13 Sunday A: Radicality of Discipleship

Fr. William Grimm's Video at the end.
*** Gospel reading: Matthew 10:37-42



Michel de Verteuil
General comments
According to the liturgical practice of our Church, when a teaching of Jesus is continued over several weeks, each Sunday’s reading begins with a reminder of the context. Today’s passage therefore begins, “Jesus instructed the twelve as follows”, or “Jesus said to his apostles”. This practice reminds us that in our Catholic tradition we always read the bible “historically” – with the awareness that each book, indeed each passage, was composed in a certain historical context and is also to be read in a historical context.

       Applying this principle to today’s passage, we read it not as a list of commands (far less of threats) but as a “story” – this is what Jesus said when he sent his disciples into their world. It is a living story so that in our meditation we ask the question, who is the Jesus who said (is saying) these things – to us? to the modern world? The passage also issues a challenge to us as individuals and as communities (as the Church) – this is how Jesus wants us to be present in the world.
The passage is in two sections, very different both in content and in atmosphere:
Verses 37 to 39 speak of the demands Jesus makes on people and wishes his followers to make on their contemporaries. We remember with gratitude the people who have made such demands on us, lifting us out of mediocrity and giving us something for which we are willing to risk everything we hold dear. Martin Luther King once said, “People who haven’t discovered something they will die for, are not fit to live.”
Each verse ends with “is not worthy of me”. This reminds us that as followers of Jesus we have the option of watering down his teaching in such a way that it is no longer “worthy” of him.
 “Prefer” in verse 37 is biblical language, and we must be careful to interpret it correctly. The bible takes for granted that hurting “father or mother”, “son or daughter” causes very deep pain; we must read this verse then as part of the “cross” which Jesus’ followers must “take up” (verse 38), and of “losing one’s life” (verse 39).
  “Follow in my footsteps” in verse 38 shows that Jesus only imposes on others what he has imposed on himself.
 Verses 37 and 38 can give the impression of Jesus’ followers as a surly lot, suffering from “victim syndrome”; verse 39 corrects such wrong interpretations – the overall effect of the following of Jesus is positive, it calls for self-sacrifice as a way to fuller life.
 The verse presents two sharply contrasting possibilities; we stay with each one in turn, getting a feeling for both and letting them play off each other like contrasting colours in a painting.
– On the one hand, there is complacency  – “I can relax now that I have found what I was looking for”. We feel Jesus’ sadness at mediocrity where there was immense potential.
 – On the other hand we feel his exhilaration at people who have taken risks (lost life) and discovered new vitality (found life).
Verses 40 to 42 speak of the presence of Jesus in his community after he has left them. Many leaders want their followers to be always referring back to them; Jesus is different, he sends his followers out so selflessly and with so much trust that they feel his presence long after they have gone on their own.
In accord with the original context of the passage, we focus on ourselves sent into the world by Jesus with our different vocations – as parents, teachers, community leaders, Church ministers etc.
Like all caring leaders Jesus is concerned that his missionaries should be “welcomed”, a powerful image we need to spend time on. We are “welcomed” when we are invited to feel at home with others while at the same time being allowed to remain true to ourselves – a rare and very precious experience.
In verse 40 Jesus tells the twelve, “Don’t be afraid, I am so completely with you that when people welcome you they welcome me”. The secret of non-possessiveness is the sense of “being sent” by a higher power; we find it easier to entrust our authority to others when we remember that it is not “ours” but entrusted to us by God.
In verse 41, we need not make a distinction between “prophet” and “holy man”; they are different names for great people sent by God to a community. The verse brings out that Jesus’ “missionaries” (in the widest sense as explained above) and those who welcome them become one. Missionaries are not “givers of objects” (not even “spiritual objects”); they have had a deep experience and invite others to share in it. We remember times when we experienced that those who welcomed us shared in our blessedness.
In our preaching we tend to stress that God is “offended” by our sins. The God whom Jesus reveals in verse 42 is not concerned about himself. Like a good parent, teacher or church minister, his concern is for the “little ones” he has formed and sent into the world. He fusses over them (note “certainly”) and rewards generously anyone who looks after them. We think of parents who declare themselves  “eternally grateful” to a teacher for befriending their children.
The designation “little ones” is very significant. Jesus does not want his missionaries to be overly concerned at being treated with honour or respect. In his eyes, they are (and must see themselves as) “little ones”. As many have noted, one of the root causes of many of the recent clerical scandals is that we church leaders have encouraged the culture of elitism, forgetting that we were sent by the Lord as “little ones” grateful for “as much as a cup of cold water”.
We think too of the church’s call to be a humble presence (a little one) in non-Western or non-Christian cultures.
“Only those are great whose faith lifts them higher than themselves and who give themselves entirely to this faith.”  …Yves Congar
Lord, we remember with deep gratitude those moments of grace when we had an experience which changed all our values and gave a new direction to our lives: 
– we met someone whom we loved more than anyone else in the world; 
– a new leader gave our community a new vision for itself; 
– we read a book which changed our lives;
– a bible passage touched us deeply.
The experience affected us so much that we looked with new eyes
at those who up to then were very dear to us, father or mother, son or daughter,
we were ready to give up things that up to then were very precious to us. 
It was the only attitude  worthy of this new call we had received.
Looking back on that moment we realise that had we not made the choice ,
we would have lost ourselves; because we made it we found ourselves.
Lord, your will is that the message of Jesus should bring life
to societies torn apart by racial and ethnic hatred.
Forgive us that we have watered down the message
allowing it to be second to father and mother, son and daughter.
Followers of Jesus are concerned  to protect their ethnic and class identity
but are in fact losing it, whereas if they lost it for your sake they would find it.
Lord, we pray for the leaders of our country.
Don’t let them impose burdens on others which they have not borne themselves.
Teach them that, like Jesus, they must first take up their cross,
and only then invite others to follow in their footsteps.
Lord, we remember today those who are taking an important new step in their lives:
– getting married or becoming parents; 
– taking public office; 
– committing themselves to a new form of service.
Give them the courage to risk losing themselves, 
for it is only then that they will find their true selves.
Lord, we thank you that in many countries of the world your Church has made an option for the poor,
– preferring them to father and mother, son and daughter
 – risking everything for the sake of the gospel.
It has lost many of its privileges but has found life as the Church of Jesus.
 “When I walk  with Jesus, he always leads me to the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost so that I may open my heart to them.” …Jean Vanier.
Lord, many leaders today, even in the Church,
are concerned only for the important members of the community,
for their friends or for those who can help them.
We thank you for Jesus and all like him, 
men and women who feel deeply for the little ones in the community,
and are grateful to those who give as much as a cup of cold water to them.
“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you,
the better you will listen to what is sounding outside.
” …Dag Hammarskjold
Lord, we thank you for the holy men and women,
the prophets you send into our lives.
How true it is that when we welcome them we share in their greatness.
Lord, we thank you for sending us into the world as parents,
teachers,
community leaders, ministers in your church.
Don’t let us be possessive of those you entrust to our care.
Help us like Jesus, to have a sense that you sent us,
so that when we have done all we have to do,
we can let ourselves live in those we have formed,
trusting that whoever welcomes them welcomes us
and in welcoming us welcomes you who sent us.
Lord, forgive us that the leaders of your church
have come to others with a sense of superiority.
We thank you for the times that life teaches them
that you have sent them as little  ones
who are grateful for as much as a cup of cold water to slake their thirst.
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
Welcome! Welcome to this assembly of the baptised who have gathered to give thanks to our Father in heaven. ‘Welcome’: it is such a simple word, and one we use freely and often with little thought. We welcome friends and guests to our homes; from time to time we welcome visitors; we talk about giving and receiving warm welcomes; and we sometimes have little plaques near our front door with ‘Welcome’ written on them or even have it bound into the weave of the front door mat.
Because we have been baptised into Jesus the Christ, we have been welcomed by the Father as his daughters and sons. Because we are disciples we are welcomed now to the Lord’s table. Because we are followers of the Way we look forward to being welcomed to the banquet of heaven. We can thank the Father that we are a welcomed people.
But do we always welcome the Christ in his teachings in our lives? Do we always welcome the Christ in the stranger? Do we always welcome the Christ in the poor? Do we always welcome the Christ in those in need in our society?

