Monday, 23 June 2014

“A cup of cold water …”: a sermon (Matthew 10:40–42)

Water is crucial for sustaining life, particularly in a dry climate.  Jesus lived in a dry climate, a climate where water is crucial for sustaining life.  The climate affected the culture, as climate always does.  Being a person of his own culture, Jesus spoke about many things in the terms understood by people in his own culture.  He spoke about welcome and about hospitality in terms of the sharing of water.

So we hear Jesus say in today’s gospel lesson:

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  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; 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.

Jesus tells us the quality of our welcome to others and our hospitality – even in little things like a glass of water – reflects the depths of our spirituality.  And, if we hear this comment alongside other things Jesus said in the gospels, we hear:
  • The quality of our welcome and our hospitality says far more about our spirituality than the amount of time we spend talking about religion to other people.
  • The quality of our welcome and our hospitality says far more about our spirituality than the length of our prayers.
  • The quality of our welcome and our hospitality says far more about our spirituality than the details of our beliefs, however orthodox or however pioneering they may be.
  • The quality of our welcome and our hospitality says much about who we are as Christians.
And this is particularly evident in what happens when the Church does what it does when we are most fully being the Church, when we celebrate Holy Communion. 

When we are most fully being ourselves, the Christian Church is a people who shares food and drink.

Now, this is something that is good news for many congregations, because hospitality and welcome are things that churches – and other faith communities – are frequently very good at.  Whatever the denomination, whatever the faith, hospitality is one area in which many congregations excel.  People of faith tend to be people who frequently share food and drink.

In our outreach to the wider community and to the world, this is also seen.  People of faith put great energy into efforts to share with a world in need at its most basic level of need.  We are a people who shares food and drink.

Particularly for ourselves as Christians, hospitality is at the heart of who we are.  This is the case whether the hospitality extends to
  • a cup of cold water,
  • a cup of hot coffee and a biscuit,
  • a counter meal and a glass of wine,
  • a box of assorted groceries for people in need locally,
  • or the funding of programmes assisting people in Third World countries to become more self-sufficient in their own food production. 
Hospitality is at the heart of who we are as Christians.

And this hospitality is radically counter-cultural.  In the last few decades, from the Reagan-Thatcher era in the nineteen-eighties onwards, we’ve all been taught the big lie that greed is good.  We hear it from politicians.  We hear it in the media.  We get a big dose of it particularly from reality TV.  There are even a few churches that are pushing this line.  But we hear a radically different message from Jesus … a very different message from what you’ll hear on reality TV.  Generosity, hospitality and a warm sense of welcome are the way of Jesus.

As congregations, on those occasions when we are privileged to have children in our midst, we have the opportunity to encourage the children around us to follow the way of Jesus.  At one level, this includes teaching them to pray, helping them to develop some understanding of the beliefs and stories of the Christian faith, and developing a link with the worshipping congregation so that the children feel a sense of belonging among the church as we worship.  But encouraging a child to follow in the way of Jesus doesn’t end with the religious stuff.  In many ways, the religious stuff is the easy bit. 

The hard bit will be for us to encourage in the children we encounter those qualities of generosity, hospitality, and welcome that are central to the way of Jesus.  The reason that this is the hard bit has nothing to do with the children themselves or with ourselves, but with the culture in which we all live.  Much of our western culture in twenty-fourteen is an active denial of these qualities.  Thus we have the difficult task ahead of us:
  • to encourage children to live a life of generosity in the midst of a culture that says “Get everything you can for yourself”;
  • to encourage children to live a life of hospitality and welcome in the midst of a culture that increasingly teaches us to fear the stranger and to hate the person who is different; (and in a culture where, sadly, even some churches teach us to fear the stranger and to hate the person who is different.)
Jesus said:

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  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; 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.

Jesus tells us the quality of our welcome to others and our hospitality – even in little things like a glass of water – reflects the depths of our spirituality. 

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