Gracious God help us always to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.

‘Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

Those words of Jesus seem pretty clear to me: that one of the foundational core principles of being a follower of Christ is welcome—welcome for all. No exceptions. The short gospel passage you just heard comes at the end of the tenth chapter of Matthew, a chapter that is known as the Mission Discourse. Jesus is teaching the disciples what it means to be a disciple, what it means to follow him. He’s preparing to send them out to do the work that he’s been doing, and he asks them—and you and me—to carry on. It seems clear from the teaching that the Roman imperial oppression was not the way the world was intended to be by God. Jesus was equipping and preparing his disciples to shake up the status quo, to help bring about—in their time and in their day—a society of people where justice and equality and freedom and love would be the norm, mirroring the kingdom of God.

This morning, I invite you to reflect with me on the whole notion of welcome and discipleship and what it means in our day, in our time, and in our context. I think that many of us in the Christian Church believe that the church is actually doing a pretty good job of welcome—I mean, when was the last time you saw a church’s website that didn’t say “We’re a warm and welcoming community.” Right? I’d say that all of us try to welcome on our best days—but there’s plenty of room for growth.

Just to give you a sense of progress in that regard, I’d like to share a little bit of an arc of my experience of welcome in the church. Going back some 40 years, I—like many who come to Washington—was in my early twenties and idealistic, wanting to do public service and do something positive for this country I love. During my church shopping, I went to an historic church in DC that shall remain nameless. I walked in. I was early. There were a few ushers around and perhaps a handful of people. Let’s see if this story sounds familiar for those who are visiting today. I didn’t want to sit up front and center. I didn’t want to sit in the back. I tried to find a space off on the side where I could fully participate in the service, but not stand out. So, I sat in a pew where no one was sitting. I said my prayers. Then I looked up and there was an usher who said, “You may want to think about sitting somewhere else because that’s Mrs. So-and-So’s pew. I looked around. I didn’t see any signs. I didn’t see any plaques. I hadn’t noticed any when I came in, but I checked again just to be certain. Sure enough, there were no signs; there were no plaques. I moved, but I thought, wow, Evangelism 101: you flunked! It turned out that there weren’t any written rules, but there was an unwritten rule that Mrs. So-and-So always sat there on Sundays and that was her pew.

Fast forward 30 years to this cathedral. I share this story with the permission of my friend and dear sister in Christ, our Canon Theologian Kelly Brown Douglas. Kelly first came to the Cathedral as a volunteer priest to serve on Sundays in about September of 2013. By December of 2013, Kelly and I were becoming friends, and she came up to me right outside the slype—we both remember the spot—and said, “Christmas Eve is coming, and my husband and my son would like to come to the service. Where should they sit?” I was perplexed. I mean, what a question! I looked at Kelly and replied, “Well, wherever they want to sit. Just let me know and I’ll make sure there are passes for them.” She looked perplexed in return but didn’t explain right then. The backstory on why she’d asked the question came shortly thereafter.

You see, Kelly and her church family at the time hadn’t always been very welcome here. Kelly had brought a confirmation class from one of the historically Black churches in our diocese to the Cathedral for confirmation. They settled in and then were asked to move—sort of like to the back of the bus. Understandably, Kelly didn’t want to put her family through that hurt. She didn’t want to take any chances. Now, I will tell you that when she shared that with me, I was so ashamed, ashamed of this cathedral and ashamed that in my White bubble it had never occurred to me that that might even be a possibility.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re still not there. We all long for the day when everyone—all of God’s children—is welcomed warmly, generously, graciously—no exceptions. Turning to discipleship: if we believe that welcome is foundational, what does it mean to be a disciple? Jesus taught a lot about that. Last Sunday, our dean, Randy Hollerith, preached an incredibly thoughtful sermon about discipleship. I commend it to you. One of his precepts is “Being a disciple of Jesus is about being committed to Jesus’ work in the world, not in order to save souls, but in order to join with Christ in saving the world.”[1]  It’s always been our work, but, in light of recent events, it seems even more urgent.

Many in our community are feeling much more vulnerable and much more afraid in light of the striking down of some laws that were designed to be anti-discriminatory and protective of protected classes. Jesus’ message about welcome is clear. I want to be equally clear this morning: for those of you who are feeling more vulnerable, who are worried about what the future may hold, we see you. You are welcome here. You are safe here. You are beloved in this community, and we will redouble our efforts to live more fully into our baptismal covenant, to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being—no exceptions. No exceptions.

This is not a new struggle. This is not new work. Fifty-five years ago, in this pulpit, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”[2] That doesn’t happen all by itself. He reminded us that “human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.”[3] My friends, we’ve got to be co-workers with God. We have plenty of work to do. When we think about this beautiful human family, part of what I hope that we can embrace is that our very diversity is a gift from God, a diversity that is to be celebrated, not controlled and contained somehow. It’s a gift!

I read a book some 20 years ago that really helped shape my own thinking about this gift of diversity. It was written after 9/11 by the then Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The title of the book is The Dignity of Difference. He said, “One belief, more than any other . . . is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great historical ideals. It is the belief that those who do not share my faith—or my race or my ideology—do not share my humanity.”[4]

Picking up on that theme, Linda Nicholls, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, points out that “Once the other is not seen as human, then discrimination, violence, denigration or indifference become easily acceptable.” “We do not have to look far to see the effects of dehumanizing the other due to race, gender, sexual orientation, politics, or theological conviction. Although all human beings share 99% of our genetic structure, we find ways to cast out those who are different, as if by making the other an enemy, we become more human.”[5] 

Look at the life of Jesus. Look at what he taught us. He embraced those who were the most vulnerable. He embraced those who were on the margin. That’s who he hung out with. Not people like me, to be honest. This is the work that we’re called to do until we come to a time when we respect the dignity of every human being—no exceptions. That we see one another as a fellow beloved child of God made in God’s own image in all the diversity that our creator God has given us. No question, we have work to do, but I’m a person of hope and I believe that with God all things—all things—are possible. I want to leave you with a quote from beloved Desmond Tutu, a person who embodied hope. “To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”[6]

We can do this. We must do this, and with God’s help, we will. Amen.

[1] The Very Rev. Randy Hollerith: Discipleship – Washington National Cathedral



[4] Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, (Continuum, London, 2003), page 45.

[5] The dignity of difference – Anglican Journal

[6] 13 Best Desmond Tutu Quotes About Hope, Activism, & More (


The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope