the encounter

 

Based on Matthew 10.40-42

 

More than a decade ago, for a year, I lived in this great fishing camp on a tiny island just off the mainland in South Carolina. 

The island was very natural and thickly wooded, and there was a 300-foot-long dock heading out to a tidal creek that drained into the Calibogue Sound just a mile or so downstream, which opened up to the Atlantic off Hilton Head Island. 

At the end of that dock was my sailboat — a small gaff-rigged boat.

I worked at a newspaper at the time, and so most of my friends were from my office, and more than a few times a week, they would simply stop by to fish, catch shrimp or crabs, have dinner, and, on many occasions, go out for a sail with me. 

That summer, one guy in particular became really good friends with me. 

Sailing was completely new to him, but we had a lot in common, and we’d have these great conversations for hours and hours — especially when we were sailing. 

There’s something about the water that gets us reflective and meditative, and helps us open up.

But I remember him telling me that he didn’t believe in God, but he was continually curious about my faith and how happy I seemed to be. 

I can’t remember any deep theological conversations. 

It was just more of the way I was. 

That I connected who I was, my identity, in God, and because of that, God seemed to be more visible to him. 

Let’s get something straight: Back then, I loved Christ, for sure, but I wasn’t a pastor yet… 

I don’t think anybody back then would have seen that coming! 

But after hanging out for a few months, a few of our friends decided to go to a Bible Study together. 

And on that night, my buddy decided to tag along. He jumped right in the car and said something along the lines of, “You mind if I come? I’m just curious…”

The expressions of our friends were a bit stunned, but they, of course, invited him in. 

That was more than 10 years ago.

And today, by buddy is a deacon in his church and an amazing child of God who loves Christ. 

When I asked why he decided to go to the Bible study — what had changed in his belief and attitude — he said “It was the way you have this relationship with God. And I wanted that.”

 

Encounters

Now, I’m not telling this story to add a feather to my cap; I really wasn’t trying to convert my friend. 

I was simply trying to reflect Christ in how I lived. 

Not passing out tracts, not doing evangelism as we understand it, and not even praying with him. 

Just living life in the full grace and light of God. 

So much of our lives, we get this opportunity that others will experience Christ in us. 

Unfortunately, because we are broken people living in a broken world, the opposite is true, too. 

So while we don’t have to go around pretending to always look happy so that people will see God in us, if we just live our lives like Christ calls us to do — as loving people — then people will see Christ in us even when both they and we are least expecting it.

And isn’t this what Jesus is telling us in our reading today, in Matthew 10.40-42?

In the reading, Jesus is talking with his disciples. 

He is wandering around Judea with his friends, and he is teaching, and healing and telling them about future persecutions — his and theirs.

Jesus just finishes telling them that they are worth more than the sparrows that God created, which we talked about last week.

And now he draws a huge equals sign underneath of all of those teachings, healing and prophecies and says “Here’s why.”

Verse 40: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson writes it this way: 

“Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you.”

Again, another translation: “Whoever receives you, receives me.”

 

“Welcoming me”

This is such an important lesson — these two little verses that may seem abundantly obvious to us sitting here today. 

But so often, we don’t live our lives in this way. 

That’s not a statement of blame or guilt; it’s just a fact.

More times than not, we are looking to develop our own spirituality. 

We want to enhance our relationship with God. 

We are looking for Christ in the situations we experience and in the people we see. 

In other words, we read the Bible from “a place of comfort,” as Liddy Borrow writes in The Christian Century. 

We look for the ways Christ can enhance us through our experience.. 

We sometimes call it “witness.”

And we have testimonies because of them — seeing a relationship healed, recovering fully from an illness, having someone step up to help in a dire situation… 

Truly, that is Christ working in others for us. 

But we don’t always think about the converse: 

That Christ works in us for others. 

We are a generation that is so focused on ourselves, that we don’t tend to think of these things as equals.

We want to be the recipients of Christ’s love by what we experience in the world, and not be the givers of Christ’s love for others to experience in the world. 

There is a balance here that we often miss. 

