Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 4th Pentecost

Small Acts of Kindness
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

I was in the 5th grade at Wyomissing Grade School.  We were all pretty much the same – half my class attended Atonement Lutheran Church with me and the other half was mostly split between Bausman Memorial United Church of Christ and Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. 

Then Charlie Brown showed up.  Charlie was a Quaker.  We did not know what a Quaker was but he did not go to church at one of our three congregations.  And, Charlie was a bit of a loner.


ChooChooCharlieCharlie’s lot in 5th grade life was made worse by a popular television commercial at the time, an animated commercial for “Good & Plenty” candy in which the lead character was “Choo Choo Charlie.”  So, Charlie Brown became “Choo Choo Charlie” with all the cruelty that only 5th graders can muster.
And one day during recess on the playground it got worse, much worse.  Almost out of the blue, I saw that Charlie was being chased around the playground by what seemed to be half the student body!
A loner myself, and already nearly 6 feet tall (I grew tall early) I was not part of the chasing and, for a moment, I just watched in amazement.  Finally, I knew what was the right thing to do – custodian Paul and I stood up to the crowd and told them to stop.  And, amazingly, they did.
Now I did not think of this as a heroic thing to do, it was just a simple thing, the right thing.
And I promptly forgot all about it.
That is until my 25th high school reunion when Scott Woodward, the school star athlete and one of the coolest guys in high school, pulled me aside to tell me that he always remembered what I had forgotten and since that long-ago day in the 5th grade had tried to live his life sticking up for those who are bullied or mocked by others.
What was for me a simple act was far from simple for Scott Woodward.
Chapter 10 in St. Matthew’s Gospel is all about discipleship. Jesus commissions the twelve disciples, empowers them to cure those who are sick and drive out evil spirits, sends them out to proclaim and enact the coming Kingdom of God, receives them back again with warnings of coming persecutions and trials, tells them whom to fear and whom to ignore, reminds them that the Gospel sparks division, calls them to take up their cross, and then promises them rewards for their faithfulness.  We have heard all of this in our Gospel lessons these last few weeks.
And then comes today’s lesson.  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me…” How great is that! Not only will the faithful disciples be rewarded, but those who welcome them will be included in God’s kingdom. God’s wide welcome!  Thanks be to God for that!
And then, Jesus goes further with this: “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Really? That’s all it takes. Giving someone a cup of cold water? Not that offering welcome was all that arduous but, seriously, something as small as offering a cup of cold water is what it takes to secure one’s reward?
Yeah, that is it. Because perhaps this whole chapter isn’t finally about what it takes to be a disciple, but rather is simply describing what it actually means to be a disciple. Empowerment and struggle. Welcome and rejection. Division, persecution and the call to faithfulness. All of these are part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus, then and now. And maybe this talk of reward is not about how one earns rewards but rather is about recognizing the rewards – the blessings – already showered upon us by God.
It is interesting that at this point Jesus is not actually talking about what the disciples are supposed to do.  Jesus is talking about those who welcome them, the “little ones.” Those who welcome them – let alone even give them just a cup of cold water – would normally not be considered terribly important. They are servants to the apostles, helpers, facilitators, but not actors or agents, let alone the stars of the show. Yet even these, through as small a gesture as just giving a cup of water, are drawn into the mission of the disciples and, in turn, the mission of Jesus.
Discipleship, in other words, does not have to be heroic. Even offering a cold cup of water counts.

Think of the list of such simple acts of kindness:
• Smiling at a stranger instead of ignoring him.
• Offering a shoulder to cry on to one who grieves.
• Welcoming that new kid in school or at camp.
• Writing a letter to a congressperson about an important issue.
• Showing up for a march to protest the abuse of power.
• Thanking a law enforcement officer or someone in the military for their service.
• Offering to buy some school supplies for a teacher whose budget has been cut.
• Helping out at a food kitchen.
• Just being there when your kids need you.
• Volunteering with the Habitat for Humanity
• Speaking up for someone being discriminated against.
• Purchasing coffee, tea or chocolate that is traded fairly.
• Making a gift to our church’s World Hunger Appeal.
And I think if we spoke further, we could come up with hundreds more of examples for this listing!
Small gestures, I know. Except that, in the kingdom of God, there are no small gestures when our actions are done in faith. Each and every act of kindness and generosity has an impact well beyond what we would have imagined.
Indeed, Jesus’ words seem to imply that no act of generosity or kindness will be forgotten.
Think of that for a minute:  Jesus is saying that no act of generosity or kindness will be forgotten.  Even our smallest acts of kindness and generosity reverberate with cosmic significance. You never know the difference your faithful actions may have.
What Jesus is saying is that we, you and me whether we are young or old, rich or poor, sound in body or not so much, we all have the opportunity to be Jesus’ disciples and make a difference in the world each and every day and wherever we may be.
Jesus is telling us that we, you and me, we are called not to heroic discipleship but to genuine discipleship, the kind of discipleship characterized by “everyday faith.” “Everyday” in both senses of the word: ordinary, even simple. Each and every day.
Jesus tells us throughout the 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that we are to be everyday disciples, those armed with the courage and compassion of Christ who go out believing that God is at work in and through all we do, even the smallest acts of kindness and generosity.
Will this change or save the world? Perhaps not. But saving the world is not our responsibility, rather that is God’s responsibility and promise. And trusting God to care for the whole world allows us to participate in that work – that is, participate in God’s kingdom – by caring for the people we find in our little corner of the world.
So here is God’s promise today and every day, a promise for each one of us:   even your smallest acts of kindness and generosity done in faith are remembered, have cosmic significance, and make a difference beyond what you may see, as each act of kindness and generosity done in the name of Christ reverberates out and is gathered into God’s work to love, bless, and save this world.
That is God’s promise to you and me and everyone and every day.  And, it is a promise that commissions and empowers us to help create a new reality of hope, generosity, and possibility. A new reality that Jesus calls “the kingdom of heaven.”
And we, you and I, we get to be a part of this.  Just by simple acts of kindness.
Like standing up for a classmate who was being bullied.
Like giving a cup of cold water to someone in need.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.
(Thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for his Bible work that I used extensively in this sermon).
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
July 1-2, 2017


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