Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
June 28, 2020
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever 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; and 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.”
Dan DeLeon tells the story of traveling with a group of students from the Center for Global Education to the Mexican village of Amatian. A resident of the village spoke to the group about his experience crossing the border and seeking employment in the United States. While he was talking, his wife sat next to him quietly knitting. The man, in his thirties, told the group about how when his wife became pregnant they had no money and no financial hope so he made the decision to go to the United States to find work. Before leaving, he worked to save $500 to pay a guide to help him cross the border, risking the blazing sun by day and unseen hazards at night. He carried a dehydrated older man on his back for the last part of the trip. When the group crossed the border, they were immediately intercepted by the Border Patrol and taken back to Mexico.
Without money and ashamed, he started over. He again saved $500 for a guide and took the same journey but this time made it into the United States where he found work. He worked ten hour shifts at less than minimum wage, washing dishes. He was treated poorly by his employers, laughed at by his co-workers, but since he couldn’t speak much English, he could not express his anger and hurt. He put up with the abuse quietly because he had a goal in mind. After three years the man saved up enough money, went back home to Mexico, and met his now three year old daughter for the first time.
DeLeon said that all the while the man was telling the story, his wife continued to knit but tears began to roll down her cheek. Finally, a young student in the group, moved by the man’s story asked, “How can we help? What can we do to change this?” The man telling the story looked at everyone and said, “Just be nicer. Don’t treat us like we are horrible. Be kind.”
Just be nicer. Be kind. A cold cup of hospitality poured over the simmering heat of the world’s anger and resentment. Small acts of compassion usher in the way of God on earth as it is in heaven.
For the past three weeks, we have been reflecting upon the 10th chapter of Matthew and the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out to preach and teach and heal in the name of the Gospel. We can remember from the two previous weeks that Jesus knew his friends would receive something less than a warm reception. He wanted to remind them that their task would often be uncomfortable because it would challenge the assumptions of the world; but that the mission was urgent and important because it was God’s intention. There was going to be opposition and hardship. He told them to travel lightly, to bring peace to those places where peace was first offered, but to move on quickly from places where they were treated harshly. Those disciples must have wondered how they were ever going to succeed, how they were ever going to reach the hearts and souls of anyone out there in such a time or place.
Finally Jesus closed this bit of traveling and evangelism instruction with the lesson that we hear today. “Whoever welcomes you welcome me. Whoever even gives 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.” Jesus was telling them, and I believe telling us today, that the power of God wasn’t in a textbook or creed. God’s mercy wasn’t a secret formula or an ability that one can magically obtain. Jesus taught that we can bring people to God with the testimony of our struggle, when our kindness that is shared, and with the proclamation of Jesus that we share in gentle and compassionate ways. He taught that we are drawn into a relationship with God through what we see in the actions of others and what we hear in the words of others. If we can see God in others, they can certainly see and learn about God from what they see in us.
Nineteenth century English author George Eliot wrote, “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.” A cup of cold water. Such a little thing, the disciple must have thought that day. But Jesus seemed to accent the important nature of minimal actions. Even a cup of cold water. While we might imagine our witness to the world involves huge sacrifice, heroic deeds, and difficult circumstance; here Jesus reminds us that most of the time following him faithfully and preaching the gospel can be a simple as giving a cup of cold water to someone in need. Being a disciple is responding to Jesus’ love in small acts of devotion, forgiveness, and caring that might go unnoticed by many in the world. Yet Jesus promised that if such acts are done in his name, they will have lasting significance in the building of the Kingdom of God. Kindness creates hospitality. Hospitality creating understanding. Understanding broadens our experience of others and helps us to stand at their level. Jesus is present each and every time that we offer kindness and hospitality to others.
Jesus said the participation in the Kingdom of God is the reward for those who are righteous. We might prefer promotions and public acclaim or gold stars, or a round of applause. But Jesus says that our reward is something less noticeable yet something more intrinsic. We act in welcome and hospitality and kindness because such acts participate in and point toward the Kingdom of God. We act in welcome and hospitality and kindness because such acts themselves bring us closer to God. Welcoming anyone, especially those whom are most vulnerable in society or most challenging for us to accept, is to welcome Jesus and to participate in the Kingdom of God. People will see us and they will see God.
Alyce McKenzie tells of an interview that actor Michael Douglas had with Oprah Winfrey. He spoke of his relationship with his father, Hollywood film legend, Kirk Douglas, and told this story. “My dad called me the other night and said, ‘Michael, I was watching myself in an old movie earlier tonight and I didn’t remember making the movie.’ ‘Well, Dad, you made 75 movies and you are 94 years old. Don’t be so rough on yourself for forgetting one on them.’ ‘No, Michael, you didn’t let me finish. I realized halfway through that it wasn’t me. I was watching one of your films.’”
McKenzie writes, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if certain aspects of our lives and ways that we relate to others were all but indistinguishable from Jesus’ own example? What if we reminded others of Jesus, just a little bit?
Yvette Flunder, pastor of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco, and frequent speaker on the Living the Questions videos we have viewed at our Mayflower Café writes that there is no ball and chain upon the heart of the body of Christ. Welcome is crucial to the gospel and to the Kingdom of God because it actually represents Jesus. Flunder writes, “See, when Jesus liberates us from having to distinguish between who is deserving in our judgement and who is not, the shackles of partially are loosed so that we can freely offer more and more of those simple acts of kindness to all of God’s little ones.”
Max Lucado writes, “Hospitality opens the door to uncommon hospitality. When you open the door to someone, you are sending the message, ‘You matter to me. You matter to God.’” That is a wonderful way of looking at it. Who among us would not want to assure the next person we meet, the next person we talk to, the next person who looks upon us: that they matter to God. Church growth expert Lyle Schaller often said, “Always welcome people. Practice hospitality. If you are uncomfortable knocking on doors, make sure that you at least open your own door.”
Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to the stranger on the street or at the market, especially behind the masks we need to wear today. Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to those with whom you share the road. Offer the cup of cold water of kindness with someone who expresses a view that differs from your own worldview. Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to someone in need. Offer the cup of cold water in places in which you have no relationship with others, so there is a space where you can listen and learn and value until all rough places become a common ground.
In God’s eyes, with mercy and love, there are no small gestures. When we give our lives away for a purpose beyond ourselves, we gain by bringing ourselves closer to God. Look for people to whom you can share a divine welcome. Look for places where you can bring a cold cup of water. Know that even your smallest act of compassion will make our world a better place and will bring the Kingdom of God that much closer to hand.