Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cold Water

Matthew 10: 40-42
June 29, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

If you read the sermon last week, you may remember the scripture reading was also from the tenth chapter of Matthew. It was a part of Jesus’ speech as he sent the disciples out. He told them they were to take no extra clothes, no money, nothing. They were to go out to bring the good news to the lost sheep. But they couldn’t even take an overnight bag or a traveler’s check. Then he warned them about the dangers and difficulties of their mission.

They risked rejection, persecution, even death. Jesus assured them that God’s presence was with them. And he told them not to be afraid –remember those three-word sermons? It ain’t easy; don’t be afraid; you are loved. Now Matthew concludes this section with some words about welcome:

40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

I have a couple of friends who, every now and then, will say something like, “The Holy Spirit gave me a sermon last night” Sometimes, they will say, “The Holy Spirit woke me from a dream on Sunday morning and gave me a sermon.”
This has never happened to me.

If the Holy Spirit is going to wake me up on Sunday morning and give me a sermon, it had better be twelve pages long, in fourteen point font, typed double spaced, with a line for each phrase and page breaks at paragraph breaks so that I can take a breath between pages.

I don’t have sermon dreams – except for Friday night. Friday night I dreamt that I came to church on Sunday, early enough, with my sermon in hand. In the hall I greeted Benny, who had new glasses, which he left in the choir room. In my dream, I set my sermon down and went looking for Ben, thinking, “we are going to have a job, helping Ben keep up with these new glasses.”

Then someone needed something in the office, so I tended to that, and went back to get my sermon, which was gone. No worries, I thought, in this dream, I will create another. So I did.

But someone had something else to talk to me about and another person had a minor injury which required a bandaid, and before you know it, it was time for church to start and my second sermon went missing. What’s more, in this dream, my skirt was torn and my hair messed up. I found something else to wear, but then noticed my pantyhose had a big run, so I went and put on my robe, but the only tie we could find was a piece of kite string.

Meanwhile, Nan came in looking panicked because it was time to start. I told her to start without me, knowing she could do fine until the sermon. I finally came into the sanctuary, walking briskly down the aisle while Rex noodled around on the piano, kind of vamping until I showed up -- and we had a crowd – not the usual crowd – a Christmas Eve-sized crowd.

I had no sermon, and then I discovered I had no Bible with me.
People on the front row –that’s how you know this was a dream, there were people on the front row – people on the front row tried to help. One handed me a commentary, another had some kind of mixed up Bible, and someone else had their confirmation Bible, which was a King James version, with pages missing. There I stood, sermonless, no Bible, hair sticking out, holes in my stockings, hassled and harried, frustrated, unable to find the gospel reading, while you all waited patiently, with your friends and family.

The only good part of that awful dream was that never, not for a single moment in all that anxiety, never did I doubt that you would listen to whatever disorganized babbling I was about to do. Never did I doubt that you would actually even get something out of it. I did not doubt for one second that you would welcome me and my words. I’m not planning on testing the theory, but I think that if something like that happened in real life, you would just handle it with that kind of hospitality.

I’ve seen you extend the hospitality of this pulpit to new young preachers, offering them encouragement and kindness. Even if their preaching was inaudible, or disorganized, or just a bit thin on ideas, you were gracious to them. You are a congregation that is very hospitable to preachers. You are who Jesus meant when he sent the disciples out, saying, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

To be sent out in the name of Jesus is a powerful thing – it makes us ambassadors of Jesus Christ himself. Whoever welcomes us, welcomes Jesus. And whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the one who sent him. Particularly in the Middle Eastern culture of the first century, a powerful person’s agent was received as if it were the person. A family member was received as if he or she were the head of the family. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks not only to those disciples gathered around Jesus then, but also to those disciples who follow Jesus now – namely, US. And interestingly, most of this speech is not about others, but about those disciples who have been sent to proclaim the good news. In other words, the first part of the text is more about BEING welcomed than about being WELCOMING.

That’s an important distinction. There is merit in welcoming those who come in the name of Christ, and Jesus promises a reward for those who offer such welcome.

There is also merit in the one doing the welcoming. I want to affirm you today, and thank you, for the hospitality you provide. You do it so naturally and so warmly that it seems almost second nature. Those whom you welcome in the name of Christ appreciate it deeply. I don’t know what kind of reward we can expect in the hereafter for that kind of hospitality, but I can tell you the reward we receive right now – we all get the deeply satisfying knowledge that this church is a safe place, a place of refuge, a place folks can call home.

