Scripture: Matthew 10:40-42
The church is one very interesting group. Often we get this idea that in a church everyone agrees all the time, and that the people inside are perfect lives with no problems at all. Those of us here realize that at times life in the church is as dysfunctional as congress during a budget debate. Although these ideas are imagined fantasies, they tend to weigh heavily on many.
These ideas were similar to the ideas that Jesus spoke of in the passage we discussed last week. Man against father, daughter against mother and all. We endure all this strife on a daily basis, and then we have a community of faithful just as messed up as the rest of the world. It is mind boggling that we would want to put up with it at all. We have enough problems the way it is.
Someone comes in that will at their wits end, they are broken and hurting, they feel as if there is no one or nowhere to turn. They come to realize that there is nothing left for them to do, they are so worn out and tired of keeping up appearances and they just open up to the community of faithful. This is where miracles happen, in this vulnerability where the strength we act like we posses has left and we stand vulnerable before God and His church. What do we do?
Today Jesus is sending his disciple out into the communities around Israel, he has already warned them of the struggles they will face but now he speaks of the miraculous. Jesus did not send the disciples out to minister among the wealthy or the righteous but the lost sheep of Israel. He sent them out to the broken and hurting, the ones that had run out of appearances and were left naked and vulnerable. He sent them out to do something that the religious community neglected; He sent them out to minister to these vulnerable people. He sent them to eat with the homeless, to speak to the prostitutes, to help clean the ones incapable of helping themselves. Why, because it is among the least of the kingdom that we can see God’s power.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” This term of welcome is one that peaks interest. On the surface we may believe that this passage is calling us to be unified in belief and that we all should be in agreement in all things. But the reality is something quite different. It is term of reception. To welcome someone is the beginnings of building a relationship or friendship with someone. To welcome someone is to open the doorways of conversation, and is an invitation of potential friendship.
Welcoming is the beginnings of the ministry that Jesus is sending his disciples on. We must be welcoming so that people may enter into conversation with us, so that we can encourage them into conversation with God. The interesting thing is that Jesus is not speaking to the disciples in this manner, He is not commanding them to be welcoming but is speaking of those that they will be meeting. Yes we must be open to others around us but for them to begin a journey of faith they must be willing to open themselves up.
Do any of you find that odd? The people we are called to serve must be welcoming to us? It almost seems upside down and wrong side out, but it is true. We cannot serve people that reject our service. How then are we to serve?
To be able to serve those around us and to encourage them to welcome us we have to first open ourselves up to them. John wrote in his epistle, “We love because he first loved us.” For others to welcome us we first must imitate Christ in loving them first. Loving them when they disagree with us, loving them when they annoy us, and loving them when they are living in ways that we know are not exactly nurturing a deepening spiritual life. That is the beginnings of how we serve.
When we love first, they will reject us at first, but eventually as we welcome them they will begin to open up to us and begin welcoming the conversations. They may even begin to take steps toward Christ.
Jesus begins by letting us know that our job is not to bring people to convert, but to welcome. Our job is to open our lives to others so that they will open up to the ministry that Jesus has called us to. We are called to love first to become vulnerable to those around us so that they begin to open up to us, only after that do we engage in any other form of ministry.
After the initial discussion about opening on the reception of others, Jesus then goes into the use of the gifts of ministry. He mentions the prophet and the righteous. These are two different types of ministry. The office or gift of the prophecy is probably one of the most misunderstood gifts of the Spirit. This is largely do to dispensational theology where those seen as being prophets were ones that saw into the future. The gift of prophecy or the ministry of the prophet is not to forecast the future, but to speak. The ministry of a prophet is spoken ministry or the giving words of encouragement or wisdom into the life of those around them.
