Sunday’s sermon: If You’re Not Welcomed

Find the full service for this sermon here.


Tests used for this sermon: Jeremiah 7:1-7 and Mark 6:1-13

  • This weekend, we’ve been celebrating, right?
    • Picnics resulting in paper plates piled high with hot dogs, potato salad, chips, watermelon, and red-white-and-blue cake
    • Maybe the excitement and fun of watching parade
    • Maybe enjoying an outdoor concert
    • Lots of conversations and laughs with people we love
    • Culmination: beautiful fireworks display (Oronoco, Rochester, Stewartville, or even in your own backyard)
    • We’ve been celebrating the birthday of our nation – of the United States of America. We’ve been honoring and celebrating the freedoms that we all enjoy.
      • Freedoms guaranteed by our constitution
      • Freedoms that were hard-won almost 240 yrs. ago in Revolutionary War and that are still protected by the hard work and sacrifice of men and women in uniform today
      • Freedoms extended to each and every citizen
        • Freedom to safely speak out in favor of or against anything
        • Freedom to worship when/where/how we choose without fear
        • Freedom to help form the governing of our lives – locally, statewide, and nationally – by participating in a fair and honest voting process
        • Freedom to learn – to expand our knowledge and our horizon of understanding without censorship or oppression
        • And so many more. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?
    • I must admit that I find it a little bit ironic that the PC(USA) planning calendar, which designates nearly every Sunday on the calendar as a special Sunday for one group or another, has dedicated the Sunday after the 4th of July as Immigration Sunday. Ironic … and yet appropriate. As we celebrate this country that we love despite all of its challenges and struggles and imperfections, as we celebrate the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy here in this beautiful country, as we celebrate the birth of this nation that has become so prominent and powerful on the world stage, we do so with the knowledge that in one way or another, we are a country of immigrants.
      • Our own ancestral immigrants that had the strength and the guts and the curiosity to leave whatever native countries we hail from and settle in this strange and unfamiliar land
      • But also the immigrants who even today are trying to make this country that we celebrate their home – those who are fleeing persecution; those who are escaping war-ravaged homelands; those who are desperately seeking a better wage, a better chance, a better life for themselves and their families.
    • As we enjoy and celebrate our freedoms this weekend, let us also hold in our hearts and minds those who are still anxiously and eagerly striving to be included in those freedoms. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we treat our neighbors? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we welcome those who come seeking? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we respond to those among us who are strangers, foreigners, aliens?
      • Scriptures this morning – shed great deal of light on immigrants/immigration
  • Gospel story = story of a stranger’s travels on a few different fronts
    • First encounter: Jesus as stranger – an alien – in his own hometown
      • Text says he “returned to his hometown” with disciples and preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath – totally blew people away: He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, set such ability?”[1] → Speaking in front of people can be nerve-wrecking, especially when it’s people you know. They know all the mistakes you made as a kid. They know all your family history and how that influences what you’re saying and how you say it. They hold in their head preconceived notion of you based on an incomplete picture – based on who you were, not who you are today.
      • Not so different for Jesus – turns out he had every reason to worry: In the next breath, they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter – Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. … Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.[2] → thought they knew everything they needed to know about this Jesus guy
        • Knew his stories
        • Knew his mistakes
        • Knew his family/family history
        • And in their knowing – incomplete though it most certainly was – they wrote him off. “They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.” They dismissed Jesus without learning about him. → judgment/prejudice = so detrimental that it limits Jesus’ ability – text: Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there … He couldn’t get over their stubbornness.[3]
      • Think about it. These people knew Jesus, and still they let their preconceived notions and biases get in the way of letting him do his thing.
        • Could have healed people
        • Could have driven out demons
        • Could have taught/preached more awe-inspiring lessons in synagogue
        • Could have opened their eyes to his identity as Son of God
        • But the villagers let themselves be blinded simply by what they thought they knew … what they thought they saw. Friends, how often do we let that happen in our society today? We stereotype people into their little boxes – boxes based on race, on ethnicity, on gender, on socio-economic status, on all sorts of things – and we get all offended and bent out of shape when they try to break out of that box. → becomes 100x worse when we discover someone wasn’t “born here” like there’s some God-given privilege to being an American that makes us inherently better, smarter, worthier simply because we are Americans
          • Could be turning away doctor capable of curing cancer
          • Could be turning away professor with incredible teaching skills to engage students
          • Could be turning away brilliantly gifted architect or engineers
          • Or we could be turning away someone with the kind of compassion, strength, and grace that can touch someone else’s life – really touch someone else’s heart and soul and encourage them to make a powerful change for the better. You know … kind of like that Jesus guy.
    • Second “strangers traveling” encounter in NT = Jesus sending the disciples out → I find this part of the story to be incredibly powerful and incredibly prophetic.
      • Jesus sends disciples out in pairs → He knew the journey wouldn’t be easy. He knew how difficult it was to travel to a new place and be unwelcomed. So he sent them out into uncertainty and adversity with another person by their side to cling to when times got tough.
        • And yet … how many immigrants come into this country alone? (MAYBE: rest of the family couldn’t afford it, too dangerous to flee with so large a group, rest of family turned their back on decision to leave, rest of the family was dead)
      • Jesus sent his disciples out with bare minimum – Jesus to disciples: Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.[4]
        • Even more specific in pew Bibles: He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.[5] → Jesus is particular about how little the disciples are to take with them for one simple and specific reason: They are to rely on the hospitality of others. They won’t need money or food or extra clothes because those things will be provided for them by those whom they encounter along the way.
        • And yet … how many immigrants come to America in much the same condition as the disciples – no money in their pockets, no food in their bellies, nothing but the clothes on their backs – and how often do we welcome them in?
      • Jesus recognizes that there are times when they will be turned away – text: If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.[6] → passage may not be as tame as Eugene Peterson (Message translator) makes it appear
        • Gr. includes phrase “shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony”
        • Scholar: When they leave a place where they have been rejected, [the disciples] are to “shake off the dust that is on your feet,” a strong symbolic action recalling the tradition that Jews returning to Israel would shake off the defiling dust of the Gentile lands from whence they traveled.[7]
          • Bit of an insult
          • Bit of a theological “so there” (I never wanted your crummy dirt on my feet anyway!)
          • But it’s also a testament to the non-welcome that the disciples receive. You see, the roads in this part of the country were all dirt at the time, and the dust in that part of the world is an insidious, clinging sort of dust – the kind of stuff you find in your food and your hair and your clothing long after you’re sick of finding it. And yet Jesus instructs the disciples to shake this dirt off – to rid themselves of the taint of it.
            • How often have we treated the immigrants of this country so poorly – with such prejudice and exclusion and inferiority – that they cannot wait to rid themselves of the taint that we have left on them
              • Taint of pain
              • Taint of rejection
              • Taint of hate
  • And so, with this in mind, we turn to the prophet Jeremiah for God’s Word of instruction.
    • Jeremiah = prophet of very strong words (doesn’t pull any punches): Only if you clean up your act (the way you live, the things you do), only if you do a total spring cleaning on the way you live and treat your neighbors, only if you quit exploiting the street people and orphans and widows, no longer taking advantage of innocent people … Only then will I move into your neighborhood.[8] → This is God’s throw-down for the people of Israel, God’s way of saying, “If you’re going to talk the talk, then you had better walk the walk.”
      • Comes down to the age-old question that was asked of Jesus – question we’ve asked time and time again: Who is my neighbor? → When we ask this question, do we respond with sameness or diversity? Do we respond with apathy or with action? Do we respond with closed doors or open arms?
  • Friends, it doesn’t matter what color people are or where they come from. It doesn’t matter whether the people that we’re talking about speak this language or don’t. It doesn’t even matter whether they are documented or undocumented. The legal side of immigration is an incredibly immense and complex issue that would take an entire sermon series to truly tackle. And I know that there are people that fall on both sides of those arguments here. We’re not talking about the legality of immigration today (though if you’re interested, there are some great denominational resources available on the [UCC/PC(USA)] website – personal stories, prayers, statistics, and plans of action.) What we’re talking about today is our response when we encounter immigrants in our day-to-day lives. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we treat our neighbors? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we welcome those who come seeking? In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how do we respond to those among us who are strangers, foreigners, aliens? How do we take our love for this nation and share it with those who have come here seeking a different and hopefully better life? Amen.

