“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 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; 42 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.”
Happy Pride Sunday! Again, such an honor to be here. It’s wild that I grew up here but never could I ever imagine as a young queer kid how church could ever be a safe or welcoming space for me. Or people like me. Can I just say real quick, PRAISE GOD FOR PLACES LIKE ST. AUGUSTINE’S! YA’LL ARE SAVING QUEER KIDS LIVES. AND THIS IS GOD’S WORK YA’LL. THIS IS KINGDOM WORK YA’LL ARE DOING OUT HERE. YES. IT. IS. CAN I GET AN AMEN?!
The gospel reading is pointed, isn't it? Jesus gives us the powerful and rich mystical truth of radical hospitality that shatters all cultural and social norms. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, he says. And whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.
Jesus gets at the basic truth of our theological anthropology here, that we are made in god’s image and when we welcome others we welcome God into our lives. Now this is a different kind of understanding of what it means to welcome. It’s an opening to a radical hospitality.
Jesus’ definition of welcome directly includes interacting with the Holy. Before we dive deeper into Jesus’ definition let’s think about what it means to welcome. What do you think about when you think about being welcomed?
Feeling at home? Feeling safe? Loved? Acknowledged? Seen? Heard? How about a warm and fuzzy? All of this makes up that beautiful word - welcome. I firmly believe this is why we chose the rainbow flag to be our flag, like who is offended or scared of rainbows? They are like God’s smiley face in nature! But that’s the point of such a symbol for the queers, we just want you to feel all the love and the warmth in the world ya’ll! And have you ever been around a group of queers? I know this Church loves itself a Pride Parade, Come on! But oh how joyful and beautiful and diverse WE ARE. Made it God’s glorious diversity.
Indeed, all gender identities, sexual orientations and human bodies are GOOD, A GIFT FROM GOD.
So Jesus knows this already and he is pointing us to this theological truth here again. When you welcome these folks, the least of these, the littles ones, he says - YOU ARE WELCOMING ME. Can’t you see folks, God is in all created order, every living thing. Even in the folks that you despise or find odd or make you uncomfortable by the way they look or perform their gender. And by the way there is a difference between discomfort and danger.
Our baptismal covenant reminds us that we are to respect and honor the dignity of every human being. This is what makes us Christians. This Christ-like attitude and way of seeing the world is what Christ always brings us back to - because it’s really damn hard. Because seeing the world as Christ does WILL MAKE US UNCOMFORTABLE. It forces us to look at ourselves and our own garbage we bring to relationships!
For example, It says more about YOU if YOU find a same-sex couple holding hands off putting. It says more about YOU if you can’t use they/them pronouns when someone asked you to! That’s your problem. Not theirs. God made that couple GOOD. God made gender queer and trans folk GOOD. WE have to do the inner work of stripping down our cultural and social assumptions and the stories our egos tell ourselves to really be able to see as God sees. This isn’t easy work. (We will get more into this later)
Another part of welcoming someone and making them feel seen and comfortable and all those words we mentioned earlier, is to actually know them! Know them well enough to know what would make them feel those feelings! Right?
You can’t tell a trans man he’s gotta use a woman’s bathroom just because YOU are confused and uncomfortable. This isn’t meeting someone with God’s love. This is meeting someone with fear. Have you ever talked to a trans person? Like really had a conversation with one of these beautiful souls? Read a book about them from their perspective? Watched a movie? I’d highly recommend Disclosure, which is Laverne Cox’s new documentary made with an all trans cast exploring the ways in which trans folks have been portrayed in film and television throughout American history.
It will take your breath away.
You see Jesus is asking us to essentially put ourselves in another’s shoes.
One of my favorite intellectuals and Black social activist, Rachel Cargle, insists that true allyship contains three movements - knowledge, empathy and action. I really think this resonates deeply with what Jesus is doing here. In order to welcome someone as God would, we must learn about God’s people in all their diversity - we must consider their perspective putting it over and above our own, lift it up as valid - and those feelings God gives us from loving God’s people without our baggage is what allows us to be transformed and act on behalf of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the world.
Let me paint a picture of these movements for you.
A good friend and colleague of mine from Casady sat me down in his office a couple weeks ago and shut the door and told me he had been wanting to speak to me about something very personal. His college age son just came out as gay to him and the immediate family. And with tears in his eyes he said, “Sarah, as a gay woman that holds herself with such grace and strength, how do I support my son so that he turns out to be like you?” Okay so now I’m crying, we are both crying! “What a beautiful, honest question,” I said.
I said this is the first part, friend. You got over yourself and whatever garbage you have in between you and your feelings about this and made it first and foremost about your son! Because this IS what this is about. Your son just disclosed something so intimate and personal to you in complete and utter vulnerability in hopes that you would love him. And then you said “of course I love you, son, I’ll always love you, now how can I support you?” Ya’ll how beautiful is that!? Really?? I wish every queer kid had that reaction from their parents. We’d have a lot less pain and suffering in the world that’s for sure.
But my answer besides naming the movement he made in his heart to love his son first, was BE A PART OF HIS LIFE! ASK HIM QUESTIONS! ASK HIM ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE! I don’t know why this part people seem to suck at so bad or why it is so frightening to treat LGBTQ folks as NORMAL HUMANS, GOOD HUMANS MADE BY GOD, IN GOD’S IMAGE! If it is normal for you to ask a straight person about their love life then why on earth aren’t you asking about your gay friend or daughter’s love life!?
Silence is violence. It severs vulnerability and authenticity in relationships and allows one person to hold all the power. It erases one person’s experience altogether. Silence erases queer stories and queer lives. Again, put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel if someone never asked you about your life? Your love? Your hopes and dreams? What if you couldn’t put a picture of your family on your desk at work for fear that you would get fired for who you love? How would you feel if people kept calling you the wrong name? If people kept assuming you dated men? It’s not just annoying, it’s exhausting and it completely shuts off the ability for God to work in and through our relationship.
Because when you refuse to see me, love me, receive me and welcome me with open arms like God does then YOU ARE REFUSING GOD.
If you refuse me, you refuse God. I’m gonna let that sit for a minute.
At the end of this gospel passage, Jesus promises reward for those who welcome him and others as God would welcome. And I don’t think it's the reward we have been trained in our evangelical culture to think it is. If we think of this as eternal life in heaven I think we’ve missed the point of this axiom.
The reward is more LOVE.
The reward is knowing God more through one another. That is more LOVE.
God’s LOVE is transformative. God’s LOVE Heals. God’s LOVE defies all our garbage, all of our dualistic categories and political affiliations. God’s LOVE is that whole milk that nourishes our souls and our hearts so that we don’t have to hate each other anymore. It’s a feeling of wholeness and peace that makes us stop caring about the divisive ways of this world and start loving one another, seeing one another and welcoming one another as Christ loved us first.
Now... let’s go Dance together, It’s Pride Month!!
~ Sarah E. Smith
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.