While visiting Seattle several years ago, I heard a Snohomish Indian legend that fits our gospel lesson perfectly! The Snohomish Indians reside in the Puget Sound area of Washington, North of Seattle. This is my version of their creation story.
The Creator first began forming the world in the East; slowly moving westward, creating different tribes along the way; including the Cherokee who live in our majestic mountains. The Creator gave each tribe its own language. When the Creator finally reached Puget Sound, the Great Spirit liked it so much that the decision was made to go no further. However, the Creator had many languages left, and scattered them all around Puget Sound and to the North. This is why there are so many different Indian languages spoken there.
The problem, of course, is that when the tribes got together they had trouble understanding each other. Yet, in spite of this obstacle, they all agreed on one thing: the Creator had made the sky too low! It was so low that no one could stand up straight. People had to walk bent over so that they would not bang their heads on it. Sometimes people would also do what was forbidden. They climbed to the top of the trees and entered into the Sky World. Others tried to push the sky up by themselves but they weren’t strong enough to do it alone.
One day, the leaders of all the different tribes had a meeting to see what they could do about lifting the sky. They agreed that all the tribes should get together and try to push it up higher. “We can do it,” a gray-haired elder said, “If we all push at the same time.”
“How will we know when to push?” asked another. “Some of us live in this part of the world, some in another. We don’t all talk the same language. How can we get everyone to push at the same time?”
This puzzled the leaders of the tribes. Until, finally, one of them suggested they use a signal. “When the time comes for us to push, when we have everything ready, let someone shout ‘Ya-hoh.’ which means ‘Lift together!’ in all of our languages.”
So the leaders of the tribes sent this message to all the people and told them what day they were going to lift the sky. Everyone made poles from the giant fir trees to use in pushing against the sky. When the day for the sky lifting came, all the people raised their poles and touched the sky with them. Then the leaders of every tribe shouted, “Ya- hoh!” Everybody pushed, and the sky moved up a little.
“Ya-hoh,” they shouted a second time, and everybody pushed with all their strength. The sky moved a few inches more. They kept on shouting “Ya-hoh” and pushing up the sky until it was in the place where it is now. Since then, no one has bumped their head against it, and no one has been able to climb into the Sky World.
Jesus said, “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.” There is a great deal of wisdom in the Snohomish creation story. Our world is diverse, indeed. God has given us many tribes who speak many different languages. We don’t always communicate well with each other. Even those of us who speak English have a hard time understanding the many different points of view we possess.
This world we inhabit is a tough place sometimes. It’s so tough that it often feels like the sky is pressing down on us. Our bodies and spirits are hunched over, unable to stand up straight. When we feel this way, we try to push up the sky all by ourselves. But our efforts are in vain. No matter how hard we push and strain and groan, the sky remains firmly in place. We remain bent over by the troubles of our world.
The Snohomish Indians remind us that it’s only when we work together, it’s when we learn to communicate and co-operate, that the sky can be lifted. Even then, it’s hard work but it can be done!
Friends in Christ, I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he told his disciples “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.” A cup of cold water seems like such an insignificant thing. It’s a small gift, that’s given in love, but it’s a small gift nonetheless.
Perhaps Jesus is trying to remind us that each of us has a cup to give, in terms of time, talent and resources. It may seem like a small cup to us, and so we’re hesitant to share it. But if we combine our cup with the cups of our neighbors, If we work together, shouting “Ya-hoh,” we can indeed push up the sky! We can accomplish more together than we ever could as individuals.
Let me give you an example. This past week the storage building at Brother Wolf animal shelter was broken into and the thieves stole every bag of food they had. One of their employees posted a video on Facebook telling the story of what had happened. This video was reposted many times and, over the course of the week, people came to the shelter and dropped off food.
When I dropped off my donation, I struck up a conversation with the employee at the desk. She said the response was overwhelming and encouraging. Some people donated a few cans of cat food, while others came with the beds of their trucks loaded with food. Those who couldn’t drop off donations were able to place orders on Amazon and have them delivered to the shelter. By the end of the week, Brother Wolf had even more food than they did before their storage building was robbed! With a great big “Ya-hoh,” we lifted the sky together. Everyone gave their cup of cold water, and all the animals were fed.
This is what I think Jesus is trying to tell us in our gospel lesson. Your cup makes a difference and my cup makes a difference. When we combine these cups together, we are a force to be reckoned with. We can change the world in ways that we never thought were possible.
St. Paul stated it a slightly different way in 1st Corinthians, the he talked about how the Body of Christ works: The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body [Jesus would say the cups of cold water] that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. [1 Cor 12:21-26]
I think Paul is trying to tell us that everyone’s cup of cold water is essential to the health of the body of Christ. We are so much stronger together, than we are apart. This should encourage us to offer whatever cup of cold water we possess, no matter how insignificant we might it is. The truth is that everyone’s cup is valuable and important. If one cup is missing, we just might not be able to push up the sky together!
This morning I’d like us to seriously consider what our cup of cold water looks like. We may think our cup is small or we may already be putting several cups into the jar. But no matter what the case many be, each and every cup is important; each and every cup counts.
At the end of the sermon, I’m gong to teach you a song I wrote this week in honor of Abiding Savior’s kids. As we sing this song, I want you to think about the cups of cold water, the time, talent and resources, that God has given you. When you can identify your cup, when you are willing to offer our time and talent to serve others in the name of Christ, I invite you to come up to the table in front of the church at the end of the song. I invite you to take a small Dixie cup of water and pour it into the big vessel on the table. This big vessel is the cup of cold water known as Abiding Savior. It cannot be full unless we all help to make it full. Each and every cup counts. Each and every gift offered to God will be blessed by God. It will be used to help quench the thirst of those who enter the doors of this church as well as those we serve in Asheville and beyond.
Friends in Christ, this is a voluntary and symbolic act but I hope you’ll seriously consider what your cup might be. We all need to do something beyond showing up on Sunday morning if our church and its outreach into the community is going to be strong and vibrant. Give your cup of cold water today. Trust that without your gift we might not be able to push up the sky for our brothers and sisters both near and far.
“Ya-hoh” and AMEN
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck
— — — — — —
Fill My Cup
Lord, fill my cup, fill my cup so I can give it away.
Lord, fill my cup, fill my cup, so I can give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
You are the fountain of living water;
A stream of grace that will never run dry.
I am a vessel, imperfect but willing,
To help a neighbor who’s in need,
To share the love of Christ.
Words & music by David Eck, ©2017. Written in honor of ASLC’s kids.