By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 28, 2020
Matthew 10:40–42 (ESV)
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Over the past weeks, we have had to readjust our lives. We have had to hit the reset button on society in some ways. We were and still are attempting to determine what is essential and preference. We have gone through these processes because we are at risk. There is a contagion in the world that can cause illness and we are told that the more we are out in the world the potential risk of contracting the disease increases.
We all have opinions about everything going on around us. For some of us life has not changed that much. For me, I am considered an essential worker, so I continued to work every day. To be honest I have worked more during this time. But aspects of my life did change. Albert’s school was closed, sporting events were canceled, as well as social gatherings including meeting for worship. Because of the changes that we have had to do, I have thought about the events in the New Testament in different ways.
Jesus gave the disciples the authority over all diseases and ailments, and power of demonic forces. He sent these disciples out to the surrounding communities with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the passion in their hearts. He sent them to the communities that knew them, the communities that knew who they were and what they had been doing. He sent them to the very communities that could discredit everything they said.
I do not think we fully grasp what it is Jesus did at this moment. It would be easy to go to a town in a different state and put on a show. It would be easy to go where no one knew who you were and begin to speak. It is hard to go home and live down everything you have done in the past and begin to teach your former classmates about the changes you have experienced in your life. It is difficult to go to that person you have known, and possibly hurt, and teach about redemption.
I want us to think about that for a moment. The disciples were going out into the communities that surrounded their own village. These communities were not like our city, but it would be as if you were going to every family within a mile of your house. And if that community did not receive you, then you would go to the next mile radius. Consider your neighbors, and your relationship with them. Consider the people around you in this Meetinghouse, and the people in their neighborhoods.
I have thought about this over the past few days. I have considered how my neighbors might receive me. And to be honest, I do not know if they even know I live in the house. They might see me drive away in the morning, and I might wave to them as I drive by in the evening. If Jesus were to send me to my own neighborhood, I would struggle. I have been a pastor for nearly seventeen years, and I would still struggle.
It is depressing to think about it, because our society does not promote this sort of thing. We drive to work, we drive to church, we drive to shopping centers, and we do not even think about it. Our lives are spread out, stretched tight, and we do not even realize that if one thing happens to go wrong life as we know it will collapse.
What would happen to us if we could no longer travel the extent we do? Imagine that your car broke down, and for some reason you were not able to have it fixed. Could you walk to the grocery store? Could you make it to work? Could you get to your doctor’s appointment? Would you be able to get the things that you need? The nearest grocery store to my house is just over three miles away. Imagine if you had to walk nearly seven miles to get food to eat. How would you adjust your lifestyle?
This is the reality of many people within our communities. The places to work, the places to shop, the places people need to be are often too far away. Life becomes a struggle, just to survive. The nearest grocery store to my house is three miles away. It would take the average person an hour to walk that far, an hour to shop, and then another hour to wrestle all those bags back home. Three hours just to get groceries. Now imagine going that distance with a toddler. This is what it means to live in a food desert and is the way millions of people in our nation live.
I mention this because these are our communities, these are the people that live around us. These are children in our schools, and people we see as we shop. People all around us are struggling, and this pandemic has only intensified the struggle.
Jesus is telling his disciples to go back to the communities. He tells them to stay near their hometowns. Have we ever really thought about why he tells them that?
I grew up in a rural farming community. I love my hometown. I love that I know everyone there and that they all know me. The problem with my hometown is that unless you inherit land chances are you will be forced to leave to find work. Every generation the population dwindles. When my grandfather was in school my hometown had drive in movies, a grocery store, several gas stations, a bank, and a school. Today my hometown has four gas pumps and a vending machine. All the businesses are gone and all that remains is basically a place for farmers to bring their harvest.
Every generation, even in larger cities things change. Business in one part of the city decreases because people move to another part of the city, and shop keepers that once had thriving businesses either relocate or close. There is this ever-expanding city, but the core is hollow and begins to rot.
Jesus sends his disciples to their hometowns. He sends them to heal disease and affliction, to free people from spiritual bondage. He sends them without provision and directs them to live on the hospitality of the community. He sends them to their hometowns, towns that are like many of our communities, towns that are dwindling. He sends them to those towns to change the perspective and to bring hope to the hopeless.