[1] Mk 6:2b.

[2] Mk 6:3.

[3] Mk 6:5, 6.

[4] Mk 6:8-9 (The Message).

[5] Mk 6:8-9 (NRSV).

[6] Mk 6:11.

[7] Michael L. Lindvall. “Proper 9 (Sunday between July 3 and July 9 inclusive) – Mark 6:1-13, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 212.

[8] Jer 7:5-6, 7a.

Sunday’s service: If You’re Not Welcomed

According to the Presbyterian Church (USA) planning calendar, this past Sunday was Immigration Sunday, so that was the theme of our worship. I’m the kind of pastor that likes to run the theme of the sermon throughout the worship service, and when it’s as important and central a topic as immigration, I’m including the rest of the service material this morning as well. So welcome to our worship …


Letting God In

During this time, we invite you to prepare your heart and your mind for worship. We want you to be able to use this quiet time to settle your thoughts, set aside any distractions that may be troubling you, and focus your whole self on God. Open your heart, your mind, and your spirit, and let God into your life.


Centering Prayer: Love thy neighbor.
As you breathe in and out, pray God’s command
to “Love thy neighbor.”
Consider this phrase.
What does “love” mean? Who does “neighbor” encompass?

* Gathering Hymn – God Welcomes All (insert) (sing through 3 times)

* Opening Praise (from the Oct. 2009 stated meeting of the Tres Rios Presbytery)
One: At God’s table of justice,
Many: Everyone has a place and none are turned away.
ALL: Here strangers are welcomed as friends, the poor sit alongside the rich, and the upside-down kingdom of God is revealed.
One: At God’s table of abundance,
Many: A banquet of righteousness and liberation is set for all.
ALL: Here the powerless are heard; the outcasts are showered with honor, and the inside-out kingdom of God is revealed.
One: At God’s table of life,
Many: All peoples know peace, and creation flourishes.
ALL: Here the hopeless are nourished with possibility, and the complacent are transformed into advocates for change. Here in our very midst, the kingdom of God is revealed.

