Pentecost +2

Recently I read the strange story of two men, Will West and William West. Both men were sentenced to time in jail at Leavenworth Penitentiary in the early 1900’s. These two caused a considerable amount of confusion, because not only did they share a name, they looked exactly alike. They were in no way related, at least according to them and to family records, but to look at them in pictures, you would say they were the same guy. They even had the same Bertillon measurements, which was the usual method of identifying people and involved recording the dimensions of key physical features. They looked the same, had the same name and measurements, and yet, they were, obviously, not the same man.

None of us are; none of us are the same person as anyone else, and I think that’s one of the great gifts of God to us. All of us have our own personal identity; your identity doesn’t belong to anyone else, even if they try to steal it. One of the great signs of maturity is that a person can perceive his or her own identity and identify, so to speak, relate to and with others. And as Christians, we have been given one more great gift from God: the gift of being able to relate to Him, and even more, to be identified with His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Gospel proclamation we just heard from St. Matthew is part of a set of instructions Jesus gave to His first twelve disciples as He was sending them out on their own for the first time. You will be relying on the kindness of God and of strangers, Jesus tells them, for you will not be bringing any extra supplies with you. Whoever you encounter along the way who receives you, they will provide your sustenance. Don’t think this is going to be easy, Jesus tells them, for trouble follows me around just as sure as peace does, and you will find that wherever my Name is invoked, some will bend their knees and some will ball their fists. And then Jesus gets to the part I find so interesting this week: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me…. and whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

He who receives you receives me. That’s an amazing line, because “we tend to separate the message from the messenger in a way Jesus does not do. Throughout this chapter, and certainly in the concluding three verses, there is a snug fit between the person who talks about Jesus and Jesus himself. “He who receives you receives me,” Jesus says. He doesn’t say, “If they believe the words you speak, then my Spirit will move into their hearts.” No, he says that if people find cause to love the disciples enough as to welcome them into their homes, then Jesus himself will be present in all his fullness.”[1] The identity of the individual Christian is wrapped up in the identity of Jesus Himself.

The true Presence of Christ in the midst of those who receives a Christian into their lives is the first interesting thing here. The second is in the action taking place, in a person who is not a Christian receiving a Christian, bringing them in, and in doing so, receiving the Gospel. “We tend to think that the reception of the gospel is such a spiritual matter. If someone “comes to Jesus” because of the preaching of an evangelist at a revival meeting, we expect the result of this conversion to be new patterns of thought, a new sense of morality, a new inward devotion to God. And indeed, those traits ought to be in evidence among the converted. But we don’t often imagine that the first result of someone’s new life in Christ would be inviting the evangelist over for supper!”[2] The modern American Church tends to employ the “If you build it, they will come” method of evangelism, when, in fact, Jesus always sends us out, sends us out to bring the Gospel into the world, sends us out to be the Gospel in the world.

And so here we are, individuals all of us, and yet sharing a common identity in Christ. And yet, who among us is brave enough to say to another person or to even think, “If you receive me, you receive Jesus.”[3] And yet, in a very real way, in just being a Christian and acting like it, you bring Christ into a world that so desperately needs Him, a world that may or may not receive you or the Presence of Jesus that they see in you. By virtue of our baptism and our common identity in Christ, all of us are sent by Jesus, all of us become the message of salvation in Jesus, all of us become the face of Jesus in our community. So when you go, go remembering the give of salvation we have been given, that gift of being identified with Jesus, and pray that He will be received by everyone along your way.

[1] Scott Hoezee, This Week.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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