Homily notes
1. It is always worth giving time to a few unpalatable facts! Here is one: religions are forces for conservatism in societies – in effect changes (such as the arrival of new people) tend to be seen as frightening and sources of danger. Here is another: religions tend to build cohesion between groups that engage in ritual together – in effect they establish a status quo that becomes increasingly rigid and adverse to change (so adding hymns that make the assembly more friendly to parents with young children will be a war of attrition [‘attrition” in its military rather than its theological sense!]). Here is a third: most religious groups tend to have high perceptions of their own identity and so, in effect, become either excluding of members drifting in from outside or positively exclusive. In effect, you might come to the group as a visitor, but either you would always feel on the periphery as a ‘blow in’ or you would get a set of signals that this was not really your kind of place.
2. This might appear to be an interesting piece of religious anthropology, but it certainly would not apply to our community: surely it was only last week that we all shook hands at coffee with the two foreigners that bought the house round the corner that old Mrs Smith lived in! Alas, there is a fourth fact: we all drift down this route of being unwelcoming and must positively choose to act differently if we are to answer the Lord’s call to be welcoming. We want to be like this precisely because we have been so warmly welcomed by the may be two housing estates: one detached properties with gardens, the other high-density local authority housing. Are they represented pro rata in the groups in the church? Does the community only reflect the liturgical needs of the middle-aged or the young families? Does the community show its acceptance of immigrants from other cultures in those who read or assist with the sharing of the Eucharist? These are hard questions for any community because it tests ‘welcoming’ by practice. And, once someone says in reply: ‘But they don’t want to be involved anyway!’ you can be certain the community has a problem because they are already thinking of brothers and sisters in Christ in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
3. Every congregation, and every group within it, must audit its practice: is this group inclusive and including; is this group exclusive or excluding; are there subtle signals being sent out that there are ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’; are there ways of sending out subtle signals that we are all poor and needy of the Lord’s mercy and glad to be welcomed to the Lord’s table?
4. If the perfect expression of our existence as the church ~ our gathering for the Eucharist – is an event of true welcome, then those attitudes of welcome and social concern will begin to embed themselves in the community’s discipleship as a whole. And the converse also hold true: if a community cannot be genuinely welcoming in its liturgy, then it is most unlikely that it will be concerned with the poor, the needy, or the stranger.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
Rocketing divorce rates and the now widespread practice of cohabitation in preference to marriage are two examples among numerous of the difficulty, especially in western societies, of people making lasting commitments to one another. Even many couples who claim to love each other are reluctant to make vows that bind them for life.
This apparent inability to make definitive commitments has also affected the priesthood and religious life. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), many priests and religious abandoned their commitment in their droves. Nowadays it is not uncommon to hear the suggestion that priesthood and religious life should only be a temporary arrangement, that young people might commit to these lifestyles for a specified period of time and then be free to do other things.
Jesus was very clear about the commitment that he expects from his disciples: ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:37-38). Christians are called to put Christ first. Total commitment, nothing less, is required.
In the scale of relationships, then, Christ is unquestionably first. Not even the closest of family relationships is more important than our relationship with Christ. Nothing less than total commitment is acceptable. The same applies in the case of suffering. Whatever sufferings come our way, whether physical illness or mental anguish or spiritual distress, we accept them for the love of Christ.
To underline the importance of nourishing this total commitment of his followers, Jesus promised rewards to those who give even a drink of water to those in need. It is incumbent on us, then, to re-examine our Christian commitment.
For example, how do we understand the obligation to attend Sunday Mass? For some of us, it may be based on a sort of turgid duty that arises from fear or guilt. For others, it may be due to an unreflected lifelong habit. Or it may be a result of our love of God and the desire to offer praise and worship in the context of a believing community.
If our religious observance is to be transformed into a duty of love, then we need to reflect carefully on the words of Jesus that no human being, nothing on the face of the earth, should be more important to us than him. Only when we appreciate the pre-eminence of Jesus in our lives, will everything else fall into its correct perspective.
For meditation
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me. (Mt 10:40)
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Fr Donal Neary, S.J
The simple cup of water



