The Third Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Jon Hullinger
Matthew 10:40-42

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

It was almost a year ago to the day that I preached here at Grace for the first time. Wow, what a difference a year makes! Today I am able stand here as a Priest in the Episcopal church. And, I do so in large part because kindness, support and prayers of all of you. I want to say, “Thank you, thank you very much”. I deeply appreciate and all the many cups of water that have been given to me.

I don’t think I could have chosen a more appropriate Gospel if I tried. Today’s lesson is all about, welcome and hospitality and acceptance

This passage is the conclusion, the last three verses of what has become known as Jesus Missionary Discourse which takes up all of Chapter 10 in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

The chapter begins with the commissioning of the twelve. Jesus then gives the apostles some instructions, talks to them about coming persecutions, the consequences of their mission, and, He tells them that their love and commitment to him must be absolute; above even that for their mother or father or even for life itself.

Finally, Jesus ends his sermon to the apostles speaking about hospitality, acceptance and reward saying, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 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.”

In these verses Jesus identifies four types of people: the prophets, the righteous, the little ones, and those who give to the little ones.

And he speaks of three kinds of rewards: the prophets reward, the righteous persons reward, and the eternal reward that cannot be lost of those who give, even a cup of water to the ‘little ones’. I guess there are four reward if we count to cup of water as the ‘Little Ones’ reward.

But still… Who are these people? What does this passage have to say to us? How can we apply this lesson to ourselves and our lives?

Now, I suppose there are a number of ways to understand what Jesus means and who he intended to identified with these different groups of people.

For the apostles listening to Jesus, the prophets would, most certainly have referred to those key figures of the Jewish tradition recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, the righteous would have represented the religious leaders of their day and the ‘little ones’ would have referred to all of Jesus’ disciples including the apostles who were being instructed to give the cup of cold water.

In the not too distant past, when a more hierarchical understand of authority prevailed, many who read this passage just naturally substituted bishops for prophets, clergy for the righteous and all the lay people for the little ones. The ones giving the cup of cold water being the bishops and priest who were simply serving their flock.

We might tone that down a little bit today and take a more inclusive approach. We would probably at the very least include all clergy with the prophets and might even say they were anyone bold enough to speak truth to power. Maybe we would let the righteous represent those who recognize the existence of any higher power. The ‘little ones’ being anyone in need of our help and who could use even a cup of cold water.

However we identify the characters the problem remains essentially the same: the really important action are the ones taken by the most important people. It seems as if Jesus is starting at the top with the prophets and Holy people and working his way down to the little ones. First the prophet-like, then the righteous and finally the little ones of any time and place. But is he?

St. Luke tells us in his Gospel that in the Kingdom the first will be last and that the last will be first. Maybe we should concentrate less on what Jesus says about the people and their actions and more on what he tells us concerning their rewards.

What is a prophets reward? We aren’t told. But we do know that a prophet speaks the in the name of God. So I suppose a prophet’s reward would be to be recognized as one who knows and speaks the truth of God; as one who is superior to all others with respect to understanding and speaking truth of God.

What would be a righteous persons reward? Again we are not told, but a righteous is surly one who person knows God commandments and follows them. So, I imagine I righteous persons reward comes from knowing they are better than others when it comes doing God’s will and knowing how to behave; that they are the one’s we should all strive to imitate.

And, now we come to the reward of giving a cup of water to one of the ‘Little Ones’. Again we are not told what the reward is. But we are told that it is eternal and cannot be lost. And this is the really good news, especially on those days when we are not feeling particularly prophetic or righteous.

It doesn’t take much to be hospitable, welcoming, and accepting of other people. A cup of cold water and any of thousands of other simple small acts of kindness can do the trick.

Jesus is telling us that the most significant action and thus the most important people are the ones who perform the smallest of deeds with the greatest love. And that it is in simple loving acts of kindness that a holy life is made.

I think the point Christ is making for his apostles and for us is that growth in discipleship and in the spiritual life is not achieved as much through encounters with gurus, saints, guides as it is found in the small acts of kindness, hospitality and love we are given the opportunity to practice each day and every day. The ‘little one’ is the truly important one because every time we respond with loving kindness to anyone in need we move a little further down the path toward holiness and become a little more like the people God has called us and created us to be … in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.