4 Pentecost, Proper 8 – July 2, 2017
“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 not simply for the preachers and prophets, but also for those whose calling is simply to pour the drinks and provide the hospitality.
That is to say, the great missionaries tend to be over-recognized rather than overrated, and their support teams who make the mission possible through prayer, planning, and financial support are so often undervalued. Jesus, today is telling us they are not undervalued. Support and what we may think are small gestures are very important in the kingdom of God.
In his book Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell popularized insights of social network theory in a chapter entitled “The Power of the Few.” He refers especially to the work of “social connectors and mavens” who enable the development of complex networks of people and ideas. In a movement like Christianity, such individuals were and are critical to its spread to the ends of the earth. It comes as no surprise, then, that Jesus takes time to emphasize the reception of the apostles in their mission.
The divine mission is as much about the unnamed people who provide a thirsty servant a cold drink of water as the familiar names that dot the pages of church histories.
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. Even volunteering to help with the Habitat house. 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.
I think you’ve all heard about the recent suspected road rage killing in West Goshen. A beautiful 18 year-old girl was shot in the head and killed while driving, suspected road rage. I happened to catch an episode of 20/20 on Friday night that dealt with the topic of road rage. In it, a police officer in a very heavily traveled area spoke frankly about the aggressiveness of drivers today. He was giving tips on what to do and what not to do in road rage situations. The interesting, but kind of frightening fact was that he sees all types of people succumb to road rage. Any of us may succumb. And there are different triggers that set us off. Driving could be a metaphor for our lives, it translates into our lives. And it makes me wonder what is at the heart of such anger within us? And what can we do with that angry energy? Can we slow down? Can we realize that a couple of minutes, a seeming slight on the road, is not worth an accident, it’s not worth losing our life? Can we get past the idea that we need to “win”? Can we let go of another person’s mistakes on the road, can we let go of another person’s mistakes in life? Life is not about “winning”, it’s primarily about relationships. But relationships, giving of ourselves, showing hospitality to others can make us vulnerable. Some people think vulnerability is weakness. Let me assure you it is not.
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 Brown 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” Perhaps we can, instead of acting on our anger at another driver on the road, just let them go on their way. We don’t need to win. What are we winning? Channel that angry energy into a workout routine, a walk around the block, figure out a small, kind gesture to do for someone else. Perhaps even make space for a car to merge easily on the road, or make space for them to turn onto a heavily traveled road. In other words, find something productive to do with that energy. On the road, and in all of our everyday lives.
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 are remembered, 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! Amen.