“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 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; 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.”
Doormen and Water Carriers
by Reverend Jane Quandt 6.28.20
Have you ever noticed that every generation looks askance at how the succeeding generations are being raised. I have tried my best to avoid doing that, but even I struggle with how much time my granddaughter spends looking at screens. Where is the time just playing outside….collecting bugs….looking for frogs….playing baseball with friends in the turn-around at the end of the street.
And yet I can tell you there is one way in which things are much better now. While little girls in my generation were taught that being a princess and one day landing a handsome prince was the best thing you could hope for in life, nowadays they have a full range of options. Strong female superheroes abound. While we had superman and Mighty Mouse they’ve got Wonderwoman, Supergirl, Captain Marvel, Thunder, Shuri and Storm. It’s great and it’s tremendously important….because I really believe there is a longing to be a hero placed in every human heart and for too long we did a lousy job nurturing that in girls. Now girls are being taught that they too be superheroes too.
I have to admit that my parents did a remarkable job for their time teaching me that all options were open to me…that I didn’t have to grow up to be a princess….that it was more than acceptable to want to be a hero….or shero….in life. In fact they seemed to expect and reward bravery.
It’s therefore no surprise that this is what first drew me to Jesus….not the offer of personal salvation so much as the heroic nature of his person. Here was a man who spoke truth to power. I wanted to be someone who spoke truth to power. Here was someone who wasn’t afraid to upset the status quo. I wanted to upset the status quo even before I knew what status quo meant. Jesus wasn’t afraid to stand up to institutional power…neither the power of Rome nor the Religious institutions of his day….I too wanted to stand up to oppressive power. In his social relationships he crossed every line….I too wanted to cross lines. And he was willing to give sacrificially….even to the point of laying down his life for his friends. OK, so in this way I knew I’d never measure up, but maybe I could at least be nice to people. Maybe that would count for something.
Today’s lectionary reading comes from the 10th chapter of Matthew, but includes only two verses and in some ways that is unfortunate because it can leave the impression that being a follower of Jesus is just a matter of being nice to people…offering a cup of water to someone who is thirsty and opening your door when somebody knocks. That sounds easy enough.
But those are just the final two verses of a chapter in which Jesus gives his followers a full list of instructions, letting us know what he really expects of us. We are also supposed to cast out demons, cure every disease and sickness, go to the lost sheep of Israel and proclaim the good news, raise the dead, and cleanse the lepers. We are to serve others without any expectation of payment, shake off the dust from our feet when someone doesn’t listen to us. Jesus says we should expect to be flogged and dragged before governors and kings, persecuted and hated by all. But we are to remain fearless, even in face of death. We’re supposed to love Jesus even more than our own families and to be willing to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake.
And then, after all that, we get these two verses at the end of the chapter that says we are supposed to open the door and offer a cup of water.
I may not be able to raise the dead and face flogging and death without fear, but at least I can do that. I can open the door and offer a cup of water. That’s easy enough, right? In fact, for a pastor it’s kind of assumed that we’ll always have a few bottles of water in the fridge. And often that’s the most I can do. And yet today’s verses remind us that doing those things matter too….that those who play a supportive role matter just as much as those on the front lines.
We all have our parts to play whether it’s standing up at the microphone at the City Council meeting our supplying the cookies for the debriefing afterwards. And while there are people who do truly heroic things in their lives in Jesus’ name, most of us will play a supporting role….opening the doors and bringing the water.
For some people that is very disillusioning because when they signed up to follow Jesus they imagined themselves more as heroes than watergirls and doormen.
In studies about why clergy leave the ministry….and a lot do…they find that it isn’t because they burn out from the work load or get tired of preaching sermons. It’s because of the how many mundane, and trivial things they are expected to do. And there are moments when I get that…like when I have to go get a key made for someone, or fold the bulletins, or check the toilet paper in the restrooms, or figure out how to work Zoom.
But this doesn’t just happen to pastors. It’s often just like that for people who start showing up for worship on Sunday mornings too. You go to church looking for a community of support, in the hope of deepening your spiritual life and strengthening your relationship with the Divine. But after you’ve been around a bit you’re being asked to serve on a committee, make the coffee, go pick up some candles, deal with the trash being left behind in the pews or buy some grape juice for communion. Churches do this to people all the time.
And yet this morning’s verses from the Bible are a wonderful reminder that doing those things is a necessary part of how we build up the body of Christ and birth his kingdom in this world. By ending his list of instructions to his followers the way that he does Jesus seems to be suggesting that water carriers and door openers are no less important than those who get themselves killed for love’s sake.
Fact is that heroes are rarely able to do what they do without the help of others. Even the lone Ranger had his companion Tonto. Someone makes a monumental and historic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but someone else had to be sure the microphones were working and that the porta potties had been ordered for the event. A man takes a knee, but someone else had to be sure the uniforms were ready come game time that day. A woman throws her body over a man to protect him from an angry crowd at a demonstration, but it may have been a second grade Sunday School teacher who once taught her about a man who said we are to love our enemies.
So maybe some day we get to do something that evokes applause and admiration, we get to be seen as a hero. But let’s not ever kid ourselves. If that day ever comes what we did was never a solo accomplishment.
And for those who never get the applause, for those who quietly do what needs to be done behind the scenes, who take on the necessary but often thankless tasks, don’t ever think your efforts are any less significant or important. Jesus names you right alongside those willing to face persecution for doing what is right. The world may not see you, but God sees you. God sees what you are doing.
We need heroes in this world…but there would be no heroes were it not for those willing to open the doors and carry the water…..we need those people no less.
You know right now we have a whole new group of heroes and sheroes….all those who are working on the front lines of this pandemic who are truly putting their lives and the lives of people they love at risk as they tend to the very sick and the dying. They are truly endangering themselves in their efforts to save lives. They deserve all the applause they are receiving and probably a lot more.
But you know what we get to do these days? You know what love requires of us? We get to play a supporting role. We get to show love and respect for one another by wearing our masks and practicing social distancing until another group of heroes comes up with a vaccine and we can once again joyfully embrace and sing and uncover our faces. Until that day comes we have our part to play and it might not seem very glamorous or important, but it is. Supporting roles matter.
Because consider this. Jesus may be the hero in our faith, but if that innkeeper hadn’t let Joseph and Mary stay that night, if he hadn’t opened the door to his barn, Jesus might not have made it, friends. He might not have survived. So, our whole faith depends on one door-opener.
Think about THAT if you ever think supportive roles aren’t important.