Proper 8 – 6/282020 – St. Paul’s
Some things ought to be obvious, but apparently they’re not. This is the reason we have government warning labels on everything.
I read one on a beer bottle once: Consumption of large amounts of alcohol may impair judgement.
I was visiting an older parishioner once. She asked me to help her sort her medicines. On the side of her prescription sleeping pills I read; May cause drowsiness.
Like I said, some things ought to be obvious. Like the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson; whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones . . .
Wow, does Jesus think he has to tell us to be kind to little children?
Well, the alarming statistics about child abuse in this country would indicate that there are a large number of people who do indeed need to be warned and reminded about that.And also, ordinary kindness and generosity to little children is only a part of what Jesus is getting at here. There is a much more complex meaning in these three short verses.
The text comes at the end of a sequence in Matthew’s gospel over the last three weeks in which Jesus has been preparing his disciples to go out into the world to preach the Kingdom. He is telling them how to respond to the variety of ways their efforts will be received.
When he says, whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me Jesus is drawing line from the disciples through himself to the creator God. In other words, to welcome a disciple is the same as welcoming God into your home. This is a twofold promise.
On the one hand it reminds the disciples to be humble about the reception they receive, for that welcome is not for them, it is for God.
On the other hand, it reminds them that they do not go out representing themselves and their own wisdom and power; they go out representing God.
We all need to remember this as we go about our business of being Christians, disciples of Jesus in the world. It is not about us, it is about God.
Then in verse 41, Jesus drives the point home by reminding the disciples of the biblical stories of prophets and righteous persons being received as a way of honoring God and serving God.
And in verse 42, He makes one of his classic reversals, turning things upside down and inside out; taking our expectations and rearranging them. Just as we’ve gotten used to the idea of honoring important people, like disciples and prophets and Episcopal Priests (just kidding) as a way of honoring God, Jesus switches to talking about children: and whoever gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple.
See what he did? The disciples were feeling pretty good, thinking about being connected to the prophets and Jesus, and even God, and then the tables are turned and they are being compared to children.
The message of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom of God, the message that is the Gospel is a message of reversal, of upside down and sideways values, for in the kingdom those who are seen by the world to be on top are known to really be on the bottom, and those on the bottom are esteemed by God as the most important of all.
In this little text Jesus subtly moves the disciples through a sequence that leads them away from thinking about how important they are to thinking about how they can serve the least important people in the world in the name of
Jesus. As John the Baptist, whose feast day was this past week said, As he, Jesus, grows greater, I must grow less.
A child can do no work, a child possesses no power with which to bestow favor, a child has no wisdom or prestige or significance to share. To the ancient world, most children were nothing more than a nuisance, another mouth to feed, another brat under foot until they became old enough to work at the age of 5 or 6.
So when Jesus bestows upon them the same value as disciples and prophets and righteous persons, indeed, if you follow the logic of the text, the same value as himself and God; when Jesus does this he has done an incredibly radical and unheard of thing.
And it is just this sort of radical and unheard of thing to which we modern day disciples and sent ones, 21st century prophets and persons who aspire to be righteous, have been called.
I am wondering this morning….Are we listening? I hope so, because this is a staggering claim. What would happen if we took it seriously? Or even literally? How would our behaviors and attitudes change if we believed that other people see Jesus every time they look at us? What would happen to the Church and to the world if we operated on the assumption that Jesus is visible in and through us at every moment, in every interaction, in every relationship, encounter, conversation, and conflict? What sense of burden or obligation would we feel in our homes, our marriages, our workplaces, and our extended families? Would we tread more lightly on the earth? Speak less and listen more? Reconsider our grudges and grievances? Choose our words with greater care? Examine our motivations more closely?
Story of Rusty
What Jesus handed to his disciples when he commissioned them for ministry was his own reputation, his own character, his own standing in the world. Think about it…What a risk he took, and today…what a responsibility we bear!
Many of us find ourselves today in the midst of so many troubling concerns throughout the world….Many people are asking, How Long?
How long until we can touch our parents and beloved elders?
How long until we can have things on our calendar to look forward to that don’t involve staring at a computer?
How long until we can gather together again to sing your praise?
How long until the dying ceases, the brutality ends, the anxiety abates?
How long until justice rains down like waters?
How long until the coronavirus pandemic stops holding our lives and our world in the thrall of fear?
How long for the recovery of the people in six states in southern Mexico, hit by an earthquake this week, as well as people throughout the world struggling to rebuild after floods, fires, tornados and earthquakes?
How long before all people can get proper health care treatment throughout the world?
How long until clean water and food becomes available to all people?
How long until the world begins to see the global environment as a threat to our existence and we work together as a global community to heal the earth and all of God’s creation?
How long until we live up to our Baptismal vows?
I believe people who are asking, How Long?, are not asking for a specific date. We are asking for the faith that a time will come.
And as we ask, How Long?, we have some idea of what God’s answer will be. For we have been called to go out in the name of Jesus Christ to share our stuff and God’s love with those whom the world rejects and turns its back on.
We have been called to give radical hospitality to refugees and people who keep failing in life and to those unable to work and take care of themselves.
We have been called to look at people not with our own eyes but with the eyes of Christ and treat them with the respect and dignity we pledged to as part of our baptismal vows.
We have been called to love the loveless, not with our cold and shriveled hearts, but with the heart of Christ which overflows with love for all.
We have been called to care for others whether they deserve it or not; because none of us is disciplined and righteous and prophetic enough to deserve the love of God; it has been given to us as a gift, and we are called to give it to others free of charge and free of judgement.
Yes sisters and brothers, we have been called to the ministry of welcoming and receiving and giving and loving and the only question left is,
How will we answer that call?
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.
Quench our thirst for love,
Satisfy our need to be known,
Assure us that we are indeed prophets of welcome.
We are called to go to proclaim this peace in God’s name
Because we go with the Blessing of God Almighty…..
Love is a powerful force in the world, stronger than hatred or fear or greed. The love of Jesus inspires us and makes us able to share generously the gifts we have received from God. Our gifts are one way that we love one another and the world around us, the world God loves. Let us be as generous with our giving as our God has been with love, with mercy, and with gifts poured into our lives.
Thank you, God, for the generosity that enables us to share. We are rich in many things. Help us to empty ourselves of pretense, even as we pour out gifts of gratitude. We dedicate our offerings and ourselves to shaping the community you intend, in the spirit of Christ.