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July 18, 2023

"One Welcoming After Another" - A Sermon on Matthew 10:40-42

Every Sunday we read the gospel – words on a page. But every now and then the words come to life. They take shape and form. The words become flesh and sometimes a new building. That’s what happened this past Thursday. A few of you and I gathered with more than one hundred others to celebrate, give thanks, bless, and open the Children’s Bereavement Center in Uvalde.

Jesus can and does change lives. If you didn’t believe and hope that you probably wouldn’t be here [in church] today. It’s at the heart of our faith. We trust that. We read it in the gospel stories each week. We express it in our prayers. But what we sometimes forget or minimize is that people also can and do change the lives of others. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at with all his statements about welcoming in today’s gospel. (Matthew 10:40-42) People can and do change people. Welcome the ones who can bring change.

It’s one thing to read or hear that in the gospel. It’s another to see and experience the gospel enacted, embodied, and lived; to see what happens when we welcome and say yes to the people who can change our lives, even as they welcome and say yes to us.

If you want to see what welcoming and saying yes look like, go look at the Children’s Bereavement Center. It’s next door to the church. It’s on our property. It’s our old building. A year ago that building looked like many of us felt. It was run down, sad, empty, tired, and lifeless. It was a building looking for life, meaning, and a purpose. Its future was a big question mark.

Today it is beautiful and vibrant; filled with warmth and welcome, light and life. It is a sanctuary for healing and wholeness. It stands as a symbol of transformation and hope. The process of remodeling and bringing to life that building is a metaphor for what is happening in this town and our lives.

How did that happen? We welcomed the goodness in the hearts of others. We opened a space for them in the goodness of our own hearts. We said, "Yes," to them. Yes to Uvalde. Yes to ourselves. Yes to a future. Welcoming is saying yes.

It began with the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas welcoming our pain and loss and offering a vision for a children’s grief center. They offered us a vision of healing, hope, and life when we couldn’t yet see that for ourselves. And this past Thursday [June 29, 2023] that vision became a bit clearer for many of us. I felt hope arise within me. My tears that day were tears of healing and joy.  

After the project manager saw the building for the first time – I’m not sure, but I think there may have been comments about the building looking like a Jiffy Lube – she told the Executive Director of the Children’s Bereavement Center, Marian, “We can’t do this by ourselves, but maybe together with others we can.” After that it was one welcoming after another, and it is continuing today.

Project designers, architects, engineers, contractors, workers, artists donated their time, skills, and abilities. Volunteers showed up. Suppliers donated building materials. Individuals and groups donated money. The City of Uvalde assisted with permits and logistics and offered a Proclamation of Welcome.

Shortly after the tragedy, a recently retired counselor moved to Uvalde just a few weeks after her husband died. She said she couldn’t not come here. And today she is the program director for the Bereavement Center in Uvalde. Welcoming isn’t only about opening and receptivity, sometimes it’s a calling. And she said, “Yes.” Yes to the children. Yes to Uvalde. Yes to you and me.

Welcoming has a ripple effect. It enlarges and expands. It invites other yeses, other welcoming. Let me give you some examples. A San Antonio civic organization donated a car to the Uvalde Bereavement Center. The San Antonio Spurs were part of a grief camp offered by the Bereavement Center. They used basketball to help the children learn about dealing with loss and defeat. The Spurs played basketball with the kids on the sports court at St. Philip’s, and now they want to help update and repair it. And what if we could offer it to and welcome the kids of this town? Last Friday several local entities and I met with a San Antonio organization that is interested in exploring the possibilities of opening a Uvalde location that would create jobs and offer job training.

And if you think all the welcomes I have described are simply projects, donations, and activities you’re mistaken. They are the gospel. They are the welcomes in today’s gospel. It’s these and a thousand other welcomes like them that brought us to what happened on Thursday. But it’s not about what happened – past tense. It’s about what is happening – present tense. The welcoming, the yessing, is continuing. It’s ongoing and making a difference.

On Thursday thirteen children who had been directly affected by the May 24, 2022 tragedy stood next to the new Bereavement Center building. In one hand they held a long blue ribbon printed with butterflies. In the other hand they held a pair of scissors.

A few weeks before that they had attended a week long grief camp the Children’s Bereavement Center held at St. Philip’s. I saw them come in on Monday morning, but I did not hear them. They were quiet, reserved, uncertain. Monday afternoon I did not see them leave but I heard them – footsteps running down the hallway, kids laughing and talking with the sound of life. And I smiled knowing that life had gotten just a bit larger for them and for you and me.

On Thursday on the count of three each child cut the ribbon to open the building and the Children’s Bereavement Center in Uvalde. And I wept knowing that they had cut the ribbon to open the future – theirs, yours, mine, Uvalde’s. They cut the ribbon to welcome that day when we discover that life has grown larger than our hurts and losses.    

I don’t how many people stopped me on Thursday to thank St. Philip’s for what we’ve done and are doing with the Children’s Bereavement Center, but it was a bunch. And every time I said, “We really didn’t do that much. We just said yes and kept saying yes.” It was the fastest and easiest yes the vestry and I have ever spoken. I don’t say that to brag on us. The speed and strength of our yes came from the intensity of our pain.

Who would have ever imagined that that would bring us to where we are today? I wonder where our next yes will take us. I wonder what your yes is today. To what do you need to say yes? What yes do you need to build on? What’s the no in your life today that you can turn to a yes?

Interrupting the Silence is copyrighted as follows: © Michael K. Marsh and Interrupting the Silence, 2009-2023, all rights reserved.

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