Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cold Water

Matthew 10:40-42
July 2, 2017

            Usually the word “cacophony” is reserved for sounds, something audible. Its definition is “a harsh, discordant mix of sounds.” But if I could borrow the word cacophony to describe a place, I would use it to describe Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. Wall Drug is this rambling, meandering souvenir filled, tourist crowded behemoth of a place. The summer we visited, I saw every kind of person. It was later in July so there were bikers headed to the big Harley motorcycle rally in Sturgis. There were retirees taking a break from seeing the country in their RV’s. There were young families on their summer vacations. There were tourists from other countries, who I suspect – and I fear – believed that this was a good representation of American life. Many of the people who were there had come to Wall Drug specifically to see Wall Drug. Others were there as a side trip either on their way to or from Badlands National Park.
            As I understand it that is how Wall Drug became what it is today. Wall is a first stop outside of the Badlands. The Badlands are beautiful and wild and desolate and magnificent. In the summer, those beautiful, wild, desolate and magnificent Badlands can also get hot and dusty. When visitors were first making treks out to see the Badlands, the folks who started Wall Drug would greet them on their return with cold cups of water. This attracted people to the store itself, and over the years it grew into the cacophony it is today. You can buy a million and one things at Wall Drug, most you probably don’t need, but even now the one thing you can get free at Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota is a cold cup of water.
            I realize that Jesus was not telling the disciples about cold water as a way to attract others. This was not an evangelism scheme. This was not a lesson in church building or attracting young families to the pews. Jesus was talking to the disciples about hospitality, about welcome.
            Our passage today comes at the end of instructions to the disciples. Jesus has told the disciples about what they will face when they go out amongst the people. He has warned them and encouraged them. He has given them some insight as to what it means to be a disciple – the good and the bad. Jesus has instructed them about why he has come. He has made it clear the life of a disciple will not be easy, it will require sacrifice and hardship and separation from loved ones.
            But then we come to these last verses in chapter ten. The heading in my Bible is “Rewards.”
            “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.”
            It would seem that the reward the disciples were promised was the reward of eternal life in heaven. It was the reward of the righteous. I don’t have a problem with this reward. But I’m struggling. I’m not struggling with the idea of my reward being life eternal or life in the kingdom, but is that the only reason why we do what we do? Do we welcome others so we secure our reward sometime later on?
            Let’s come back to that question. Another story I read once was about a church that started a cold water ministry. Not us, although I consider it serendipitous that we have started that kind of ministry in the last weeks just as this passage appeared in the lectionary. No, this was a church in Atlanta. They were a small, struggling church, and they happened to be on a main route where parades happened. A Gay Pride parade was scheduled and it was going to go right past the church. The folks in this church were as divided on this issue as any other. But they knew it was going to be a hot day, and whether or not they supported the reason for the parade, they wanted to offer some relief from the heat. So they set up a table and they offered the marchers cups of cold water. That’s all they did. The marchers appreciated it. They felt welcomed. Some of them felt so welcomed that they decided to visit that church. The church members continued to make them feel welcome, and because of this cold water ministry, the church grew.
            Did this church offer cold water because of a potential reward or did they do it because they knew people would be thirsty? Did they do it because they wanted to evangelize or because they just felt like Jesus would have offered a cup of cold water?
            Why do we do what we do? Is it for a reward or is just because? When I first started working on this sermon I thought that I was going to talk about the reality that all of us are sent. And we are. We are all sent out there, into God’s world. Some of us may be sent to do big things, big ministries, big missions. But some of us are sent to do small things. Maybe to us they seem insignificant. It’s just a cup of cold water. But if you’ve ever been thirsty, I mean really, really thirsty, you know that a cup of cold water can make all the difference.
            But I think we have to remember that our reason for doing what we do – big or small – is not necessarily for our reward. Yes, rewards are wonderful. If what I do furthers the kingdom for all of us, then what a wonderful reward that will be. But Jesus sent the disciples out, not for what it would bring them in the long run, but for what it would do for God’s children right then.
            Perhaps I am heretical for saying this, and if I am so be it, but it seems to me that compassion now is equally important as salvation later. Giving a thirsty person a cup of cold water is compassion now. It is a small thing to be sure, but it is a ministry nonetheless. It is offering someone welcome. It is showing another child of God hospitality. Isn’t that what we are sent to do? Out there? Jesus sent the disciples out to do great things: to heal the sick, the exorcise demons, to raise the dead, to reveal God’s love and to further God’s kingdom. Jesus sent the disciples out to do all this in his name. Jesus sent the disciples out to make others welcome and to be welcomed, to help and to be helped. Jesus sends us out to do the same. Giving even a small cup of cold water can be a large gesture of welcome to someone. Giving even a small cup of cold water can reveal the presence of Christ in our midst. Giving even a small cup of cold water can widen God’s kingdom. Isn’t that our greatest reward?

            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment