Sunday 2 July - Pentecost 4 - Eucharist - Markus Duenzkofer

The first time it happened, I was a bit disconcerted.

Actually, I was quite disconcerted!

At that point in time, I had been rector of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Vancouver, BC for about one year. In the middle of the 8am service that day the doors flung open and he walked in. He didn’t look left, didn’t look right. But with stern determination he stormed down the middle aisle. And he wouldn’t stop.

Past the first pew.  - What should I do?

Past the fifth pew.  - Yes, I started to panic a little bit.

Past the half-way point. - Should I stop my sermon?

Past the front pew. - What would he do? He was so seemingly aloof to our worship. Or was he?

When he reached the front steps of the chancel he stopped. And then the unbelievable happened. He simply genuflected, crossed himself, stood up, turned around, and with the same resolve he walked back through the middle aisle and disappeared through the front door.

Now the 8am service at St Paul’s was not a big service. If I recall correctly, that morning there were probably about half a dozen, all sitting in the main body of the church. And I didn’t sense any sense of panic in anybody but me. Somehow, I had managed to continue preaching my sermon. And what had happened imprinted itself into my memory bank, and not just there…

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Sometimes, the lectionary, the selection of readings form the Bible assigned for each Sunday, surprises you – not necessarily because of content, but because how these texts speak so surprisingly into a current situation.

Take today’s Gospel-reading.

These couple of verses come at the end of a chapter in Matthew that talks a lot about mission. Preceding our passage are practical instructions on how to conduct mission and how to deal with mixed reception, even suffering, with the security of discipleship, and with the nature of the division which obedience to Jesus entails. These verses from chapter 10 reaffirm that the Word of God became incarnate not just to be studied, examined and looked at from a distance. But God is himself on a mission to bring life, real, abundant, and even eternal life, to our deepest, most inner identity - and from there through us into the world, a world yearning for healing and searching for meaning.

And then we get to today’s two verses, verses that on the outset do not seem to speak of mission, but of welcome, of hospitality. In the context of Matthew 10, however, these two verses speak of the rewards for those who welcome the ones, who have been sent by Jesus into the world to be messengers of God’s forgiveness, bridge-builders into the divine mystery, and labourers of the kingdom, where justice and peace kiss each other[1].

And yes, that is indeed true.

But my slightly lofty language should be an indicator that there is indeed more to this text, more than you’d expect from two simple verses.

See, the questions I have for the text are these: who exactly are these people who are sent, and who exactly are these people who will receive. And for me, this goes right to the core of our understanding of mission.

For most of the history of the church, mission was defined as an effort to convert, even at times convert with force those, who were deemed unbelievers. And these unbelievers were treated as terra nullius, as empty land, that needed to be filled with something that we possessed, but that those outside the church lacked.

Unfortunately, this led to terrible abuses, not just in the blood-thirsty Crusade of the Middle Ages. Our own society’s struggle with sectarianism not just in Glasgow yesterday stems from this understanding. And what once was deemed an “Irish Catholic problem,” nowadays can be transferred to Asian Muslims, who are equally seen as terra nullius, culturally, as much as religiously.

Fortunately, there are now other voices, voices, that for a while made the Western Church give up on mission. And we probably had to, in order to seek forgiveness and in order to develop new ideas, which did not collude with oppressive and imperialistic powers – and which are much truer to the Gospel itself.

One such idea is to think of mission not as a way of bringing something that is missing from people’s lives into their reality. But mission is a mechanism to unearth something that is already present, yet might be obscured. Mission in this context is about revealing how God is already active in the life of a person or indeed in the life of society. Mission therefore is not about a power deferential, but it has a relational character: it is about mutual recognition of God’s image in each other. And mission is then about being surprised who the prophet and the righteous person might be and who is supposed to welcome them in: In a truly missionary context, these roles are not clearly defined and sometimes are reversed by the power of the Sprit – to the surprise of all involved.

This does not mean we need to leave behind our Christian identity to create some syncretistic spirituality. Exactly the opposite is true! We must claim and celebrate with gusto the message from the cross, even if it is a skandalon, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles[2]. After all, Matthew reminds us that the first to be welcomed in is Jesus himself, our Lord and our God. And then this welcome will send us into the world to help bring about God’s, not ours, but God’s mission.

But the last verses of Matthew 10 form an unbreakable link between mission and hospitality, a link that makes mission not just about us moving into our neighbourhoods to help restoring “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”[3] It is not just a one-way street, but mission is a two-way encounter. It is what the Rule of St Benedict calls a readiness to welcome Christ even in the stranger.

Last week, our vestry met to decide how to run the café that will be located within the Cornerstone Centre. After long deliberation, we decided to run the café ourselves. This is not without risks, even though we are clear that we do not want to go back to those times, when our café was operated by volunteers. But because we will hire professional staff, there are considerable costs associated with this endeavour.

I believe, however, that this is a deeply missional project, not because we will be able to convert those who will drink coffee or buy a sandwich. But it is missional, because it will change us, will move us beyond our securities and beyond these sacred walls. And it will allow us to welcome, to offer hospitality. And I hope and pray we will hear the surprising voices of prophets and righteous coming through our doors – not just the doors of the café. Mission will change us too – and maybe that is what our challenge will be as we complete the development.

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Over the years of my ministry at St Paul’s, the man I described at the beginning of this sermon visited our 8am service a few times. And it was always the same routine.

I started to see him during the week, too. It was often not a very pleasant sight. He was a face familiar to the streets and alleys of Vancouver’s West End. I started to recognise him and began to hope he would join our outreach programme, which ministered to the homeless and the severely addicted. After all, we had something to offer, right?

Over time, though, I noticed that he seemed to come to our 8am service always on days, when there was something significant happening at St Paul’s. And I am not talking about church festivals. I am talking about significant announcements or community-changing developments. It was as if he was a harbinger, a prophet of God’s affirmation, God’s presence and God’s purpose.

But what an unlikely prophet!

It took time for me to adjust. But he changed me – and he changed our community.

God really can turn tables.

But this is the way of God.



[1] Psalm 85:10

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23

[3] Catechism, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, The Episcopal Church