Sermon preached by Rob Barber (Reader)
on Sunday 28th June 2020 (Third Sunday after Trinity)
Jeremiah 28.5–9; Psalm 89.1–4,15–18; Romans 6.12–end; Matthew 10.40–end
Some of you may be aware that while I’ve been unable to work at my usual occupation as a driving instructor during lockdown, I’ve been working part time as a courier. This has brought me into contact with a large number of people who have ordered goods online and have probably been waiting eagerly for their parcel to arrive. Most of the people I deliver to say “thank you” when I hand over their package and seem genuinely grateful, but a significant number don’t bother and a few don’t even acknowledge my existence, simply taking the package and shutting the door without even looking at me. In those situations, I sometimes find myself feeling very tempted to go into “Basil Fawlty” mode by cupping my hand to my ear and saying “sorry, did you say something?” Of course, I’d never be so rude as to actually do that, but today’s gospel reading brings it home as to how we treat or speak to one another.
In this very short passage – just two verses to be exact – Jesus tells us that whoever welcomes us welcomes him. He tells us that “whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”.
Some translations of scripture use the word “messenger” rather than “prophet” which some would say is a more accurate description of what Jesus meant as the word prophet was a common word to describe anyone who proclaimed the word of God.
Jesus was referring to a common attitude of the time that if anybody should receive a message from the king, they should treat the messenger with the same respect they would show to the king. Honouring the messenger is honouring the one who sent them, so in this passage Jesus is telling the people to respect his twelve apostles who preached his message with the honour they would show to him.
Jesus said that any kind of deed, whether big or small and no matter if it’s done to somebody ordinary or seemingly insignificant, will receive a reward.
If we’re expecting a reward here on earth for the kind things we’ve done, we’re probably going to be disappointed as Jesus was referring to rewards in heaven after we die, when we are all together with God.
This is a direct statement from Jesus that each of us, if we repent of our sins, will live in a much better universe than the one we live in now. If there is any judgement before we get to heaven, it is to forgive us for our unloving actions and to reward us for every kindness given, however big or small.
The Rule of St Benedict says that all should be welcomed as Christ. Think about that for a moment. Imagine treating everyone you meet as if they were Christ. Do we see Christ in them and, just as important, do they see Christ in us?
In these two verses from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus highlights the importance not just of doing good deeds, but also being on the receiving end and to have the humility to accept the hospitality and generosity of others.That’s not always easy, and never has been. Think of Peter’s reaction at the last supper when Jesus went to wash his feet saying “you will never wash my feet!”
Why is it sometimes harder to receive service than to offer it? Perhaps it’s because when we have something we can offer to others we remain in control, and by being in control we can avoid leaving ourselves open to uncertain treatment and possible rejection. But the dependency of the disciples creates the opportunity for complete strangers to offer them hospitality as messengers of Christ and in return to receive the blessing of God for the generosity they’ve offered.
With all this talk of rewards, we need to be reminded that we don’t do these good deeds in the hope of a reward (or at least we shouldn’t) but rather in gratitude to God for his kindness to us. The promise of a reward is an added bonus. We’ll be rewarded if we do great things to make the world a better place, but equally we’ll be rewarded just for giving a drink to someone who is thirsty.
By showing generosity to others, we are witnessing God’s love to them, whether they are believers or not. Even just saying thankyou to the driver who delivered your online order can make a difference!
But as I said, we must also learn to receive that kindness too. I expect you’re familiar with the hymn that says “Brother, Sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you.” It then goes on to say “Pray that may have the grace to let you be my servant too” so don’t be too proud to accept the cup of water when it’s offered, as that will ensure that the person offering it will also receive a reward in heaven.