The examples are stark in the gospel today: about not preferring mother and father to Jesus; about how, in our care for others, we care for Jesus, and how, in our neglect of others, we neglect him. We need to go beyond the practical example to finding out what is central in our lives and how we see God as central. When God is central, our love can be in the smallest of services to people, like ‘the cup of cold water’.
Jesus is not central outside our humanity, and our human relationships. In the real needs of ordinary people we meet his needs. We give the ‘cup of cold water’ to the person who needs it, not just to Jesus. It’s like many stories in the gospel of Jesus helping those in real need. This is the central point of faith.
We help in simple ways. This is what Pope Francis refers to in his encouragement of simple love, ‘like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love’ (September 2015).
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From the Connections:

THE WORD:
Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of Matthew’s collection of Jesus’ missionary discourses, in which Jesus speaks of the sacrifice demanded of his disciples and the suffering they will endure for their faith.  In today’s pericope, Jesus clearly is not attacking family life; he is warning his disciples of the conflict and misunderstanding they will experience for their proclaiming the word.  To be an authentic disciple of Jesus means embracing the suffering, humility, pain and selflessness of the cross; to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means taking on the often unpopular role of prophet for the sake of the kingdom; to be an authentic disciple of Jesus means welcoming and supporting other disciples who do the work of the Gospel.

