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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Matthew 10:40-42
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and 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.”
Don Shula was the longtime and very successful head coach of the Miami Dolphins football team. One time he was on vacation in a very rural part of Maine. The local library advertised the showing of a recently popular movie on a Saturday night. This was in the days before the internet and the TV reception was almost non-existent in those woods, so the Shula family was very excited to go to the movies that night. They walked in just a few minutes before it was to start. Everyone stood up and gave them a standing ovation. Shula thought, “isn’t that something. Even way out here they know me!” His excitement only lasted a few minutes. Someone told him, “We have to have 15 people or they won’t show the movie. Your family pushed the crowd to 17.” The welcome really wasn’t for Don Shula.
Our text comes at the end of a sequence in Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus has been preparing his disciples to go out into the world to preach the Kingdom. He is telling them how to respond to the many ways their efforts will be received. When he says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,” Jesus is drawing a straight line from the disciples through himself to the creator God. To welcome a disciple is the same as welcoming Jesus, which is the same as welcoming God. This is a twofold promise.
One the one hand – it reminds the disciples to be humble about the reception they receive, for that welcome is not for them, it is for God.
On the other hand – it reminds them that they do not go out representing themselves and their own wisdom and their own power; they go out representing God.
We all must remember this as we go about our business of being Christians, disciples of Jesus in the world. It is not about us; it is about God. In verse 41, Jesus drives home his point by reminding the disciples of the many biblical stories of prophets and other righteous people being received NOT because they themselves are so special, but because in receiving them the people are receiving and honoring and serving God. And then, in verse 42, Jesus makes one of his classic reversals, turning things upside down and inside out, rearranging our preconceptions and expectations.
Just as we have begun to understand the idea that honoring important people, like disciples and prophets and pastors, is a way of honoring God – Jesus switches things up on us. He begins to talk about honoring ‘little ones’ “And whoever gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple.”
See what he did there? The disciples were feeling really proud, seeing themselves connected to the prophets, and to Jesus, and even to God; and then the tables are turned – and they are reminded that they are “little ones” in the kingdom of God.
The message of Jesus, the message of the Kingdom, the message of the Gospel – is a message of reversal, of things turned upside down and sideways, of those who are seen by the world to be on top are known to really be on the bottom, and on the bottom are esteemed by God as the most important of all.
In these three short verses, Jesus subtly moves his disciples through a sequence that leads them away from thinking about how important they are to pondering their call to TO BE the least important people in the kingdom in order to serve the least important people in the world in the name of Jesus.
When Jesus bestows upon little ones, disciples, the same worth as prophets and righteous persons, even the same value as God; when Jesus does this – he has done an incredibly radical and un-heard of thing.
And it is to just this sort of radical and unheard-of thing which we modern day disciples and sent ones, we 21st century prophets and persons who aspire to be righteous, have been called.
We have been called to go out in the name of Jesus Christ to share our stuff and God’s love with those whom the world rejects and turns its back on.
We have been called to give radical hospitality to illegal aliens and people who keep failing in life and to those who are unable to work and take care of themselves. We have been called to look at people not with our own eyes but with the loving and gracious eyes of Christ.
We have been called to love the loveless, not with our cold and shriveled hearts, but with the warm heart of Christ which overflows with love for all. We have been called to care for others whether they deserve it or not.
Because none of us is disciplined and righteous and prophetic enough to deserve the love of God; it has been given to us as a gift, and we are called to give it to others free of charge and free of judgement. Yes, sisters and brothers, we have been called to the ministry of welcoming and receiving and giving and loving and giving standing ovations to people whether we know them or not,
Amen and amen