Third Sunday after Trinity

2 jul 2017

9am & Choral Eucharist

Preacher: The Dean

Readings: Jeremiah 28.5-9; Romans 6.12-23; Matthew 10.40-42


If you have a doormat what does it say? Perhaps you no longer have one like we all used to, but it you do it might be one of those with a sunrise on it, or it may simply say, ‘Welcome’ and even if the doormat doesn’t say it, perhaps that’s what you want people to feel when they cross the threshold and enter your house, your flat, your home. 'Welcome'.

As I’m sure you know, Charles Dickens was a one-time resident of this borough, living in Lant Street whilst his parents were resident in the Marshalsea Prison next to St George’s Church.  When I think of welcome I think of old Pegotty in Dickens' novel ‘David Copperfield’ living in that romantic house by the sea, made out of an upturned boat, simple and hospitable, whose hospitality is taken advantage of when evil Stearforth lures Little Emily away.  You’ll remember that Mr Pegotty, heart-broken, never loses that sense of hospitality as he looks for her return

“Every night,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'as reg'lar as the night comes, the candle must be stood in its old pane of glass, that if ever she should see it, it may seem to say, "Come back, my child, come back!”

He places a candle in the window so that, should she come back, there’s a welcome sign to her, she’ll know her way home. It’s like the doormat, speaking of welcome to whoever arrives.

Jesus is teaching the people and as we heard in the Gospel for today he says to them

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’.

It’s a simple and beautiful message.  The prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading speaks of a prophecy of peace, a prophecy of shalom, which in Hebrew is the message of greeting that one would give to another, just as in Arabic the greeting is Salaam. The guest arrives and is made to feel welcome with a message, a greeting of peace.

One of the things we try to model in our life here is that of an inclusive welcome.  That means that whoever comes through the doors is welcome, whatever their background, whatever their beliefs, whatever the reason for their coming.

Many people come here to pray, the constant flames burning in the candle stands testify to that.  But many don’t.  Many come to see, out of a love of history, or architecture or because they’re clutching their Dorling Kindersley (the modern Baedeker) and simply want to tick this place off on the list.  They may even have come simply to see if they can see the cat. That doesn’t matter.  Whatever their reason for stepping over the threshold, they’re welcome and it’s the role of our Welcomers during the week, the role of our Stewards at services, to make that welcome real.

Of course, doormats are there to be walked over, walked on.  Shouldn’t we ask more of those who cross the threshold, make more demands of them if they’re coming into God’s house?  It’s a fair enough question.  When we go visiting it maybe that the host says – ‘Do you mind, we’ve just had these white carpets laid.  Could you take your shoes off please?’ and we never mind.  ‘Don’t sit on that seat, it’s the dog’s!’ – so we don’t sit there. 

Faith communities have expectations of what visitors will do – remove your shoes, cover your head, uncover your head, don’t take photos, keep quiet – the list can be endless and it sometimes feels as though you’re bound to cause offense.  But there can also be something beautiful about that at the same time – as with respect you enter someone else’s holy place and share their expectations.

But welcome is not just restricted to our homes and our churches and holy places.  The Government has now embarked on the process of negotiating the terms of our departure from Europe, what Brexit will look like.  It’s just over a year since that momentous referendum took place and shocking result made public.  A great deal has happened in the last twelve months, politically and socially.  I for one feel less clear now where we are and where we’re heading than I did when I preached immediately after the Brexit vote a year ago.

One of the things that I notice about this congregation and this community in which we’re set is that we welcome people from all over.  The list of those who died four weeks ago in the terrorist attack on our community revealed that powerfully.  Of the 8 people who died around this Cathedral only one person was white British.  As I left the first of the Services of Hope with the Countess of Wessex we initially greeted the line of Ambassadors who’d been at the service because one of their citizens was killed or injured.  It was a long row of people presented to the Countess and talking to them was extremely moving.  But I left them with the strong feeling that this is a place of welcome and we want it to be a place of welcome.

The debate with Europe has been about what will happen to those, those of you, some of you, who’ve lived here for a few years, and worked here, and helped build the society, and the community and the London and the church that we all desire – are you welcome to stay, or will the door be closed on you.  I want to say to you that when we welcome any person we are welcoming Christ, when we refuse to welcome any one we refuse to welcome Christ and in doing so we reject God.  My brothers and sisters, that is the gospel.

We say of ourselves that we’re an ‘inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love’ and if that’s more than words then it means that welcome born of that radical love is real for every person, because we ourselves were made welcome, the door was opened to us and we were invited to cross the threshold when we first arrived.

And when we leave, or stray, or forget where we’re loved, we light a candle in the window to show the way home, to show people where love lives, where it is alive. 

It all flows from that statement made by Paul to the Christians in Rome, for

‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

It’s that life into which we’re welcomed, the most wonderful of all thresholds.  You can enter as you are, God welcomes you.

After their baptism Charles, Bobby and Wilbur will be welcomed by us into the life of the Church. And we will respond

We welcome you into the fellowship of faith;
we are children of the same heavenly Father;
we welcome you.

We need to mean it today and mean it for everyone who comes here and mean it for everyone who wishes to live with us, in our neighbourhoods, in our city, in our nation. 

The priest stands with open arms at the altar, symbolising in part the open arms of the God of welcome.  There’s bread and wine for you, there’s blessing for you, all are invited, all are welcome, none must stay away.

May that light and that truth shine from the windows of this church into the community and beyond, for as Jesus says to us

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’.