So we welcome those sent to proclaim the good news, but even more, we welcome those “little ones” of whom Jesus speaks. These little ones, those for whom even a cup of cold water is blessing, these little ones are not children. The Greek word is “mikros” – like micro in English. The least of these. Not the big names, not people of stature – the little people find a home here.

Robert Frost famously said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

That line comes from a poem called “The Death of the Hired Man.” In the poem, Silas, an unreliable and argumentative hired man, has come back to Warren and Mary’s farm where he once worked in haying season. He is broken, sick, but still stubborn. He has a brother down the road, a man of means, a banker, but Silas refuses to go to this brother who does not welcome or care for him. So he comes to a place where he once worked, a place that seemed like home. Near the end of the poem, Warren asks Mary what home really is.

She answers with this famous line: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”
And then Warren muses: “I should have called it Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
“Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”[1] That’s what church ought to be.

That’s what this church is – a place where they take you in, even if you don’t deserve it, haven’t earned it. That’s who Jesus is - the one who takes you in even if you don’t deserve it.

We offer that welcome in his name. We offer it to those who come to proclaim the gospel, to those who are his disciples, as we are. And more importantly, we offer welcome and hospitality to those “little ones,” the mikros, the least of these.

Do you remember what else Jesus said about those “Little ones”?
In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus uses this term again.
He says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” And I know you remember what he spoke of:
To give food to someone who is hungry. 
To give a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. 
To visit the sick and care for those who are in prison. 
To do these things in his name.

Sometimes we look around us and we see churches that are bigger – bigger buildings, more members, more programs, more news coverage. And we think because we are smaller – mikros, maybe- we aren’t as good. 

But yesterday I read an article comparing big churches to cruise ships. Here’s what the writer said: “To win more of the vacation market … cruise lines began to downplay the allure of the sea and instead built amenities aboard their ships ... Today there are ships with water parks, roller coasters, golf courses, planetariums, bumper cars, even tree-lined parks with carousels and ice skating rinks. … you’ll hear awestruck passengers saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m on a ship.’ By trying to compete with land-based resorts, these cruise lines literally lost sight of their unique value proposition–the sea. …the modern cruise industry is engaged in a strange delusion. It is ignoring the one thing it can offer that no one else can– the allure of sea travel–to compete in areas where it can never win.”

Then the writer makes this important point: “The church can learn an important lesson from this delusion: Relevance backfires when it overshadows your uniqueness. … [Churches] will spend millions of dollars for state-of-the-art theater equipment, will stock their children’s departments with Xboxes and 3-story playgrounds, and even run live Twitter feeds during worship. Churches that can’t afford these “wow” factors or a tattooed pastor with electric personality, may still feel the pressure to run an expanding array of programs normally found at a community college or YMCA all to attract consumers away from their devices and health clubs to the church. … Like a cruise passenger who never experiences the sea, some attenders may be so occupied with programs and productions that they may never actually experience the church.”

And he concludes with this story:
“A friend recently told me about …a newcomer to his congregation. The [newcomer], from a Hindu background, came to the large church … because he was curious about Jesus. ‘Everyone here has been very friendly to me,’ he reported to the pastor, ‘and my family has been enjoying all of the programs. But I do have one question. When am I going to learn about Jesus?’ …the pastor wondered out loud whether they had gradually confused their methods and their mission. After all, the church could survive if people don’t meet Jesus, but not if they don’t meet their budget.”[2]

Church, do you know that the top reasons young people want to attend church are to be closer to God, and to learn more about God? “Imagine that. It’s like discovering people want to take a cruise because they like the sea!”[3]

People come here, when they come, looking for welcome in the name of Jesus Christ.
They come here, to this church, looking for a place that gives them something they don’t have to deserve. Other places, to be truly welcomed, maybe you have to be somebody, the right sort of person, important, well-known, familiar. Here, to be truly welcomed, you just have to be here, because this is a place where when you come here, we take you in, even if you are nobody, not the right sort of person, unimportant, a stranger. In fact, in this place, and in our ministries, people are welcomed precisely BECAUSE they are strangers.

We are not a cruise ship, not a theme park, not a museum.
We are place of welcome, of refuge, and of rest. We have been welcomed, and so we are welcoming. We are loved so that we can be loving. We are the church, the body of Christ, where, when you come here, we take you in.

Thanks be to God that we can offer a cup of cold water in the name of the one knows us, who loves us as we are, and who teaches us to love and welcome the world in his name.


[1] Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man,” accessed 06/28/14

[2] Skye Jethani, “How churches became cruise ships” blogged at Accessed 06/28/14

[3] ibid

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