacraments AND throughout our faith lives “Holy Welcome” does not begin with me, but with the one who sends me. Hear those word of Jesus that were read to you moments ago. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
The offering of hospitality is not just an act of kindness. While it is indeed that, it is so much more. It is a Holy Welcome, and it may be vital to someone sitting here today OR someone you meet later because God becomes a part of that greeting.
Don’t miss the opportunity to extend hospitality to the stranger, scripture reminds us, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Let me encourage you. Make sure you search out those angels in our midst today and make certain they leave Keawala’i having received your holy welcome.