HOMILY POINTS:
God calls every one of us to the work of the prophet: to proclaim his presence among his people.  Some are called to be witnesses of God's justice in the midst of profound evil and hatred; others are called to be witnesses of his hope and grace to those in pain and anguish; and many share in the work of the prophet/witness by enabling others to be effective witnesses and ministers of God’s love.  The gift of faith opens our spirits to realize and accept our call to be witnesses of God's love borne on the cross and prophets of the hope of his Son's resurrection.
The most difficult part of imitating Jesus is the cross and what it stands for: unconditional forgiveness, the totally emptying of ourselves of our wants and needs for the sake of another, the spurning of safety and popular convention to do what is right and just.  
To “receive the prophet’s reward” is to seek out every opportunity, to use every talent with which we have been blessed, to devote every resource at our disposal to make the love of God a living reality in every life we touch.
Authentically committed disciples of Jesus possess the vision of faith and determination of hope to use anything — from a cup of cold water to a sign to protect the most helpless of creatures — to make God’s reign of compassion and peace a reality in our time and place. 
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Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s liturgy centres on the theme of hospitality. Hospitality, as a virtue, is still practiced. We still visit people and most people make us feel welcome into their homes. In the first reading we see Elisha is welcomed by an elderly woman in Shunem, who urges him to eat some food. He is touched by the welcome hospitality and by the fact that whenever he passes that way he is offered a meal. Seeing that he is a regular visitor, the couple decide to build a small room so Elisha can rest comfortably. Touched by their generosity he decides to reward them. Finding out that they are childless, he promises them the gift of a son as God’s blessing on them.

Shoes
As Gandhi stepped aboard a train one day, one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track. He was unable to retrieve it as the train was moving. To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first. Asked by a fellow passenger why he did so, Gandhi smiled. “The poor fellow who finds the shoe lying on the track,” he replied, “will now have a pair he can use.”
Author unknown

In today’s gospel Jesus instructs his disciples about how they have to be hospitable and welcoming even though they themselves may not be welcomed and may sometimes be rejected as they preach the good news. They will also experience the warm hospitality of some who will welcome them. He also reminds them that even a small gesture of offering a glass of water given in hospitality will be rewarded. The practice of receiving a guest or a stranger was common to many social groups at that time. It was a sacred duty practiced by many. The guest was treated with respect and honour and was provided with shelter. A significant feature of hospitality was Israel’s deep sense of God as its host. Israel treasured its identity as a pilgrim people. They remembered that their home belonged to God and that they like their ancestors remained pilgrims and passing guests in God’s house.

Modern Samaritan
A salesman had had a busy week and was returning to his home town. He stopped his car for a break at a roadside coffee shop. As he sat drinking his coffee he heard a girl quietly crying in the next booth. He didn't want to get involved but he was moved by her obvious distress. The girl was about 17, the same age as his daughter. Against his better judgement he introduced himself and asked if he could help. The girl, whose name was Lisa, told him that she was from a broken home and had got into bad company. She was into drugs and had turned to prostitution to pay for them. Moved as he was, he just bought the girl a meal and continued his journey. Later that evening he shared his experience with his family. His family suggested that he return to that town and try to find Lisa again and offer to help. He eventually located her. He discovered that she was but one of a number of girls in that town in similar circumstances who were being exploited by the pimps and drug pushers. He was so moved by Lisa's plight that he took her home to his family, and that started a ministry to try and get those girls off the streets. Out of that simple beginning over a cup of coffee that man now has three full-time workers and has seen scores of girls come off the streets and get their lives back together. The ministry became so successful that it earned the man a Presidential citation.
Ron Clark

Two Brothers
Two brothers worked together on the family farm. One was married and had a large family. The other was single. At the day’s end, the brothers shared everything equally, produce and profit. Then one day the single brother said to himself. “It’s not right that we should share equally the produce and the profit. I am alone and my needs are simple.” So each night he took a sack of grain from his bin and crept across the field between their houses dumping it into his brother’s bin. Meanwhile the married brother said to himself. “It is not right that we should share the profit and the produce equally. After all I am married and have my wife and children to look after me in years to come. My brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.” So each night he took a sack of grain and dumped it into his single brother’s bin. Both men were puzzled for years because their supply of grain never dwindled. Then one dark night the two brothers bumped into each other. Slowly it dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another.
Author Unknown from “More Sower Seeds by Brian Cavenaugh”

