A visitor mentioned to the pastor of the church that the congregation was cold and unfriendly. So at the next service the pastor told the people that starting next week they would take a moment to greet the people around them. Immediately an enthusiastic woman turned and reached out her hand to a man behind her. He was shocked, and quickly told her that sort of thing didn’t begin until next week.
Hospitality is a huge biblical issue. Hebrew culture was assumed it. It was a culture that was aware of strangers, travelers, the lost, the poor, the grieving. Jesus understands his culture, and he’s sending his disciples out into that culture as missionaries. At the beginning of Chapter 10, Jesus say to not only tell culture about kingdom, but show them. Last week in the middle of chapter 10 he point out that there are consequences to doing this that may be difficult.
Today, Jesus talks to his disciples about being guests in the culture. Jesus understands that as these disciples go into towns and villages, the people of that culture will be the ones providing a welcome. The disciples are told by Jesus that they (the disciples) are the guests and the culture is hosting them.
Get to the particulars in a minute, but for now notice how opposite of that concept we are in the church today. We have come to believe the kingdom has come to us, and that we are the hosts for those who want to join us. Reverse of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. He never told them to go build churches and wait for people to come to you (or even to invite one or two). He told them they are the guests in whatever culture they find themselves. As they welcome you, they will experience Christ who is present in you. You go to them and meet them on their turf. They’ve got home field advantage. You have to give them the chance to welcome you, not the other way around.
We’ll discover what that means once we get the whole context.
Look at this reward business. Welcome a prophet, receive the reward of a prophet. Welcome a righteous one, receive the reward of a righteous one. That word “reward” means to get what’s appropriate. Work in the field, you get what a landowner would pay. So, really, as the culture welcomes a prophet, they get what a prophet would give them. As they welcome a righteous person (one of Jesus’ disciples), they get what a righteous person would bring. So as they welcome you, they get to know and experience God’s vision that you bring—that’s part of who you are. It simply spills out of you.
If that isn’t good enough, we get this cup of cold water. Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple . . . “Whoever” is still the culture. “One of these little ones”—Matthew only uses the word one other time in reference to people, and he’s referring to the least significant. The unimportant. The ones he sent his disciples to be among– the sick, the lame, the possessed.
“In the name of a disciple” = in the character of, or in the nature of one who bears the name of Christ.
So if the culture shows grace and mercy (cup of cold water) to those who are in need (the least significant) because of you, they’ll get what happens as a result – see the kingdom, the reign of God. Be sharing in that.
That’s the covenant into which the church is baptized. The church is the yeast in the cultural loaf. We are sent into the culture with the authority to be present in the culture in Jesus’ name.
And we begin by experiencing that right here. We experience mercy and compassion with one another right here, and are then reminded that we are filled to overflowing with mercy and compassion.
We experience forgiveness with one another right here, and are then reminded that we are filled to overflowing with forgiveness.
We experience love, warmth, and generosity in this place, and are then reminded that we are filled to overflowing with love, warmth, and generosity.
As we experience the vision of God among ourselves, we are reminded that we are filled to overflowing with the vision of God and therefore it spills out of us in our culture.
At the beginning of each worship time, we ask you to introduce yourselves. Not just to be nice, but to remind ourselves that the hospitality of God is shown to all: prophets, disciples, and those who others consider least important. We are filled with forgiveness and love, and sent out with that spilling out in a culture that needs to experience it. And we begin by experiencing all this with one another right here.
Others may or may not welcome us. That’s not the point. As people who are filled with God’s love, forgiveness, and grace, we simply spill out into the culture that which has filled us as we gather around God’s Word and sacrament.
When you go, love as you’ve been loved here. Forgive as you’ve been forgiven here. Show mercy as you’ve been shown it here. Because whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
Go be yeast; go spill Christ in the neighborhood by your presence. Spill God’s mercy, kindness, love when you leave this place. Be mindful of the first person you meet after leaving this time of worship. You are sent to them. Trust that they catch a glimpse of the vision of God because of you. You are called by God, and marked with the cross, you are filled with the Spirit. You can’t help it. It’s spilling out of you.