The little gospel nugget we just heard- about how hospitality is core to both receiving Christ and telling others about Christ- is part of the early teachings Jesus is giving to His disciples about how to be disciples. “Go out and cure the sick! Raise the dead! Cast out demons! Cleanse the lepers! You can do it!”
I don’t know. If I were one of those disciples, I might be a little intimidated. I mean, okay- I’ll put the Band Aids on skinned knees, but can we put off raising the dead until I’ve gotten my feet wet first? Not all of us are Wonder Disciples, bounding across armies of demons in a single leap!
But just because we’re not raising the dead or bounding across armies of demons in a single leap doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t use us. Here in this little gospel nugget, it’s as if Jesus is saying, Don’t be afraid to start small. Give a cup of cold water to someone who’s thirsty. You can do that. You can start there.
I love a saying of Mother Teresa. She said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do” (for) “in this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” I like that, because it gives me a place to start. A smile. A cup of water. Doing something with love and respect. I can do that. We can do that.
Carl Rogers was a psychologist in the 1940s who started a way of approaching patients with something called Unconditional Positive Regard. “In a class of doctors, he gave a demonstration of his approach. One of the doctors in the class volunteered to act as his client, and they arranged their chairs to sit opposite one another. As Rogers turned toward him and was about to begin the demonstration session, he stopped and looked thoughtfully at his little audience of experts, who began to shift impatiently in their chairs. Before every session,” he told them, ‘I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin. The session that followed was profound. Rogers conducted it without saying a single word, conveying to the man- simply by the quality of his attention- a total acceptance of him, exactly as he was. The young doctor began to talk and the session rapidly became a great deal more than the demonstration of a technique. In the safe climate of Rogers’ total acceptance, the man began to shed his masks, hesitantly at first, and then more and more easily. As each mask fell, Rogers welcomed the one behind it unconditionally, until finally the class glimpsed the beauty of the young doctor’s naked face. …Listening is the oldest and most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to help the person before us. Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person: that which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden. When we listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves- maybe for the first time.” (1)
In our unconditional kindly regard; in our deep acceptance of who they are as a human being: we are enough You know, we can do this. We can listen with our whole selves, without judgment, without making helpful suggestions. Jesus told us disciples to cure the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead. And you know, maybe in our own humble way, maybe we can do these things that Jesus told us to do. Maybe we are enough. Maybe this is the cup of cold water Jesus has given us to give away.
A nurse took the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside. ‘Your son is here,’ she said to the old man. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened. Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement. The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed. All through the night the young Marine sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand. Occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile. He refused. Whenever the nurse came into the ward, the Marine was oblivious of her and of the night noises of the hospital- the clanking of the oxygen tank, the laughter of the night staff members exchanging greetings, the cries and moans of the other patients. Now and then she heard him say a few gentle words. The dying man said nothing, only held tightly to his son all through the night. Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. While she did what she had to do, he waited. Finally, she returned. She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her. ‘Who was that man?’ he asked. The nurse was startled, ‘He was your father,’ she answered. ‘No, he wasn’t,’ the Marine replied. ‘I never saw him before in my life..’ ‘Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?’ ‘I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me, I stayed.’
For that old man, that young soldier was enough. For all that he was, and all that he wasn’t, he was enough. And so are we.
In the Name of the One who is more than enough, and who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
(1) Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverhead Books, © 1994, pp. 218-220;
Scripture for July 9, 2017 MATTHEW 10:40-42
You and I are intimately linked in the work of God. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts Me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts My Father who sent Me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cup of cool water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you My true apprentice, and you will gain your heart’s desire.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.