Our passage today from Matthew’s gospel is very powerful. It is a short conclusion to a longer piece of scripture where Jesus talks about discipleship. On their own these three verses have taken on a life of their own. Specifically, the final verse where Jesus says “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.” Many have seen this verse as confirmation that they should engage in a ministry to the poor or children, as if other passages of scripture were not enough to get us engaged in these activities.
The words the little ones remind us of what Jesus says in Matthew 25, where he speaks of the least of these. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me” There are certainly parallels to these two passages and the use of language is similar. Our reading today opens with Jesus affirming whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and so we find that similarity of treating others as we treat Jesus.
Grace – Audio Sermon
Nor, is Jesus simply talking about the task of hospitality. Though that certainly plays a part in our reading today. Our three short verses are not just about welcoming people, providing for them and getting on with our day. Yes, we should be welcoming and again this is something that Jesus has spoken about and demonstrated in his actions. Jesus is not talking about how we welcome people. Jesus is talking about how we are welcomed when we minister to others.
When we consider our passage today within its context we see that it comes after a long discussion about discipleship and its costs. Jesus completes the talk in our passage today where he talks about the rewards discipleship. The rewards he is speaking of are not the rewards for the disciples that are going out, but for those who have welcomed the disciples in and provided hospitality to them.
Jesus has just commissioned the disciples to go out into the community and teach. He has given them instructions and he has given them warnings. Some of his warnings were very dire as he states “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” Then in closing he says to them that when people welcome them, they will be welcoming Jesus and as a result of welcoming Jesus they will also be welcoming God into their lives.
In many ways the little ones who Jesus is talking about are the disciples themselves. In regards to how the disciples are received, but also in how they receive others. Because it is a two way street, you can’t teach and minister to people that you do not respect. They will sense it and they will not listen. And you can’t teach to people whose life situation you don’t understand, which is why when we reach out to people it is so important to listen to what they have to say.
Of course the reward is not solely for those who welcome the disciples. For the disciples themselves may find the opportunity to be the host and welcome others. Just as we can go and serve and also provide hospitality to others. So while the act of providing a genuine welcome is embedded within our passage, we need to understand that within its larger context.
Today’s passage is about discipleship. It is about moving from our places of comfort and going into the world to teach about God’s overwhelming love and grace for creation. On recognizing that we do not do that work alone, for in being welcomed, God is being welcomed. Christ walks with us in our journey and the Holy Spirit works through us and allows us to communicate God’s truth.
However, it isn’t always that easy is it?
Our faith asks us to trust, share, be compassionate and open to others.
However, often our own anxieties get in the way of our ability to help others.
Our own self-doubt stops us from going out and ministering to people. We create all kinds of false expectations, unreasonable hopes and exaggerated fears that we simple freeze into inaction.
Instead of going out as Jesus asks, we find ourselves rooted to the ground. Our own hang ups and imagined inadequacies prevent us from fully loving and ministering to others. We ask ourselves if we know how to do this task, we ask if we are worthy, we ask if we should invest of ourselves.
We ask these questions because we are not sure. The small nagging feeling of doubt creeps into our minds. We become insecure and self-aware of our faith and we wonder how we will be received. Will we receive the cup of cold water or will we be refused? If we are honest with ourselves we are afraid of rejection and that fear keeps us from boldly living and sharing our faith.
Ronald Regan, the US President once said, “When life does get tough and the crisis is undeniably at hand – when we must, in an instant, look inward for strength of character to see us through – we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there.”
It is a fine piece of advice that President Regan has for us. Full of the stuff the American dream is made from. However, I believe that his quote, his advice for us is fundamentally flawed. You see it is not us who placed the inner strength of character, but God. God has conceived each of us, knows each of us and God calls us as disciples. God has a purpose for our lives. Friends, we need to trust more in God’s purpose for our lives and trust less in our own self-interest and fear. Friends, I believe we allow fear to rule our hearts. We allow the fear of failure and rejection to rule over us. Rather than trusting in an all-powerful and all compassionate God, we succumb to the fear we create. We wonder why the church is in decline, we wonder why people do not know about God. The answer is easy, we are too afraid to tell them about it.
Two Presbyterian ministers were discussing their congregations. The one minister said that his congregation told him that they didn’t talk about church or their faith outside of Sunday morning worship. The other minister replied, “Aren’t you glad Jesus wasn’t Presbyterian.”
Friends, God calls us into an awesome ministry. And I use that word ‘awesome’ as it is intended, not just because it is my son’s favourite word. I am in awe of God’s great generosity and grace towards me and towards you, towards all of creation. I am struck by the profound severity of just what God through Jesus Christ has done for us.
It moves me.
It forces me to action.
It makes me say, yes Jesus I will welcome you.
I will go out into the world and pray that I am also welcomed, for in welcoming me people welcome you. I will be your ambassador to the world. Not to go out judging, but to go out helping, teaching and loving. I will do this without shame, without reservation or hesitation. Because I am called to do no less than to share in the great grace and generosity that has been bestowed upon me.
Friends I believe we are called into a ministry of compassion. It was compassion for us that led Christ to the cross. Compassion for humanity and all of creation led our God to be killed in a most barbaric fashion. Friends we are reminded that after crucifixion comes resurrection.
Friends we are not called because we are good or perfect. We are not called because of where we live or our social status. New Testament scholar N.T. Write writes, “The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual. This is not to say that all humans, and all societies, are equally good or bad; far from it. Merely that we are all infected and that all easy attempts to see the problem in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are fatally flawed.”
We are called into compassionate relationships with one another because God calls us into relationship. We are called to love because God first loved us. We are called to receive one another with hospitality and grace, with kindness and forgiveness and we are called into this ministry because God calls us into it.
How as the church and as individuals do we live out this love, this welcoming spirit?
So much in the church today is about welcoming people to church. We try really hard to be a welcoming community of faith, a place where anyone who is new would want to stay and continue to worship with us. However, we don’t always put so much energy into going out into the community and being hospitable. We do not always think about what it means to be the church in the community. We don’t know what it looks like. I think this is something we need to rediscover. We need to rediscover the gospel rooted in action, grounded in the radical hospitality that Jesus teaches us. Amen.
Text: Matthew 10: 40-42