Saturday, June 28, 2008

Just a Cup?
Matthew 10:40-42
June 29, 2008

Scripture Reference:
Matthew 10:40-42
10:40 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
10:41 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;
10:42 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."

Those of us who have been around church and Sunday School for a while have heard this scripture before, probably several times. And, as often as not, any discussion of the text usually centers on the theme of hospitality and making others welcome, or reaching out to people who make us uncomfortable because of our love of Christ. But we’ve already kind of covered these topics, so I’d like to talk this morning about a couple of other ideas that compel me about this text.
The first comes through most clearly in a different translation of the text, the Message. It goes like this:
40-42"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."
I see a couple of things here that I want to share with you. The first is where it says “Accepting someone’s help is as good a giving someone help.” Hmm. Now isn’t that interesting. How many times have we read this and just bleeped right over this part without thinking about it. Sometimes welcoming a righteous person is making space for them in your home or your life, but often this makes us uncomfortable. In fact, sometimes being around a truly good person is harder than being around a scumbag. At least you can feel superior to the scumbag. But the righteous person accepts you just the way you are and if you have a need, they want to help you. Whether you want to admit that you want their help or not. It’s really humbling to let someone else help you.
It’s even harder when the person who wants to help you is in worse shape than you are. How hard it is to graciously accept hospitality or an extra hand from someone who just barely has the resources to get by, much less help you. But in accepting help, you give them a gift back. Not only are you helped and blessed, but you give them the opportunity to bless you. And if the help they offer is to work together with you to bless someone else, then all three of you are blessed. It takes a little humbling on our part, sometimes, but allowing others to help us, either by meeting our need or by sharing our work to help others, is allowing a small gift to be multiplied many times over.
That brings me to my second thought about this passage, and another of those themes that I see running hither and yon all through the Bible. It’s that God seldom asks us to start out doing the big things. I mean, sure, a few people like Moses got the really big jobs right off the bat. But most of the time what God asks from us is the little things.
In 2 Kings, the Old Testament tells us of the Shunamite woman who welcomed Elijah every time he passed by, even giving him a room of his own to use whenever he was in the area. In Acts in the New Testament, we hear of Dorcas, who opened her home to anyone in need, providing what food, clothing and shelter she had to anyone who came to her for help. Neither of these women, just two of many examples of giving cited in the Bible, set out to reform the world. They just met the need they saw in front of them. And that’s the same place where Jesus started out his disciples.
When Jesus sends them out in the previous passages, he doesn’t tell them to high-tail it to Jerusalem or Rome. Just go to the nearby villages, the small towns like this one. He doesn’t tell them to start with the rabbi or the mayor, just meet whatever need that God puts in front of them. If someone is sick, he says, heal them. If they haven’t heard the good news, tell them. Show them what I have shown you. Do for them what I have done for you. Share. And I think that’s important. All too often, we let ourselves get paralyzed by the overwhelming need of the world. How can we, we say, feed all the hungry, provide all the medical care, drill all the wells needed, give all the clothes? It’s just too much. And so, overwhelmed, we don’t do anything because we simply don’t know where to start.
Or, we see this huge need and we think, if I try to bring God’s kingdom to this place, if I sign on to work for God, he’s going to ask me to do something bigger than I can do. It’s that old, and so tired excuse, “I’m afraid to put God in charge in my life because he might ask me to be a missionary to Africa.” That is just so lame. Especially in this day and time when the church in Africa is growing much, much faster than the church in America and African churches are starting to send missionaries here. Yes, God could possibly ask you to do something spectacular. But most of the time what God asks of us is not to drop everything and run off to some exotic place. More often, he asks us to do the much harder work of changing the world right around us. The place where he’s already put us. I mean, God put us in this place and this time for a reason, so there must be a job for us to do right here. We just have to open our eyes and see what it is.
The point I believe Jesus is making here to his disciples is that there is nothing too small for God to use. Every gesture, every act of kindness, compassion and obedience done in God’s name is unleashing God’s power of redemption into our sad and broken world.
Nothing is too small.
· It can be a phone call to someone who is lonely or ill or who you just haven’t seen in a while.
· It can be taking the time to really listen to the person in the next cubicle instead of doing the ‘smile and nod’ thing while you think about what you’re going to say or do next.
· It can be buying a pair of Tom’s shoes so that another pair is given to a child in a third world country.
· It can be putting your spare change into a jar for the Heifer Project to provide animals for those in need in almost every country around the world, including America.
· It can be even as small as truly seeing and responding to the cashier at the grocery and paying attention to them as a God’s child and not just an animated part of the store machinery.