There is a time to speak and a time to listen. There are times to encourage and times to just step back and let those we work with have their space. Although we may have knowledge and wisdom we will be unable pass that knowledge or encouragement on to those around us unless they welcome the message. If we speak to soon we close the doors of the relationship, and if we speak too late again the doors may close. To be a prophet requires discipline and discernment. It requires knowledge and wisdom and the ability to discern and read the situation at hand. Most of the dysfunction in a community is caused by words imprudently spoken and welcoming doors that were once open being closed, not because those that spoke were wrong but they failed to discern the proper timing.
Jesus also mentions a second ministry, the ministry of the righteous. This too is a confusing term because often righteousness is seen as legalism, or rules. But righteous can also just, or upright, or in the right relationship with someone. The ministry of the righteous is the ministry of deeds. Being righteous is living our lives among others with justice and relationship in mind. The ministry of the righteous is the ministry that is seen by others. How we treat a customer, how we respond when we are under pressure, it is how we treat those that annoy and disagree with us. The ministries of the righteous see an injustice in the community and take action to put things into a right relationship again.
Prophecy is the spoken ministry and righteousness is service, both are vital to the kingdom of God. If all we do is speak but never take any action in confronting the injustices of our society our words will fall on deaf ears. And if all we do is serve without speaking and teaching to restore relationships between humanity and God, our actions will do nothing in building the kingdom.
Jesus ends by speaking about giving a cup of cold water to one of these little ones. Which also sound odd initially. He ends this passage, which is a pep talk as he sends out his disciples into the ministry, by speaking about little ones. The little ones that Jesus speaks about could be the ones that are lesser in society, the unimportant, or the young. In either case, Jesus is saying that in all that we do we should focus all of our attention in encouraging those less mature than ourselves in age or spirituality to grow. Not only are we to encourage them but offer them cold water. This is of significant importance, because cold water is refreshing, it is as if Jesus is telling them that in our dealings with the less mature in faith our words and deeds should be a source of refreshment and rest so that they will be more prepared to face the world around them.
We are challenged to welcome, speak, act, and refresh. Even though we may be mocked, shunned and turned away. But if we continue on in each case there is a reward. What is this reward that Jesus speaks about? The word translated as reward is the wages of employment. It is difficult to think that we get paid if we participate in the ministry of Jesus, but in actuality we do. The payment, wage, or reward is not one of economic value but one of relational significance. There is nothing more rewarding than to see the light of faith growing in the eyes of someone we invest our time into, there is no monetary value that can be placed on watching and encouraging someone to deepen their relationship with God, or to assist in the restoration of a relationship that has been strained. The wages that are rewarded to those that participate in Jesus’ ministry in word and deed are hard to explain but they are great. But the reward is only given if we are participating for the right reasons, if all these things are done outside of genuine love for God and others the reward will be unfulfilling.
So someone enters this meeting at their wits end, standing before us vulnerable and hurting and I asked what do we do, how do we respond? This question is one that I hope each of us considers very diligently, because how we respond will actually dictate the very future and effectiveness of our collective future. Do we respond out of love or judgment? Do we respond in action or word? Or do we respond by offering refreshment and rest? When we go out to our jobs and neighborhoods are we leaving this place open to those around us extending hands of friendship even to those whom may not have similar beliefs as ours or are we closing doors and building walls that may potentially leave people isolated from the God that loves them? I ask these things in total and complete honesty, because if we claim the name of Christ then every word and action we engage in should reflect the name in which we claim. Are we a people of justice and mercy, truth and grace, love and devotion? These are questions that each of us must answer on our own, but our individual answers affect every one around us, because we are a community. We live our lives together as well as alone, we serve united and individually. We are the church. Each of us uses our own gifts so that together we can encourage those around us to deepen their faith, some have gifts of action and other of word, but each of work together to build the kingdom of God within the community He has called us to. And when we unite and serve together to bring cold cups of water to the little ones among us our reward will be great and we will see God’s mighty hand working amazing deeds among us. But this all begins with welcoming each other in love.
As we enter into this time of holy expectancy and communion as Friends, let us consider these things together. Let us think of how we have done this in our past and how we can improve in the future. And let us consider where God is calling us to serve today.