After a couple of weeks of readings in which Jesus warns us of the danger, yet the need, of making a total commitment to following him, he offers these words of comfort and assurance: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” 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.”
Since we bear Jesus within us, it’s easy to carry him around and offer him to those we meet each day. When we greet folks warmly, we give them a little Jesus. And the same is true when we are welcomed by other folk. When they welcome us, they welcome Jesus. So, let’s consider some ways to welcome others.
Mary and I were in Chicago at a training event that included a nice meal in a restaurant. Since we were staying in a hotel without refrigerators in the rooms, the rest of us let the servers take our left-over meals. But Mary asked for a to-go box. As we walked back to the meeting, Mary spotted a homeless man sitting at the corner of the building. She handed him her left-overs.
I am a Kiwanian – a member of the Kiwanis Club of West Citrus. We sponsor two Key Clubs, the High School version of Kiwanis. Each year, one of the Key Club members do their share at stopping bullying by putting post-it notes around the building, on bathroom mirrors, white boards, and so forth. The post-its have positive comments on them: ‘You are beautiful’ ‘You can do it.’ ‘You are so smart.’ ‘You are so kind.’
… I prefer to not talk about myself in the sermon. It has a tendency to put the focus on me instead of Jesus. But, today, I want to share something because it fits so well.
I am in the process of becoming a Lutheran Franciscan Friar. You know a bit about St Francis of Assisi, I am sure. We celebrate his love of all creation. But there is so much more to his story. Here is a little of it.
Francis lived in Italy in the early 1200s. He received a message from God to rebuild the church. At first, Francis took that message literally, and spent weeks placing stone on stone to rebuild a church building. But then he realized he was supposed to rebuild the church through rebuilding faith.
Francis’ father was a wealthy merchant, but he left his family and rejected wealth and all of its benefits. He discovered that those who wanted deeper faith came to join him, and after many years they became an official order within the Church.
In Francis’ time, some of the most rejected people were the lepers. They lived apart from others because of their contagious disease. But Francis wanted everyone to know how much God loves them and includes them. So, he went up to the first leper he saw, and kissed him on the lips. And, for a time, he lived among them. Francis lived every day of the rest of his life welcoming all as if they were Jesus.
… Back to my story. For several years I have been seeking a deeper relationship with God, and wanting to do that by connecting with a faith community like an order. Most orders allow for people to belong and still live and work at home, with regular lives. It’s like being a monk or a sister, but not living in the abbey. For those who are old enough to remember the old Robin Hood TV series, it’s like Friar Tuck.
Have you figured out yet that I am, shall we say, picky? I checked out the Benedictines, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Augustinians. Most communities are only for men or only for women. Most of them are Roman Catholic. Since I am an ordained woman and Lutheran, it is important that the order accept all of who I am. And it seemed none of them would welcome me fully.
However, one day last summer, I discovered the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. It is for any member, lay or clergy, of the ELCA who want to commit their lives as Francis did to following Jesus as closely as they could. Bingo! The more I explored the order, the more I felt I had discovered my place.
Then, it turned out that last summer their annual retreat was near Orlando. I asked if I could attend. ‘Yes, you would be welcome,’ was the answer. So, I went. I was met by people who helped get me my name tag, a bottle of water, and directions to my room.
We worshiped four times a day; we met in general sessions, and in small group sessions; we ate together. I got to know the members of the order. I was made welcome at all of it. I explained that I was exploring the possibility of joining the order. Brother Don told me I would fit right in. Sister Cynthia talked about her efforts in the last 2 years to complete the novice assignments. Sister Dede talked about living simply in retirement.
Toward the end of the retreat, several people were made novices. They had finished their first assignments and were ready to take the next step in their faith journey. As I watched and prayed, I knew that I wanted to be a Lutheran Franciscan too.
For their habit, Franciscans wear a brown robe and a rope. They also wear a simple wooden cross in the shape of the Greek letter Tau, usually given when they become novices. As we said goodbye, Brother Don took off his cross, and gave it to me. This cross has been with me daily ever since.
It reminds me I am on a faith journey.
It reminds me I am learning to follow Jesus and Francis in welcoming all people.
It reminds me of Brother Don’s simple gesture of inclusion and welcome. It has been for me a cup of cold water.
My journey as a Franciscan will continue as I become a novice in August, and spend the next 2 or 3 years learning to more closely follow Jesus.
I pray that you will join me in the practice of welcoming all we encounter each day. Each time we welcome someone, we give them some Jesus; we give them something as simple, yet profound, as a cup of cold water on a hot day, or a to-go box of left-overs, or post-it note, or a simple wooden cross.
Here is the website for Lutheran Franciscans: