Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
So the last time I was with you during this time, I shared something from one of my favorite contemporary theologians – Charles Schultz the creator Peanuts comic strip. And after that sermon, several of you shared some of your favorite theologians along the same line as Charles Schultz. And I think that one of them, from Calvin and Hobbes, relates well to this section of Matthew’s gospel that we have been walking through in recent weeks. And rather than just describing it to you today, I can actually show you the strip.
As someone who seeks to follow the risen savior Jesus, there are many times when Jesus words seem to paint an incredibly complicated picture – is it black and white or color. Many times when Jesus’ challenging words seem overwhelming. Many times when I think it might be better to just lay down and take a nap until dinner.
So here’s a question for today, why do you do the things that you do? We all do things, right? Things that we are incredibly proud of and things that we are not very proud of and wish people would quit posting them on Facebook. So, why do you and I do the things that we do? We live in a culture where what we do often determines who wins and who loses. And frankly, I think we do the things we do because we like to win. And we believe that when we put forth enough effort to win, we are entitled to something in return for our effort. A reward for winning.
If there is no reward, why bother? Why put forth the extra effort at our jobs? Why volunteer at the church or a food pantry? Why give my hard earned money away to God’s work through the church or non-profit agencies? Why build relationships with people in El Salvador or on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation or in south Bismarck or even those who are visiting our community this weekend for the McQuade Charity Softball Tournament? If there is no reward, why bother?
You and I want the reward. We want to win. To be honest, I’m not sure how many of us would continue doing the things we do if we didn’t think there was some sort of reward associated with it. Case in point, I once asked a woman from our congregation if she planned to do some volunteer work in her retirement. She replied pretty directly, “Why would I do that. I don’t get paid to be a volunteer!” Looking back at that conversation, I wish I would have invited her to read Matthew 10.
Matthew 10 is a difficult chapter in the Jesus story, but one that answers a lot of the questions about our life together as followers of Jesus. As the chapter begins, “Jesus’ summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” The focus of this chapter is Jesus sending the disciples into the world to live out God’s mission for the world. He is offering instructions that tell the disciples a little about what they will be doing as followers of Jesus. Doing that may not always be easy, that will may be filled with uncertainty and probably include difficult and painful experiences. Believe it or not, being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean your life will be carefree and painless. And the biggest surprise for many American Christians in the last few decades is that following Jesus has nothing to do with making you rich.
In his book With Open Hands, the great Henri Nouwen wrote, “The challenge of the gospel lies precisely in the invitation to accept a gift for which we can give nothing in return. For the gift is the very life breath of God, the Spirit who is poured out on us through Jesus Christ. This life breath frees us from fear and gives us new room to live.”
Nouwen’s words remind us that our life in Christ exists not because you do something or because I have done something for you as your pastor. Your life in Christ, and my life in Christ too, exists because God does something. God loves us with a love that will never let us go – in our life or in our death. God lives in relationship with us through a savior named Jesus. God seeks relationship and reconciliation with all of creation. God claims us as God’s own and joins us together as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. All of this is because of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God promises to do for all eternity.
As 19th century British philanthropist John Ruskin said, “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” God gives us everything – yes, everything. And because of that gift, we become children of God.
In the three verses of our gospel reading today, the word welcome is used six times. I don’t think Jesus was just being lazy and couldn’t think of a better word to conclude his instructions to the disciples as he sends them out. I think maybe, just maybe, he is using the word welcome so extensively because the welcome that he is speaking about is kind of important to our life in Christ and God’s mission in the world. We have been welcomed by Jesus into relationship with God. Our relationship with God is lived out by how we are welcomed into the lives of others and by how we welcome others into our own lives.
I love how Pastor Eugene Peterson interprets these verses in his paraphrase of scripture called The Message. “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do 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. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
I don’t know, maybe our life together in Christ really isn’t that complicated after all. Brothers and sisters in Christ, as the body of Christ, our work together is too important and too exciting to just take a nap and wait for dinner. Blessings as you do the things you do. Amen.