Proper 8, Year A, Track 1. Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42
Whoever welcomes a prophet… Whoever welcomes a righteous person… Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones. . .will received a reward.
We are a people who like rewards. When I was a kid my mother collected S&H green stamps. At some point, months down the line, she could redeem them for a toaster or a few pieces of china. Today many supermarkets have loyalty cards in which you can collect discounts on certain items, or receive ten cents off per gallon of gas. Expedia, the travel site, gives you rewards for using them to make reservations. And even Microsoft Edge, the web browser, will let you collect rewards just by surfing the net. So when Christ talks about our reward, I wonder where is our “holier than thou” punch card or barcode so that it can be scanned when we do something good. Or are these rewards displayed in our proverbial heavenly crown of jewels? If salvation is not earned, what is this reward that Jesus is promising us today?
I’d be lying if I said there is no reward. But at the same time, the God that I know is not a God of transactions. We do not have a punch card to be filled. God is not Santa Clause who checks his list to see if we are naughty or nice. Our tradition does not believe that our reward is ascending to higher and higher levels of heaven. Nor do we believe in the common philosophy of reincarnation; in which our collected good karma, after death, raises our level of being, versus bad karma which could lead us to become something lesser; like a cockroach.
In today’s reading, it almost seems that there are different rewards for different people. A prophet gets a prophet's reward, the righteous a righteous reward, and the little ones receive their reward as well; each receiving their own reward in kind. But this is not the case either. When we put this small segment of scripture into context, we find that Jesus is speaking to his twelve disciples. We started this discourse weeks ago as he is about to send the disciples into the world. He has told them to pack very lightly. He has warned them of the hardships they can expect along the way. He even told them to start out by going to the people whom they have commonality with. And today, in these last lines, we hear encouragement as Jesus tells them “none of these will lose their reward.”
He is saying that it doesn’t matter who the people you meet are. If the people that you meet recognize Jesus in you, then they will find their reward. Their reward is Jesus, the Word of God. Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” This phrase from today isn’t much different from another one of Jesus’ sayings. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Christians, or the followers of Christ, have an intimate, intertwined relationship with Christ. We cannot separate ourselves from him. When we meet someone they are meeting Christ and when they hear you speaking they are hopefully hearing the word of God. If not we are being hypocritical. We are not living our lives as Christians and the people we meet know it. Through our faith, we are representatives of God. God isn’t sitting up on a cloud looking down at us, keeping track of us; he is within us and we are bringing him with us where ever we go. He is with us no matter what we do; good or bad. And sometimes he probably comes with us screaming and shouting as we head places we shouldn’t go.
We do not often think of ourselves as carrying Jesus around with us. We see a disparity between the divine and our human selves. We often think of Jesus as somewhere remote and untouchable, sitting at the right hand of the Father. Because we believe that we are not holy, we strive to be better, more holy as if we will get there eventually. In some way, we can become better. Through our struggles and improved relationships with each other and with God, we become more sanctified. Holiness grows within us. But it is equally true that through our faith in Christ we are already there. We are holy for God made us and Christ is intimately part of our life. And now we need to share what we have.
We bring Christ with us in the good we do and hopefully people recognize this. We also drag Christ with us in the bad we do. Christ is always with us. The Rev. Scott Hoezee says, because of this connection, “There needs to be a radical consistency between the Jesus you proclaim and yourself.” This is profound, listen to these words again, “There needs to be a radical consistency between the Jesus you proclaim and yourself.” Because we take Christ with us, we have to live our lives with intentionality.
I knew a person once who had a fairly foul mouth. Swear wo
rds were just a natural part of her vocabulary. What I found interesting is that once she had children the swearing just stopped. I have no idea if this was intentional rather than something subconscious but it seems to be clear that this change in her life was directly due to the love she had for her newborn child. Whatever it was, she changed her life because a person was with her that wasn’t with her before. In a similar fashion, I’m sure we have all known some people who are very different at work than when they are at home. These examples show that we have the ability to change our lives in dramatic ways and to some extent we already do, depending on who is around us.
As we go about our days, we should think of ourselves as ambassadors of the Christian faith, presenting Christ to all the people we meet; even if we are not specifically talking about our faith or religion. Christ is with us, not to check whether we are naughty or nice, he is with us because he loves us. He wants to be with us, much in the same way that your best friend or closest loved one wishes to spend time with you. We modify our actions and language when we are with those we love not because we are afraid of repercussions, but out of respect for the other person.
Like the disciples, we are sent out with intentional limitations. No food or extra clothing. No money and no protection. We are sent this way to force us to rely on our neighbors. This reliance is not so that we can take advantage of them, but for us to form relationships in which we can offer them Christ in return.
One of the age old questions is, “what is the meaning of life?” For Christians, I think this reorientation of our lives most clearly defines life’s meaning. We find meaning not by hoarding resources but by being generous with what we have. We find meaning not by being reclusive but by forging relationships. It is through these encounters that we strengthening our bonds with each other and with Christ. So as we go into the world, take only what you need. Be witness to all others as to what you hopefully know is true; that Christ is not only with you but within you.