Think about it: In a normal day, how many times can you say you did something for someone so that they could see Christ in you verses how many times you were looking for Christ to come through for you through others or other situations?

I’ve said this before — WE are the answer to our own prayers.

We effect the kind of change we’re looking for and the kind of transformation we’re praying for not only by looking for Christ in the world, but being Christ in the world. 

Do you see that?

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.”

We are the reflection of Christ in the world. 

When you look into your own reflection, what is reflected is Christ. 

And that’s exactly who the world needs to see. 

 

Saved by grace

Now, does this mean that in order to receive our “reward” as Jesus writes about in Verse 41, that we have to work diligently doing acts for others?

Not exactly. 

If the rewards Christ is talking about come at the end of our lives, when our earthly time is complete, then there’s nothing we can do — no acts that we can accomplish — that will bring us to eternal life with God in Heaven.

Ephesians 2.8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

It is because God gives us grace and NOT because we can earn it that we are saved for eternal life.

We can spend our entire life working tirelessly for God’s kingdom, and that is great, but it doesn’t save us. 

We are saved because of God’s love period. 

Only God can do that, and only God gives us the ability — through God’s grace — that allows us to be saved. 

That’s important to note here because we don’t want anyone thinking — again — that we have to “act” the part of a Christ follower.

That’s not what being a Christ follower is…

We simply are Christ followers, and because of this amazing gift of God’s grace and salvation, we should want to do these acts. 

* We should want to help one another. 

* We should want to work for social justice.

* We should want to call out injustices in the world.

* And we should want to be a reflection of Christ. 

These are the acts that follow God’s gift of Grace. 

 

Mirror, mirror…

What ends up happening to us in this world is that we try to spot Jesus in others.

We look around at anything or anyone other than the reflection in the mirror that stands right before us. 

Why?

Well, a lot of times, we believe what the world says about who we are. 

We let the world tell us who we are, what our identity is. 

“You’re not strong enough…”

“You’re not rich enough….”

“You’re not influential enough…”

“You’re not pretty enough…”

“You’re not smart enough…”

Listen: God made you in God’s image!

That image is perfect! 

Wherever you are in your life is exactly where God will use you.

That doesn’t mean, as the old cliche goes, that “God has you right where God wants you…”

Maybe God doesn’t want you in that place —

Trapped in addiction or an abusive relationship.

Reeling from a loss or heartbreak.

Stuck in a hospital bed or treatment facility.

One step away from being in the streets…

God doesn’t want God’s children to be in pain…

But that doesn’t mean God won’t use you there. 

Again, if we’re always focused on where God is for us, we’re never going to see where God is in us.

***

A few months ago and for nearly a year, this church prayed for a good friend of mine who became intensely depressed after going through a battle with cancer.

God has done amazing things to heal his body and his heart. 

But when he was going through chemotherapy treatments, he’d often bring his guitar and sing and play to the others who were getting treatments in the room with him. 

He was struggling with his own faith, but he wasn’t necessarily looking for Christ in others whom he encountered; he was being Christ for others who encountered him. 

And by being Christ, he was able to encounter Christ in those moments. 

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” 

What a profound statement that we can take such great comfort in!

First: If we have to be encountered by others to see Christ, then that means Christ is encounter-able within us!

Christ is experienced through us!

Christ. Is. In. Us!

And secondly, we have to be welcoming. 

If we don’t welcome others — others — then Jesus cannot be welcomed. 

That’s on us! 

We have the opportunity within ourselves to show others Christ. 

Not always by what we do or what we say about Christ to them; 

but simply in being ourselves, and letting Christ do the reflecting. 

We simply have to be welcoming. 

And we cannot be welcoming if we are staying only among our own kind… 

 

Just be Christ

I welcomed my buddy out onto my sailboat. 

I didn’t preach. 

I didn’t give him my possessions. 

I didn’t even invite him to church. 

But I did welcome him to see Christ in me. 

We can’t “save” someone. 

Only God can do that. 

But it is ours to be welcoming.

Because when we welcome others, then Christ can be welcomed, too. 

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