Posted on Jul 02, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
For the past several weeks we have been listening to Jesus provide his disciples instructions on what it will take to be a disciple. He began this time of teaching because he had commissioned the twelve disciples to go out and do the work he had been doing; he empowered them to cure the sick and drive out evil spirits. He provided them warnings of the persecutions and trials that would follow, and he provided them instructions on whom they should fear and whom they should ignore. Last week we heard him advise them that the gospel message he was sending them out to share would bring about conflict and division, even among those they loved and in spite of these types responses, he said go, do this,” take up the cross and follow me” (Matthew 10:38).
Now, as you know, this hasn’t exactly been fun and easy to listen to. In fact, for those of us who have paid close attention, these words Jesus offered didn’t exactly provide us with a confident feeling about becoming a disciple, did they? After listening to his warnings of persecution and conflict, my guess is many would prefer to skip his call and forget being a disciple. After all, who wants to seek out persecution and conflict, especially when there seems to be no positive reward for such obedience?
But, today, as Jesus brings his teaching to a close, he finally offers a promise of reward for those who go about being a disciple and sharing the gospel. Yes, Jesus says when you go about doing this work, in the midst of the conflict and persecution, there will be times that you will receive a “cup of cold water.” Wait, did he say a cup of cold water? Is Jesus implying that the disciples should look forward to receiving a cup of cold water for all their hard work and dedication to God’s call?
Yes, he said a cup of cold water, and quite frankly, after all the stark and dramatic language, it seems a bit of anticlimatic, doesn’t it? For all their hard work, when they receive a cup of cold water, that is small amounts of thanks and appreciation, they should rejoice. This doesn’t sound like much of a reward, but here is the point -- in spite of the conflictual responses that are likely, there will also be those who listen and hear the promise of the gospel. Those folks will, also, come to know the joy and promise of God’s mercy and grace. Because of the work of the disciples, the new believers, like those doing the work, will not “lose their reward” either (10:42).
Really? That’s all it takes. Giving someone a cup of cold water? Not that offering welcome was all that difficult, but seriously, something as small as offering a cup of cold water is what it takes to secure one’s reward?
Yes, according to Jesus that’s all it takes and maybe knowing this means that these past few weeks Jesus hasn’t been talking about what it takes to be a disciple, but rather what it means to be a disciple. You see, being a disciple means you’re empowered to do great things, yet, it will be a great struggle to do those things. Being a disciple is about sharing God’s word and welcoming all, and yet, often being rejected by the very people you seek to welcome. Being a disciple means being faithful to God and God’s word and, yet, doing so will bring about division and persecution. And if this is what it means to be a disciple then when Jesus speaks of rewards, he isn’t talking about earning these rewards, but rather he is saying recognize the rewards that God is already showering on you. Realize that “even” the cup of cool refreshing water you will receive periodically that will quench your thirst is a gift and blessing from God in difficult times. God knows the challenges you face and difficulties of bringing about God’s kingdom in this world, so be refreshed with the cups of cold water you receive, even if they are small and seem insignificant.
You see, doing God’s work isn’t about doing big, miraculous things. To be a disciple doesn’t mean we have to be able to raise people from the dead, but instead, being a disciple is about remembering to offer even a small cup of cold water to those in need. Yes, being a disciple can be about big, heroic stuff, but most often being a disciple is about being that person that smiles at the strangers instead of ignoring them. Being a disciple is about offering a shoulder to cry on to those who are suffering, or grieving. Being a disciple is about being kind and welcoming to that kid that no one wants to befriend, who is weird and different, or who is the new kid in school or at camp. Being a disciple is even about writing a letter to a congressperson about an important issue, or supporting a march to protest the abuse of power. Being a disciple is thanking that law enforcement officer or military person for their service. Being a disciple is about being that person who is willing to help a school teacher with school supplies, because he or she has to buy the supplies themselves because of budget cuts. Being a disciple is about offering food to the hungry, serving at a food kitchen, or just being there when one of your kids needs you. This is what it means to be a disciple, and the simple reactions and responses you will receive for such things will be great reward.
With this notion of what it means to be a disciple, I thought about our July 4th celebration this week. The U.S. is celebrating our 241st birthday. For over 240 years this country has prided itself on being a place that offers freedom to everyone. This country seeks to be a place where all people are treated equally and fairly. Now, do we always do this? No, we don’t and we have many faults, but as Christians in this country, it is our duty to to be the disciples that speak out for equal treatment of everyone. We are called to stand with the oppressed and those that live on the margins, and seek ways to bring about equality and justice in how they are treated. We are called to offer that cup of cold water to those who need it.
Last week we heard Jesus challenge his followers to always put God first, even before family and nation. Now, he did this not to encourage us to turn from our families or our nations, but because he knows that when we put God and God’s ways first, or families and our nations are better for it.
As we celebrate the 4th of July this week, my prayer is that each of us seek ways to be the disciples that are always offering cups of cold water to those in need. My prayer is that each of us finds ways to be open and welcoming to all in need, even to the immigrant and refugee, after all, as God told the Israelites, you too were once a stranger in a land (Deuteronomy 10:19). And I pray that each of us gives thanks this week for being able to live in a place where we can freely love and praise our God. Amen.