Iced Tea and Cookies (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermons on YouTube…

It was 15 years ago this summer that I went with the Prince of Peace kids on a summer “Workcamp” project.  This was a summer mission trip put together by Group Publishing.  Each year, they would organize week-long service camps in underserved places all over the country.  That year, we went to a remote place in West Virginia, where we met up with 500 other people and stayed in a school while we did projects throughout the community.  Those projects generally included painting, light repairs and, in one bigger project I was involved in, building a 25-foot wheelchair ramp for a disabled teenager.

I went along that year as what they call a “Site Coach” or a “red shirt.”  Each “red shirt” was assigned about 8 different work sites, and it was our job to go around to these sites each day to check on how things were going, provide advice and support, and to help resolve any problems that might pop up.  So, my joke was that red shirts really didn’t “work” at Workcamp – we just supervised other people working!

But I lucked out and most of my crews all did great work and didn’t have too many problems.  And most of the residents they were serving seemed appreciative of the help they were getting.  In fact, I remember one site in particular where the older woman whose house was being worked on always brought out a huge spread of goodies for the crew each day.  She made all kinds of flavored iced tea, and baked cookies and pastries for the crew.  And, almost without fail, every time I visited that site, she had the crew sitting on her front porch drinking iced tea and eating the goodies she had prepared. 

I remember that lady and that site for a couple of reasons.  First, I always complimented the crew on the progress they were making, but asked them how they were actually getting this work done, since I only ever saw them sitting on their butts drinking iced tea!  But I also remember that site because this lady was particularly appreciative of the help she was getting.  She was engaged with the kids.  She showed her appreciation with the goodies she provided.  And she told them over and over again how much she appreciated their help.

And that was not universally the case in all the Workcamp sites we did over the years.  Often, people said thank you, but didn’t venture outside the house to talk.  Sometimes, we barely saw the residents at all.  And in a few cases over the years, some of the people we went to help became nasty towards the kids and we had to pull the crews off the site.  The reception people got when they went to help really varied from place to place, and person to person.

So I remember the lady with the iced tea and cookies!  It was so much more than the simple cup of cold water that Jesus talks about in today’s reading.  And indeed, like the Workcampers, the disciples had also been sent to underserved people to help out in Jesus’ name.  The 10th Chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus sending out the disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  They’re to go out and proclaim the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons and even raise the dead!  You’d think that people would be excited and happy about that, and at least bring them iced tea and cookies!

But as the chapter goes on, Jesus tells them what kind of reception to expect.  Their expectations should include things like: persecution, name calling, being ostracized from their families, being handed over to kings and governors, being flogged and even killed and generally being hated by everybody.  I mean, it’s amazing these guys were willing to go at all!

Finally, at the very end are these last 3 verses about people who DO receive them.  And Jesus says here that if any of them are received, or even given a cup of cold water because they’re sent by Jesus, not only does God approve of those folks, but they’ll even be rewarded – even for giving a cup of cold water.  So, apparently, there will be folks who will listen to the disciples and even appreciate what they’re doing.  But even then, what they might expect is simply to be received in peace and maybe given a cup of cold water as they go on their way.  It’s not even iced tea and cookies!

You know, Matthew 10 is not exactly a motivational speech!  After all, especially if something involves difficult, dirty or dangerous work, most of us hope that if we’re doing those things, we’ll be the ones rewarded in the end.  Or at least, it would be nice to be appreciated and thanked.  But while Jesus does promise that the disciples’ ultimate future is secure in God’s hands, they may not be thanked, appreciated or rewarded for the work that Jesus calls them to.

But apparently, they went.  They did the things Jesus asked them to do, or at least tried.  And often, they got exactly what Jesus predicted!  Why did they do it?  And for that matter, why should we?

Clearly, Jesus was trying to manage expectations here, not give a motivational speech.  The motivation was not the reward or how the disciples would be received by others.  Instead, the motivation behind the mission was that they were doing:

  • The work of Jesus, even if hardly anybody noticed or cared – after all, Jesus sends them out to do the things he himself is doing; and it’s in the doing of those things that the disciples get to be agents of Jesus in the world; and they themselves are drawn closer to Jesus through those things, even when that also means being drawn closer to the Cross…
  • The right thing – even if they got criticized for it; you’d think healing somebody would be received well, but when Jesus and the disciples did it, some said it was through the power of Satan; but doing the right thing is still right even if others don’t appreciate it…
  • The things that showed others the reality of Jesus in their lives – and they shouldn’t despise even that cup of cold water, because that was a sign that God was working in and through them to begin the process of doing a new thing in somebody’s life…

And increasingly for us, too, these are important things to remember.  We’re living in a time when people generally don’t pay attention to what Christians or church groups are doing.  And when they do, it’s often to find fault.  So if we’re looking for others to give us thanks, appreciation or reward for what we do in Jesus’ name, we’ll probably be as disappointed as the first disciples would have been.

But in fact, Jesus doesn’t call us to follow him and be in mission with those around us for such reasons.  Instead, for us, too, Jesus calls us to a kind of life in which we do the things we believe Jesus is calling us to do simply because:

  • They’re the things Jesus did, and is still doing through us… and often, that includes things that don’t get noticed, like simply befriending people who feel lost and cast out; forgiving people who don’t deserve it; and being willing to have people look funny at us for being “religious” in any way, shape or form…
  • They’re the right things to do … and often, “the right thing” means the thing you feel Jesus wants you to do in this moment, even if it isn’t what others are doing and even if other groups of Christians tell you that you should focus on something else; after all, Jesus often sent his disciples to people and places that seemed unlikely and out of the way, and those may be the people and places Jesus wants you to be …
  • They’re the things that show others the reality of Jesus in their lives … even, and sometimes especially, if the most you see from it is something like a cold cup of water.  After all, if the power of God belongs to God and not to us, what God does through you in somebody else’s life might not be noticed by you or in your lifetime, but if you see even a glimmer, it’s an opportunity for you to give thanks…

Well, the good news is that after this Sunday, we’re done with Matthew 10!  But remember, this wasn’t a motivational speech, either for the first disciples or for us.  Rather, it’s a call to be involved in the mission of Jesus.

And the mission of Jesus isn’t to be popular, successful or even thanked and appreciated.  Rather, Jesus calls us to be involved in his mission because it draws us closer to him by being part of what God is doing in the world.  Jesus calls us to be involved in his mission because it’s the right thing to do, even if it nobody notices or cares.  And Jesus calls us to be involved in his mission because it’s through us that Jesus is still at work transforming people’s lives, even if we don’t get rewarded with iced tea and cookies!