Finding God in my neighbor
One American family was travelling in their motor home through Alaska, when the axle broke and they were stranded in the middle of nowhere. So the father left the family in their motor home and began to walk in search of help. To his good luck, he came upon an isolated farmhouse. He knocked on the door and a very friendly farmer responded. When he learned of the man’s distress, the farmer just patted him on the shoulder and said he could help him. Without wasting a minute he got into his tractor, drove out and towed the motor house to his yard. And then, in a very short time, he used his welder and fixed the problem. The American family were extremely relieved and grateful. Taking out his wallet the father of the family offered to pay, but the farmer would have none of it. “It was my pleasure” was all he said. “As you can see, I live in isolation and often do not see anybody for weeks and even months. You have given me the pleasure of your company. That is more than adequate compensation.” The American family were greatly impressed. It certainly enhanced their belief in the essential goodness of human beings.
James Valladares in ‘Your Words, O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life’

Rescued
A little girl whose parents had died lived with her grandmother and slept in an upstairs bedroom. One night there was a fire in the house and the grandmother perished while trying to rescue the child. The fire spread quickly, the neighbours called the fire department, and then stood helplessly by unable to enter the house. The girl appeared at an upstairs window crying for help. Suddenly, a man appeared with a ladder, put it against the side of the house and disappeared inside. When he reappeared, he had the little girl in his arms. He delivered the child into the waiting arms below, and then disappeared into the night. As the child had no known relatives, weeks later a meeting was held to determine who would take the child into their home and bring her up. A teacher said she would like to raise the child. She pointed out that she could ensure a good education. A farmer offered her an upbringing on his farm. Others spoke, giving their reasons why it was to the child’s advantage to live with them. Finally, the town’s richest resident rose and said, “I can give this child all the advantages that you have mentioned here, plus money and everything that money can buy.” Throughout all this the child remained silent, her eyes on the floor. “Does anyone else want to speak?” asked the meeting chairman. A man came forward from the back of the hall. His gait was slow and he seemed in pain. When he got to the front of the room he stood directly before the little child and held out his arms. The crowd gasped. His hands and arms were terribly scarred. The child cried out, “This is the man that rescued me!” With a leap, she threw her arms around the man’s neck, holding on for dear life, just as she had that fateful night. She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed for a few moments. Then she looked up and smiled at him. "This meeting is adjourned" said the chairman.
Author unknown


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Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality.

The eighth of November marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897November 29, 1980), the uncanonized saint of the homeless, an American journalist turned social activist and a devout member of the Catholic Church. She was also an outspoken advocate for the poor.   For most of her life she agitated for better treatment of the disadvantaged.    The Catholic Worker Movement, which she started in May 1933, was a further extension of her interest in the poor.   With the help of her friend Peter Maurin she revived the idea of hospitality once fostered by monasteries.  All were welcome:  the poor, the downtrodden and losers.   She also started the first House of Hospitality where she could care for the poor. Dorothy and Peter suggested that every Catholic parish should have such a place of hospitality. Today there are nearly 175 of these Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality.  “Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor,” she used to say, “are atheists indeed.”  "If I have achieved anything in my life," she once remarked, "it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God." In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs Christians on how they should be hospitable and generous.

2) Saints and preachers who lived for others as Jesus did:
 