* Opening Hymn #11 (NCH) – Bring Many Names

* Joining in Prayer (from the Oct. 2009 stated meeting of the Tres Rios Presbytery)
Creating and sustaining God, your great commandment in Christ is that we love one another as Christ has loved us. We confess that we fail to embrace your liberating love. We divide where you would have us unite. We exclude where you would have us embrace. We choke the breath from your Word when its truth does not accommodate our fears. Forgive our hardness of heart. Mend our broken human family. Breathe into us the living Word of all-inclusive love. (Please take a moment for personal confession and reflection.)
In the name of Jesus, the healer of our souls, we pray.

* God’s Promise of Grace

Passing of the Peace

* Song of Peace: Let There Be Peace on Earth (back of the NCH)


Old Testament reading – Jeremiah 7:1-7

New Testament reading – Mark 6:1-13

Sermon: If You’re Not Welcomed

Hymn #394 (NCH) – In Christ There Is No East or West

Prayers of the People
Sharing our lives in prayer
Sung response (printed on bulletin)
Silent Prayer
Pastoral Prayer


Celebrating the Lord’s Supper – Our tradition in this congregation is to partake of the bread whenever you feel prepared to do so and to hold the wine/juice until all have been served so that we can all partake together. This gives us the chance to participate in this holy mystery as we participate in our faith – both as individuals and as a community.

Invitation to the Table (based on communion liturgy written by Cláudio Carvalhaes): Friends, Abraham was a border crosser. Isaac was a border crosser. Jacob and Joseph and Moses were border crossers. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were border crossers in the midst of a genocide. The Holy Spirit crossed borders to start the church and is still crossing borders today. Churches are border crossing places. We are border crossing people, all of us with no exception. This country and every country are made of border crossers. We are heirs of border crossing people – people who journey, people who seek, people who strive for freedom and safety, peace and home. And in the midst of every border crossing, straddling lines and breaking down barriers, is this table … Jesus’ table. Brothers and sisters, this is a table prepared for you and for me by loving human hands and by the grace of God alone. No matter who you are … no matter where you come from this morning … no matter what you bring with you … you are welcome here, at this table and in this community.
Affirmation of Faith – The Immigrant’s Creed by Jose Luis Casal (insert)
Great Thanksgiving
One: God be with you.
     Many: And also with you.
     One: Lift up your hearts.
     Many: We lift them up to God.
     One: Let us give thanks to God Most High.
     Many: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
Communion Prayer: Holy God, Father and Mother of us all, we raise our thanks, our praise, and our love to you. The Grand Story of Life is made up of wandering threads – the stories and struggles, the tales and triumphs of those who crossed borders for you and for the preservation of their faith. When you called to Abraham and Moses, they crossed borders of cities and countries, cultures and faith traditions to testify to your good name. And your people followed them. When the people turned away again, you called to your prophets, and they crossed borders of the people’s apathy, complacency, and greed to renew your Spirit and the power of your holy Word within their hearts and minds. In Jesus Christ, you crossed even the borders of humanity and death itself to remind your people of the immenseness and unconditional nature of your love. Jesus sat with sinners and outcasts – those who were suffering in body, mind, and soul – to prove to us all just how powerful crossing borders could be. And by your great power and love, Christ’s resurrection shattered the barriers between life and death forevermore, making each and every person a natural citizen of your everlasting Kingdom. Each time we turn away from you, Holy One – each time we wander and stray, each time we sojourn and find ourselves lost – you cross the borders and barriers that surround us to reveal your love to us again – to shower us with your grace and open our hearts and minds to your forgiveness. As we gather at this table that straddles the borders and brings even the most powerful to their knees in supplication, God, we pray that you would pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts of bread and [wine/juice], that the bread we break and the cup we bless may be the communion of the body and blood of Christ. By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, that we may be one with all who share this feast, united in ministry in every place. As this bread is Christ’s body for us, send us out to be the body of Christ in the world. In union with your church in heaven and on earth, we pray, O God, as Jesus taught us to pray, saying:
Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Words of Institution
Sharing the Bread and the Cup
Prayer of Thanksgiving (from the Oct. 2009 stated meeting of the Tres Rios Presbytery): Thanks be to you, O God, for your presence and your purpose. At this table of life, nourished with possibility, may we leave here renewed and transformed, your living sanctuaries of love and justice. Amen.

* Hymn of Response #591 (PH) – Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
* Prayer of Dedication


* Hymn #2177 (Sing the Faith) – Wounded World That Cries for Healing


* Charge & Benediction

* Sending Hymn #499 (NCH) – Pues si vivimos (In All Our Living)

We will sing verse 1 in Spanish, then verse 1 again in English.

* indicates please rise in body or spirit as you are able