Recipe: One Cup of Water
Proper 8A/Ordinary 13A/Pentecost +2
Almost everyone knows that Jesus preached a sermon called the Sermon on the Mount. If you know anything at all about it, you probably know that the Beatitudes come from that sermon (“blessed are the poor in spirit…”). You may even know that the Lord’s prayer is also a part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five of such teachings of Jesus in Matthew.
The second is less well known but it is the source of the text we read today. We call it the Missionary Instructions (or Discourse). Jesus was sending his disciples out on a mission of healing and proclaiming the kingdom of God: these are his instructions to them for that mission.
We believe that we share that mission. We believe that we too have been sent out on a mission today, to our times, just as those original disciples were sent out. So these are our instructions as well.
As a congregation, we have a “mission statement” which says that we are people who will focus on “Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love.” Our mission is all about “loving God” which we do in prayer and songs of praise in worship together – and what we do in personal daily devotion at home.
“Growing in faith” is why we believe so strongly in life-long Christian education. For us, bible study is not a quint past-time; it is a crucial part of understanding who we are and what we are to do in our lives. We do not believe there is any such thing as a one-hour a week Christian. We don’t believe we will ever stop learning and growing in both our knowledge and in our willingness to take personal risks of faith to put that knowledge into action.
Our mission is about “Sharing Christ’s love” in word and deed, because we have been sent out by our Lord Jesus to do just that. The only question we have is, what should that mission look like in our day? We can see the way the disciples put Jesus’ mission into action in their times, but we live in quite different circumstances. So how are we to be in mission in our world?
This is why we read the gospels and study Jesus’ instructions, as we are doing right now.
Understanding one story through another
We are doing something very similar to what Jesus did with his disciples. We are looking at the story of Jesus and understanding it in our day, just as Jesus often reflected on the story of Israel and applied it to his day.
That is exactly what is happening in this Mission Instruction text we read today. So, I believe the best way to approach it is to tell three stories: the first is Israel’s, the second is Jesus’ and the third is ours. We will see incredible similarities, and I believe, also a powerful challenge to us.
First Israel’s story. It begins with the prophet Micah. He lived in times when people were deeply divided, and international politics were
tumultuous and scary – sound familiar? His little nation of Israel, now divided into two smaller nations, was threatened by the mighty Assyrians whose appetite for gobbling up smaller states was insatiable.
As Micah looked at Assyria’s forward march towards his nation, he had no sense that the Lord would spare them, especially the Northern kingdom from demise. Why should He? They had become a nation without justice. A nation without righteousness. A nation in which trust between people had collapsed and worship was corrupted.
Here is how he described the situation:
2 The faithful have disappeared from the land,
and there is no one left who is upright;
they all lie in wait for blood,
and they hunt each other with nets.
3 Their hands are skilled to do evil;
the official and the judge ask for a bribe,
and the powerful dictate what they desire;
thus they pervert justice. (Micah 7:2-3)
Justice perverted. Bribes taken by officials – there are no new ideas – perhaps they were trying to pass gambling legislation? (It’s an Alabama-insider reference).
A Community without Trust
Micah continues with further description of the breakdown of his community; instead of a community of covenanted relationship, it was a community without trust.
5 Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a loved one;
guard the doors of your mouth
from her who lies in your embrace;
6 for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
your enemies are members of your own household.
It sound like the old Soviet Union in which you had to watch what you said, even at home, lest someone rat you out to the authorities. Even husbands and wives were suspicious of each other. That sounds like a living-hell to me.
I hope you already recognized the echoes of Micah’s description we heard in Jesus’ words to his disciples.
“36 one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
So when Jesus looked at the circumstances of his day, he borrowed from the story of Israel – Micah’s prophecy – to describe a parallel situation. Bad times were coming and he knew his country would not be spared. This time, not the Assyrians, but the Romans were the ones with the big appetite and the teeth of steel to devour smaller powers.
Now we can see why Jesus said those very odd sounding words about bringing division – even within families.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
People within your family might be committed to the head-long rush to violent uprising against Rome rather than embracing the Kingdom of God as Jesus was teaching. If so, choices would have to be made. You could not have it both ways.
Our Story: the risk of welcome
So, in such a context, what are disciples of Jesus to do? What are our missional instructions?
The first word is risk. That is the word that stands behind the word “welcome”. Let me re-phrase Jesus’ words, then explain why.
40 “Whoever [takes the risk to] welcome you welcomes me, and whoever [takes the risk to] welcome me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever [takes the risk to] welcome a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever [takes the risk to] welcome a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever [takes the risk to] give 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.”
We have heard on the news that in Syria, the government is arresting and imprisoning doctors and nurses who are trying to save the lives of the un-armed protesters who are being shot in the streets. To bring healing is to take a serious risk.
Often people who bring comfort and relief do so at great personal risk. To welcome a Jew like Anne Franke into your attic in Holland was to take a huge risk. To welcome a disciple of Jesus who was preaching that Jesus, not Caesar was Lord, was to take a risk. Even to offer water to a fellow Christian could put you at risk. (Could we ever be at risk in this way today?)
So Jesus promised that those who took the risk of welcome would receive a reward as well.
And now to our story.
Days of Division: asking the wrong questions
We too live in deeply divided days. This is the context of our mission. The debates about the role of government are shrill. The debates about the way out of our economic crisis are profoundly polarized. The issue of immigration is about as hot as it can get.
As disciples, in other words, as followers of Jesus, we are called to risk. We are called to be the people who perhaps ask other questions than those the politicians debate.
Who is thirsty?
Rather than asking “what is the role of government?” we should be asking, “Who is thirsty and needs water? What are they thirsty for? Where
can I get the water that is needed? How can I get it to the people who need it? Who are the ones right here in Gulf Shores and in Baldwin and Mobile counties that God is calling us to help?
Maybe the thirst they have is for companionship because they are isolated by illness or advanced age, unemployment, addiction, or some other isolating condition; maybe the water I could give is a phone call or a visit.
Maybe the thirst they have is for basic toiletries because they are literally homeless and have no soap, toothpaste or shampoo. The “water” they need is what we are collecting right now for the homeless ministry in Mobile.
Maybe they are thirsty for God’s love – and yet, their life experience has turned them off to the church. So it could be that we have been called to bear witness to the God that loves, forgives, and welcomes all people, even sinners like ourselves, through our Lord Jesus. Saying so may represent a huge risk in our eyes.
Maybe addressing real thirsts instead of sitting around debating the role of government may led us to risk misunderstanding by the “you are with us or against us” crowd – but we will take that risk.
A new risk in Alabama
There is one more risk I want to leave you to think over. What if it is no longer legal in Alabama to give a cup of water to an illegal alien? Is that a risk we are called to take? Whose agenda gets to answer that question?