 John Chrysostom, who lived in the fourth century, was one of the most powerful preachers in Church history. Yet, he devoted more time and energy to the poor than to preaching. He established many Christian charities, hospices, and hospitals for the destitute. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian abbot and renowned monastic theologian and preacher, led many people to Christ. He also established a network of hostels, hospices, and hospitals that survive today. John Wycliffe, who translated the New Testament into English, led a grass-roots movement of lay-preachers and relief workers who ministered to the poor. General William Booth was a Methodist preacher when he started The Salvation Army. Dwight L. Moody, one of the best known of all the pastors in America established more than 150 street missions, soup kitchens, clinics, schools, and rescue outreaches. [John Wimber and Kevin Springer, Power Points (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991), p. 189.] The Christian Faith is about giving. We only have to survey the ministry of Jesus to see that. There was nothing self-serving in anything Jesus ever did. He was truly the Man for others. And he called us to be men and women for others. At the very heart of our Faith is a spirit of giving
3) Amish hospitality:
Years ago, on a trip through the Amish country of Pennsylvania, I took the occasion to visit several of the shops. Many of them had signs of greeting hung on the door or in the window, which read, “Welcome! There are no strangers here -- only friends we haven’t yet met.” In keeping with the sign was the warmth and kindness with which visitors were received and tended to. Unfortunately, hospitality such as this has become an uncommon, albeit pleasant surprise in today’s world. But it was not always so. In ancient times, hospitality was considered a sacred duty and in scripture the patriarchs were cited as models of this virtue (Genesis 19:2; 24:17-33; 43:24). Recall, in particular, the visit of Yahweh to Abraham (Genesis 18:2-8); Abraham and Sarah’s generous welcome of their guests was rewarded with the promise of a son. (Patricia Datchuck S├ínchez). As Xavier Leon-Dufour [Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Geoffrey Chapman, London: 1973)] once explained, Hospitality was to be valued as a work of mercy as well as a means of witnessing to the faith. The visitor who traveled through and requested assistance (Proverbs 27:8, Sirach 29:21-27) was to be regarded as a living reminder of Israel’s former struggle as enslaved strangers in Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34). The stranger in need was also to remind Israel of its present status as a wandering pilgrim on earth (Psalm 39:13, Hebrew 11:13, 13:14). Today’s Gospel reminds us that the hospitality and generosity expected of us should be given here and now.

4. Funny truths:

You may sleep in the Church, but don’t snore. William Muehl, professor of preaching at Yale Divinity, spoke the following famous words to generations of seminarians: "Always remember that most of the people you have on a Sunday morning almost decided not to come, to stay in bed and sleep instead.” Hence, it is no wonder that a recent study in Great Britain found that 42 percent of regular Church-goers fall asleep in Church. Ever feel like yawning in Church yourself? This'll wake you up: "Yawning is of medical importance because it is symptomatic of pathology such as brain lesions and tumors, hemorrhage, motion sickness, chorea and encephalitis." So says a 1987 University of Maryland report in the journal “Behavioral and Neural Biology.” So, while you're yawning, be sure to tell yourself: "Don’t worry. There's only a small chance it's a tumor."

5. Southern hospitality:
Two ladies, a Yankee and a Southern Belle, are sitting next to each other on a plane. The Southern Belle turns to the Yankee and asks, "So, where y'all from?" The Yankee replies, "I am from a place where we do not end our sentences with a preposition." Without missing a beat, the Southern Belle bats her lashes and asks, "So, where y'all from, rude lady?"

6. Overdose hospitality:
A farmer, who went to a big city to see the sights, asked the hotel's clerk about the time of meals. "Breakfast is served from 7 to 11, dinner from 12 to 3, and supper from 6 to 8," explained the clerk. "Look here," inquired the farmer in surprise, "when am I going to get time to see the city?"
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Now I would like to stop the world for just one minute and ask you to think back. Think back with me to the first century. Think about those 50 years after Jesus' death and what it must been like for Jesus' disciples. Before the last one died their efforts had brought 500,000 men, women, and children into the ranks of the church. But what they had to suffer in order to accomplish this task is seldom discussed. We like the outcome of their discipleship but we don't want to hear the cost of discipleship. So for the record here is the cost: History tells us...
1. John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos.
2. Judas Iscariot, after betraying his Lord, hanged himself.
3. Peter was crucified; head downward, during the persecution of Nero.
4. Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony.
5. James, the younger, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the
Temple, and then beaten to death with a club.
6. Bartholomew was flayed alive in Albanapolis, Armenia.
7. James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
8. Thomas, the doubter, was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel, in the East Indies.
9. Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis.
10. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows.
11. Simon died on a cross in Persia (what we now call Iran.)
12. Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded.

What sacrifices! And I ask you why? Why did they choose to die this way? Why desert your father and mother, your wife and child, and your home? Why put up with the constant humiliation, and hunger, and persecution, and defeat town after town after town?

I'll tell you why, because, in the words of Apostle Paul, they were held captive by the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It is Paul's way of saying they were slaves to Christ...
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It is every parent's dream. It goes like this . .

Your child is a guest at someone's home. Maybe a friend or a relative. When the meal is over, your child is the one who, without being told, spontaneously rises from the table, gathers their plate and even grabs another place setting, and takes them into the kitchen and put them either in the sink or in the dishwasher.  

What parent doesn't live with the eternal hope that our ten thousand nudges to our kids -- "pick that up" and "put that in the trash" and "did you forget where the laundry basket lives?" -- will finally "stick"?  

