13 Sunday A - Radicality of Discipleship

Matthew 10:40-42 - "Never Underestimate the Power of a Cold Cup of Water"
Matthew 10:40-42 -  "Second Nature through Spirit Nurture"

From Connections:

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.

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. 
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...

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...
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
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,
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.

 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

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
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?

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

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...