Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 2, 2017

2017.07.02 “You Never Know” – Matthew 10: 40 – 42

Central United Methodist Church
You Never Know
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 10: 40 – 42
July 2nd, 2017

Water cup

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.” – Matthew 10: 40 – 42, from The New Revised Standard Version

 

Do you get your rewards? Have you had your church card punched by the ushers today for your loyalty rewards for coming to church? Ha, ha, you say, if only!

Meanings do change. For some of us old timers, a reward was something you saw promised on a poster with somebody’s name on it that said, “Wanted!” Which mean, of course, that we never got any rewards because we never ever saw that person.

In the modern world, rewards programs are something with which we are well acquainted, if not good at. We have our airline and hotel and our shopping rewards cards, which we use as frequently as we remember; now if we only had a wallet or a purse big enough to hold them all.

As you know, some people pay attention to this and make it their business to work the system for their benefit. As an example, I follow the blog of Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, www.thepointsguy.com who flies around the world in First Class, staying in the best hotels and resorts, all using the points he earns from credit cards and travel. Obviously, he has learned how to work the system, which – let’s face it – most of the rest of us fail at. I have lost through expiration, 70,000 miles on United Airlines alone, not to mention other airlines who are no longer even in existence. Although – to my credit – I have not been dragged off a plane once! (which I guess would be minus points!)

But how about in God’s program, what the system there? In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes just one example of how we get our rewards (points!) in God’s redemption program, one of the best out there, one in which points earned never expire.

Now I know some may cringe when we talk about points and rewards in God’s kingdom, which, as St. Paul and generations of theologians since have reminded us, in God’s kingdom it is not about points and rewards at all, but God’s gracious acceptance.

But strangely enough, before St. Paul wrote his letters and epistles and worked out his doctrine of justification by faith, Jesus talked about rewards, as he does in our Gospel today. And those rewards come not only to those who do God’s works, such as Jesus’ disciples, but also to those who welcome them, even though simple acts of kindness and generosity, like giving a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty. “Truly I tell you,” said Jesus, “none of these will lose their reward.”

To whom was he talking, and what did he mean? Previously, as we have seen, Matthew chapter 10 is all about discipleship.  Jesus commissions twelve disciples and sends them out, to cure the sick and drive out evil spirits, to proclaim and to portray the Kingdom of God.

But then, as we saw last week, Jesus gets to the “fine print.” He warns them of coming persecutions and trials, tells them who to fear and who to ignore, reminds them that their words and their works will spark division. All of this is part of being a disciple of Jesus. He then calls them to take up their cross, promising rewards for their faithfulness, and I don’t mean frequent flyer points.

What he says is this:

“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.”

Ending with the most descriptive promise of all:

“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.”

Really, is that all it takes? Can it really be so simple as to offer someone a cup of cold water? Note that Jesus isn’t even talking about what the disciples are supposed to do, he’s talking about those who welcome them – even if it is just by giving them a cup of cold water. We’re not talking about prophets and apostles and preachers, the so-called stars of the show; we’re talking about but the bit players, the B actors, the people in the pews. Yes, even through gestures as small as giving a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty and other acts of mercy and kindness,  we too are drawn into the mission of Jesus, and gain our rewards.

What this tells us is that Christian discipleship – following Jesus – doesn’t have to be heroic. We don’t have to be Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa or cure cancer or work miracles, even something as simple as offering a cup of cold water to those who are thirsty counts in God’s reward program.

Once we know this, we can easily think of other things to add to the list. Smiling at strangers and greeting them, rather than ignoring or scowling at them. Offering to those who grieve, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear. Welcoming those who are new to church or school or to the neighborhood, with simple gestures of welcome and friendship. Contacting a legislator about an issue that is important to us – or more importantly – to someone else, like health care. Thanking a police officer or firefighter or public servant or member of the military for their service. Supporting those who work in social service agencies, food pantries or soup kitchens, – or better yet – doing it ourselves – as those who care for the “least of these.”

All these types of things may seem like small, ultimately unimportant gestures; except that, according to Jesus, in the kingdom of God there are no small gestures done in faith. Every act of kindness has an impact beyond what we can imagine. Indeed, Jesus seems to be saying that no act of kindness or generosity will ever be forgotten. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” Every act of kindness and generosity reverberates with cosmic significance, and even though we may never know the difference such acts have made, every act of kindness and generosity done in the name of Christ ripples out into the world, and is gathered into the great waves of God’s work to love, bless, and save the world.

I think we all know what I’m talking about, because at some time in our lives, everyone of us has been the beneficiary of someone’s else simple yet extravagant kindness, which proved life-changing.

When I graduated from seminary here in Chicago in 1976, at that time I was a member of the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church, and my first appointment was to be the Associate Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, in mid-town Memphis, Tennessee. I loaded everything I had into my car, which I think at the time was a Ford Pinto, which tells you how much I had.  When I arrived in Memphis, I found out that they had no place for me to stay, just yet. The senior pastor, Rev. George Comes, picked up the phone and called one of the most gracious and generous couples in the congregation, Earl and Mabel Major, who took me into their home, until the church could find me a place to live. They were the kind of people such that when young homesick Bible salesmen showed up at their door, they would wind up staying for a week. The friendship begun then was to be one of the significant and influential friendships not only of my life, but of my children’s lives, up to and beyond their passing, a few years ago. Perhaps you have such people in your life, who influenced you through life-altering, simple acts of kindness and generosity.

So you never know, what difference you will make. Whether it is through simple acts of kindness expressed to you by others, or simple acts of kindness expressed by you to others, you never know what difference it will make. As Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, none of these shall lose their reward.” Amen.

[This week, as many weeks, I want to acknowledge the helpful insights of David Lose, www.davidlose.net at “Pentecost 4A: “Even,” In the Meantime, June 26, 2017]

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