I have always enjoyed visiting my aunt Ethel and uncle Howard in Pella, Iowa. It wasn’t just because my uncle owned the bakery in town and so there were always scrumptious coffee cakes for breakfast and Dutch pastries for dessert. It wasn’t because they did special things for us – but rather the opposite. They always welcomed me into the “ordinary” parts of their lives. And they were always gracious. Aunt Ethel always made sure that the right thing was done – and Uncle Howard always laughed and said… “well… Ethel said it so that’s how it’s going to be.
I traveled again to Pella on Friday for the funeral of my Uncle. While not completely unexpected -- it still came as a surprise to the family. I planned to go to the funeral with my mother - but in the midst of their grief I did not want to cause any work or distraction for them so I offered to stay in a hotel. But as soon as my aunt Ethel heard about that, she sent the message back: You will stay with me. Well… Ethel said it… so that’s how it’s going to be. Ethel’s hospitality always wins.
Hospitality. Generosity of Spirit. Kindness. These are the traits that Jesus wants in his disciples – but not just for family and friends.
Jesus caught them in an argument. He said, "What were you arguing about on the way?" They were busted. They were arguing about who was the greatest disciple. But instead of chastising them or preaching to them about the way they ought to behave, Jesus pointed out what it means to be a disciple, what it means to be a follower of Christ by bringing a child into the midst of them.
In Jesus’ day, children ranked really low in terms of status. And yet… Jesus lifted one of these up. Who is the person without status today? The homeless? Those on drugs? Those who are Muslim? A person of color or queer or an immigrant?
Who would we welcome? And who would we rather not welcome?
As Christians, as followers of Christ, we are called to love – not from a distance – but up close, to love in a way that welcomes our neighbor… even the one who is disagreeable, the one who smells bad… the one who is too loud or bossy or who comes off as a know-it-all or even the one who votes differently from you.
A pastor friend invited our youth to Westwood – my home congregation -- to come to a concert. She told me that a young man who was a pastor’s kid was trying to beat the world record for the youngest person to visit all of the National park lands in the United States. He was telling his story about being welcomed into churches to “sing for his supper.” So our Confirmation class - and some parents and I -- went to hear Mikah Meyer.
It turns out that Mikah’s mission began because his dad loved to drive – and had always wanted to drive to the national parks – but died unexpectedly, at a young age. So Mikah wanted to do this drive – and tell people to “seize the day! Enjoy the beautiful world that God has given to us!” That’s what he thought his mission was. But… it became more than that.
Mikah sought – and got lots of media attention for this three-year trip. And, he tried to get sponsorships from businesses to pay for it. But no one agreed to help. He thought he knew why: Mikah is gay. Mikah had tried to hide this when he was applying to businesses – but the internet doesn’t forget information and his name – Mikah - immediately got linked to a group that he had started in Washington DC: Queers for Christ. So some businesses where turned off because he was gay – and others didn’t want to touch him because he was Christian.
Mikah had saved quite a bit of money for this event – so he decided to take his trip anyway. He sold his stuff, bought a van to sleep in and decided to do the trip on the cheap – despite not raising the money he was told that he would need. Not surprisingly, he ran out of money. He was just about to give up on his mission when a pastor friend in Florida called him and said, “Mikah – come and sing for our church… and we’ll raise enough money for you to get to your next park.” So he did. He went to the church and “sang for his supper.”
That’s how Mikah is advertised – as “singing for his supper.” But… when we went to hear him… I was blown away. I expected a guy with a guitar singing camp songs. But instead, Mikah, accompanied by a piano, sets down the microphone and his voice fills the church -- and Westwood is a big church – as he performs works from Handel to Gospel -with his operatic countertenor voice booming and reaching notes as high as any soprano.
His voice alone would be remarkable – but after he finished his song, the pastor said, “Mikah – instead of my sermon today - why don’t you tell your story?” And so he did.
After that… Mikah realized he had another mission and that was to share his story of being a child of God – and being gay. He told his story of being rejected by some Christians and told he was going to hell. And yet… he remembered what his father told him: You are a child of God. God loves you.
After he finished his sermon – people came up to him with tears in their eyes. They each told their story - my daughter… my nephew… my sister…has never felt welcome in church. A youth wrote to him and said, “I’m gay. You are an inspiration to me.” And then he realized, he had another mission… he had a mission to share his gift of his voice and to tell his story…for the sake of other people who felt rejected, or shamed because of who they are. And his mission field was: Christians.
Since then, as Mikah traveled from National Park to National Park he has also traveled from church to church, telling his story – and sharing the love of Christ. For, as Mikah said, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, people want and need the love of God and need to share love with their neighbor. In response to his story and his song, people in churches have been generous to him. They are the ones who made it possible for him to continue his journey. Not all churches were willing to open their doors – but enough so that as word of his message and his incredible voice spread – he found himself welcomed again and again.
Jesus calls us to welcome the “other” as if that person were Jesus. Sometimes that’s a friend or someone that anyone would love to welcome… but sometimes our neighbor isn’t so easy to love.
When I grew up on the farm, we always took our shoes off. There was a pretty practical reason for this… my shoes were always dirty. When you come here, you come through the doors of God’s house and we say a confession together. It’s like taking off our dirty shoes. We admit that we aren’t perfect… And when we leave fed - we have been fed by the Word of God, uplifted in song, encouraged by one another and… ready to go back out to the world to love and welcome the neighbor. That’s our mission. We are to go in grace, grow in faith and serve the Lord in Jesus’ name. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith Lilac Way
September 22, 2018
Mark 9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."