This Welcome is Your Welcome

Link to Service Bulletin

This Welcome is Your Welcome, this Welcome is My Welcome

Psalm 89:1-4; 15-18, Matthew 10:40-42, July 2, 2023, Union Church, Biddeford Pool Maine

(Maren Tirabassi)

I have a friend called Lucy Brady. She lives in Maryland and is a retired Children’s Minister. All her career she worked in churches with young children and teenagers, while actually being a professional storyteller. This is the other kind — a personal story she shared with me a couple months ago after she returned from a trip. (By the way, her husband’s name is “Blue” like the color.)  Lucy told me, “While Blue took care of our luggage I waited in line for the accessible (fold-down) entrance to the airport bus. It was not deployed. I hesitated to go up the steps.

Suddenly a voice said, ‘Need an arm?’ I took the strong arm of a young man and easily climbed onto the bus! After we were all seated, I asked the young man if he worked in physical therapy in a hospital. 

He said, ‘No, I have a grandmother.’

I said: ‘Thank you for helping this grandmother!'”

This young man, without knowing it, welcomed Lucy to the airplane and even to her trip. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” The young man in the story has probably learned welcome in two ways. Because he has a generous grandmother, he learned from her to be kind to others, and, because he has a grandmother who needs help herself, he learned to look for people who need kindness.

I also have grandmother stories, two grandmother stories. The first is really a hymn note!  My mother’s mother Ethel at seventeen put on all the clothes that didn’t fit in her little suitcase and got on a train in Minneapolis, Minnesota to go all the way to Boston to Wellesley College where she had a scholarship. She was the child of immigrants (her mother was indentured and worked for 7 years unpaid for her passage … This is a hard week for university education both for those still burdened by past education and those who hope for their own or children’s future education. Ethel was in the class of 1910. She met her favorite teacher when she arrived Katherine Lee Bates who wrote “America the Beautiful.” In her days the Wellesley girls sang the song at convocation and commencement. Because Katherine Lee Bates believed so strongly that everyone belonged in America and because it is a girls’ college, they sang “sisterhood” rather than “brotherhood.” They still do tso oday!

My father’s mother Ceniebelle lived on a small farm during the Great Depression when many were hungry. No college for her, or for most in those years. Many people who were unhoused lived on freight cars in trains traveling to find work. Called “hobos,” they drew signs on houses with chalk (“like mean dog” or “police live here”) On her house was a circle with an “x” in it which meant “free food here” and there were always more at her table than her five children.

If July 4, US Independence Day has a meaning, it is “welcome.” Not just a word but a help up the stairs. As soon as I read the Matthew passage the phrase came into my head –“welcome is not-one-size-fits-all.” If in Lucy’s story the woman needing help on the stairs was not 80 years old but 30 with a new-born infant, a stroller, and a car seat for the other end of the trip, and the young man offered to take her arm or, worse carry  her baby the intended kindness would not have been accepted!

So, since I understand you are musical, and the Psalm 89 passage puts us to singing, I will sing of your steadfast love, O God … I went looking for a July 4th song that lifted that up … and there certainly is one. Think Woody Guthrie … can you think of one? … sing the chorus with me if you know it … 

This land is your land This land is my land

From California to the New York Island;

From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and Me.

“This Land Is Your Land” is one of the United States’ most famous folk songs. Guthrie wrote it in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which Guthrie found complacent and not realistically critical of America – Of course, Irving Berlin was an immigrant. Immigrants often so love their new countries that they are non-critical. I preach this afternoon at Maranatha Indonesian UCC in Madbury, NH, because their pastor is at General Synod. The large southeastern New Hampshire group of Indonesian people (15 Protestant and one Roman Catholic Church in the area) fled here from anti-Christian violence after East Timor, and they celebrate the US.

Now Guthrie varied the lyrics over time, sometimes including more overtly political verses depending on the occasion. It’s considered one of the fifty best known songs in the country. Even more interesting is how this song itself has traveled in Canada, (Canadian Independence Day was yesterday), it goes like this:

This land is your land, this land is my land,

From Bonavista to Vancouver Island

From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters,

This land was made for you and me.

And in the United Kingdom, the lyrics are:

            This land is your land, this land is my land,

From the coast of Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands,

From the sacred forests to the holy islands …

Of course, there are separate versions for both Wales and Ireland! In the Bahamas .

This land is your land, this land is my land,

From Grand Bahama down to Inagua

From the Berry Islands, down to Mayaguana …

In New Zealand written by high school students …

This land is your land, this land is my land.

From Paihia to Stewart Island

From Lake Te Anau to Rotorua …

There are versions for Sweden, Namibia and Israel. India adds a Christian verse:

This land is your land, this land is my land,

From the Himalayas, down to Cape Comorin

From Mumbai city to old Calcutta

This land was made for you and me.

… This land for Jesus, who is the answer … I’m not sure all Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Buddhists in India sing the verse that starts that way, but everyone loves his or her native country and everyone prays for that country. People around the world sing of their own lands — just as we turn to the people we want to welcome and offer not what we want to get rid of but what they want, what they need.

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. It is hard for us to welcome the prophets on the other side of whatever controversy there is. “Whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.” In modern days we could say – whoever welcomes an Indonesian or a Canadian or a Mexican or a Ugandan gives a gift and also receives many, many gifts.

More than all the holidays on this earth, the truest, the deepest Day of Welcome is Communion. Jesus said, ” … whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” It is, indeed, smaller than a cup of water, this piece of bread, this small amount of juice. The reward, however, is being given the ability to welcome others as God has welcomed us. For how we remember and show to the world that we have received the gift of Communion as we will do in a few minutes is by giving every day the greatest and the smallest kindnesses not just to a family member, not just to a friend, not just to a Christian, but to anyone who needs it. It could be a cup of cold water, a hand up difficult stairs the ones Langston Hughes celebrates his mother “…life for me ain’t been no crystal stair …”, a meal for someone who does not have one, a song that reminds us we crown our “good” with “personhood,” friendship in loneliness, respect for those who are disrespected, a smile for a child, wisdom from the older to the younger, help from the younger to the older.

Ending with the psalm as we begin … faithfulness is as firm as the heavens and the light of God’s countenance is in the living of our days. Amen