It’s the Small Things

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Matthew 10:40-42

Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine

 

10:40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 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; 42 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.” (Matthew 10:40-42, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Faithful God, your love stands firm from generation to generation, your mercy is always abundant.  Give us open and understanding hearts, that having heard your word, we may seek Christ’s presence in all whom we meet. Amen.

 

This past week I was on vacation with my family.  My mother rented a house at High Hampton Inn, North Carolina for her three boys and our families to be together.  It was a fun week of togetherness and activities.  We played golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, lots of competition and family stories.  We also hiked every day.  On Thursday morning, we hiked up Chimney Top Mountain.  It was a steep hike up to about 4000 feet.  When we reached the top, the view was spectacular.  It was worth every step up the winding path, over the rocks and roots to reach the cliffs and gaze out over the Nantahala National Forest below.  When we reached the top, we took a much-needed break and drank some water.  It helped to ease the aches of my joints and the burn of my muscles.  As the cool water ran down my dry throat, it reminded me of this passage from Matthew’s Gospel.

 

This message from Jesus is quite a surprise.  We are so used to hearing Jesus talk about big and important tasks to following him.  Just last week we heard Jesus’ demands that we take up our cross and follow him.  That we must lose our lives in order that we might find them.   We expect Jesus to say things like we must be willing to be rejected, we must endure persecution and we must put nothing and no one before our Lord, all the while we must trust that God will provide.  That is normal Jesus speak.

 

We are familiar with Jesus’s instructions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, all very important directives but often difficult tasks.  Then Jesus makes following him even more difficult as he raises the stakes and commands his disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead.  Being followers of Jesus, we expect the impossible.  We get used to the seemingly improbable declarations.  So, when all that Jesus asks of us, his followers, to do is to welcome people and offer water to them it is as if we missed something.   Surely, he can’t be serious, welcome people and offer them water to drink?   Anybody can do that!

 

Yes, they can, we can, but for some reason we don’t!

 

Think about how good it feels to be welcomed, cared for and invited in when you are in a new or strange place.  It makes the experience so much better.  When someone offers us hospitality, it is the exception and not the norm.

 

It is so simple.  Welcome a stranger in and offer them water to drink.  Today, there are huge political implications on welcoming strangers and offering hospitality.  We now have travel bans and watchlists.   But remember when you have been traveling and someone offered you a welcome, a cup of water, a simple smile and hello…

 

I have been to central America a few times in my ministry and each trip has a certain level of anxiety attached to them.  My anxiety is related to the actual travel.  Would we make our flights?  Would we get through customs?  Would our luggage all arrive?  Once in country, my anxiety level dropped.  Because the people of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica that we worked with always took such very good care of us.  I can’t tell you how many times after a long day of travel, customs and searching for luggage I was greeted with a warm smile, a genuine welcome by an understanding and patient guide.  Our guide would then take us to someone’s home for a meal.   It was always a simple meal of black beans, maybe rice, maybe chicken and hand rolled tortillas.  None of those meals would ever grace the cover of food magazines but each one was a great meal because of the loving nature in which they were prepared, the caring way they were served and the gracious hospitality that they represented.  We were always hot, tired and weary from travel and the hosts were filled with joy to welcome us to their beautiful country, share some of their culture with us and so glad we came.   It wasn’t fake, it wasn’t because they had to do it, but it was clear that they wanted to do it.

 

Now, imagine you have been traveling all day in the hot blazing sun of the desert.   You are looking for a place to rest and refresh and you find it!  Someone willing to welcome you in and offer you a cup of water.  How awesome is that?   Now what Jesus is asking of us is that we do that for other people.

 

Jesus is asking each of us to welcome others, to offer hospitality to them and give them a cup of water to drink.  Not so simple, is it?

 

So, what keeps us from living this way?  Is its fear?   Is it self-preoccupation?   Is it busyness?   Is it habit?  Probably all of these and more.  We aren’t bad people.  We aren’t intentionally trying to ignore people or be mean.  But this passage, in its beautiful simplicity, is meant to shock us out of our complacency, and jolt our eyes open to be aware of others and their needs and get beyond our own.  This passage is meant to say— this simple act of hospitality, this simple act of caring and compassion, is what being a follower of Jesus is all about.  It isn’t always on some grand scale of welcoming a foreigner walking through the desert.  It I soften much closer to home than that like helping a neighbor, or a friend.  It is about living this way every day, all the time.

 

At work — noticing the person in the office next to you and seeing if they can use a cup of water.  At school, noticing a classmate, who could use a cup of water.  In your daily chores, noticing a someone, who could use a cup of water.   At Church, noticing a someone, who could use a cup of water.  Everywhere you go.  All the time.  And before you know it, this way of living just takes hold in your life and it is how you live.

 

After all, it is what we are supposed to do.  Welcome people.  Offer them a cup of water to drink.  Water never tasted so good as when you are tired and thirsty.  When you have been traveling or running or working out or playing and you get hot and thirsty, nothing hits the spot like a welcoming cup of water.