Matthew 10:40-42 Common English Bible (CEB)
40 “Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me. 41 Those who receive a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Those who receive a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.
I was thinking about businesses in Thermopolis, and the other day I drove past the Storyteller. There were several people out front on the sidewalk enjoying conversation and coffee. I thought about the mission I experience in the Storyteller. Beyond making money to support their family, there is coffee, yes; books, cards, etc., yes. But beyond that it is a place for people to gather. Not only does that seem to be a part of their mission, they provide for it – there are gathering places in both the front of the store and in the back, as well as seating outside. They don’t just say, “we want you to gather, they provide for it. As I think about the most trusted companies I frequent I sense they are ones who use the product they are selling and function with integrity. Thermopolis is blessed with many such businesses. They are ambassadors of their own mission and purpose.
In 2 Co. 5:19-20 Paul talks about being ambassadors for Christ. “In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”” An ambassador is one who takes their mission out into the world in order to get other people involved in the mission. They want to show others how amazing their life is because of the mission. For the cause of Christ, we are ambassadors of his grace and love.
In our passage this morning, Matthew 10, is the sending out of the twelve on a mission. In preparation, Jesus gives them authority to do their work, and then a commission for the work. They were given authority and a message, The message was simple and reflects what Jesus himself said in Matthew 4:17. “The Kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus wanted people to know that God had a great work starting – a work that would change the face of the faith. So, following some instructions, he sends them out with the words of our text this morning.
In the Common English Bible the word used is receives or received. In the New Revised Standard Version and New International Version it is translated welcomes or welcomed. Did you notice that the word occurred eight times in three short verses. One would begin to think right away that it was an important concept to the sending out.
According to Vines Expository Dictionary, to receive is “The deliberate, ready reception of what is offered.” Further, in this passage, the offering is via hospitality. Jesus is saying, on one level, ‘offer the message to everyone but concentrate on the ones who show interest.’ Do keep in mind, however, that the message is for all people. The angel said, “I have good news of great joy which shall be for all people.”
In this case, the text says, “I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.” The theme is “little ones” and little acts. “Micros” is the word in the Greek – the root word for our word “micro”. The first implication I get is that we are not being called to be a Peter, or John, or Paul, or Stephen, going to heads of state to change societal faults. It is ordinary people going to ordinary people to make a difference. Instead of grand acts, it is the little things we do that will make a difference. Yes, the disciples were sent with the authority to preach the Good News and to heal, but with the concluding statement we are all included. Matthew never does record the results of the mission of the twelve. There are no reports of miracles done. We are left with this simple statement inviting little acts performed for the “little ones.”
“These little ones” can mean children. We hear Jesus use the phrase in Matthew 18:5 – “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” More likely, however, Jesus is referring to the innocent and defenseless – persons in need. A person without Jesus in their life has no defense against evil. The new Christian may still be finding their way and not sure just how to trust God in all things. “Little ones” may just be our “neighbors” so to speak. Neighbors who need to hear about and see the Risen Christ in action in our lives.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about the little acts – a cup of cold water. While I was in Pueblo at St. Paul UMC, our youth took a mission trip to Nuevo Progresso Mexico. It was an area just over the border that was filled with poverty. People lived day to day in shacks build of black, corrugated fiber board. They had dirt floors, no windows, and the door was a curtain. Our mission was building “houses” for them 12’x16’, 1 window, 1 door (where they wanted it to be!). Not exactly mansions, but a lot better than they had. It was HOT for the week while we were there working. (95o and horrendous humidity). It was the first or second day that we worked that they came and offered us a wonderful cantaloupe punch – after they hurriedly qualified that it was made with bottled water! Right there was a “cup of cold water” – received gratefully (and voraciously!). Cantaloupe was a plentiful commodity and was relatively inexpensive. This was a small act that conveyed care and compassion. It wasn’t until the end of the week we were there that we smelled wonderful things cooking and realized that we had not smelled anything cooking up until that day. There had been a food distribution that day, and it was the first time they had had something to cook.
So, if ours is a ministry of welcome, as Jesus says - saying and showing the Kingdom of heaven - what does a “cup of cold water” look like?
Welcome is a word watered down in today’s culture. Most often it seems to be a mere tolerance of people. I once lived in a small community in Eastern Colorado. For the seven years I was there I never did feel like I was fully accepted. Because of my position as a pastor I was included in many things, but when it came to decisions or directions in the town it was clear I needed to remember I was an outsider. There is a wonderful story of upscale church in a large community. Everyone came to church in their Sunday best, and everything was conducted with dignity and proper conduct. One Sunday a transient entered the church during the service and made his way down front. He was wearing old, ragged clothes, and smelled as though he was in desperate need of a bath. On arriving at the front he sits on floor in center aisle. People we taken aback, looking around to see who was going to do something about this unwanted interloper. Soon, the head usher, a fixture in the church, in his 80s stepped into action. Slowly and with his usual dignity he made his way toward the man in front. Upon arriving, many expected him to usher the man out of the service. Instead, he sat down, on the floor, with him for rest of service. Now that was a cup of cold water for a parched soul!
I believe our welcome has to reflect a “Just As I Am” theology. You know the hymn. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” We came to Jesus just as we were, and were accepted by our Lord. So also we need to invite other to come, just as they are, and experience the wonder of a loving, recreating God. The head usher in the story didn’t wait for the man to make himself acceptable before he would treat him as a child of God. He just welcomed him fully by his actions.
A cup of cold water might also look like offering a living hope to people in need of hope. In these days of uncertainty and pandemic, we, who are followers of Christ, can offer a great comfort and hope to the world. We know that God has this! We know that God is guiding researchers. We know that God has provided wonderful medical persons who put their lives at risk to care for the sick. We know that, in the end, God is still God and our hope is in him.
Back to where I started this morning. A cup of cold water must be an offering of integrity – the word of good news accompanied by the deeds of good news. It is about living what we believe. It is about offering something tangible to persons in need along with the reason for our hope. It is about a radical acceptance of people along with an introduction to the God of love and acceptance. God’s arms are always open wide to receive any who would call upon his name.
What do the open arms of God look like? They look like a ministry of welcome embodied in our lives, our actions, our words, our very being. This will make the difference that God intends as Jesus sends us out as sheep among wolves. This will be a God-embrace of our world in need.
Pastor Ross Kershaw