For the weekend of July 2, 2017, we had only one worship service due to a special congregational meeting to vote on putting in an elevator from the fellowship hall to the Sunday School basement. (Here’s the informational handout I made about the elevator project.) The vote passed by a large margin, so we will be putting in the elevator in November!
The texts for this week are Romans 6:12-23 and Matthew 10:40-42. I also found this reflection on the Matthew text from Russel Rathbun at the Sparkhouse Lectionary blog very helpful.
Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
All week, I’ve been thinking about this meeting on putting in an elevator. I’ve been trying to think of how to tie the theme of an elevator into today’s worship service. I considered a couple of hymn options, and I was really tempted to end with number 383, Rise Up, O Saints of God. Unfortunately, we just sang it at the beginning of June.
Then I figured this is a blended worship service, so we can do songs not in the hymnal. How about You Raise Me Up? The point of our elevator is to take us down to the basement, so that doesn’t work.
Eventually I gave up and just tried to find music that’s more uplifting than elevator music. (sorry…)
But as I was thinking about why we would want to put in an elevator, I realized this week’s gospel reading actually connects to our decision today.
As he sends out his disciples, Jesus tells them, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” This text is all about welcome and hospitality, and that’s the point of the elevator.
One of the lessons I get from this text is that when we welcome other people, we are welcoming Jesus. When we serve people who come into our church, we are serving Jesus. When we provide a way for people who can’t do stairs to get to the basement, we’re providing for Jesus.
It’s not a hard connection to make, and I really do think it’s here in the reading. It’s in Romans 15:7 as well, where Paul says “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.”
But this text isn’t just about us being hospitable and welcoming, as important as that is and as much as I like to talk about it. Jesus is talking about how we are received as his witnesses. This is about you and I representing Jesus, both as hosts and as guests.
The way others receive us often depends on our actions, the way we live and act in our daily lives as we represent God.
I don’t know about you, but the idea that I’m representing God is intimidating. One of the privileges of working as a pastor is getting to go into a hospital room as a representative of the church, the Body of Christ. On Sunday mornings, I get to stand before you with the audacity to claim to be speaking God’s word. Some of you are thinking you’re sure glad you found someone else to do that. Some of you are wishing you’d found someone better.
But here’s the thing – it’s not just pastors who represent Jesus—it’s all of us. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, if you’re part of the church, then you represent Jesus to people.
That’s a big commitment. I think it might actually be easier to be a representative of Jesus when I’m at work as the pastor than when I’m just at home, or out shopping, or in everyday life. One of the reasons I don’t have a Christian fish on my car is to avoid someone judging the church by the way I drive!
In Romans, Paul explains it like this. You are not under the law, but under grace. By grace, God forgives all your sins, rather than punishing us under the law. That’s the good news we’re sharing as God’s representatives. But knowing you will be forgiven, knowing nothing you do will stop God from loving you, should you just do whatever you want without consequences? No!
The point of your freedom is that you’re freed for something. You are freed from sin so you can serve God.
Once, you were a slave to sin. Sin controlled your life. You lived selfishly, focused on yourself. But now, you’re free to live differently, the way God calls you to. You’re free to be generous, to live in a way that draws people to God instead of driving them away.
In your freedom, how do you act? Paul challenges us to live as new people. Live in the confidence of forgiveness, freed to love and serve. Live in a way that lets people see and welcome Jesus, a way that points to God’s generosity and forgiveness.
The way we live reveals if we’re slaves to sin serving ourselves, or if we’re serving God. Our actions and our priorities and our choices all reveal who our Lord is. Of course we keep sinning, because we can’t live this way on our own, but at the same time, God continues the process of making us holy and showing us how to live.
So how do we live in a way that’s welcoming?
How many of you have had the experience of being asked for money by someone on the street? Did you give them anything? I suspect it’ll happen in a couple weeks when I’m with the youth in Chicago on the mission trip.
It’s hard, because there are lots of reasons to be suspicious of people begging. I don’t want to be enabling someone’s addiction, or something like that. We know better than to hand out cash to anyone. It’s complicated.
And yet, Jesus says, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…will not lose their reward.” Could it really be that simple? Jesus says it can.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. Giving a handout or buying a hungry person a meal doesn’t solve the problems that put them on the street.
But so often, I worry about what will happen if I help. Maybe I’ll get taken advantage of. Maybe they don’t really need it. Maybe they should pull themselves up and get their own cup of water. Maybe I’ll need that glass later. I get so caught up in how to best help or whether someone deserves my help that I miss the chance to love like Jesus.
Jesus tells us to give without condition, without asking if someone deserves our help, without stopping to check if someone has enough need to qualify. Government programs check on eligibility, and don’t get me wrong, I appreciate caution with how my tax dollars are spent. But we’re the church, not the state; we’re called to be generous even while being good stewards.
Generosity is hard, because sometimes we’ll get burned. Whenever you open your pocket to give to someone, you take a chance, stepping out in faith. I’m not talking about huge things (although Jesus gets pretty blunt elsewhere), I’m talking about sharing what you have within your power to give. Because you’re under grace rather than law, you are free to make the decision in the moment to be generous, to risk being taken advantage of.
I believe when we have a cup of water to give, we are called to give others the benefit of the doubt. In his explanation to the 8th commandment (the one about not bearing false witness), Martin Luther says we are to interpret everything your neighbor does in the best possible light.
Of course, it’s not usually a literal cup of water. Sometimes it’s giving through the church. There’s a lot of good we can do together, as a congregation, and synod, and denomination. Sometimes it’s showing up for someone in need, daring to reach out to a friend. Sometimes it really is the little things, like greeting someone, sending a card to someone, or literally giving a cup of water.
As another example, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Waterloo recently put up a “Little Free Pantry.” It’s similar to a “Little Free Library” if you’ve heard of those. The idea is there’s this cabinet by the street outside the church stocked with free stuff, like non-perishable food, or cleaning supplies, or sanitary products, stuff people might need, but have trouble affording.
Anyone can come up and take out what they need, and if you have something extra, you put it in for someone else to take. It’s pure generosity. What a wonderful way to represent Jesus to the neighborhood!
As followers of Jesus Christ, you are set free to serve other people, and when you serve your neighbors, you are serving Jesus.No work done for the sake of someone else is ever done in vain.
You are free to give of yourself as God has given to you, free to be representatives of God to the world, free to be a sign of God’s welcome.
Thanks be to God for the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!