Pentecost 4 A: “Even”!

Matthew 10:40-42

Dear Partner in Preaching,


It’s such a small word. You use it only when you want to make a point. A point about something surprising or unlikely. And usually it’s a point about something surprisingly small or extremely unlikely. It’s functions a lot like the word “just” – as in “it takes just a little” – but intensified. Which is exactly how Jesus uses it here.

Chapter 10 in Matthew is all about discipleship. He commissions the twelve disciples, empowers them to cure those who are sick and drive out evil spirits, sends them out to proclaim and enact the coming Kingdom of God, receives them back again with warnings of coming persecutions and trials, tells them whom to fear and whom to ignore, reminds them that the Gospel sparks division, calls them to take up their cross, and then promises them rewards for their faithfulness.

And at just this point comes the “even.” Quite frankly, after all the stark and dramatic – and for Matthew’s community quite realistic – language, it’s a bit of an anticlimax. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me…” Fine. Not only will the faithful disciples be rewarded, but those who welcome them will be included in God’s indulgence. But then, this: “and 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” (10:42).

Really? That’s all it takes. Giving someone a cup of cold water? Not that offering welcome was all that arduous but, seriously, something as small as offering a cup of cold water is what it takes to secure one’s reward?

Yeah, that’s it. Because perhaps this whole chapter isn’t finally about what it takes to be a disciple, but rather is simply describing what it actually means to be a disciple. Empowerment, yes, and struggle. Welcome and rejection. Division, persecution and the call to faithfulness. All of these are part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus, then and now. And maybe this talk of reward isn’t about how one earns rewards but rather is about recognizing the rewards – the blessings – already showered upon them by God.

Note that at this point Jesus isn’t actually talking about what the disciples are supposed to do. He’s talking about those who welcome them. The “little ones” are the very disciples he has commissioned and sent out. Those who welcome them – let alone even give them just a cup of cold water – would normally not be considered terribly important. They are servants to the apostles, helpers, facilitators, but not actors or agents, let alone the stars of the show. Yet even these, through as small a gesture as just giving a cup of water, are drawn into the mission of the disciples and, in turn, the mission of Jesus.

Discipleship, in other words, doesn’t have to be heroic. Even offering a cold cup of water counts.

Once you realize this, we can quickly add to the list. Just smiling at the strangers we see instead of ignoring them. Even offering a shoulder to cry on to one who grieves. Just welcoming the new kid in school or at camp. Even writing a letter to a congressperson about an important issue. Just showing up for a march to protest the abuse of power. Even thanking a law enforcement office or someone in the military for their service. Just offering to buy some school supplies for a teacher whose budget has been cut. Even helping out at a food kitchen. Just being there when your kids need you. Even volunteering to help with the Habitat house your church is building. Just speaking up for someone being discriminated against. Even buying coffee from Lutheran World relief that is sustainably sourced and directly traded with partner farmers. Just supporting one of the many social service agencies of our churches that regularly care “for the least of these.”

Small gestures, I know. Except that, in the kingdom of God, there is no small gesture when done in faith. Each and every act of kindness and generosity has an impact well beyond what you’d imagined. Indeed, Jesus’ words seem to imply that no act of generosity or kindness will be forgotten.

That’s an amazing thought, Dear Partner: that even our smallest acts of kindness and generosity reverberate with cosmic significance. You never know the difference your faithful actions may have. And it’s a thought – really, a promise – worth reminding our people about: that they have the opportunity to be Jesus’ disciples and make a difference in the world each and every day and wherever they may be.

Which may be the opportunity in front of us this week: to remind our folks that they are called not to heroic discipleship but to genuine discipleship, the kind of discipleship characterized by what I’d call “everyday faith.” “Everyday” in both senses of the word: ordinary, mundane even (there’s that word again!), simple. But also each and every day.

Perhaps, Dear Partner, we can in our sermons circle back to the opening of this chapter and commission and empower our people to be everyday disciples, those armed with the courage and compassion of Christ who go out believing that God is at work in and through all they do, even the smallest acts of kindness and generosity.

Will this change or save the world? Perhaps not. But let’s keep in mind that saving the world isn’t our responsibility, rather it’s God responsibility and promise. And trusting God to care for the whole world empowers us to participate in that work – that is, participate in God’s kingdom – by caring for the people we find in our little corner of the world.

So promise them that, Dear Partner. Promise your folks that even their smallest acts of kindness and generosity done in faith are remembered, have cosmic significance, and make a difference beyond what they see, as each act of kindness and generosity done in the name of Christ reverberates out and is gathered into God’s work to love, bless, and save this world. Promise them, Dear Partner. And in promising them, commission and empower them. And in commissioning and empowering them, make it so. Because that’s the way it works. God’s promises commission and create a new reality of hope, generosity, and possibility. A new reality that Jesus calls “the kingdom of heaven.” And we get to be a part of it!

Thanks for your good work, Dear Partner, this week and always. Because your words and gestures, too, have tremendous and salutary significance. I promise you!

Yours in Christ,

PS: And speaking about small gestures that bless the world, I want to introduce you to Lutheran World Relief’s new effort to work empower their move to independence and sustainability through partnering with them to harvest, package, and sell exception and fairly traded coffee. The coffee – “LWR Farmers’ Market” – can be purchased by going to this link, where you can also learn more about some of the farmers who are now not just suppliers but also partners(!) and order some coffee. To get a sense of the cosmic reverberations of such small acts of generosity, please watch – and share – the following video. And please, please, please feel free to share this video and word of this new and exciting initiative! Thank you!!