Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, July 2, 2017, Pentecost 4, Proper 8, Year A, Matthew 10:40-42
“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.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Amen.
It is good to be back with you today. Were you able to make it last week for church? Did you get to hear Fr. Zachariah? Did you get a chance to speak with him and his family? What did he preach about? What did you learn about them and from them?
Wonderful… What a blessing to have them… The bad side of having him fill-in for us when we are gone is that I never get to hear him preach or hear him say the Eucharistic prayer.
But I’ve known Zachariah for many years.
We worked together in the social work world about 10 years ago.
We worked with young men who were refugees and looking for safety from war and violence and oppression.
It was a good job.
This past week, Jodi and I spent the week in the UP on a “Reading Week”. We did some of the usual administrative things that we normally do… working on the newsletter… planning various liturgies… answering e-mails… But the best part of “reading week”, was the fact that we were able to set aside time… to read.
It’s not that we don’t have a chance to read when we are in town, but it is nice to be more intentional about doing so.
I read a book by Rob Bell about the Bible. Actually, the book that we are reading as a parish on Thursdays in July.
Ask me later if you’d like more information.
Jodi read a book by Richard Rohr about the Trinity called The Divine Dance.
Throughout the week each of us would say, “Hey, listen to this…” or, “you’ve got to hear this.” or “yikes… I don’t agree with this.”
It was a gift for us to be able to use some of our Continuing Ed time to read and spend time in some different woods and near some different waters.
I’m not sure how this happened, but we discovered that the cabin that we stayed at had some excellent fishing…
And… it would have been a sin for us to not fish in a place with such an excellent lake… so we did… we did it… we fished in the name of baby Jesus.
In fact, we fished a lot… I’m sure we fished every day.
On one of the days, the kids were off collecting ticks in the woods. Gretchen came back to the cabin for a snack, where Jodi and I were reading … and I said, “Hey Gretch… wanna go fishing?”
“Sounds good,” she said.
And so we grabbed our rods and cooler and got in the boat. I just happened to have brought my boat…
Off we went… as we were getting to the “good” perch spot, I looked at her golden hair blowing in the wind.
She looked at me and gave me smile that could only come when a father and daughter are fishing in the UP.
We pulled up to the spot. She knew her job… she dropped the anchor and we waited for the waves to settle so we could enjoy the serenity…
“I love you, Dad…” I smiled…
“Oh, dad, we have our rods… and we have the fish basket…
We have the snacks and Gatorade and your beer…”
“Yeah…” I said.
“But where is the bait, dad? What are we going to use for bait, papa?”
And so, I looked her in the eye and told her, “God himself will provide the bait, my daughter. The Lord will provide.”
That story is almost all the way true.
The Saturday evening crowd expected me to say that we found some worms caught in a thicket, but that just isn’t true.
It is really the only part of this sermon that touches the Genesis passage and is my attempt at humor.
Today, I’m going to preach on the Gospel. The Genesis text is fascinating and has influenced this sermon and I may preach on it in two years when it comes up again, but the gospel text for today is compelling to me.
As I said, I spent the past week in the UP. I went to gas stations where I didn’t know the clerks… drove by places that were unfamiliar… Shopped in stores with crazy names like Shop-ko and Jacks IGA. The corner stores weren’t on corners and they had beer that I wasn’t familiar with. Everything was new and fresh and exciting.
But I couldn’t find an Honor Family Meat Market.
I couldn’t find a bait store that had what I wanted… and nobody knew me or really cared about what I did for work or what church I belonged to.
I was an outsider… at the mercy of the locals.
Luckily, we were treated kindly. I suppose that in places like Manistique, tourism is a pretty big deal. You don’t want an inhospitable reputation or you won’t have folks who want to visit. With some exceptions…
At the end of the week, as we were finishing up the packing, I walked up to the house of the owner of the cabin that we stayed in. We have known John and Sandy for several years now and we correspond a few times throughout the year. They bought the “resort” about ten years ago. They moved from Wisconsin for this place. To live on Thunder Lake. To operate Whispering Pines Resort… Google it later.
But as I was sitting in John’s living room, chatting about his full-time job at the saw mill, he told me something that has kept me thinking and re-thinking… He explained how “political” it was to own the cabins on Thunder Lake. I was glad he explained things a bit more because I didn’t understand.
