Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (June 29, 2008): Matthew 10:40-42
It ends up that the Gospel is as simple as this: a cup of cold water for someone in need.
Chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel began with Jesus’ calling together the twelve disciples and giving them a mission: Proclaim the good news: “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
He then gives them instructions:
· Travel lightly; depend on the kindness of strangers for your well-being.
· Go where you are welcome; do not stay where you are not welcome.
· Expect opposition, sometimes violent and sometimes at the hands of those closest to you, even your own family.
· Do not, however, be afraid. You are of great value to God.
· Be single-minded in your mission, even if it means taking up a cross. If you lose your life you will find it.
Then the chapter ends with our reading this morning. Jesus’ instructions end with some good news. The disciples will be an extension of Jesus to those among whom they find themselves.
Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
In the language of our tradition we would put it this way. The disciples are the sacrament of Jesus and Jesus is the sacrament of God. We are all included in the word “disciples.” Others know the Jesus we follow only as they know us. Our lives are the sacrament of Jesus.
An example of how this works is when we welcome others to this place. The second you are in the presence of another person—particularly a stranger—you are the sacrament of Jesus. You don’t even have to say anything. Just by your body language, how you conduct yourself in this space, you are either showing others the Jesus we follow or showing them a sort of anti-Jesus. It is the difference between welcome and un-welcome, and un-welcome doesn’t have to be hostility or even deliberate inhospitality. It can be simple indifference. When I’m away and visit a church I know almost instantly whether or not the regulars care if I’m there or not. They usually don’t have to say a word and I pick up the vibe. Of course, they usually follow that up by literally not saying a word.
This is what we mean when we say “Hospitality is Job One.” It’s not just a slogan I made up. It is our job to be the presence of Jesus for others. It is the very Gospel we profess.
This is how we practice the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, that we are called to proclaim: welcome for others, a cup of cold water for anyone in need, which is what I believe Jesus means by “little ones.”
A cup of cold water may be what we are literally called to give, but it is also a symbol for the giving of our lives for others, the extension of our lives, which, as I’ve been saying, is the extension of the very life of Jesus.
The cup of cold water is a cup of kingdom of heaven water. It is a way of enacting “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It is an act of compassion and mercy, and not just a spiritual balm (although it may be just that) but also a sharing of substance. It can be an act of healing. It can also be an act of justice.
So it ends up in this image of a cup of kingdom water, the three great phrases of our mission statement are all present.
We are a healing place for souls, called to be a place that responds with compassion toward those of us in need of spiritual healing. In this we know that our ministry is an extension of Jesus’ ministry.
We are a school for justice, called to be a place that seeks where a cup of kingdom water is needed and that seeks to give it. We know that this kingdom we are called to proclaim is a kingdom of justice in the here and now.
We are a welcome Table for all, called to be a place where hospitality is indeed job one. We know that God has no way of welcoming others to this Table then our own actions toward others, especially the stranger.
A cup of kingdom water…a healing place for souls…a school for justice…a welcome table for all. Let us follow Jesus in being and doing this things, proclaiming with our words and our deeds that the kingdom of God has come near.