Fourth Weekend After Pentecost (A/RCL) (4th of July Weekend): "'I See Jesus': Really??"
Matthew 10: 37-42 (expanded Gospel addressed in Lutheran/RC Bible study series)
July 1-2, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Mark’s grandkids were in town this past week, and one evening we were walking back from getting ice cream downtown. One of the 4 year old twins, Ellie, was holding her mother’s and my hand. As we passed the service station at the corner of Broad and South Streets, she matter-of-factly said, “I see Jesus.” “Oh,” her mother said, “Where?” “There.” Ellie turned and pointed to the side of the U-Haul truck sitting in the parking lot. On it was painted a wooden boat filled with men, almost overwhelmed by waves. Sure enough, at a quick glance it looked like a Sunday School picture of Jesus getting ready to calm the storm! (Later as I walked by and studied the scene more closely, I noticed the men’s suspenders and mutton chop sideburns that took them out of the running as Jesus and the disciples. The caption clarified that it’s actually a picture of John Wesley Powell & his explorer friends shooting the rapids of the Colorado River in the 19th century.)
When a 4 year old says, “I see Jesus,” we can imagine that with the eyes of faith she just might be able to recognize Him in places and people we’re blind to. Recognizing Jesus is at the heart of today’s Gospel. If He looked and dressed like He did 2,000 years ago, we’d have a better track record of spotting Him. But these days (ever since His ascension) He’s in disguise, traveling incognito. One example: Mother Teresa of Calcutta talked about the Lord’s “most distressing disguise in the poor.” She took to heart the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25, in which Jesus tells us that when we feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, we minister to Him, not only to them. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
And in today’s Gospel we’re reminded that our Lord is present in those who minister and not just in those who are ministered to:
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
In Jesus’ first century Jewish world, there was a lot more emphasis on corporate than individual identity. The importance of who I am as a person pales in comparison to the importance of the group I’m a part of. People were seen as faithfully representing the group they belonged to. A messenger was honored as if he were the person who sent him. People of faith tend to see clergy as representatives not just of the Church but of Christ, and treat them with respect. Our Lord calls us to expand that sense of sacred presence, that holy welcome, to every disciple, every follower:
“…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.” (Matt. 10:42)
The cup of cold water is usually seen as a very simple act of hospitality. But -- cold water isn’t easy to come by in a semi-arid land without electricity. For instance, on the roof of my stepmother’s childhood home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras (where her sister still lives), there is a cistern that collects rainwater. It’s used for laundry and other non-drinking purposes. It’s certainly not cold, sitting in the sun all day. Same in Jesus’ day. If you didn’t live near a spring and you wanted to get someone a drink of cold water, you had to walk to wherever the well was, knowing the well would be deep and the water would be cool. A cup of cold water is a special gift; it doesn’t just slake the thirst, it refreshes the spirit.
We can do that for one another. If we care. We usually do care for those we know, those who are part of our “group,” whatever the group happens to be. But we can reach out in compassion to strangers, too, people outside our “clan” or “tribe,” if we can only recognize Christ in them. That is what Christ calls us to do: to recognize His presence in whomever needs what we have, whether it’s food, or faith, or physical shelter, or refuge from whatever storm has disrupted their lives, in this country or abroad. Remember the words of Emma Lazarus engraved on the base of Lady Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me….
My Grandpa Champion arrived in this country as a 12 year old boy named Necols Ciampi. He literally “got off the boat” from Naples when he landed on Ellis Island. Thankfully our constitution allowed neither his religion (Roman Catholic) nor his nationality (Italian) to disqualify him from entry, although at that time neither was popular.
God looks at the world and sees not nationalities or religions or political affiliations or gender identities but human beings made in the divine image. The prophet Micah (6:8) reminds us:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
On this 4th of July weekend, the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance come to mind: “with liberty and justice FOR ALL.” Do justice FOR ALL. Love kindness TOWARD ALL. Walk humbly with our God and WITH ALL.
“I see Jesus,” said Ellie, very matter-of-factly. Where have you seen Jesus this last week? I saw Him in the 60 or so Roman Catholics and Lutherans who gathered for our joint Bible study at St. Mark’s on Tuesday, dismantling a centuries’ old wall of separation, leaving behind old stereotypes and rejecting hurtful prejudices and diving into the Word together. I saw Him in a brief encounter with a young man who is once again entertaining the possibility that God exists, after all. I saw Him in a single man who lives alone and is coping with unexpected physical illness. I saw Him in Ellie’s twin, Parker, who bowed his little head and almost inaudibly whispered “Dear Jesus,” as he led us in grace before meals.
“I see Jesus.” Let it be, dear Lord, let it be. Where shall we see Him today? Wherever we find ourselves, may we find and recognize and serve Him, offering Him a cup of cold water or whatever else He needs. May we see through His disguises and overcome our fear of the other and be bold to embrace those whom others would reject. May we celebrate our nation’s birthday by re-devoting ourselves to “liberty and justice for all,” and by recommitting ourselves to share our nation’s blessings with the world. Regardless of our nationality, let us hear our Lord’s call to draw the circle of compassion and love large enough to include everyone.
He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !
(Edwin Markham, “Outwitted”)
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham