The Calling Right in Front of You

Matthew 10:40-42

The Calling Right in Front of You

July 2, 2017

 

          This worship series is about God-Centered Wellbeing and Calling—what your purpose in life is, what God is calling you to do and how God is calling you to live.  We began by hearing three Maple Grove members tell about their individual, or particular, calling of God:  to love without needing to judge, to be a church youth group leader, to reinvent oneself after a season of grief and loss.  Last Sunday we heard about a calling that belongs to all Christians—to share God’s love to others and invite them to church. 

          Different as they are, one thing those two callings have in common is they both some involve some planning, or at least a little reflection.  God’s purpose for your life may smack you upside the head, but more likely you’ll need to spend some serious time in prayer and self-reflection to work it out.  And some people are just naturals at telling others about God’s love and inviting them to church, but most of us have to work up to those things.  These are callings you have to prepare for.  But the calling in today’s Gospel reading is different; it’s the calling that’s right in front of you.  Whoever welcomes someone in my name, Jesus says, will be rewarded.  Those who give so much as a cup of cold water to one of these littles ones—they will not lose their reward.  There’s nothing you really have to prepare for here.  No deep reflection is necessary.  Just basic hospitality, just be kind to the people in front of you, don't let anyone pass by without caring for them.  Sometimes the calling is right in front of you.

 

Earlier in chapter 10, as Jesus sent the disciples out to share God's love and to heal the sick, he warned them that they would meet opposition; they were entering a time of controversy and division, even division within their own families. (Sound familiar?)  Maybe that's why Jesus ended this chapter emphasizing hospitality and kindness.  For when is the need for hospitality and kindness greater than in a time of controversy?  In a divisive time, you don't have to seek out opportunities for hospitality and kindness.  No, in times like that, the calling is right in front of you.

 

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Taylor, tells of a week when she was busy preparing a sermon about the Good Samaritan, that story about being a neighbor by helping someone in need. She worked on that sermon every day--reading commentaries, praying about it, talking with other preachers.  One of the truths I got from the parable, she says, is that God comes to us daily in unexpected encounters with unexpected people, and if we're faithful, we won't ignore them.  Then, she says, on Thursday I was driving to church, when I saw a car with its hood up along the road.  This was in the 80s, before cell phones.  A large man stepped into the road, she says, holding up some jumper cables and looking me straight in the eye.  Several hundred thoughts went through her mind in about three seconds.  "The man needs help—you are a single woman alone in a car—the man needs help—you are a single woman alone in a car—the man needs help—never open your door to a stranger—go to the nearest gas station and send a mechanic—but the man needs help—what if he can't afford a mechanic—the man needs help—I'm sorry,” she decided, “I can't help—maybe the next person will.”  And I drove on to church, she says, to complete my research on the Good Samaritan.1 Sometimes the calling isn't at church; sometimes it's right in front of you. 

I think of this sometimes after worship, if I see a visitor, a newcomer, standing in a corner of the lobby by herself. It doesn't happen often, but I have seen it.  It's not that we're unfriendly or uncaring, of course.  It's just that we are called to so many places on Sunday—to TJs with friends or to football on TV or to deliver flowers to shut-ins.  Or here's my own calling—I'm always headed to a meeting.  And there stands that lonely person aching for someone to talk to or better yet, have lunch with.  If you welcome someone in my name, Jesus says, you're welcoming me.  Even a cup of cold water matters.  The calling is right in front of us.

Sometimes I see the people at the bus stop across Henderson Road. Especially in winter they look cold, lonely, miserable.  Several times I've asked someone to help me make coffee, get some paper cups, put some sugar and creamer on a cart, wheel it across the street, and start handing out coffee.  So far no one I've shared this with has thought it's a good idea, especially not in winter.  And I suppose everyone thinks the pastor has more important things to do than stand on a street corner handing out coffee.  Everyone, that is, except Jesus.  The gospel is as simple hospitality and kindness, and the calling is right in front of me.  You’ll know where to look for me this winter . . .

 

Now you might be wondering—welcoming a stranger, a cup of cold water, free coffee—I mean, these are nice things, but they're not very, well, religious.  Shouldn't the church stick to sacred things—Bible studies, funerals, organ music, and leave strangers to homeless shelters and leave cups of water to the Culligan Man?  But Jesus has a way of mixing up what's sacred and what's not.  In another place in Matthew, Jesus teaches that if you visit someone in prison, if you feed or clothe the needy, if you offer health care to the poor, you're doing it to none other than Jesus himself.  And here in Matthew 10, Jesus says that if you welcome someone, anyone, in my name, it's like welcoming me.  And suddenly hospitality seems a lot more religious.  And that cup of water, Jesus says, that's holy water--I've got my reward set on that water.  So what is sacred and what is secular?  Well with Jesus, it's hard to tell, so maybe we'd better just treat it all as holy.

 

When I was pastor at Maynard Avenue Church, there were two little tow-headed boys who lived just up the street. They were—how can I put this?—lightly supervised, and roamed the neighborhood from sunrise to sunset.  They played in the park, dumpster-dived in the alley, chatted up anyone who'd take the time.  They often came to church on Sundays—not always for worship or Sunday school, but always for the refreshments afterward.  One Friday afternoon I was laboring away in the church office on my sermon (probably on the Good Samaritan), when I heard the church doorbell.  I debated with myself.  It's surely just someone wanting a sandwich or a bus ticket, someone with a hard luck story.  And I've just got to finish this sermon.  But Strength Finders says that one of my Top 5 Strengths is "Responsibility."  So I got up and trudged to the door.  It was the two boys.  "Is there church today?" they asked.  What I thought was, "Does it look like there's church today?  Is it Sunday?"  But what I said was, "No, no church today, boys.  Sorry." 

"Well then, can we come in and get a drink?" I started to say no, to send them home for a drink.  Then I remembered—half the time they were locked out of their own home.  "All right," I said, "come on in and have a drink."  We went downstairs to the water fountain, but the water pressure was low and it was hard for them to drink.

"Can you get us some cups?" they asked. I thought to myself, "and how about a steak and baked potato while I'm at it.  But what I said was, "Sure, be right back."  In a kitchen closet found two red plastic cups, brought them back and filled them up, and handed them to the boys.

"Aren't you going to have some water too?" they asked. In for a penny, in for a pound.  I went back to the kitchen, found one more red plastic cup and filled it for myself.  I started to drink my water.

"Wait! Don't you want to sit down, Pastor?" they asked, as though I were their guest. "You know, that's exactly what I want," I said. "Where do you want to sit?"

We went out front and sat on the steps. We talked and we drank our water.  You know, one thing I'd said earlier turned out to be wrong.  We did have church that day, after all--two tow-headed boys, one reluctant pastor, and three red plastic cups of water.  All it takes to have church is a bit of hospitality and kindness.  And the calling is right in front of you.

 

 

1 Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Boston: Cowley, 1993), 115.  

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