Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 10:40-42 SAP3A
29 June, 2014
(Scene 1: The Little Ones)
It all started when he called them by name: “first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” It all started when he called them by name: Hunter and Wilma, Linda and Larry, Janice and Buddy, and even Justin, chief amongst the sinners – each one of us in this room – called by name. It all started when Jesus said our name.
He has told us to go out into the world with the message that the Kingdom of God is near – that it is here. To go into the margins of the world and be present with the least among us – the little ones. He has sent us out with the warning that discipleship is costly. That we need to go out into the world with our eyes open, knowing that to proclaim the message he is sending us with is a dangerous one. He has sent us out with the promise that we are not alone when we go – we go as ones whose hairs on our heads have been numbered – we go as beloved children of God. He sends us. He sends us out as prophets. He sends us out as the just. He sends us out as little ones – promising that in solidarity the reward will be great!
Jesus sends us out into the world telling us that if we are received as prophets – there will be a prophets reward. If we are received as the just – there will be the reward of the just. For whoever receives is receives Jesus, and whoever receives Jesus receives the one who sent him. Who sends us.
The prophets reward. That great and glorious…that…that…wait a minute! Hold on, doesn’t Jesus say – weeping over the city, “Oh Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to it?” Wasn’t John’s head served to Herod on a silver platter. Wasn’t Elijah on the run for his life? The prophets reward.
Maybe that reward for the just will be better. Maybe, wait…There is that Job guy – who lost everything. There is Noah – who saw the world destroyed only to be left alone. There is Simeon and Anna; there is Abraham, whose reward was bickering children. Maybe the reward for the just isn’t much better.
We see what happens to Jesus. Jesus with the prophets voice; always butting heads with the powerful. We see what happens to Jesus the one who is just; beaten in the court of Pilate – killed on the hill of the skull. We see what happens when people hear the message, “The Kingdom of God is here.” And we don’t like it.
We don’t like it because it overturns what is expected. It knocks us out of being comfortable. It pulls us out of the safety of the sanctuary and into the presence of the little one. It forces us into solidarity with those that we don’t always want to see. Those we don’t agree with. It causes us to become the little ones ourselves.
(Scene 2: Wal-Mart)
Many of you know this past week I was in Chicago at Congress on Urban Ministry. This is a biennial meeting of Seminarians, Clergy, Theologians, and Activists from around the world. Every two years we gather spend time working on a topic that is of importance to those of us doing our work in the cities around the world. This year our topic was that of Economic Justice. We spent time hearing stories from the little one: We heard from Brenda, an employee of Wal-Mart, who was fired after a fan fell on her. A fan she was putting on the self. She was two months pregnant and had to miss sever days of work because of the incident. She returned with all the required paper work and was still fired. We heard from Larry, who received a phone call in the middle of a workshop session telling him he was fired because he dared try to organize workers. We heard story after story from the little ones who are struggling to feed their families.
We heard how this company, whose six family members own more of the nations wealth that 47% of the country, pay their workers so poorly that they run workshops on how to apply for food stamps benefits and how to apply for medicaid. Effectively forcing the rest of us to pay for their food and insurance; rather than being a just employer and paying a living wage. This from a company whose gross profit in 2013 was 127 billion dollars…billion with a B. A company that can spare to pay a living wage.
We heard story after story of how people – the littles ones – were asking for a cup of cold water only to have their request laughed at and ignored. Story after story of those who want to get out of the grip of poverty and are looking for and try to work are fired for trying to unionize and get humane treatment. We heard story after story of how even after working 40 hours a week a second job is needed to make ends meet. And as I heard these stories, I heard the words of Jesus echoing in my heart, ” and 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.”
These words rang though the chambers of my heart as 200+ of us converged on the Chatham Square Wal-Mart and marched in solidarity with those who are on the ground fighting daily for the acknowledgment that they are not just faceless, nameless, employee numbers, but that they are dignified and and beloved children of God. These words echoed through the chambers of my heart when I heard the story of the store manager who met with the delegation sent into the story with a list of demands, and as they spoke of they human dignity afforded them as children of God, the manager began to shake and tears began to well in his eyes and they said that they saw the Sprit of the Lord in him as he promised to take the demands to his higher ups.
“And 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.” That is the hope. That is the good news. That is the reward.
(Scene 3: In Solidarity)
You see, in the Hebrew tradition, the tradition from with Matthew writes, when there is a triad, when there are three things listed – the most important is always listed last.
We have prophets – going into the world speaking truth to power. Confronting, Wal-Mart – err..Caesar and proclaiming the message that the Kingdom of God is here. There are the prophets who stand up and say that it is not of the Kingdom of God that 6 people own nearly half of the wealth in the country. It is not of the Kingdom of God that people are forced to rely on the social safety net when they are working 40/hours a week. It is not of the Kingdom of God that in Marion county the minimum wage is $7.25/hr when just to get out of “poverty” a family of three would need $8.80/hr and to sufficiently meet their needs they would need $16.94/hr. It is not of the Kingdom of God that people go into debt just to survive.
We have the just who embrace the ideal that belief is a lived ethic. That everything one does is a reflection of God’s sovereignty. That life requires more that just going to church every sunday. That belief is more than just saying, I have decided to follow Jesus. That one is obligated by their belief to do something more than sit and wonder how things got so bad. The just look at the world in a way that sees problems as deeper than just “those people” being lazy. That realize that we are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather are an interwove community. A community whose welfare is dependent on everyone being treated as a child of God.
We have the important prophets and just ones. But in this triad it is the Little ones who are on top. It is the little ones who reveal to us the reward we are promised. It is in solidarity with the little ones we truly encounter the Kingdom of God! That we experience eternal life. That we drink that cold cup of living water – refreshing our weary souls. It is in solidarity with the Littles Ones that we see Jesus.
When we were in solidarity with the Wal-Mart workers, I leaned over to a friends and said, “This is church.” This is church, because this is the body of Christ present with the little ones. Offering what we can to quench the thirst of injustice. Being present as a gathered community with those who are suffering. It was church because there was something Holy Going on. The little ones were being elevated. And it wasn’t the church going in as the answer – as the great white hope telling them what to do. No, it was the church standing with them as their backs were against the wall telling them they are not alone.
And that is what happens when we are in solidarity with the Little Ones. When we allow ourselves to become little ones. We see that we are not in this fight against injustice alone. We in it with an entire body. With the body of Christ. And it does not requires marching like I did. We have all experienced this at one time or another.
You have given the cold cup of water when you were sitting at the bedside of friend or loved one – just being present. Just being in solidarity with them in that moment of need.
You have given the cold cup of water when you were drenched with sweat planting tomato plants so a sister or brother could be blessed with fresh produce. In solidarity in that moment of need.
You have give the cold cup of water when you mentored the child that just needed a shoulder to lean on; when you gave a hug of welcome to the stranger who walked into the doors of this place searching for peace; when you just sat in silence – present with the one who had no words. In solidarity you have touched heaven. You have announced the Kingdom of God is here. Great is your reward.
Jesus sends us out into this world as prophets, a just ones: he sends out out knowing that the path is dangerous and the way unclear. He sends out out, not alone, but together – giving each one of us the gifts we need to be be bearers of the Good News. He sends out as little ones, with nothing other that each other and the authority of Him, he sends us out to the little ones. He sends us in solidarity to experience the great fullness of God’s love. Giving and receiving. Touching and being touched. Giving a drink and in turn being given a drink. “and 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.”
Thanks be to God.