He told me, “ Christian, the folks who live here are kind. They are good people. But after owning this place for a couple of years, we discovered that our neighbors don’t really want us here. Not personally, but they don’t want visitors here. They don’t want tourists here. They want things quiet. They want to show up for the summer and relax and don’t want any disruptions. They’d prefer that we didn’t even exist.”
Ugh… that made me feel pretty yucky.
Thunder Lake is a sacred place for me and my family. We find it peaceful… We have years of memories there. Our children have grown up on Thunder Lake. We have memories of fish caught, leeches that have latched on, ticks that have embedded. Turtles that have been raced… marshmallows that have been roasted and friends that we see annually. These are memories that will last forever.
And yet, the reality is that too many, we were unwelcomed guests. Yuck… I’m sure I have been places and felt unwelcome before, but for some reason, this scenario was especially painful. Especially personal.
And after I spent some time with this new reality… I began to see things differently… I began to try to insert my own reality and my own experiences into the biblical text. To see what the text may have to say to me.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me…”
It was painful to not be welcomed.
It was painful to think that my family was not wanted.
Uh-oh… When I start to feel this way… slowly the text turns me around and I am able to see ways in which the offended has been the offender. Times where I have been guilty of the sin in which I feel I am a victim.
And.. so… you should know… that your priest… at least one of your priests… has, at times, been inhospitable… where I have been selfish… where I have put my needs and desires above the needs and desires of others… Where I have not paid close enough attention to those around me.
My guess is that this is also true for each of you…
And so the Biblical text has something to say to you and to me… to us…
I think the author of Matthew wants the reader to know that he or she should be welcoming to prophets and to the righteous.
For Matthew, this was a specific kind of follower of Jesus.
“Prophets” and “The Righteous” were a kind of leader within the Matthean Jesus movement.
They were wandering missionaries.
The text was written during a time of danger and persecution and followers of Jesus needed to remember to care for one another… the expanding community depended on one another.
Matthew seems to say to the reader, “we’re in this together…”
He seems to be saying, “We need to take care of those who are spreading the gospel. The Kingdom of God needs to spread, so be hospitable to those who are doing that work…”
And, then… he reminds the prophets and the righteous, that they are also bound by the same code.
When Matthew says “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.”
***He isn’t talking about children… not exclusively…
The author is describing other Christians who are not “Prophets” or “The Righteous”…
He means everybody else in their community…
“Hey, readers… hey, Christians… take care of each other…”
Your reward will be the Kingdom of God. Your reward will be, that you get to live in the Kingdom of God. You will be able to live in a place that is welcoming… and hospitable… just like Jesus told us about…
This doesn’t seem very shocking, does it? So what’s the point preacher? Should we take care of each other? That’s the point of this? In our context, this sermon may not be very memorable… It isn’t very challenging… it isn’t really good news… it isn’t really even news at all… Without context, this is just another ordinary text during ordinary time.
Because without context, we are prone to do what I did… to see my visit to a resort in the UP as a form of persecution.
And that’s normal… It is normal for us to forget that there are places that Christians are truly persecuted… to forget that there are places where Christians are the outsiders…
Places like Iraq… Pakistan… Egypt… Syria…South Sudan…places where friends who Fr. Zachariah and I worked to help welcome were from… I’m sure you can think of others…
Places where Christians really cry out like the Psalmist…
“How long, O Lord????
Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day?
How long shall my enemy triumph over me?”
Because when I hear this gospel in the context of this Psalm it changes things for me. It invites me to think about the global Church… it invites this parish in Beulah, Michigan to pray for and act on behalf of Christians who are oppressed and subjects of injustice, everywhere.
No doubt, as Christians, we are to stand up against any kind of injustice. Any injustice against any human person… Any injustice against any part of Creation… Any injustice…
But, maybe the question for us today is, “How can we be more aware and more supportive of those who share our faith as Christians… and who are being persecuted?” Maybe that is one of the questions… Maybe… Because if we take this part of the Biblical text seriously, I think that you and I need to figure out a way to show more hospitality to our brothers and sisters.
My prayer is that we will continue to seek out injustice… that we will align our finances… our peace… our prayers… our politics… our time and our passions in the direction of Kingdom Justice… In the direction of the Kingdom of God…
And our reward… according to the the author of Matthew is that we will live in a world that the Kingdom is more fully realized… the Kingdom is nearer… And more accessible… a world where justice is more fully present and where human beings don’t need to flee their country because of fear and violence and oppression.