Jesus said, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Today’s gospel lesson is interesting to me because the disciples are whining and complaining about a good deed that was done in Jesus’ name. However, this good deed was not done by them. It was done by someone else! Gasp! John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
In others words, this was not an officially sanctioned exorcism, done by a trained professional. It was not done by the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples nor by Jesus himself. It was done by some random stranger in the name of Christ and WE CAN’T BE HAVING ANY OF THAT! Why, that’s just crazy! Before you know it, EVERYONE will be performing miracles in the name of Jesus, and we can’t let THAT happen! We’ve got to control and contain this situation before things get WAY out of hand!
Does this sound familiar? It should because followers of Jesus have been putting limitations on others since the first century. We want to dictate WHO can serve, and HOW they serve; WHO is worthy and WHO is unworthy to receive God’s grace. After all, we can’t have an over-flowing stream of love, healing and justice, randomly washing strangers, can we? There has to be an institution to control these things. We need to train people to do this kind of ministry. Because, not everyone should do this holy work, and not everyone should receive the gifts they have to give.
If you think I’m exaggerating, let me give you a few examples. There are still churches in the ELCA who would not consider calling a woman to be their pastor. While people complain about the lack of available pastors to serve ELCA congregations, what they really mean is straight while male pastors.
This past week the number of clergy and seminarians who are registered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries topped 300. A significant number of these pastors have been without a call for years, and I know of one who received a call after waiting a decade for a church to hire him. I know that sounds insane. But if I tell you that the ELM roster is for those who identify as LGBT, then you understand why this is the case. It’s not fair, nor just, but it is the reality of the church in 2018.
Trust me, I am eternally grateful for your support of my ministry in this church for so many years. It is a gift of grace that I give thanks for each and very day. But it also makes me sad that many churches will not consider hiring pastors from the ELM roster, because they are some of the most creative and compassionate people I know.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people putting limits on who is worthy to give and receive God’s love, healing, and justice. Some churches believe it’s okay for women to bake casseroles and clean the church, but they’re not permitted to hold roles of leadership nor assist in worship. Some churches won’t support things like feeding the homeless because they feel it perpetuates the problem. Some churches reject the gifts people have to offer because of their age, ethnicity, marital status, or a perceived handicap.
We look with suspicion on that “other church” down the street because they are a different denomination than us. We tend to fellowship with those whose beliefs are similar to ours. After all, we don’t want to be seen hanging out with charismatics with their hands waving in the air, or liturgical Christians with all their fancy robes and prescribed liturgies. We don’t want to be seen hanging with Liberals or Conservatives. We’re very careful regarding the ministries qe support and the people who are the recipients of our money and acts of service.
What does Jesus have to say about all of this? His response to John, tells us all we need to know: “Do not stop him.” Did you hear what he said? “Do not stop him, or her, or those people over there, for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
I love it when Jesus does a mic drop! What more really needs to be said? Serving others in the name of Christ should have no limits. Loving others in the name of Christ should have no limits. Everyone can give. Everyone can receive. Our job is not to put limitations or exclusions on God’s love, healing and justice. Instead, we are called to go out into the world and love as fiercely and as passionately as Christ loves us.
Since the disciples were sometimes a bit slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them, he offered an illustration. He offered a chance to repeat what he had just said in a slightly different way, with the hope that they would get it: “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
The wording of the NRSV needs some clarification. The Message does a nice job paraphrasing Jesus’ words: “Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.”
As I have said a number of times before there is no US and THEM. There is only WE. This is the lesson the disciples needed to learn as they tried to place limitations of the givers and receivers of God’s love, forgiveness and justice. Jesus is saying to them that if we do it in his name, there can be no limitations. Christ will use whoever he wishes to use. Christ will bless whoever he wishes to bless. We should be the same.
You might find it interesting to know that this saying is also in Matthew. His version adds another layer to our understanding of the text: “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.” [Mt 10:42]
Again, The Message’s paraphrase is helpful here: “Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
What I hear the Spirit saying to God’s people is that we should never doubt that Jesus can use the gifts we have to offer. We should never wonder if the gifts we possess are too small to make a difference. We should never let anyone tell us that we are worthy or unworthy to offer it. We should never place limitations on the people we choose to serve with whatever gifts we have to offer.
If we still don’t fully understand what Jesus is trying to teach us in this week’s gospel lesson, I offer an illustration, just like Jesus offered his disciples the illustration of a cup of cold water. However, my illustration has a name: Harold Schweitzer. If you were at his memorial service you probably noticed that there was a common theme among those who spoke. This theme was the observation that Harold embodied the words of Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
To put it in the imagery of our gospel lesson, Harold knew how to give a cup of cold water in the name of Christ. No cup was too small. Sometimes it was a warm hello on Sunday morning, or a hot biscuit handed to a hungry person at Pritchard Park. Harold never put any limitations on who he served, where he served, or when he served. He saw everyone as worthy of the gifts he had to offer.
I can say without a doubt that Harold taught me a thing or two about what loving service looks like. He helped me to reach out of my comfort zone and invited me to fellowship with people I used to only see at a distance. If you’re looking for a role model for how to be a humble cup of cold water giver, Harold is a good place to start.
My challenge to all of us this Anniversary Sunday, is that we take the time to think about what gifts we have to offer, and who will be the recipients of those gifts. DO NOT follow the example of the disciples who tried to put limits on the love, forgiveness and justice of God. Instead, may we be bold in our sharing, and bold in our giving, of the cups of cold water God has placed in our lives. Let us serve as passionately and fiercely as Jesus did, and as Harold did. There’s a thirsty world out there who needs all the cups of cold water we are able to give. Amen.
Copyright ©2018 David Eck