These reminders are not about household cleanliness. They are teaching a new generation of disciples about being thoughtful, compassionate, helpful, and loving followers of Jesus.  

Discipleship is, by definition, something that is "learned." The Greek word for disciples or "mathetes" means literally learner as well as follower. Jesus himself said, "Learn of me." (Matthew 11:29). Part of what it means to be a "disciple" is to teach a new generation of disciples.  

The whole sporting world is all about "World Cup" madness right now. In the USA we call it "soccer." In the rest of the world it is called "football." For those who love the sport, which seems to be all of the world with the singular exception the US, all eyes are on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as teams like Ghana and Germany, Nigeria and Argentina duke it out for a world championship.
But the biggest story out of Rio may not about a winner, but about a loser...
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Shake It Off!

One of the greatest deterrents to our spiritual progress is our inability to shake off the things done to us by others. We can't get on with our lives because we are still angry and hurt by another's sin against us. We must find ways of redirecting our antagonism into something higher. We must channel our hurt, our anger, our despair, and our disappointment into something positive. Let go. Unpack the baggage. Stop wallowing in the quagmires of the past. Get your passport stamped and move on to higher ground, to your next destination.

Jesus exhorts his disciples in Matthew 10. If the people do not receive you, don't get stuck. Don't waste your life away crying crocodile tears; "shake" the dust from your feet and keep on moving. Don't get put in spiritual, emotional, and psychological jail by the things other people do to you. After it's done, don't give them the keys to your jail cell by living in solitary confinements of unhappiness and pain. Get out of jail, pass go, and collect two hundred!
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III, Joy Songs, Trumpet Blasts, and Hallelujah Shouts, CSS Publishing Company
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We Replace the Lamb

In that marvelous vision known as the "Peaceable Kingdom" (which we find in Isaiah 65), there is the image of the wolf and the lamb feeding together. Well, let me tell you a story about that. Back in the days of pre-perestroika Russia ... when hers was a name that made all of us tremble: the Russians brought an exhibit to the World's Fair that was entitled "World Peace." In it was a large cage. And in the cage were a little lamb and a Russian wolf ... feeding peaceably together. As an exhibit, it was most impressive. And as the fair unfolded, it was spectacularly attended. One day, however, somebody asked the curator the obvious question: "How in the world do you do it?" To which he replied: "Oh, it's really very simple. We replace the lamb every morning."

William A Ritter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Simple Caring 

For several weeks, Mrs. Sherman's first-grade class had waited for the field trip to the observatory. Notices had been sent home with instructions about the bus, lunch, and times of departure and return. To the students, waiting for the field trip was like waiting for Christmas. 

Finally, the day arrived. We grabbed our lunches and coats and lined up for the bus. In the back of the room, one boy began to cry because he had forgotten to bring a lunch and would have to stay behind with another teacher. In a few minutes, the other children had contributed extra sandwiches, fruit, desserts, and drinks until the boy had a feast for his lunch. With new tears, this time tears of gratitude, he grabbed his coat, lined up, and climbed onto the bus.

We had given him a "cup of cold water." Acts of service are not always dramatic or earth-shattering. Simple caring is all that is needed. Discipleship means being alert for opportunities to care, to demonstrate God's loving-kindness, and to teach others to do the same.
Gene Blair

The Tool of Discouragement 

There is an old legend about Satan one day having a yard sale. He thought he'd get rid of some of his old tools that were cluttering up the place. So there was gossip, slander, adultery, lying, greed, power-hunger, and more laid out on the tables. Interested buyers were crowding the tables, curious, handling the goods. One customer, however, strolled way back in the garage and found on a shelf a well-oiled and cared-for tool. He brought it out to Satan and inquired if it was for sale. "Oh, no!" Satan answered. "That's my tool. Without it I couldn't wreck the church! It's my secret weapon!" "But what is it?" the customer inquired.
"It's the tool of discouragement," the devil said.
In the text Jesus is talking to the church about their attitude and deportment toward the prophets God sends among us as shepherds. He speaks frankly about acceptance and rejection, about kindness and trust. In short, he promises that in the minister's success among us shall come our own reward

Stephen M. Crotts and Stan Purdum, Sermons For Sundays: After Pentecost (First Third): Hidden In Plain View, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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 God Still Thinks about You 

Helmut Thielicke says that during World War II, his students often wrote from the battlefield saying, "I am so exhausted from marching, my stomach is so empty, I am so plagued with lice and scratching, I am so tormented by the biting cold of Russia and so dead tired, that I am totally occupied, without the least bit of inner space for any speculative thinking." Sometimes they would write that they were too weak to leaf through the Bible and were even lazy about the Lord's Prayer. Dr. Thielicke would reply, "Be thankful that the Gospel is more than a philosophy. If it were only a philosophy, you would just have it as long as you could keep it in mind and it could afford you intellectual comfort. But even when you can no longer think about God, he still thinks about you."

