Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 2, 2017
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (RCL Proper 8, Year A)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Even a Cup of Cold Water

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen

The other day I heard a story about five people who were blind and went to “see” an elephant.[1] “What is this?” asked the first one, who had run head-first into its side. “It’s an elephant,” said the elephant’s keeper, who was sitting on a stool, cleaning the elephant’s harness. “Wow, I’ve always wondered what Elephants are like,” as they ran their hands up and down the elephant’s side. “Why, it’s just like a wall… a large, warm wall!”

“What do you mean, a wall?” said the second person, wrapping their arms around the elephant’s leg. “This is nothing like a wall. You can’t reach around a wall! This is more like a pillar. Yeah, that’s it, an elephant is exactly like a pillar!”

“A pillar? Strange kind of pillar!” said the third one, stroking the elephant’s trunk.  “It’s too thin, for one thing, and it’s too flexible for another. This is more like a snake.  See, it’s wrapping around my arm.  An elephant is just like a snake!”

“Snakes don’t have hair!” said the fourth person, pulling the elephant’s tail. “I’m surprised that you missed the hair. This isn’t a snake, it’s a rope.  Elephants are exactly like ropes.”

“I don’t know what y’all are thinking!” the fifth one cried, waving the elephant’s ear back and forth. “It’s as large as a wall, all right, but thin as a leaf, and no more flexible than any piece of cloth this size should be. I don’t know about all of you – who could mistake an elephant for anything except a sail!”

And as the elephant moved on, they found the truth, that an elephant is, well, an elephant.

Perspective, right?  Today’s short gospel text begs for such an introduction that invites perspective and context. The whole of Chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel is about discipleship – that’s the perspective.  A few weeks ago we heard how Jesus calls and commissions the disciples.

Then Jesus gives disciples authority over unclean spirits and power to heal and minister to those who are sick. He sends them out to proclaim good news and to bring about the Kingdom of God.  He also gives them warnings of coming persecutions and trials, telling disciples whom to fear and whom to ignore.  You may recall last week’s sermon by Fr. Drew, explaining that living into the gospel message might spark division sometimes, even while Jesus seeks peace and unity.  And, here at the end of the chapter, Jesus’ promises rewards for faithfulness.

There, in the last line, comes the clincher: whoever gives “even” a cup of cold water to one of these little ones… none of these will lose their reward.  Even a cup of cold water.  In the Greek, this little word monon means only, or alone.  So: only a cup of water.  With this tiny word, Jesus emphasizes something as small as a cup of water for the Christ is of cosmic importance.

Taken in perspective, this cup of water symbolizes gospel – it’s not only what it takes to be a disciple but rather what it means to be a disciple.[2]

  • It means empowerment and struggle.
  • It means welcome and rejection.
  • It means division, persecution and the call to faithfulness.

Perspective – having it and keeping it. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – both then and now.  The rewards?  It is not about how one earns the reward but how one recognizes the reward. Here, Jesus is not talking about the actions the disciples are supposed to do.  Jesus talks about those who welcome them, the ordinary little ones that Jesus has commissioned.  The ones who welcome those disciples – even just giving them a cup of cold water – those who welcome with a small gesture are now welcomed into the mission of the disciples and of Jesus.

That means

  • just smiling at and really seeing strangers instead of ignoring them.
  • Even offering to sit with someone and to listen to their story of heart ache.
  • Even offering your own story of heartache, being mutually vulnerable, and inviting someone to listen to you.
  • Even helping with summer starters on Sunday.
  • Even pulling weeds at Buckets of Rain on a Thursday.
  • Even volunteering for one morning during Vacation Bible School.
  • Even bringing extra supplies for your kid’s teachers at the beginning of the school year.
  • Even speaking up for someone who is being bullied.

These are small gestures, yes, and in the Kingdom of God, there is no small gesture when it is done in faith.  Each act of loving kindness has a cosmic impact, affecting our hearts, those of others, and the ones who welcome them.

And even as we celebrate our nation’s Independence this week, today’s readings remind us that we live interdependently. Our gospel of grace has at its core a mutuality: with each other, with the whole of creation and with God.  This is a fundamental truth about ourselves, that we can hear “even” in this small text – in our welcome, when we receive one another, God receives us – that God upon whom we are dependent.

On the 4th of July, while we celebrate, we can remember that Jesus calls us not to a way of independent self-sufficiency. Jesus calls us to a welcoming way of discipleship that is interdependent: for God, for our neighbors, for our enemies, for ourselves.

And that is today’s promise – we have the opportunity to be Jesus’ disciple and make a difference in the world. Every. Single. Day. And God receives us. Every. Single. Day.

Today’s good news is that we are called not to heroic discipleship, but genuine, authentic, faithful, consistent, daily discipleship.  Just, even, only discipleship. This will make a difference beyond what we see – and that is God’s perspective.

Through Christ, *even* this will reverberate out and be used by God for the dream of God’s kingdom come. 

Amen


[1] Cited at https://betterlifecoachingblog.com/2010/07/23/five-blind-men-and-an-elep... on June 30, 2017

[2] David Lose, “in the meantime” cited here on June 30, 2017: http://www.davidlose.net/2017/06/pentecost-4-a-even/