Year A, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)
Matthew 10:40-42; Romans 6:12-23
Mr. Kyle Cuperwich
Trinity Episcopal Church
Moorestown, New Jersey
June 28, 2020
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
These words that we heard in our Gospel passage this morning come at the end of a set of instructions that Jesus has been giving his disciples; instructions that we’ve heard in our Gospel readings the past few Sundays. Jesus was out and about; going through the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news that the kingdom of heaven was near, curing disease and illness teaching with authority. All the while his disciples were watching, being amazed by his every move. I bet they must have felt like they were on top of the world! Here they are following this Jesus guy witnessing his awesome work. He just could be the one to usher in God’s promises, restore God’s people, and make God’s kingdom a reality. It must have been comforting to know that they were following someone who was taking charge and leadership in such an important endeavor.
Then suddenly, as they are traveling along, Jesus turns to his disciples and says to them, “Now you go. You go and proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. You go cure the sick and raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. When you go, do not take any extra supplies with you; just rely on the generosity of others. Oh, and by the way, as you go out to proclaim the good news, you are going to be challenged and harassed. As a matter of fact, you’re going to be like sheep among wolves.” I bet that any comfort the disciples had in knowing that they could follow Jesus as he took charge was upside down. At that moment when Jesus says it is their turn to go, the disciples learn that Jesus did not call them to just follow along. For Jesus, simply following along was too comfortable.
Jesus had called the disciples to send them.
To use Paul’s words that we heard in his letter to the Romans, Jesus sent them to be “instruments of righteousness.” It was going to be through their lives– through the example they display for others– that Jesus was going to bring about this Kingdom of Heaven. This was a high calling, even and intimidating calling. Listen to the words again; “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” These words really set a high bar! It implies that disciples need to be like Jesus, and that can just seem so impossible. After all, Jesus was full of compassion, endurance, and determination, even as he was nailed to a cross. He displays for us a perfect relationship with God that was without sin. How could anyone who calls themselves a disciple really measure up to Jesus’ standards?
Yet Jesus’s final words from our Gospel passage, when we really listen to and contemplate them, give us confidence; a sense of relief that Jesus understands who we are. And these words from Jesus can be easy to miss.
Jesus says, “everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones, because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.” The key words to pay attention to in this verse are little ones. Jesus is not referring to literal children here. He is referring to everyday Christians of any age, born through baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We little ones are God’s children, and God as our Heavenly Father is a parent who does not stop caring for God’s children. Sure, children may throw fit or tantrum from time to time and misbehave (if you are a parent, you can definitely relate to this!). Often, we do not feel God is present or we may not even want to be with God. Yet God does not give up on us, because God loves God’s children. Resting in this identity as God’s child can give us comfort and confidence as we are sent by Jesus to those unknown and intimidating places. We can remember that God is with us wherever we sent, especially those places that are unknown or undesirable.
We have really had to adapt and to live into being a sent church these past few months. Now we are Episcopalians; we love our beautiful buildings, our grand music, our large choirs, our elaborate liturgy, and our beautiful vestments. These traditions that have been passed on for hundreds and even thousands of years are so comfortable and familiar to us. This pandemic, however, has changed all that. The comforting and familiar traditions that we love so much have been put on pause. We no longer meet in the grand buildings, no longer hear the music live, the liturgy is much simpler.
At the same time, however, we have adapted to our current reality. We built new virtual communities where people can welcome Jesus. The church has been sent to the home front– to living rooms and essential places of work– and each and every person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus, whether they be lay ordained, has had a job to keep the ministry going wherever we find ourselves in order to allow others to welcome Jesus in this time of darkness.
Now churches are starting to begin discussions about slowly returning to in person worship in some fashion, and I think it’s wonderful! To be completely honest, I’ve missed it all. I’ve missed the building, the Eucharist, the music, and even the fancy investments. All these things drew me to the Episcopal Church in the first place. It will be comforting to come together once again in person, even in modified fashion, to experience some of those things again.
Yet while it is comforting to return to our traditions in some form, we are not called to get comfortable. When we gather again in-person, we are called to remember that we are called by Jesus to be sent. May we be challenged by this call to take what we have learned from this pandemic experience and continue to live into being a sent church, unafraid to be sent to new, unknown, and intimidating places so we may be welcomed, and others may welcome Jesus and return.
As you live into the reality of being part of a sent church, may you always remember that you are first and foremost a child of God, and that God will be with you wherever you are sent.