Herchel H. Sheets, When Jesus Exaggerated, CSS Publishing Company
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Cast-off Items 

John Bowes, chairman of the parent company of Wham-O, the maker of Frisbees, once participated in a charity effort. He sent thousands of the plastic flying discs to an orphanage in Angola, Africa. He thought the children there would enjoy playing with them. 

Several months later, a representative of Bowes' company visited the orphanage. One of the nuns thanked him for the wonderful "plates" that his company had sent them. She told him the children were eating off the Frisbees, carrying water with them, and even catching fish with them. When the representative explained how the Frisbees were intended to be used, the nun was even more delighted that the children would also be able to enjoy them as toys. 

On one level, that story is rather amusing. On another, it is very sad. There are people who would prize even our cast-off items, who would be grateful to eat what we throw away. 

King Duncan, adapted from Gary B. Swanson, Frisbees and Guerillas
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Whoever Welcomes You, Welcomes Me

Recently I was sent this story. The author said, I saw him in the church building for the first time on Wednesday. He was in his mid-70's with thinning silver hair and a neat brown suit. Many times in the past I had invited him to come. Several other Christian friends had talked to him about the Lord and had tried to share the good news with him. He was well respected, honest, a man of good character. He acted much like a Christian would act, but he never came to church or professed Christ. After I got to know him well and we had talked about a wide range of subjects I asked him if he had ever been to a church service.

He hesitated. Then with a twisted grimace told me of an experience he had as a boy. He was raised in a large family. His parents survived the depression but they struggled to provide food and clothing for the family. When he was around ten years old a friend invited him to go to church with his family.

He went - the Sunday School class was great. The songs were fun to sing and the stories, oh the great Bible stories, were exciting to hear. He had never heard anyone read from the Bible before. As class ended the teacher pulled him aside and said, "Son, please don't come again dressed as you are now. We want to look our best when we come into God's house."

He looked down at his old hand me down overalls that were certainly worn and tattered. He thought about that for a moment and said softly, "No ma'am I won't ever." Then he looked at me, the author wrote and said, "And you know what... I never did." It was clear that he was done with that conversation.

The author reflected, I am sure that the Sunday School teacher meant well and in fact was representing the feeling of the majority of the folks in that church. But what if, what if she had put her arms around the dirty little boy in the ragged overalls and said, "Son, I am thrilled that you came this morning and I hope you will come every chance you get to hear more about Jesus because he loves you so much." Moreover what if she would have talked with her pastor or her friends in the church and mobilized a full blown outreach effort to help this family make ends meet. 

What if that church would have thought, Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Or whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple will receive a great reward (v. 40 & 42)

The story ended like this: Yes I saw him in the church house for the first time on Wednesday and I cried as I looked at the immaculately dressed old gentleman lying there in his casket. He was looking his best. But all I could think of were those words of an impressionable little ten-year-old boy echoing in my mind, "No ma'am I won't ever." 

David Wiggs, Who Needs a Welcome?
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Self-doubt: Burning on the Bottom of the Pan 

I remember an old story about a kindergarten teacher wrote a song about popcorn and then had her class crouch down on the floor as they sang it. At the appropriate point in the song, all the children would "pop up." The teacher had them "popping" all over the classroom. 

One day, during the popcorn song, the teacher noticed that one little boy remained crouched down when all the other children popped up. "What's wrong?" the teacher asked. "Why aren't you `popping' like the other children?"

The little boy replied, "Cause I'm burning on the bottom of the pan."

 Some of us are like that little boy. We feel like we are burning on the bottom of the pan. We feel like we have no worth as persons. 

Billy D. Strayhorn, How God Gets His Kicks
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All You Have to Do Is Look Up 

A substitute Sunday School teacher couldn't open the combination lock on the supply cabinet. So she went to the pastor for help. The pastor started turning the dial of the combination lock, stopped after the first two numbers, looked up serenely toward heaven, began moving his lips silently, turned to the final number, and opened the lock. 

The teacher gasped, "I'm in awe of your faith, pastor."
"Really," he said, "it's nothing...