6th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 10:34-42 Sermon
June 26, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
408 "Praise To The Lord, The Almighty, The King Of Creation"
374 "God Calling Yet, Shall I Not Hear?"
428 "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"
193 "On What Has Now Been Sown"
BEING A BLESSING TO OTHERS
TEXT: (vs. 42) [Jesus said] “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
This morning, I’d like to share with you an incident that happened to me when I was in Australia. It was late one night, and I was driving back to my home in Maryborough, coming from the south. There were two different ways that I could make the trip. I could go down the main highway, which was heavily traveled, or I could take the back way. The back way was a few miles further, but there was hardly any traffic at all late at night.
That night, I had been on that back road for almost 40 miles, and, true to form, I was the only car on the highway. Then all of a sudden, I see this young man standing by the side of the ditch trying to flag me down. I sensed there was trouble, and so I stopped and backed up to where he was.
I discovered that his car had gone off the road down a rather steep ditch—you couldn’t see the car from the road at all. There were three of them in that car, two young men and a young woman. The two young men were shaken up, but seemed all right otherwise. However the young woman was in much worse shape. She had a badly fractured leg, and needed medical attention.
A cell phone would have been handy at that time, unfortunately those were the days before I had one. There was nobody around, and the nearest medical help was 25 miles away. It was up to me to help these kids out. And the biggest problem at hand was to get this girl out of the car, up the steep ditch, and into my van. Fortunately my van was the type where all the back seats folded flat, so I could transport her lying down. But we needed some sort of make-shift stretcher to get her to my van.
I got the idea to have the other two guys pull out the back seat cushion, and get her on to that. That worked well, and so we loaded her, seat cushion and all into the back of my van, and I took them all to the hospital.
It was a good thing that I did what I did. This girl had some serious injuries. For one thing, her broken leg needed immediate surgery. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten them to the hospital right away.
Now I don’t pretend to be a doctor or a medical specialist of any description, but I do know that it can be dangerous to move an injured person. But in this case, I had to make an important judgment call. It would have taken a lot longer had I left them there and gone to the nearest telephone to call for an ambulance. And in this case, that time would have been crucial.
After this all happened, I know that the girl and her family were very appreciative of what I did. The girl’s mother, who ran a dress shop in Maryborough, phoned me and thanked me, and informed me of how serious her daughter’s injuries were. And when I went to see the girl in the hospital a couple days later, she too was very appreciative—and even though she was going to be a long time recuperating, everything was going to turn out all right for her in the end.
When all this happened, the furthest thing from my mind was receiving any praise or glory for what I did. I know there are people out there who do things to help people out, and do so for the “hero’s reward” they might receive, or who do so thinking they might benefit financially or some other way. But in my way of thinking, all I saw were people who needed immediate help, and I was in a position to render the necessary assistance. This is the way Christians are supposed to act. This is the way the Christian’s faith is lived out in their lives.
As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus’ instruction about “giving a cup of cold water because you are his disciple” comes at the conclusion of some very important instructions Jesus is giving his disciples.
The Gospel lesson starts out speaking about division. Jesus says in verse 34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
If we think back to Luke chapter 2, and the message the angels gave the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem, it almost seems like a contradiction. The angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” Jesus is also called the “Prince of Peace.” How can the Prince of Peace be the one who now says that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword?
Jesus’ statement is not one of desire really, but of fact. It’s not his desire that people should be divided, but that doesn’t change the fact that they will be anyway. There would be friction between those who follow Jesus, and those who don’t. Christians would suffer persecution of varying degrees because of their faith. And the ensuing divisions would separate families in some instances.
But priorities needed to be established. A person couldn’t compromise their faith just to keep peace on the home front. That might seem to be okay at first glance, but to compromise one’s faith just to avoid confrontation from one’s friends or relatives has eternal consequences.
If you want to consider some examples of internal friction, just think about the person who was raised in a modern Jewish home who decides to turn Christian. Or think about the Mormon who decides to abandon the teachings of Joseph Smith in order to embrace the teachings of main line Christianity. Such people are often completely shunned by their families.
There are many things which might make a Christian want to hide or at least subdue his or her faith, or in some way deny their Lord. But anyone who is more concerned about their relationship with their relatives and other acquaintances than with their Lord is making a disastrous choice. The priorities need to be set. He who gains the whole world, but loses his soul has made a poor bargain indeed!
Christ needs to be first in everyone’s life, without apology or exception. The Christian faith is to be something that is more than just giving lip service to a set of ideals and principles. The Christian faith is something that needs to be a person’s very foundation for their life. Certainly it is a personal thing, but it is also something that needs to permeate their very existence. Everything a person says or does is to be a reflection of the Christian faith that they have.
It seems like so many people have the attitude, “Well, I have Jesus in my life. I’m going to heaven when I die, and that’s all that matters.” Now this is true to a certain extent, but the Christian life involves so much more. For just as a person has been blessed, now they are to turn around and be a blessing for others.
The “cup of cold water” idea isn’t something that is an isolated thought in this one passage of Scripture. It is a theme we see occurring throughout the Bible.
In James 2, 15-17 we read: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Certainly we are saved by grace through faith apart from works of the law. That can’t be stressed enough. Dr. Luther however says it quite well: “Faith alone saves; but the saving faith is never alone.” A saving faith is something that bears fruit. Actions will always accompany it.
