July 2, 2017
Pr. Craig Mueller
If you get up early, and are half asleep, you may pull on a shirt inside out. With some shirts, you don’t always notice when it is inside out. But the tag in the back is the give-away. Now, if it’s your mother, your spouse, or even your best friend, they will tell you: “your shirt is inside out.” They don’t want you to look foolish! But if you’re just the casual observer, you’re in a quandary. Do you say something? Will it seem rude? Will the person be embarrassed? Will they thank you?
In your imagination, I want you to keep your shirt on “inside out” through this sermon. Stick with me.
On first glance, today’s gospel is custom made for Holy Trinity. The word welcome occurs six times in only three verses! Now that’s some Bible we can relate to! This congregation treasures its welcome. It’s one of things most named when I talk to both newcomers and long-term folks. It’s used in our promotional video. Many of you can say it by heart. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever the color of your skin, whoever you love and marry, whatever think of church or organized religion, you are welcome here.
Put it on a tee-shirt. Wear is proudly on the outside. You are welcome. God’s love is unconditional. And for all. Period.
When I ask folks what the mission of Holy Trinity is, they sometimes name the welcome. If you ask me, our mission is about more than merely welcoming, but no problem. It’s a good start.
But the welcome in today’s gospel is to the disciples. They are sent outside—out to the world—with a mission. We’ve been hearing about it for the past three weeks. And the cost of that discipleship will bring risk, suffering, rejection. When other people respond to the message and the messenger, they are welcoming Christ himself.
There’s a book called: Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission. The author, Tom Schattauer, says we often think that worship is what we do in church. Mission is what we do when we leave. The goal is often outside in: to get more people into our churches. In a time of denominational decline, it’s often a matter of survival. So we use marketing strategies. Or some churches try to attract people by using hip music, or having the pastor wear skinny jeans and no robe. For activists, the goal is reversed: to rally them in the doors, so they can them outside to do the real God thing. Justice. Service. Mending and healing the world.
Schattauer talks about a third way. Like your imaginary shirt or a reversible coat that can be worn both ways. God’s mission happens both inside and outside. What we do in worship enacts God’s mission. We proclaim hope, justice, peace, and the equality of all people. Through water, word, bread and wine, we sense God’s purpose for us—and for the world. The welcome that is for us and for all who enter these doors, is the welcome of God’s embrace for all people. When we leave, we live our baptism outside these doors: in daily life, in all the contexts and callings, challenges and changes that come our way. In other words, as an Orthodox theologian wrote, we leave this place to participate in the “liturgy after the liturgy.” The liturgy of everyday life.
Speaking of service, today we have ten persons with us from a World Diakonia Assembly here in Chicago. The biblical word diakonia means service. Our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, has recently voted to use the word “deacon” as the term for our roster of Word and Service—a roster of ministers separate from ordained pastors. In biblical and ecumenical usage, deacons provide leadership that “calls out, equips, encourages and advocates for the church’s call to witness and service in the world.”
All the baptized are called to serve in the world. The unique vocation of deacons reminds us that even giving a cup of cold water is service. Or things like greeting a stranger with a smile; welcoming refugees into this country; taking notice of a new person in your class, high rise or neighborhood; volunteering at a food pantry; buying fair trade coffee that is sustainably sourced; thanking a police officer or someone in the military for their service; writing a letter to a congressperson; marching to protest the abuse of power. In these, and more, we live outside these doors what we ritualize inside them.
And when an inside-out life gets you outside your comfort zone, there will be surprises when you welcome the other, the unfamiliar, the stranger.
The movie Tsosti had that kind of effect on me. It won the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2005. It takes place outside Johannesburg, South Africa. The main character is Tsosti, which means “thug.” On the outside Tsosti is not someone that most of his would identify with or even like. He is part of a loose-knit gang, in the words of Roger Ebert, that “smashes and grabs, loots and hoots, sets out each morning to steal something.” Of course, at first we are not aware of what kind of abuse and pain he carries on the inside from his childhood.
In a key scene, Tsosti ventures to a suburb and notices an upscale professional African woman get out of her Mercedes to ring a buzzer on a gate so her husband can let her in. Tsosti shoots her, steals the car, and drives away.
A little later Tsosti realizes that the woman’s baby is in the back seat. Tsosti may be a killer, but he cannot kill a baby. Like giving a cup of cold water, he needs to attend to basic needs of the baby. He uses newspaper as a diaper, and when the baby needs feeding, finds a nursing mother in a nearby shack and forces her to feed “his baby.” In all of this we see a transformation in Tsosti as he welcomes this unwanted intrusion in his life. At the same time, we notice how we welcome Tsosti into our heart and how grace can be operative in any life.
As poet Ellen Bass writes: "There's a part of every living thing that wants to become itself: the tadpole into the frog, the chrysalis into the butterfly, a damaged human being into a whole one. That is spirituality."
Inside out. It’s reversible. Whether in this place, or in our daily lives, we welcome the presence of Christ, we welcome the stranger, we welcome the mystery . . . and the God who is Welcome Incarnate.