In today’s passage Jesus speaks not of the disciples going, but of the community that receives the disciples. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” This might seem like a weird statement, but it is a change of perspective. So often communities begin to dwindle because they cannot see beyond themselves. They are either caught in the past or distracted by the present circumstances. Every little change threatens the status quo. If someone does something different, the entire community descends into fear because they do not know what to expect. Often the response is to demonize the ones that are instigating the change. They cannot see life from a different point of view, and often are unwilling to see how those around them might be afflicted because they are not afflicted themselves. To receive means that this community has turned in some manner. They have recognized that there is a need to readjust their life and lifestyle to incorporate what the disciples bring.
Jesus goes on to say, “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” This statement is one that bothers me. I have read about the prophets and usually they are not received well. If we look at the life of the prophets it is a life filled with constant struggle, because a prophet is often telling the people that if they do not repent or turn then consequences are going to follow. A prophet brings the word of God to a community, the prophet is often regarded as a threat to those in power, and those in power threaten their lives. But what happens when people listen to a prophet? Consider Jonah, he was sent to Nineveh the seat of the Assyrian empire. This was an empire that threatened the very existence of Israel, yet God commanded his prophet to go to this place to proclaim the word of the lord. When Jonah finally made his way into the city, he proclaimed that in eight days God was going to destroy the city unless they repent. Unless they turn from their current trajectory and align with God. Jonah hated Nineveh, he wanted them to be annihilated, yet they received the prophet and received the prophet’s reward. They repented, they turned and readjusted their lives, and as a result God preserved them.
The prophet is sent to plead with the people to turn to God. They cry out to the people to turn away from lives and lifestyles bent toward destruction and to refocus on the things that God values. When God preserved Nineveh, he told Jonah that he was angry about the things he did not labor for, and was upset about God having pity on 120,000 people that did not know their right hand from their left. They were unaware and ignorant, and God had pity and sent his prophet to show them a better life. Often, we are ignorant, we fail to see because we are focused on things outside of God’s desires. God cared for the people, not the empire. God sent his prophet from Israel to Nineveh.
Jesus goes on, “The one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” Again, this is a statement on repentance and turning. Recognizing that a lifestyle that is being lived is not focused on the proper things and adjusting. And finally Jesus says, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
These three verses are all based on some form of repentance or turning. Jesus is sending his disciples back to their hometowns, their own communities to encourage them to turn. He is sending them with the power to heal illnesses and to relieve affliction, and to liberate those that are struggling with the bondage of evil. Jesus is sending his disciples to rebuild the community. He is sending them back to their hometown to inspire them to focus on what can make them better as a whole instead of their own personal profit. Communities diminish when those within turn away and focus on themselves. Those within the community no longer seek what can help them all and instead focus on their personal desires. Jesus is encouraging the disciples to go back to their hometowns to become community builders.
He sends them with nothing. He sends them only with the power to heal, relieve, and to liberate. We often look at our communities and we think, if only I had this or that I could change the community. But God has given us all we need. What needs healing, what needs relief, what needs liberated? We can turn on the news and we are shown areas of ministry if we are willing to go. There are protests throughout our cities and some of us wonder why. Are we listening? Are we receiving and welcoming the prophets of God? I mentioned the food deserts and what we would do if we had to walk to get groceries, many of those that are protesting live in that place, are we receiving them?
This pandemic has caused us to press the reset button in society. It is forcing us to reconsider many things in our lives. We must be mindful of where we are and who is around us. We come to terms with the concept that my actions could directly affect the very lives of those around us. It is reminding us that community is based on helping those around us. Community is hospitality. Community is making a place for the afflicted to find rest. It is sacrificing oneself for the good of another. Are we listening or are we dictating? Are we helping or are we burdening? Are we encouraging or discouraging?
We have the power to heal disease, relieve affliction, and to liberate those around us from evil. We have everything we need right here within each of us to turn our world away from destruction and toward God. And it begins with offering our neighbor a cup of water and listening to what they have to say.