Why the word you want is proclaim, not communicate
a Homily for Proper 8 A
Text: Matthew 10:40-42
Getting into it
I struggled with this text a lot. Way more than any text in months. You wouldn’t guess that three little verses would be so hard. And you certainly wouldn’t expect a lectionary text about welcoming and sharing and giving to be a hard text to preach on Social Media Sunday, either. When I first read it, I said to myself “perfect!” Adding the kiss of death “Well, that should be easy!”
The reason it was hard to write is not because of my need to do too much (though that played into it). It was not because the subject matter is all that hard in itself (though it is more complex than it looks). It was because I wanted the perfect story to go with it. I just couldn’t find it.
This part of the gospel story is Jesus preparing His disciples to go out into the world, doing the ministry He gave them authority to do. Ministry that would take them all over the world, healing and restoring people and communities. Ministry that would take them into bad places and good places where the disciples would face serious conflict and may even lose their lives. He was teaching them that they don’t need to worry about what they are to say when on trial because of their ministry, for the words will come to them regardless.
Then He tells them about the Divine Household and how different it would be from their own homes. That they may be separated from their parents because their parents wouldn’t understand that family doesn’t come first and never comes first, for only GOD comes first. That parents will want you to think it is about family and about what they want from you and the disciples must be prepared to say “no.” That to GOD, we are all children, little ones. That we give a cup of water to one another as children, not as the other’s servant or master or even parent.
We struggled with some of this last week, of course. This week we get the conclusion of the big speech. Welcoming another person is welcoming GOD. We get prophets, righteous, little ones, and disciples. We get welcome, share, give: a whole host of signature Christian ideas. This is fertile soil for preaching.
I struggled with how to communicate that this is a gospel about communication without actually saying that. Because we’re told that people need stories and relatable tips. They need to hear how this relates to their personal lives. But the very subject of this story is story! The very subject is their lives!
Here’s how we’ll do that today.
Who remembers what the word gospel means? [Good News.] There are no books called gospels and no writers of gospels, but writers who witness to the Gospel. That’s why we call this book The Gospel According to Matthew.
So already, we’re not talking about the particular words, the semantics, the logistics, the details, the harmonizing of all the stories about Jesus into one absolute literal truth because we have no means of getting there from here. What we have is a story that reveals a part of the Gospel, the Good News of what GOD is doing with the world.
Next, we have proclaim. What does it mean to proclaim the Good News? At its most fundamental, proclaiming is about revealing what GOD is up to in the world. Sometimes in words, but always in actions. Welcoming is one of those actions.
This is not a church word, but we use it and misuse it all the time: communication. If I were to say “up” you would say…[down]. Why? All I said was “up”! I didn’t ask for an antonym! In fact, I didn’t give you much instruction at all! So why did you say “down” and, more importantly, why did I know you would say down?
We do this because we were taught that the only proper response to saying the word “up” is to say its opposite, its antonym, “down”. We aren’t born thinking that. There wasn’t a subject in school that taught us to do that. Our families taught us. And perhaps most importantly, Jesus did not.
We are social creatures
The word communication is loaded because it means too many things. The first five definitions of the word according to Wiktionary reveal how many ways we really use it. We use it to speak to the subject, the method, and the act. We use it hierarchically (as in top-down) and laterally (between peers). We use it as sending out (monologue) and as a back-and-forth (dialogue).
We most often confuse communication with being social. With interacting with one another and sharing what we want or need or hope or give thanks for. Being “in-the-loop” is not about communication, but about location: being in the midst of the interaction. About locating one’s self into the loop. Hearing, saying, and sitting and being with other people. These needs are matters of social connection, not communication methods.
We aren’t called to communicate about GOD, but proclaim what GOD is doing in the world. Which includes who GOD is building us to be.
Sharing the Good News
The scary thing in today’s excerpt from the story is that Jesus prepares His disciples to get out and get social with strangers and people that they don’t know. Pushing them out and saying “You’ve got what you need. See you when/if you get back!”
He speaks to the welcoming of the prophet and the righteous, both. The prophet speaking the hard words of GOD and the righteous speaking the just words. The welcome of outsiders and hope-bringers and justice-seekers and the diligent and the different and the troublemakers and the provokers and all those bringing the Divine Household is assured, which is great if that’s who we are! Scary if we are called to welcome all of that riff raff here in our midst and thank GOD continuously for them, sharing, giving, loving them.
That is welcoming in a nutshell. It isn’t about patting our friends on the back, but inviting in those who challenge us and push us, and more, meeting them where they are at. But it is also about expecting them to offer the same welcome in return.
That’s why this news is good: it’s not about the differences between us, but the love we share with one another. For love is the Good News and the expression of the Good News. It is how we receive the Good News and how we give the Good News. It is even how we know the Good News.
So today, the invitation is simple. Look for the love, the Good News. Then share the love. And keep sharing it. With your friends and with the world. For the love is here. To be captured in pictures and in stories; in prayers and thanksgivings; in hopes and even in 140 characters. These people, all of them, need our love.
Our welcome to them, in all of its forms, is our love.