Sunday, September 30, 2018
For truly I say to you, anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
There’s a story about a Roman Catholic Church that was hosting a community Thanksgiving service. This was to be a first for the church and for the community. Naturally everyone was quite excited. With great dignity the priest led his three Protestant colleagues toward the chancel area when suddenly he realized that he forgot to put out chairs for his guests to sit during the service. In a state of great agitation, he whispered in the ear of one of his elderly laymen, please get some chairs for the guest pastors. The elderly gentleman was quite hard of hearing, so he asked the priest to repeat his request. The priest did so a little louder: Please get up and get three chairs for the Protestants.
The old man had a puzzled look on his face as he stood and turned to the rest of the congregation and said with a loud voice: This seems highly irregular, but I’ve been asked to have you stand and give three cheers for the Protestants. I would love to have been in that congregation that day. It would have been refreshing to hear Roman Catholics cheering for the Protestants or Protestants cheering for Roman Catholics. One of the real scandals of our faith is the resentment or opposition of some Christian groups toward other Christian groups.
Fortunately, things aren’t as bad as they used to be. For example, this past October newspapers carried stories of a joint celebration for the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day by Lutherans and Roman Catholics, including a statement by Pope Francis. Reformation Day, of course, signifies the beginning of the rebellion against the practices of the Roman Church. What an historic day when Protestants and Roman Catholics can come together and worship in reconciliation.
Speaking of Lutherans and Roman Catholics, it reminds me a story about a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis who invited some Lutherans in his area to hold a meeting in St. Louis Cathedral years ago. He welcomed the Lutherans by saying, we’re pleased to provide the cathedral. Please don’t nail anything to the doors.
At least the splintering of the Christian movement into hundreds if not thousands of diverse bodies has provided the world with some good humor. We enjoy making fun of our differences. For example, there’s the clever guy who invented a new denomination, called the “Frisbeeterians.” These people believe that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.
Our lesson today includes a rather shocking incident in the life of Jesus. The disciple John comes to Jesus and says, Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us. Do not stop him, Jesus said. For no one who does a mighty work in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us, is for us. Did you catch that? Whoever is not against us is for us. Then He goes on to say, for truly I say to you, anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
Does this passage of Scripture seem to say the exact opposite of what’s happened in Christian history. Jesus is preaching tolerance for others who call themselves by His name. Meanwhile the disciples are trying to protect their brand. And it appears to me that we, His followers, have been more like Jesus’ original disciples than like Him. Look at what’s happened to us. We have splintered into thousands of different groups, and each one, of course, feels that it has a corner on the truth. God must get a good laugh out of it, if it doesn’t cause Him to cry.
Jesus’ disciples were upset that someone who wasn’t a part of their group was performing miracles, specifically, casting out demons, using Jesus’ name. They felt that they had a privilege no one else should have. It must have made Jesus smile, while at the same time causing Him to shake His head sadly. Do not stop him, Jesus said. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.
What a blow to the disciples’ egos. They wanted Jesus to support them as His only representatives. They wanted to know that they owned the trademark and that others were infringing on what was rightfully theirs. But instead Jesus told them to let that man do what he would to help those who were suffering. Jesus was trying to expand their definition of what it means to follow Christ. He wanted them to accept people who didn’t express their faith in the same way that they did. There are times when we too have a hard time accepting other people, even other Christians. We think that our way is the best, and that everyone who’s a Christian must be exactly like us. Of course, with our nation being divided like it is between Red States and Blue Sates, conservatives and liberals, the “1-percenters” and the rest of us, we’re lucky that we don’t have a lot more violence.
When will we realize that Jesus is too big for any to one denomination, one culture, or one nationality? There are people of every circumstance and every ethnic origin who bear the name Christian. Just think of how small and petty we’re being when we try to restrict Jesus to people who look and think like we do. Truth is always bigger than one person or one denomination.
Like too many people today, the disciples had a narrow definition of who were followers of Jesus. Jesus tried to expand their horizons. Jesus said, for truly I tell you whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. That’s an interesting statement. It seems to me that a kind deed is more important than doctrinal purity. Here was someone who was doing this act of kindness in Jesus’ name. And all the disciples could think about was that the man seeking to cast out demons hadn’t been admitted into their club. He wasn’t one of the twelve. So, they tried to stop him.
Or the other example. Someone is giving a fellow Christian a cup of cold water. In that part of the world that was an act of great kindness. Water was scarce; the land was hot and dry. Must we give this person a test to see if they have the proper catechism before we accept their gift? Absurd! These folks are doing a kind deed. There’s not enough of that in this world.
Most of us are too preoccupied with our own concerns to pay attention to the needs of others. And yet, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus if it doesn’t mean we’re to be sensitive as Christ was sensitive to the needs of persons who are hurting?
Jesus calls us to expand our understanding of His grace and His love. Christ is Lord of all the world. Wherever people offer one another a cup of cold water, He is there. They may not even know His name, but He is there. And that brings us to our particular task. We are called to introduce people to the Lord of kindness. No person ever lived who was kinder than Jesus, and He wants us to do acts of kindness in His name.
Mark Twain once said, Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. Kindness is the only language that communicates what it means to be the family of Christ.
Of course, the best way to witness to the Lord of kindness is through our own random acts of compassion and love. This is the way to effectively communicate the wonder of the Gospel. It doesn’t depend on labels or formal affiliations for validation. It’s offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to any who are in need. And it’s recognizing that when someone offers us a cup of cold water, Christ is already at work in that person’s life whether they’re able to name the name or not. Any time anyone, regardless of their denominational affiliation, is trying to help another, Christ is there.
An anonymous author has put it this way:
Is anybody happier because you passed his way?
Does anyone remember that you spoke to her today?
Can you say tonight, in parting with the day that’s slipping fast,
That you helped a single person of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said?
Does the man whose hopes were fading now with courage look ahead?
Did you leave a trail of kindness, or a scar of discontent?
As you close your eyes in slumber, do you think that God will say,
“You have earned one more tomorrow by the work you did today?”
We all know that we don’t have to earn our tomorrows, we only need to thank God. The gift of a loving and gracious Heavenly Father. He gave those tomorrows to us even though we’re unworthy, simply and solely as an act of kindness. Now it’s our time to pass on what we’ve received to others. So, three cheers for the Protestants and the Roman Catholics and for those of every sect who are bringing kindness to the world, for kindness is another word for God.