If you’ve been keeping your eye on the notices or the blog, you will know that this month we are celebrating the fact that Anglicans of Second Life is ten years old. That’s quite an achievement in a world where initiatives come and go at an alarming rate. I’ve met people who are amazed that their old landmark still works to get them to the cathedral. Anyone who has had a nasty shock when using an old landmark and arriving somewhere totally different to what they expected will understand how significant it is to have a landmark from the past which still works.
Yesterday we began our birthday celebrations with a dance, hosted by our own superhero Captain Canuck (aka Celberon). Celberon is a Canadian and yesterday was Canada Day. Canada was also celebrating a significant anniversary – 150 years since its foundation! So, it was all very appropriate, celebrating our 10 years and Canada’s 150 years with a dance to music by Canadian musicians and hosted by Captain Canuck who is a Canadian comic book superhero. Being a DJ is not listed as one of Captain Canuck’s special powers, but he’s pretty good at it!
Most of those who came to the dance yesterday were new to Epiphany Island. It was natural for those of us from the community here, and Celberon in particular who was hosting the event, to greet people as they arrived. We obviously wanted each person to feel comfortable in a new place. And so, there were lots of ‘Hi’, ‘Hiya’, ‘Welcome’ greetings as soon as we noticed anyone new. I hope that when our visitors reflect on their experience they will feel it was a positive one and they may even choose to return for one of our other events.
The very short Gospel passage for today begins with the topic of welcome. Jesus had been preparing his disciples to go out on a mission of teaching about the Kingdom of God and healing people. He had warned them that not everyone would be pleased to see them and told them how to react if rejected. Then Jesus told the disciples about the cost of following him, how there would be division and danger as a result of that choice to carry the cross. Finally, Jesus turned his attention to something a little more positive – those who would welcome the disciples.
In the Letter to the Hebrews it says: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’ The Jews would have been familiar with the story of Abraham who welcomed God in the form of three strangers at the oak of Mamre. Earlier in the same letter the writer had recalled the great heroes of the faith, including Abraham, so perhaps that story is what gave rise to the advice. Jesus was referring to something similar when he told the disciples that those who welcomed them welcomed Jesus also, and welcomed God who sent him.
An old Irish rune puts it this way:
I met a stranger yester e’en.
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
And in the name of the Triune,
he blessed myself and my house.
my cattle and my loved ones.
And the lark sang in his song:
Often, often, often goes
the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
Often, often, often goes
the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
One of the five points in our vision statement says that we wish “to build an Anglican church in Second Life which is a community which welcomes and serves others, and is known for its love and care.” It’s because Jesus valued welcome so much that we do also. We can’t guarantee that those whom we welcome, at dances or other times, are Jesus’ disciples but nor can we be sure they are not. It makes no sense to make a value judgement about whether someone is worthy of welcome. Who knows which of our visitors might be an angel in disguise! And so everyone is welcome!
Jesus went on in his teaching to tell the disciples about the rewards people who welcome others will receive. It reads to me like being guilty (or innocent) by association. Those welcoming prophets gain a prophet’s reward; those welcoming a righteous person get a righteous person’s reward; and those welcoming a disciple, even in the most basic way expected in the culture at the time by giving a cup of cold water, are given a disciple’s reward. If we consider the earthly reward for each of these kinds of people, it’s enough to discourage welcome! Prophets were treated very badly and sometimes even murdered. There was no guarantee that a righteous person would have a wonderful life, free of sorrow. Some might, but think about poor Job whose story we have been reading recently in Morning Prayer. He had a terrible time! As for the disciples, we read about what awaited them last week: persecution, false arrest, even death on a cross.
However, if we look from an eternal perspective the picture is different. Both Elijah and Moses were available to talk to Jesus at his transfiguration, so it seems that the prophets rise to new life. We don’t know about the fate of Job, though he seemed convinced that he would experience resurrection. We do know that Abraham, whose faith caused him to be called righteous, was in heaven, along with Lazarus, the poor man who had died at the rich man’s gate. The rich and unrighteous man found himself in torment after he died. Paul in his letter, made it plain that those who serve evil will be paid the wages of sin, which is death. In contrast, disciples of Jesus, who are obedient to his teaching, receive the free gift of eternal life in Christ.
When looked at in this broader way, welcome of those doing God’s work according to their calling brings a great reward. Rather as Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, disciples who receive some favour from someone, in turn impart blessing on that person. So, when we are aware of something done for us, however small, we can thank God for the encouragement of that act and for the chance to be a blessing to someone else.
I hope that we all continue to extend a welcome to those whom we meet in SL and RL. Of course, the food in the eating places and drink in the drinking places in SL is made of pixels only. However, the music in the listening place yesterday was real enough as was the welcome. I wonder how many angels attended our Canada Day dance?
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor