Jesus is wrapping up his send-off speech to his disciples, commissioning them to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” But no biggie. He also says he’s sending them out like sheep into the midst of wolves. They can expect their families to abandon or disavow them or turn them in; they may be arrested, even face death. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” he reassures them, and from last week’s reading, “but do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows, and none of them fall to the ground apart from your Father.”

As he’s just about to pack up his stuff [if he had any] and head off in the opposite direction, Jesus offers one last word of encouragement and consolation. Eugene Peterson puts it beautifully–

We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts you accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. 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….” [The Message]

There is a stunning reciprocity here. Not only are Jesus’ disciples to be received as Jesus himself; but it is in both the giving and the receiving of help that they make Christ visible. We get the giving–think about that passage later on in Matthew where Jesus says, “Whenever you welcomed…or fed…or visited…or clothed even the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

But here Jesus says, “Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help.” Since “it is our privilege and responsibility to make Christ visible,” as Libby Barlow writes, when we go out into the world, then not only do we encounter Christ when we engage with others, but we encounter Christ when we look in the mirror. God is made flesh in us. When Jesus’ disciples are welcomed, Jesus is welcomed as well, along with the One who sent him. When we receive hospitality, we who are the Christ made visible, then we make it possible for others to receive God as well. It is a little overwhelming.

“But,” as Barlow writes, “we cannot reflect his face if we stay at home, among those we know. Christ is made visible in the act of welcoming, in giving and receiving hospitality. If we never encounter strangers, Jesus has no opportunity to be made manifest in the world.” [The Christian Century, 6/7/17]

Back in the 18th century, John Wesley wrote,

One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is that one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way knowing it–and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”

How contemporary is that?! In a world where the gap between the rich and poor seems to widen by the minute, Wesley’s words ring as true as ever.

And it’s not just on the vast world stage, where 8 men are as wealthy as almost the entire rest of the world’s population. It’s true in our country, where not only rich and poor seem to be getting further and further apart, but blue state and red state, the coasts and the heartland, all seem to be retreating into their own enclaves and, as Wesley said, have so little sympathy for one another because we seldom visit each other. One part of the country doesn’t know what the other suffers. When do we get to exchange welcome with one another?

How many people who are really different from you do you know–the homeless person, the conservative or liberal, those who are differently abled, someone from a different religion (and I don’t just mean Methodists)? I find myself consistently humbled and brought up short as I meet with our community neighbors who come here seeking $10 vouchers for food from Willy’s store or gas. How much I take for granted! How I catch myself getting caught up in judgment that says that people are poor because of what they’ve done, some moral failing, some character flaw. As one monk commented, “When I see a poor person walking up the sidewalk, I ask, ‘Jesus Christ, is that you again?’” Every table at our Sunday Suppers is filled with images of Christ.

This is a large work I’ve called you into, [Jesus said] but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance.

Start small.

Actor Tom Hanks gave the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class at Vassar

College. He talked about the problem of gridlock on the freeways of Southern California–a tremendous waste of time, energy, and the environment. It seems to be about as intractable a problem as any. “Some smart folks concocted a computer simulation of gridlock,” Hanks said, “to determine how many cars should be taken off the road to turn a completely jammed and stilled highway into a free-flowing one.”

As it turns out, it take Four. Four out of every 100 cars, 40 out of each thousand cars. 1 driver out of 25. “It’s the Power of Four,” Hanks told the graduates. Imagine what other changes could be wrought just by 4 of us out of a 100. “Take a hundred musicians in a depressed port city of Northern England; choose John, Paul, George, and Ringo and you have ‘Hey Jude.’ Take a hundred computer geeks in Redmond, Washington, send 96 home, and the remainder is Microsoft.”

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance.

President Frances Fergusson addressed that same class and told them,

Small actions can indeed ignite large movements. Wangari Matthai, the amazing Kenyan woman who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, began with the simple idea of women planting trees, one by one. Within a decade, 30 million trees took root in Kenya and a Pan African Green Belt Network for the environment had grown and flourished.

She also told a story she had heard once in Japan.

There is a huge forest fire and all the animals are fleeing, except for one hummingbird. The hummingbird goes to a stream, takes up water in its bill, flies back to the fire, and drops it on the raging flames. She does this again and again. The other animals notice and shout out, “Hummingbird, why are you doing that? You can’t stop that fire.” Hummingbird responds, “I do what I can.”

There is a little bird who starts up singing outside our bedroom window at 4:15 each morning. I’m convinced she (or he) thinks it her job to wake up the sun. So far the sun has come up every morning. “I do what I can.”

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance.

Just a cup of water. Do what you can.

Here on this birthday weekend of our nation, it is so easy to get overwhelmed by the need, by the immensity, by the sheer number and magnitude of the problems facing our country. Even if we narrow our focus to our own community, it’s still “a large work we’ve been called into,” still easy to be overwhelmed by it. But remember the Power of Four. What change could 4 of the slightly less than 100 people gathered here this morning bring about? I think there were only 4 or a little more who gathered in the Clayton room several years ago and decided to offer supper to anyone who came on Sunday afternoon. 4 or 5 of us on the Next Level Task Force toyed with idea of a summer fair open to the community, and we’re now looking forward to the 3rd annual Sun and Fun.

Back in 1957, while accepting his Nobel Prize in Literature, Albert Camus spoke about the duties of every writer, but, it could be argued, these are the duties of every person– Whatever our personal frailties may be, he said, the nobility of our calling will always be rooted in two commitments difficult to observe: refusal to lie about what we know and resistance to oppression. [cited by Frances Ferguson, op cit.]

Now, that may not sound like a small thing. But what if each of us simply refused to lie about what we know? What if we pledged to be honest in our dealing with one another and those we encounter? That would go a long way in diluting the poison of falsehoods and lies that currently fill our public conversations.

On one act of kindness, writes Bishop Steven Charlston, a whole life can turn. In a single moment, a soul may be restored. Our lives are not crafted from great dramas alone, but shaped by the small asides of life, the unscripted encounters, that teach us to be who we are. Be mindful of the fire that fills you. Let it warm but never burn. Speak kindly, touch lightly, hold gently. The casual remark for you is destiny for another. [Hope as Old as Fire]

Give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person. Bake and serve brownies for the Sunday Supper. Smile at the frazzled mom with the screaming kid. Volunteer at the Kitchen Cupboard. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Mention to a friend that you go to Second Congregational Church and you’d be glad to bring them along with you some Sunday. Vote in every election. You can probably think of dozens of other small steps you could take to enter into this “harvest work.” Enlist 3 others if you really want to leap in.

It’s just a morsel of bread, a tiny cupful of juice. But it is food and drink for this work we do, just a taste of the banquet that God intends for all of us. So take and eat, take and drink. After all you are the Body of Christ. Do what you can.

Amen.

Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark

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