5 Pentecost, Proper 8 – July 2, 2023
When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to share the good news of God’s kingdom, he sent them out as vulnerable outsiders. They had no religious institutions to back their efforts. No political tools to wield. No cultural capital to spend. They had no power at all, save the power of the Holy Spirit moving through them to heal and serve.
Remember, Jesus told his first messengers to carry nothing — no money, no food, no extra clothes. He told them to assume a posture of extreme humility, and depend wholly on the hospitality of the people they wished to serve. Even the simplest, most basic of their needs — the need for a cup of cold water on a sun scorched afternoon — would have to be met by others.
“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.”
The rawness of Jesus’ words here should not be lost on us–simply a cup of water in the name of a disciple–and one’s reward is granted – forever. The reward is for the small gesture: Jesus tells his disciples that the people who welcome them will be richly rewarded.
Notice that the prize is not only for the keynote speaker, the celebrity prophet, or the charismatic star at the microphone. The prize also goes to the person who serves. It goes to the one who hears the doorbell and opens the door. It goes to the one who hangs up the coats, washes the feet, pours the cool drinks, and sets and clears the table.
In other words, the hierarchies we cherish are not the hierarchies that matter to Jesus. The essential workers aren’t always the people we glamorize. It seems that the small gesture and the invisible kindness are pleasing to God, who sees everything we do in secret. What is rewarded is the quiet, unglamorous meeting of basic human need. Why? Because it is in the offering of such simple, essential gifts that Jesus’s kingdom announces itself. Jesus came to bring abundant life, and that life begins with the most elemental of gestures. “Even a cup of cold water?” Yes, even that.
What am I saying? Well, I’m saying that discipleship doesn’t have to be heroic. Even offering a cold cup of water counts. Just providing hospitality counts.
Once you realize this, we can quickly add to the list. Just smiling at the strangers we see instead of ignoring them. Even offering a shoulder to cry on to one who grieves. Just welcoming the new kid in school or at camp. Even writing a letter to a congressperson about an important issue. Just showing up for a march to protest the abuse of power. Even thanking a law enforcement officer or someone in the military for their service. Just helping out at a food kitchen. Just being there when your kids need you. Just speaking up for someone being discriminated against. We could go on and on.
These are small gestures. Except that, in the kingdom of God, there is no small gesture when done in faith. Each and every act of kindness and generosity has an impact well beyond what you’d imagined. Jesus’ words seem to imply that no act of generosity or kindness will be forgotten. Even a cup of cold water.
That’s an amazing thought: that even our smallest acts of kindness and generosity reverberate with cosmic significance. You never know the difference your faithful actions may have. We have the opportunity to be Jesus’ disciples and make a difference in the world each and every day, wherever we may be.
Brene Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly, defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” I’d like to think that Jesus knew the true meaning of vulnerability. After all, to be human is to be vulnerable and so therefore, we should expect vulnerability to be at the very heart of the incarnation. As Brene Brown notes, “When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
When the church misinterprets vulnerability as weakness, it sidelines the very truth that could make it strong — that God stands in solidarity with humanity and our fundamental need for connection, belonging, intimacy, and love. Again, as Brene notes, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Which brings me back to the word “even”. “Even a cup of cold water”. We are called not to heroic discipleship but to genuine discipleship, the kind of discipleship characterized by “everyday faith.” “Everyday” in both senses of the word: ordinary, mundane even, simple. But also each and every day. True greatness and courage has more to do with the everyday acts of faith, than it has to do with one-time heroic acts. Heroes will even tell you that.
Even the smallest acts of kindness and generosity, done in faith, have cosmic significance, and make a difference beyond what we see, as each act of kindness and generosity done in the name of Christ reverberates out and is gathered into God’s work to love, bless, and save this world. God’s promises commission and create a new reality of hope, generosity, and possibility. A new reality that Jesus calls “the kingdom of heaven.” And we get to be a part of it!
As Mother Theresa tells us:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, there may be jealousy; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.