What's remarkable about all of that is that God still shows up. In fact, I really enjoy our worship downstairs because you all are so much closer. I can see your faces better. The first row of chairs is probably no more than two feet away from the altar, whereas upstairs you're all quite far away. It feels to me like we're celebrating the Eucharist together - in a much more intimate way - and I love that feeling. It also frees up the kids to run around a bit more - which tends to make us all a little more joyful.
As our congregation continues to grow, all of this reminds me of the Gospel that we heard last week. It was a short passage from Matthew, but one full of lessons. The one, in particular, I'm thinking of is about welcome. In the Gospel, Jesus said:
"'Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’" Matthew 10:40-42
Whoever welcomes a prophet will receive a prophet's reward...And whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous...
Gosh, that sounds like Jesus. Always giving away rewards to people who doesn't seem to have done much (or any) of the work. Prophets, after all, lived difficult lives. They struggled for the sake of God's word and God's vision. Historically, they were really unpopular and their work was hard, folks didn't want to listen to them, and God was pretty relentless. So how is that someone can just swoop in at the end, offer welcome, and receive the same reward?
There are two things to say about this (probably more, but I'll keep to two). First, welcome, really, at the end of the day, is a radical thing. Any of us that have ever experienced real hospitality, when we needed it most, can tell great stories about the difference it made in our lives. Real welcome is not an easy thing to offer anyone. Welcome, the way Jesus intends it, means a giving over of power and authority, a giving up of resources, a submitting of our will to the will of God, in who's name we welcome others - and particularly, in this case, others who seek to do God's work. Welcome deserves a reward because it demands more of us than it might seem.
Second, God's economy is profoundly different than ours. In God's economy there is more than enough for everyone, all the time, no matter what. It's the same as the workers who go into the vineyard (a parable you might know that I love!) at different times of day - and when they all come back, they receive the same payment. Because God desires for us to show up and do the work - and to claim our equal inheritance in the kingdom that is eternal - and in the justice-seeking kingdom we're supposed to be building together here and now. All of us bring different gifts with us to this work. All of us come to it from a different direction - and sometimes at different points in our life. And that's okay. There's still work for us to do, still ways for us to contribute, still room for us at the table. And isn't that wonderful?
As we continue to change and grow in this place, I pray that we will continue to work on the welcome we offer others. Those who come sit with us in the pews (or the folding chairs) and those who come to be fed in a number of other ways. How can we make our welcome more broad? How can we continue to put others and their needs ahead of our own? And how can we share the good news that God's love is so big and broad and wonderful that there is room enough for all of us? And good work for us all to do?