Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sermon -- 29 June 2008

PROPER 8 / 7 PENTECOST — 29 June 2008
Trinity, Iowa City — 8:45 am

Romans 6:12-23 Psalm 13 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.

It hasn’t been a good couple of weeks, at least for a lot of us. For some of us directly, and for the rest of us at least for people we know. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we are grateful to the many people, and to God’s grace empowering them, who have pitched in to help the many who have suffered and are suffering, a lot or a little, because of the flood. This may not be a perfect community in which to live, but it’s a good community, and we thank God for that. (And we need to bear in mind that it isn’t just churchy people who have helped share the burdens — a lot of the folks just care about each other, and that’s a sign of God’s grace whether folks recognize it or not.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, all kinds of distressing and annoying things are going on. As Episcopalians, we tend naturally to be caught up by the Adventures in Anglicanland. I’m not quite sure what to say to you about that. On the one hand, I am a great believer in transparency in the life of the Church, and therefore I don’t want to sound like I’m telling you that the stuff that’s going on is not important and you really don’t need to pay attention and fret about it, just let the clergy worry about it! If you are interested or concerned, I’m willing to discuss these things with you and point you to a number of sources of news and information. [*] On the other hand, if your attitude is that following Jesus is quite enough of a job without being distracted by Anglican politics, I assure you that you should not feel guilty about that! In the end, Jesus is Lord and we really don’t need to fret. And in any case, most of the rest of the world — not only non-Anglicans but a lot of Anglicans too — really aren’t paying a lot of attention to our ecclesiastical internecine disputes, not compared with the multitude of real, critical human problems that face us in this world.

You may have noticed that in the case of many of these critical human problems that face us in this world, religion is not part of the solution!

In the Gospel reading today (incidentally, you may have noticed along the way that I generally do not regard the Gospel and Religion — even the Christian Religion — as coterminous. If you display them in a Venn diagram, they do overlap, but I think not as much as we often assume. But I digress.) In the Gospel reading today, from the tenth chapter of St. Matthew, we have been hearing Jesus’ instructions to his disciples about their mission of proclaiming the good news and healing the afflicted. Today we hear the conclusion of these instructions.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” Note that Jesus does not tell them, “In order for their welcome of you to count as welcoming me, they have to sign this application for membership in the Jesus Club.” He does not say, “Be sure you show your Jesus ID card first before you ask them to welcome you.” He says, “If they welcome you, then they are welcoming me — whether they know it or not. And furthermore, if they are welcoming me — whether they know it or not — they are welcoming God who sent me — whether they know it or not. ‘Whether they know it or not’ is for the Father and me to deal with — it really isn’t up to you. Your message — whether you proclaim it aloud or whether you proclaim it in your actions of healing and service — is simply 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'"

“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” A Semitic locution that means “If they welcome you as a prophet because they perceive that you are a spokesman for God’s kingdom” — without passing any further doctrinal exams — then they will share in the life of God’s kingdom. And “whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person” — because they perceive in you the love and justice of God, even if they don’t yet realize that it is God who is the source of love and justice — they will share in God’s grace drawing them into God’s holiness.

“And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple” — if you minister even in very simple ways, a moment of caring, a little help from a friend so they can get by, a random act of kindness, just because you follow me, then you will not fall short of life in the kingdom. However (the Gospel doesn’t say this, but I think Jesus means it:) “Don’t use me as a club to beat people over the head. Minister to the needs of people — not just thirst, but any need; not just children but all God’s ‘little ones’ who need our care. They don’t have to meet any preconditions. They don’t have to join the club. They don’t have to sit still for a sermon first.”

You know, there are some folks performing “Christian service” who seem to convey the attitude, “Personally, I think you are undeserving scum, but for the love of God and out of Christian duty I will help you.” Jesus says, “Don’t care for your sisters and brothers because you love me; care for them because you love them! That’s how you share in the life of God’s kingdom, and it is the life of the kingdom that is your reward.”

“As you go, proclaim the good news,” Jesus said a couple of weeks ago, “‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment, give without payment.”

And now, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Thanks be to God.

[*] In the sidebar to the right there is a link my other blog, The Liturgical Curmudgeon. In the right sidebar of that blog there are links to several good sites for news and information.

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