As we hear our gospel reading today I can’t help but think about this past Wednesday night. I was with our youth group at Roanoke College for Kairos, which a week-long event for high schoolers who are interested in talking about life, wrestling with Scripture, and asking God to guide us in faithfulness.
On Wednesday, 175 of us were gathered in the college’s chapel to worship together using a service called “Prayer around the Cross.”
For the service, a huge wooden cross of rough planks is put down on the floor of the chapel, and part of our worship includes a freeform time to share the peace, receive individual absolution, and we are invited for a time to kneel at the cross and either confess one’s sins, pray for a particular person, or offer personal prayer petitions by writing with markers directly onto the cross. It’s a powerful service and there is a lot of emotion involved.
Before I tell this story, I want to tell you, “Anna is okay.”
So, we are worshipping and after we had this time around the cross, and as the service is closing, we are singing and worshipping but something begins to feel VERY STRANGE. I am in front trying to figure out what is happening, trying to keep my mind on what I’m doing leading the service, but there is a weird energy in the room and I realize people are milling around in the back. Finally, as people file out of the chapel to go to “junk food city” and open mic night, I realize there’s a young girl named Anna, on the floor of the chapel; EMT are around her, and the flashing lights of several ambulances is filling the room through the chapel door that’s been propped open.
Anna was carried out on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. She had passed out and fainted. It was pretty scary BUT she was taken care of by adult leaders and doctors at the hospital and she was back with us and in her room, in her own bed by 1:30am, and she had a great rest of the week.
In the end, the doctor said it was nothing serious. She was dehydrated. She just needed a glass of water.
You better believe, the next day, we put big orange Gatorade jugs of water out everywhere he kids were hanging out!
A cup of cold water seems like a simple thing. A small thing. Of little value, perhaps. It comes out of our tap without much thought and costs a couple cents.
Jesus knows it’s a small thing too.
He says, “and whoever gives EVEN a cup of cold water (nothing more than a mundane, little old cup of water) to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
A cup of water does seem like a small thing, but to the one who is thirsty it means everything. To Anna it meant regaining her health and safe passage through what was a very scary situation. We must have it to live.
Today, after 3 weeks of reading the 10th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew together, we come to Jesus’ words: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.”
We remember again that this whole chapter is about being sent out into the world to tell and live the love of Jesus. We are reminded again that we may not be received well. We may be judged, or heckled, or maybe even hated. Some people will not welcome us. Some who are parched may not want to share drink; some who are thirsty may push us away, but some may welcome us and share a cup of cold water, and for those who do welcome us, they will receive God’s reward (which is a reward we have already received) – they will hear and know that Christ is the water of life, that replenishes our body and soul.
He calls us to follow him, but he says our discipleship can be small.
It doesn’t have to be heroic. It can be as simple as offering a cup of cold water, smiling at a person who is a stranger, sitting with someone who is sitting alone rather than ignoring them, stopping by the store to pick up toothbrushes to share, writing your congressperson, being there for your family, texting a word of encouragement to a friend, picking up trash to take care of God’s creation, thanking a police officer, firefighter, or military serviceperson.
Discipleship can be small, but it could also be costly. It could be visiting someone in jail, tutoring at an after-school program, answering a call to a new vocation in a different city, giving incredibly generously as a congregation to the ForwardingFaith campaign, becoming a missionary, stepping into a violent situation to bring peace…
Our discipleship can take the form of small acts, EVEN a cup of cold water, or costly acts, leaving home behind as the first followers of Jesus did. Or it might cost you everything… and some in our world are killed for sharing their faith in Jesus.
Our call is to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and ask him to lead us to the work he has for us, trusting that we’re not saved or made right with God by how much work we do or the kind of work we do, but that we are saved by his grace and mercy.
The Spirit delights to lead us. Our call is to learn to listen.
Each day this past week the youth had an opportunity, if they wanted to take it for silent prayer. I thought I better talk about this on Monday before that allotted time arrived and say something about reflective prayer, about listening to God, and discerning his will.
So, I took two jugs of water from a creek behind Blue Ridge Dorm where the guys were staying. I let them both sit overnight and showed them to the group to talk about silent prayer. I showed them the jugs of clear water with sediment at the bottom. Then I shook one as I talked about how our worry, anxiety, fears, and many competing thoughts can cloud our ability to see clearly in life.
One jug is now clear and the other muddy. And I talked about how sitting with God quietly, perhaps for 20-30 minutes can bring palpable clarity to one’s life. About even imaging the water within oneself clearing as distracting thoughts fall away.
I have to admit I was very surprised when Connor came up to me a couple days later and said, “Pastor, remember your water jug thing? Claire, Ryan, Maddie, Brice, and I shared silent prayer together on the banks of the creek! It was awesome!”
Jesus will lead us and help us discern how we might serve as his disciples. And the consequences couldn’t be more urgent. It is a matter of life and death.
The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome: “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, because in baptism we have died to sin and our old self and raised up with Christ.”
This past week at Kairos, there was a young girl named Whitney who is in the 11th grade and who was at her first Virginia Synod youth event. She came to me with her congregation’s adult leader on Tuesday of this past week and said that she wasn’t baptized, but that she wanted to be. The songs of faith, the conversations in her small group, the encouragement from her friends had moved her to want to receive the gift of life in Christ.
She said that she had heard God’s call on her life and surrounded by the love and acceptance of the Virginia Synod youth she was ready to be baptized. She wanted to receive the gift of the water of life, knowing that it meant she would be assured of God’s mark on her life forever.
So I asked her pastor and I asked out bishop if that would be alright and they said, Yes, it would. Her father drove to Roanoke to be there and on Thursday night, when I asked “Who presents Whitney for baptism?” The entire Kairos community yelled in a deafening roar, “WE DO!”
And Whitney was baptized into Christ. She has joined us in dying in Christ and rising in Christ and she joins us in the mission we share – giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.
At the afterparty, at “junk food city” that night there was an extra sugary treat – a huge sheet cake in celebration of Whitney’s baptism. Who ordered it and picked it up I don’t know but written in large green script, the cake was emblazoned with the words, “Whitney, baptized child of God and there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it.”
Because we are baptized, we know that, with Whitney, we can trust there’s nothing anyone or any force in the world can do about it! There’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We have received the reward of life with God forever. And he sends us to share the reward and witness with joy. We go confidently, trusting that he will guide us, give us strength, and help us share the water of life.