My dad’s grandparents met at the Finnish Lutheran Seaman’s Mission in New York City in 1896, where my great grandmother was one of the relief workers welcoming people like my great grandfather, fresh off the boat. The arms of God stretched wide through the Finnish Lutheran Seaman’s Mission, like the branches of the mustard shrub, to provide welcome and shelter and support to my immigrant great grandfather and so many, many more. The Finnish Lutheran Seaman’s Mission eventually became Seafarer’s International House, which continues this work of providing shelter and support to immigrants and refugees and even amidst the pandemic, asylum seekers, some of whose only visitors are the Seafarer’s folk.
This is the kind of work made possible by God’s persistent planting, the scattering of seed talked about by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson.
It’s welcome work.
It’s the work of welcoming those who need support when the world is offering them a cold shoulder.
This was the kind of welcome work that God in Christ made possible in a different way for Jake Reitan’s parents, when he told them that he was gay in the early 2000s. Jake had stood up to bullies at school, but it was telling his parents the truth about his sexual self-identity that scared him most of all. Thankfully the Reitan family, who had deep roots of faith in the Lutheran Church and had already begun to realize – alongside many in the Church – that we had been wrong about what we thought scripture taught us about LGBTQ folks, were able to be clear about their support and love and welcome to Jake in the fullness of who God made him to be. It wasn’t easy for them, and there was a lot of growing on all sides, but this was more welcoming work made possible by the seed scattered by God’s abundant and loving hands.
And whether it is at the ports of our coastal cities or in the living rooms of our homes, such welcome is an example of the kingdom work of God shining forth in our midst.
And though we, like Jesus’ followers almost two thousand years ago, might rather this work of God to be like the mighty cedar trees found in Lebanon, the gospel writer Mark instead has Jesus likening this seed planting work, this work of the kingdom of God to the scrappy mustard shrub, which starts with a miniscule seed and yet grows to have enough shade for all the birds in its area. Which means that we who are called to welcoming work of God can consider ourselves to be a part of a scrappy kingdom!
Yet it’s a kingdom made possible by the abundant Planter whose scrappy mustard shrubs seek to provide enough shade for all of the neighboring birds. Birds of every feather and stripe. And, maybe it can be a relief to realize that we are called to be part of a scrappy kingdom because deep down we all probably know that we are a bit scrappy and totally imperfect ourselves, right?
We don’t always get it right. We don’t always understand the things that God would have us to understand right away. We don’t always provide the welcome to our neighbors and the people around us in the way that we should. For us, the words from the apostle Paul in II Corinthians today are pure grace:
“So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation…see, everything is become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
See, everything is become new. By Christ.
And knowing this, maybe we don’t need to blame ourselves or others for ways that we and our welcome of those around us has fallen short of the glory of God. Instead, we can remember, as Paul writes again in that same passage from II Corinthians, that it is:
“…the love of Christ urges us on.” (II Corinthians 5:14)
This is PRIDE month in the secular world, and it’s awesome that we keep trying to find ways to highlight and give dignity and appreciation to LGBTQ folks, just as we try to highlight women during Women’s History month and People of Color during Black History month, and moms and dads on Mother’s and Father’s Day and soldiers and their family’s on Memorial Day. Before you know it, there’ll be someone being honored and recognized on every day of the year with the dignity they don’t always find from the people around them every day of their lives.
But for us as a Church, for those of us who have been grafted onto the Body of Christ by Christ’s own sacrifice and love on the cross; every single day of our lives – days built on the practices of gratitude for God’s loving, free gift of grace through Christ on the cross; every day and every month is the time to be bold in our welcoming work to all of these people that I have named and so many, many more.
In Christ we are a new creation and the love of Christ urges us on. To participate in the seed planting. To participate in providing the shade and shelter of the mustard shrub. To participate as members of a scrappy kingdom that is nevertheless glorious in her abundant, ever-growing, ever-learning how to be more loving Christ welcome for the world.
This is the mission of Redeemer, New Paltz, to “Share Christ’s Welcome.” And it’s scrappy and glorious work that we get to participate in, by the grace of God. Amen.