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Extravagant Welcome

Matthew 9:9-13 and The Agreement Between the Settlers of New Plymouth

June 11th, 2023

10:30 a.m.

Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche

Welcome again and as we come to this part of our gathering, I invite you, as you are moved to take some deeper breaths, to tune into your heartbeat, and we can even hear the birdsongs! And as we each let ourselves arrive a bit more fully, and we all hope to hear whatever word God has for each of us today…

And as you are moved I invite you to join me in prayer as I share the words from Psalm 19.

God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

It’s just words! It was only 45 words that determined how it would go. If they were explanations, things generally would be okay. If they were orders or commands, abrupt and little to no explanation or anything confusing, things would often go wrong. Just words.

A recent study examining over 500 stops of Black drivers, comparing the first few moments of the interactions of those that ended with a search, handcuffing or arrest with stops that didn't go that way- there was a clear difference and all it was, was how the first 45 words were spoken by the police officer according to Eugenia Rho who is a researcher at Virginia Tech. “Stops that escalate are (also) less likely to start with the officer giving a reason for the stop”...1

It’s just 45 words that make all the difference.

And it got me thinking again about what happens when we decide to take note of the power of our words and this is connected to the conversations about covenant that we started last week. It’s really just words.

Because covenants are something like scaffolding from words, they are the foundation, the pieces that decide what kind of worlds we build, how we want to be and what we want to do and how we want to show up together.

As I shared, covenants allow us to be able to live creatively together, giving us a way to counter the chaos, to offer clarity of space and a shared understanding, they give a structure, so that that we can share life separately while still being connected, flowing between, staying in relationship while honoring the parts and valuing each piece as equal.

But at the end of the day, it’s really just words, right?

In the Gospels, the writers are focused on the power of words of course and in Matthew more specifically, it’s the power of connecting it all with ancient history and the law. Ron Ruthruff writes, “It tells the story of Jesus in a way that reflects significant connections to ancient Israel and the Law of Moses”…and there’s another theme- “the book’s interest in the care for and inclusion of all humanity.” Or what we call in the UCC extravagant welcome.

And in order to make this so, in order to include women and Gentiles, there had to be words spoken to widen the welcome, and to widen their mental map of what was and to make way for the new reality. But it’s just words that make the difference…

And this got me thinking about our ancestors in faith, our congregationalist forebears, and more specifically the group who set sail from England in the fall of 1620 on the Mayflower.

If you are new to the United Church of Christ, our threads are many and one of them includes those who fled England and other parts of Europe for religious freedom. They left seeking and hoping, knowing the journey would not be easy. They had to turn back twice to leave behind a leaky ship, they had planned to take two boats but they had to get everything into one. Their boat endured damage from storms, cracking one of the beams supporting the frame of the ship. They were aiming for the Colony of Virginia with the journey having been financed by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London. After more than two months at sea, and when the ship almost met its untimely end against a particularly rocky section, the captain made the decision to point the ship back towards what would become known as Massachusetts and with their ship full of people and stuff, storms forced them to anchor at the hook of Cape Cod and they arrived off the coast on November 11th, 1620 and realizing it was not the mouth of the Hudson River.

Their provisions were running short and some on board were getting antsy. If they weren’t arriving at an established colony what would be next? Not everyone on board the ship shared the same religious commitments as the Puritans and therefore not everyone would be bound by the same understanding. Would there be anarchy and lawlessness? The non-Puritan passengers were even referred to as “Strangers” and they began to “proclaim that they would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them” since they would not be settling in the agreed upon Virginia territory. The “strangers” technically were no longer under any legal obligation and in some ways, the journey of the entire group, the striving toward freedom, the whole thing was in jeopardy, because there was no longer anything binding them together.

But to prevent this from happening, a group of them began crafting a social contract called The Agreement Between the Settlers of New Plymouth which would later be known as the Mayflower Compact, which would create a set of rules and regulations to support the new community.

It’s quite a scene to imagine a group of 100 or so floating out in the ocean trying to figure out how to build the new world with words.

It was only words that determined how it would go… But they knew that was all they had, they needed something to bind them, to hold them together, something to allow them to be able to live creatively together, something that would counter the chaos, they would be sure to find.

And from just these words, that community could come to life, inviting each person to live for the good of the colony. Otherwise it would have been every person for themselves.

Our culture dismisses the power of words- the power we have to harm each other with the words we use and the power we have to heal, to lift up, do good. But what if that is part of what we are called to do as people of faith? To reclaim the power that words give us and to use that power to do God’s work in the world?

As we live into our covenant and grow deeper and wider together, what might happen if we take our words more seriously? We say together each week that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here! And this is a bold statement! Those words have helped us build a world of extravagant welcome whenever and wherever we are gathering and I feel called to keep going, to keep finding out what this means for us right now. Who needs our welcome? Who needs to hear these words? Who needs our world we have built and are building together? Who is waiting to no longer be a stranger? Who is walking around with the label of sinner waiting for an invitation to dine at our table? These are only words… But our sacred text reminds us that in the beginning was the word… What if words really can build the world we want? A world of extravagant welcome! May it be so. Amen.

©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche


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