In Matthew 25, Jesus carries this thought even further. In verses 37-40 we read: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
Jesus takes this one step further. He equates the kindness and charity we do for others, and equates it with doing it to him personally. I think that idea is a rude awakening for some people. Some people like to think that Jesus is speaking in a spiritual sense in this section—spiritually hungry, spiritually thirsty, &c. But nothing could be further from the truth. Even though there are many people out there who are in fact spiritually hungry or thirsty who need our ministry, that’s not what this section is referring to. Jesus is talking about ministering to the real and actual physical needs of others who are in want.
There are so many places in Scripture that talk about this. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good one. Hebrews 13, 1-3 is another good example: “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
The words are abundantly clear. It is God’s stated intent that we are to not only be Christians, but to live Christian lives in service to one another.
Yes there are some Christian groups out there who don’t have the balance correct. They focus upon a person’s personal experience with Jesus to the exclusion of any humanitarian acts. There is one very large mega-church in Lincoln with this philosophy. With the tons of money this congregation raises through their regular offerings, not one penny of it goes outside the church door. They hire more staff, and add to their facility. It’s almost like these humanitarian passages don’t exist for them.
But then things can get out of balance the other direction. There are churches who don’t really care about Christian teaching and spreading the Gospel, just as long as the hungry are fed, the homeless have shelter, and the sick have medical attention. Even though this is keeping with one part of what God asks, it completely neglects the Great Commission, where Jesus commands us to “Make disciples of all nations.” It’s a shame too, that teaching missions are being pushed to the background, and missionaries are being traded for agricultural experts and other secular workers.
A balance is needed. Nothing God requires should ever be neglected. A successful mission program in my estimation is one that provides for both the spiritual and physical well being of people. We don’t take the “rescue mission” approach where we make someone listen to a sermon for an hour before we give them a bowl of soup. And likewise, we don’t go the other direction where we take care of food and clothing, but leave their souls to perdition.
As we bring this back down to a more personal level, there are many things we can do to show the faith that lives within us. In I Peter 3, 15-16 we read, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
As we look at ourselves, we have to confess that we have not always lived out our Christian faith as we should. We have had opportunities to serve others that we have passed by. Our sinful selves tell us that the child who is thirsty can get his own cup of cold water. Our sinful selves tell us that other people don’t need our help—they can help themselves, that all they need to do is get up off of their lazy backsides and make things happen. Yes, I’m sure we have thought these things and used them as excuses not to help. And we have to confess that we have done this too often.
It’s here where the message of the Gospel really applies to us. God knows what our lives are like. He knows our selfishness and our attitude of self-righteousness. That’s why Jesus came to this earth in the first place. All people are sinful and are in need of the forgiveness God offers through faith in Jesus Christ.
So God works faith in our hearts. The Christian faith can’t work in a heart that is dead to sin. And so through faith in Jesus as our Saviour, our hearts are cleansed and we are born anew, born into Christ Jesus himself, who took our sinful lives and transformed them. God has blessed us through the Gospel of Jesus. Out of love for us, God has given us a new and restored life.
That’s the Gospel we have, and that’s the Gospel message we share with others. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and doing other humanitarian acts IS NOT the Gospel however. These are actions which are FRUITS of the Gospel—actions which are prompted by the faith which lives within us. Even something as simple as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty child is an expression of our Christian faith.
Helping other people in need has been something that has happened in our family ever since I can remember. As a boy, I remember my father was very active in the CARE program, where he got the merchants in our community involved. And when my grandfather died in 1964, they placed a fitting epitaph on his tombstone, which are the words of Galatians 6, 2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Those words bespeak the attitude he had toward Christian service.
I still think about that night in Australia when I came across that car in the ditch. The thoughts that keep going through my head are things like, what if I would have taken the other road home? What if I would have been an hour or so earlier? And the one haunting thought, what if I hadn’t stopped to help?
I didn’t think about how much glory this would bring me, or how I could somehow make a profit from this experience. All I could think about was how I could help these people out, regardless of the consequences.
I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to help others out in your life’s experiences as well. Maybe it’s something as simple as giving someone directions to a particular place. Maybe it’s getting the jumper cables out of your trunk and helping someone start their car. Maybe it’s something as simple as letting a thirsty child take a drink from your garden hose.
Because we are Christ’s disciples, because we are saved through the Gospel, doing good to others is something that should always come naturally for us.
There may be conflict sometimes between those who are believers and those who are not. Things may not always be easy and go smoothly for us. Certainly there will be divisions because of Christ.
But Jesus tells us in Matthew 5, 16: “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
This morning, I’d like to close with something a friend Emailed to me this past week. It’s called “What God Won’t Ask,” a rather thought-provoking little thing.
God won't ask what kind of car you drove. He'll ask how many people you drove who didn't have transportation.
God won't ask the square footage of your house, He'll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.
God won't ask about the clothes you had in your closet, He'll ask how many you helped to clothe.
God won't ask what your highest salary was. He'll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.
God won't ask what your job title was. He'll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
God won't ask how many friends you had. He'll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.
God won't ask in what neighborhood you lived, He'll ask how you treated your neighbors.
God won't ask about the color of your skin, He'll ask about the content of your character.
God won't ask why you sat so long in the darkness of sin. Through faith in Jesus, he'll lovingly take you to your mansion in heaven, and not to the gates of Hell.