Preached by Alan Jenkins on 28 June 2020: Third Sunday after Trinity
Oh do come in for a cup of tea……………
It sounds such a natural way to offer hospitality, but over the last few months how long has it been since we could say that without breaking the government rules or guidelines? OK, there’s been some easing now, but one of the real down-sides to the lockdown is that we haven’t been able to welcome people into our homes, or to into our church, to the hospitality we would like to offer, to be immediately sociable with others. Yet hospitality is an important part of our Christian lives, and Jesus was referring to it as an integral element of mission, of creating disciples, the ‘little ones’ that he talks about in this morning’s reading.
The Gospel readings from Matthew at the moment are recording the ways in which the first disciples were being prepared to go on a mission, to share the gospel message, just as Jesus had been doing, and they would have expected to have been stocking up on provisions and equipment for the journey,- hopefully without panic-buying! But Jesus reined them back, telling them only to take the clothes on their backs, no extra clothes, no money, no food. Their only provision was to be hospitality, and a trust in the kindness of strangers.
Jesus’s instructions to his disciples contained a deeper message, which is equally addressed to us all. Hospitality and welcome are hopefully natural instincts that underpin an appreciation of forgiveness and healing, justice and mercy, righteousness and hope. In last week’s Church Times the leader expanded this, by saying that we need courage to welcome the stranger, humanity to have compassion, bravery to fight injustice. Not options, but commands from an incarnate God born into a refugee family.
And those commands were being given to the disciples by the one who was of that family, but Christ’s immediate message to them was a bit curt at first hearing: – no hospitality = no gospel. The good news will not flourish unless it is welcomed, nurtured, and fed.
If we look through our Bibles, and not just the New Testament, we will find innumerable references to eating together, for this whole idea of hospitality is a constant throughout the history that the Bible records. If you heard or read our Thought for the Week ten days or so ago you may remember that I mentioned a series called Holy Habits, when we thought about generosity. And Eating Together is another of those Holy Habits, so if you ever worry about whether you are ‘holy enough’, take some comfort from the fact that just by eating together, with friends, family, strangers or fellow worshippers, you are adopting a holy habit – and feel good about it!
But what about that remark by Jesus about a cup of water. What did he say? If anyone gives even a cup of cold water, they would receive a righteous man’s reward. More importantly, Jesus was saying that those who speak and work in his name represent him, and their deeds would be his deeds. In this one statement he gives his newly- appointed disciples authority, but also duty and responsibility. They were being sent out to carry on the work that Jesus had started, work that he knew he couldn’t continue for ever, and so these ambassadors for Christ were being commissioned, in his name.
The cup of cold water, itself a minute gesture, is a symbol of Christ’s welcome to all; a minor act of kindness that can mean so much. And we have been seeing many acts of kindness during the last few months, neighbours helping neighbours, sharing of food through food banks, seamstresses making scrubs and masks for carers to use; generous acts, which might be small in themselves, but which have made such a difference to other people’s lives.
But, if hospitality, eating together, welcoming others, is such an important part of our witness, can something as apparently insignificant as a cup of water do the trick? Jesus is telling us, today’s disciples, that this small gesture takes on board the concept that what is given to one of his people (the little ones), is given to him. To welcome someone with even a cup of cold water is also to receive Christ, and to receive Christ is to receive God.
If we only read this morning’s passage from Matthew in isolation, there’s a danger that we might get the idea that Jesus is saying that the disciples should only share hospitality with other Christians, somehow fuelling the idea that the church is only a cosy club for the committed. Nothing can be further from the truth, and in much of Matthew’s Gospel we learn that Jesus talks about the duty to help everyone. In Chapter 25, for example, he explains that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome him; when we give food to the hungry, we are feeding him; when we give clothing, companionship, concern to the needy, whoever they may be, we are helping Christ himself. We need to take on board that sharing kindness with anyone, especially those who are among our society’s most vulnerable outcasts, is to welcome Jesus and thereby to welcome the Divine.
So, back to the Holy Habit: hospitality is an opportunity through which we can offer food or drink to anyone, to someone who might be in a situation completely remote from our experience; not just those we know and are comfortable with, but someone in a world that is beyond our limited understanding. That’s where the courage that the Church Times headlined comes in, the boldness to obey Christ’s commands to welcome strangers. Whenever hospitality reaches across into that unique relationship there is no more host and guest, them and us, insider or outsider; there is just this unique place where we listen to, and learn from, one another, valuing and honouring one another on the equal terms that Jesus offer each of us.
Now, as we try to get back to some sort of normality, even this so-called ‘new normal’, one of the things we must be looking forward to again is meeting up with others, – and meeting over a meal, or a drink, or just a sandwich is an easy way of getting to know each other better. Being able to offer hospitality again, even if it does mean that guests may have to bring their own cutlery(!), is just one way that we can share good news about being Christians in community, about following Jesus together, about being and growing disciples in obedience to him, through our Holy Habits.
Eat, drink, welcome, – and be holy!! Amen