In the final analysis, it is paying attention when need, any need, presents itself and then seeing what we can do to meet that need—even if it’s only a hug, a smile, a listening ear, or just prayer.
You see, Jesus does call us to change the world. But Jesus never told us that the way to change the world was to install the right government, vote for the right candidate, contribute to the right causes, lobby for the right politics, found and support the right foundations. The way Jesus sent us out to change the world, is to change the world right at our feet. We provide the opening. God changes the world. And yes, some of Jesus’ followers did ultimately address kings and witness to empires. Some created hospitals and built churches and liberated populations. But that’s not where they started. They started with the need in front of them and just followed where God led. And that is what God is calling us to do today.
I want to end by telling you a story.
This story is about Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas. Travis Park is right in downtown San Antonio. Not in the tourist areas, but just outside them, where the homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill congregate because they have nowhere else to go. We went there on a mission trip once, and this is the story of their church as they told it to me. Travis Park used to be a typical urban church. Most of the people lived in the suburbs and drove in to church on Sundays. Membership was slowly declining as people moved too far away to drive in or passed away and the church had virtually no contact with the neighborhood where it was born. But one day, some of the members looked up and noticed the need on their doorstep. They really didn’t want to start a homeless ministry, that was too big, but they did have a good kitchen and a good basement area that they usually used for church potlucks and fellowship. Why not serve breakfast on Sunday mornings for anyone who cared to come? It wouldn’t take much. It was only breakfast after all.
So they did. They decided to serve a real breakfast—bacon, eggs, toast, the works. That first Sunday, only a handful of people showed up. But word got out on the street pretty quickly that you could get a real breakfast there—not just coffee and donuts but something that could actually get you through the day. And for these people, that was an important consideration.
The next Sunday, there were about 40 people.
The third Sunday, there were 100.
And as the people of Travis Park UMC began to talk with and get to know the people right in their area, they began to ask questions. Is there anything else I can do for you? How can I help you?
And the answers came.
“This is the only pair of pants that I have, and they are about worn through.”
“Well, I’m about the same size as you. I’ll bring you an extra pair of mine next Sunday.”
Or “I have a job interview this week, but I haven’t had a shower in a couple of weeks and I don’t have anywhere to clean up.”
“We have a shower here in the basement, let me see if I can arrange for you to use it before your interview.”
Questions asked, answers given. Needs noticed and needs met.
The next thing you knew, things had changed, not just in the neighborhood, but in the church as well. If you visit Travis Park UMC today you will find a church that’s bursting at the seams. Yes, many people left because they didn’t want ‘those people’ in their church, but more and more and more came. The church has remodeled their basement. They still serve breakfast on Sunday, but they also cook lunch there every day in cooperation with two other churches to deliver meals to homeless in other areas of the city who can’t come to them. They’ve created a whole new shower area that is open every day of the week for people who have no other place to shower. One building that used to be unused space during the week is being transformed into a place where people can rest and spend time and get warm during the day. Some people in the church have become specialists in helping people who’ve lost their IDs and other documentation get it replaced so they can get job. The list goes on and on.
This, to me, is what Jesus has sent us to do. This is the cup of cold water that can change the world. All we have to do is notice who is thirsty.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Finding a Rhythm
OK, so I guess I'm starting to settle in the new job. I love this church, and everyone is really nice, although I sense a certain reluctance to really warm up. I hope it's just a reaction to past history and not me. I'm still struggling to find a rhythm for my week. I know that's the key, and I also know that predictability is often just a fleeting mirage in the life of a pastor, but I still try.

I've made just getting the sermon and pulling the worship service together my main priority for the week. My theory is that once I can get comfortable with that, I can add more activities. I mean, writing the sermon every week has to get easier, or at least quicker, right? Or maybe it just seems easier when you've had a chance to get to know you're congregation, right?

Oh well, in a sink or swim situation, I guess you just keep paddling. Ducks rule!