The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 10th Chapter
“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.”
At the start of Chapter 10, Jesus turned around to the disciples who had been following him... watching him heal people, give sight to the blind, kick out demons and make the powerful look foolish... and invited them to no longer just WATCH him do ministry, but now to JOIN him in doing ministry! GO! Get on it! Go out into the world! Ministry happens out there... go, go, GO, out the front door! Jesus tells them where to go, who to see, what to do when people are nice and welcome them into their towns and homes and what to do when people aren’t very nice and they aren’t welcomed.
Jesus goes on to tell them that this new message he has for the world... the message that God wants this world... our world... transformed into the Kingdom of God... into a place of self sacrificial love, inclusion and the kind of justice where everyone has enough... enough food, shelter, work, purpose and dignity... that message will not be easily swallowed by everyone out there in the "real" world and that some people won’t want to hear it... especially the people who are currently on top of the heap and got there at the expense of others. That kind of new message, it turns out, is so hard to hear by some that it can even divide families.
We hear that call to GO these days in church a lot more often than we have in the past. We hear that the mission field isn’t just something overseas, looked after by specialized missionaries, but that the mission field is right there out our front door and WE are called to be the missionaries! We can’t just sit back and wait for people to happen on our church and decide to come inside even though we know it’s a really nice place inside! That’s all very, very true. Just like Jesus told the disciples back then, we DO need to take God’s infinite love and that abundant life that it brings, out to wherever people are, even to pretty un-churchy looking places. We ARE called to be Christ in our neighborhoods and just like the disciples at Pentecost spoke in new ways that others could really understand, we DO need to find new ways to speak, with and without words, so that people who haven’t been able to hear about God’s love in the ways in which we’re most comfortable will be able to hear it in a way that they can understand. BUT... there’s always a but isn’t there? Here at the very end of Chapter 10, Jesus adds in these few verses, I think with the hope that as we think about going out into the world and doing God’s mission and as we get up our courage to GO and DO, and as we create visions and missions, plot and plan, scheme and fret, that we wouldn’t forget that often... often... it doesn’t always have to be as complicated as we might think... often it’s as simple as a cold cup of water.
You probably don’t do this like I do, but I think and plot and scheme and plan and imagine and worry... a LOT... and let me tell you, I can think and plot and scheme and imagine and worry up a giant, enormous amount of stuff. I can do that so much and so well that I sometimes miss what’s right in front of my face. This past Wednesday, we were moving into our new house in Hope. The Dish Network guy came by to set up our TV and he worked hard in the sun and got us all up and running and we now have BBC America back (which is a HUGE deal in our family) and while he was working I was worried about how we were going to get everything done before Kelly had to go back to work. I was planning the schedule for cleaning our old place and how I could get the washer and dryer hooked up and this and that and that and this and then the Dish guy said, “Could I have a cold glass of water?” I was so wrapped up in my planning and organizing that I missed the simple, but basic needs of someone right under my nose.
I think we often unintentionally do the same thing in the church. We get excited about what we’re doing... about the project we’ve taken on. We get so carried away with planning what we should say, or how a particular task should be done and we assume that something as important as the work of the church or telling the world about the Kingdom of God and God’s unlimited, unconditional love has to be done by creating the greatest, most intricate, well planned program, study or worship experience possible. We fret about details because we care so much about this important work and we worry about the complicated and deep theological proofs and arguments we might need. We work long hours to find the right books, order the right things, cook the right dishes, locate the right quotes and plan the best programs. We do all of that, worry about all of that, get upset when it’s not going just so... all because the Gospel and the Kingdom of God and Jesus and the work we do in the church is SO important and we want to give it our best... but sometimes... often in fact, I’m beginning to think... it turns out that what is most needed, what will make the biggest difference, what will send the clearest message of God’s love is sometimes something we might overlook because it’s very, very simple.
It is very easy for us as Christians to make all of this harder than it has to be and certainly harder than Jesus intended it to be. We worry and fret about visiting someone who is sick or grieving the death of someone they loved because we don’t know what to say. What we forget is that when we simply stop by and sit with them, the thing that speaks the loudest is that in our presence with them, never even having to say a word, Christ is present with them. We think we need to know every piece of scripture by chapter and verse when in reality the thing that might very well better communicate God’s love to that person more than any bit of scripture or theology is something simple like a warm meal, a slice of pie and a smile.
We ARE called as disciples to go beyond where we are comfortable, to people we don’t know, who aren’t like us, to learn what they hunger for and to help them satisfy that hunger even when what they need is different than what feeds us. We ARE called to teach and baptize and do nothing less than change the world and that sometimes does take intricate and complicated study and planning... but sometimes... perhaps more often than we might think, it doesn’t always HAVE to be that complicated. Sometimes these days as I catch myself falling into that trap myself of plotting and planning and worrying and fretting about bringing the Kingdom of God into our world... I think just maybe I can hear Jesus whispering to me saying, “Erik, is all of that what they really need, or does my little one just need a simple, cold cup of water”. Amen.