Welcoming the Little Ones

Sermon preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church 7/2/23

(For audio go here: https://www.stmarksaustin.org/sermons)

Matthew 10:40-42

Jesus said, “… whoever gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Many years ago, I was working at El Buen Samaritano. This was so long ago that they were not located on their current beautiful campus just south of here – they were in a dilapidated building on South 1st street that could barely contain the clinic, food pantry, and other programs. Still we served a lot of people all over the county and sometimes instead of them coming to us, we went to them. 

Now, I was a grant writer, so most of my time I sat in an office in front of a computer. I’d craft descriptions of our work that could be boiled down to something like this:

El Buen Samaritano is a mission of the church that brings the love of God to people who need food, health care, and education. 

And there is no denying that is what we did – or at least what the amazing staff did. 

One day, however, I got to see my work, our work, from a very different angle. 

On that day, a member of our staff named Jorge invited me along to visit a client who lived all the way out near Elgin. He thought I’d benefit from seeing in person the kinds of people he met in his work. Jorge was what we called a “promotero” or Community Health Worker. A native of Mexico, Jorge could help immigrant families better understand the health and social systems here and he’d direct them to resources to address their needs. The families he visited lived in extreme poverty. 

So we drove out to what Jorge called “the medium of the nothing” which was his rough translation of “the middle of nowhere.” On a wooded lot with a deteriorating mobile home, an elderly couple greeted us with big smiles and invited us into their home. They conducted a conversation in Spanish about what was going on in the family and what help they needed. I listened and looked around. This couple had worked hard for years as agricultural laborers in Florida and Texas. 

When it was time to leave, the couple walked us out to Jorge’s car and then the woman told us to wait and she smiled at me. She rushed back into the house and came out with a dozen eggs from the chickens she was raising. She insisted that I take them. It was humbling. A woman with almost nothing gave me what in my suburban neighborhood would be considered a gourmet treat. 

Jesus tells his disciples 

“whoever gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” 

I think maybe those eggs were like a cup of cold water. After all, Jorge and I were out there in the medium of the nothing on an errand of Good News and when that elderly couple welcomed us it was as if they were welcoming Christ himself. 

But the flip side of the story could also be true – That couple was offering us Good News. They were on an errand for Christ as well. 

It is common and not a mistake to hear the words of Jesus to his disciples as words to us, his followers today. Like them, we are called to share the Good News, to minister to the vulnerable.  But sometimes I think we forget their context and how different it is from ours. 

Jesus’ original disciples were a small group of people spreading a new message to people who had never heard it before. These first disciples, and a short time later the early church, were a small minority group with no power who faced lots of skepticism, to say the least. In those days, Christians were the “little ones” and they were asked to identify themselves with the other “little ones” of the world. 

Today, most people in the world have heard of Christianity. In our country Christianity is the majority religion. Not only that, but in a global and historical context, many Christians in America have access to power and resources – we don’t usually think of ourselves as the “little ones.” And when we go out to share the Good News, it is very likely to people who have already heard it. 

And that brings about an intriguing possibility: what if the people to whom we minister are also ministering to us? We might go out into the world hoping people will welcome us and our message- what if they are hoping we will welcome them? 

The vulnerable can be missionaries, too.

Have you even been on the receiving end of welcome from an unexpected source? Has someone you thought of as a “little one” been the bearer of Good News?

What scripture and our own experience tells us again and again is that we welcome and encounter God when we encounter the other. Our acts of comfort and kindness touch the heart of God and can transform our lives. Likewise, when others welcome us there is also an encounter with God. 

There is reciprocity in welcome. Each time you encounter another person with welcome you have the opportunity to gain insight, to learn a new story of faith, to experience a new way to encounter the Holy. We approach each other through God. God reaches us through one another. 

What if we erase the distinction between those we think of as objects of our charity and evangelism and those who have something to give and to share? What if the “little ones” to whom we go have a saving message for the sake of OUR faith? 

It is possible that when you give a bottle of water or a dollar bill to a beggar on the side of the street that you are, in a way, offering a cup of cold water to Christ. The person to whom you are offering the Love of God might also be offering love to you – and from a perceptive very different from yours. 

One of the humbling and glorious lessons we can learn from receiving the Good News from unexpected places is this: Like the original disciples, all any of us really have to share is the Love of God. Doing that requires an act of trust. 

When you have no money, no health insurance, and your physical safety is threatened, then welcoming a stranger with trust is an astounding gift. It is humbling to be received in that way. That is the way I felt when a destitute elderly woman gave me eggs from her chickens. 

Like the early disciples she was a “little one.” And although she was welcoming me into her home for my mission, she was also on her own mission to share the love of God. My faith was strengthened because of her hospitality and my vision of God grew larger. 

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

As you go out into the world to share the love of God, be open to receiving it as well. Especially from those who have nothing but love to give you.