You Are One With Me and I With You 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, 6/28/14
Episcopal Church of the Ascension The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess
I. Introduction. Our Gospel reading is very brief this morning – three verses that conclude the second section of Matthew 10. Matthew contains five blocks of material modeled after the five books of The Torah. This Gospel was written for a largely Jewish Christian audience who loved Torah and was steeped in its traditions. The second section of Matthew mirrors some of the core ideas of Exodus, the second Book of The Torah. Exodus is the book of liberation and journey and struggle to become a new nation. So we are to pay close attention to these three verses: Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me . . . 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.” I hear two themes in this passage: oneness and both the giving and receiving of compassion.
II. The Principle of Likeness. Notice what Jesus communicates with these words. He is obviously giving a command to care for others – “the little ones.” But he is also making a two-way promise – both those who give and those who receive will be blessed. This is what Richard Rohr calls in his book The Naked Now (2013) The Principle of Likeness. He writes that in the spiritual life, there is always a “a coherence between the seer and the seen and between the seekers and what they are capable of seeing.” Rohr emphasizes that “ . . . The enormous breakthrough [in spirituality] is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else too . . . “ (p. 159).
I believe that Rohr is onto something momentous here. We are all connected! Just as God the Father is connected and one with Jesus Christ the Son, and just as Christ is connected and one with us, we too are connected and one with each other. And one of the beautiful features of this oneness and singularity is that inevitably there will be times when we need to give and times when we need to receive. This reciprocal rhythm of oneness is built into our created human nature. When it is honored and protected, we thrive; when it is violated or neglected, we suffer.
This week I read a review of a book entitled: From Lynden Washington to Cape Town, South Africa and Back Again: The Journey of Susan Van Zanten. The review was written by Ascension parishioner Ron Wells and refers to a relationship between two disparate characters in the novel Moby Dick: Ishmael and Queequeg. While engaging in a dangerous and onerous task, the two are bound together by a rope tied to each of their belts. It is called “a monkey rope” and used as a safety device. Susan Van Zanten discovers on her journey that the many divisions we have among us are artificially contrived. I believe that that is one of the central lessons Jesus has repeatedly tried to teach his disciples then and now.
III. Let us once gain focus upon today’s Gospel. These three verses are a call to action – to go, to give, and to receive. The generative verb tense used in the Greek implies that one of the rewards we will be given when we receive is the actual presence of those who journey with us. Living out oneness is not difficult. It comes naturally to us if we live with clear intentionality. When it is our time to receive, we must be graciously open; when time to give, we must not procrastinate or withhold.
I’d like to share a true story about giving and receiving that I believe illustrates today’s Gospel. The story is told in my wife Peg’s words and shared with her permission:
One day in August, almost a year ago, my sister had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was not early stage. She planned to call me after a doctor’s appointment with the results of a second biopsy. My husband and I were in Townsend, having a week away. I knew her appointment was at 1:00 and didn’t expect her to call until at least 2, so I made a trip to the Townsend IGA. I was filling my basket when my cell phone rang. I could barely hear, but recognized that it was my sister. I quickly left my basket and went outside. It was one of those sunny 90+ degree August days. I glanced around for a place to sit, and, seeing none, just sat down on the curb right in front of the store doors.
I listened while my sister gave me the report – cancer in several lymph nodes and throughout one breast. The need for a full body scan. At least one mastectomy, maybe two. It was very hard to take in her pain, fear, and hopelessness . . . After about 15 minutes, someone tapped me and reached over my shoulder to give me one of those old-fashioned white cone cups filled with water. You remember those? They fell apart before you could use them twice! I turned and thanked her, and refocused on our conversation. Some time later, another woman tapped on my shoulder and handed me a cup of water. After thanking her, I felt the coolness as it went down, and then refocused again on my sister. She began to end the conversation and asked me to do her a big favor – would I call my mother and dad, both 90, and my brother, and tell them the results. My sister couldn’t. My heart sank as I thought about my mother hearing this news. I said of course I would. Just as we were saying goodbye, a third white paper cup made its way across my shoulder and into my hand.
When I got up from the curb, I noticed a woman standing behind me, beside the store doors. She walked toward me. She said it looked like I was having a difficult conversation; would I like to tell her about it? My default response to such a question in front of the grocery store is “no, but thank you,” but my heart said yes. I talked. She mostly listened and was gently and authentically present with me as shoppers were coming and going around us. I shared how much I dreaded calling my parents; this was not what we all had been praying for. After we talked for a bit, she asked would I like her to pray with me. “Here and now?” my mind thought, but my heart said yes. We stood there together with her arms around me. She prayed. It was if she had always known me and my family. And, to my relief, she did not say any of those things that folks in front of East Tennessee grocery stores sometimes do. I grew up in East Tennessee, I know!
After she prayed, we hugged, and I asked her “Who are you?” She explained that she and several others were in a ministry that had the intention to do acts of kindness. She nodded in the direction of several women I had not noticed and asked if she could tell them about my sister so they could pray for her. I gladly said yes. As we parted, I became aware of feeling grounded and deeply peaceful. I went inside and found my basket, somehow knowing it would be OK to call my family after I went back and told my husband about my experience. The deep peace stayed with me as I called my family; it stayed with me for days. I feel it still, whenever I recall the three cups of cool water.
IV. Conclusion. There are many persons in our lives who need our love, compassion, hospitality, and attention. There are many of our brothers and sisters in this parish who need some kind of cup of cool water. Seek them out; ask of others who they are if you don’t already know. A cup of kindness can be sending a card to someone on the parish prayer list or calling someone who is going through a difficult experience. It also might be writing a thank you note or note of appreciation to someone who has been helpful to you. You will know what to do – the Holy Spirit will guide you. And if you are one of the ones who needs help – a cup of cool water of any kind – please let us know. I know as people of East Tennessee, we are hardy stock and very self-sufficient. But please stop worrying about whether we are too busy to help and share with us when you have a need.
The world desperately needs to see and learn what Christ has taught us – that we are already bound to one another in love; that love casts out fear; and that love is much more of a verb than it is a noun. Now let us love one another as Christ loves us. Amen.