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Edward F. Markquart

Series A

  Pentecost 6A     Matthew 10:40-42

Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 97. 

Matthew was a tax collector who not only collected taxes but also collected stories about Jesus. It is theorized that Matthew the tax collector knew how to read, write and keep a ledger of who paid taxes and who didn’t. Unlike the other disciples, he was a tax collector, an organizer, a ledger keeper, someone who could read and write.

Matthew organized the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew systematized Jesus’ teachings into a coherent organization of materials:

Matthew 1 and 2,  Birth Stories
Matthew 3 and 4   Beginnings in Galilee
Matthew 5, 6 ,7    The Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 8 and 9   Healings
Matthew 10           Discipleship
Matthew 11           Stories about John the Baptist.
Matthew 13           Parables

Matthew organized many of Jesus’ teachings about discipleship into chapter 10. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us what he expects of his disciples. His twelve disciples were to carry out their mission to preach and teach and heal. They were to dress simply. They were to expect persecutions by government, synagogue and family. They were to love God more than their family. They were to pick up their crosses (the first mention of the word, “cross,” in the four gospels), follow Christ and lose their life as they did so.

In today’s text from Matthew 10:40-42, we come to the last teaching about discipleship in Matthew 10.  Chapter 11 transitions into stories about John the Baptist. Matthew 11:1-2, “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities. 2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples.”

So Matthew 10:40-42 are Jesus’ last teachings about discipleship in Matthew 10.

This section focuses on the word, “welcome.” The word, “welcome,” is mentioned six times within two verses.  The RSV uses the word, “receive,” instead of the word, “welcome.” This section also focuses on the word, “reward.” The word, “reward,” is mentioned three times.

When a household welcomes a prophet, a righteous person or a little one, God will bless that household.

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. The twelve disciples were sent out into their countryside and villages. Circle the word, “you.” The “you” refers to the twelve disciples. Whoever welcomed the disciples welcomed Jesus himself and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the Lord God who sent Jesus. The disciples were being sent out into their mission field and whoever welcomed them into their homes welcomed Jesus himself and the presence of God. The first disciples were ambassadors for Christ. The first disciples were representatives of Christ. Whoever welcomed this representative welcomed Christ himself.

We understand this when we think of ambassadors for a nation. Whoever welcomes the ambassador is welcoming the president of the nation the ambassador represents. The disciples were ambassadors for Christ and whoever welcomed them into their homes were welcoming Jesus Christ himself and also the Lord God who sent Jesus to this earth.

We are ambassadors for Christ. We are Christ’s emissaries. We are Christ’s body, his heart, his hands, his feet, his arms of compassion. When a person receives us, they are actually receiving Christ.

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; There is a hierarchy of welcoming, from the highest to the lowest: from a prophet; to righteous people; to little ones of the disciples. As people welcomed the early prophets, righteous leaders and disciples into their homes, they would be blessed by God for doing so.

We circle the word, “reward” twice in this verse and once in the next verse. We recall that the Gospel of Matthew likes the word, “reward.” Matthew uses the word, “reward,” thirteen times in his gospel. John does not use the word, “reward,” at all and Mark uses it only once and Luke twice. In other words, “reward,” is a favorite word and concept of Matthew, the tax collector, but not the other gospel writers.

“Reward” is a technical business term in the Greek language and means “payment in full.”  For example, the word, “reward,” refers to selling a slave and receiving a receipt that you are paid in full.

It is appropriate to translate the meaning of the word “reward” as “blessing.” As was said above, “As people welcomed the early prophets, righteous leaders and disciples into their homes, they would be blessed by God for doing so.” Yes, God will bless us for giving a cup of cold water to those in need, for being generous to the poor and starving, for being prayerful and devout…not in order to impress others and receive applause from other people. (Matthew 10). Also, God will bless us when we welcome people who are followers of Christ. Similarly, God will bless us when we welcome anyone into our fellowship of love. When we as human beings walk in the way of the Lord and walk in the ways of God’s welcoming generosity, blessings will flow from God.

This does not imply that we earn salvation or that salvation is not a gift.  We know the truth: when we walk in the ways of the Lord, the Lord does bless our lives. It is in this spirit, that we hear Matthew’s use of “rewards.”

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." Circle the phrase, “a cup of cold water.” A traveler in hot dusty Palestine would appreciate a cup of cold water. What a treat. What a reception. What a welcome. A drink of cool water. Not just a drink but a cup of cold water. What a reception. What a way of telling someone that they were welcome into their home.

Notice that Matthew adds the adjective, “cold,” to the same teaching from the Gospel of Mark. Mark encourages us to give a cup of water; Matthew encourages us to give a cup of cold water.

“Little ones” may refer to new disciples or to children.

In the Markan context, this teaching almost appears to be an independent teaching, not necessarily connected with the previous verses about children. Listen to Mark’s flow of words:  Mark 9:34 - 42: “34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus was clear: When we welcome children, we welcome Christ and God.

But the next saying, Mark 9:38, seems to be a teaching independent from the previous teachings about children. “38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." 39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us.”

But Mark 9:41 seems to be another teaching which is independent from the previous teaching about casting out demons. “41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

In other words, the teaching, “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," seems to be an independent teaching of Jesus and not clearly linked to any particular Biblical context which helps us interpret the original meaning of the saying.

It seems that Matthew (who copies 92% of Mark and follows Mark almost slavishly) took this teaching of Jesus about “giving a cup of water because you bear the name of Christ” and placed this teaching into Matthew 10 with Jesus’ other teachings about discipleship.

To give a cup of cold water was a symbol of meeting another person’s essential need. The giving of a cup of cold water was a pure gift, a meaningful expression of hospitality and genuinely welcoming another disciple into one’s home or community.

Barclay says that “any act of kindness shown, any help given, to the people of Christ will not lose its reward. The reason for helping is that person in need belongs to Christ. … It is to be noted how simple the help is. The gift is a cup of cold water. We are not asked to do great things for others, things beyond our power. We are asked to give the simple things that any person can give. … It is the simple kindnesses that are needed. As Mahomet said long ago, ‘Putting a lost man on the right road, giving a thirsty man a drink of water, smiling in your brother’s face—that, too, is charity.” Barclay, Mark 9:41,42.

So what does this teaching have to do with our lives twenty centuries later? What is Jesus saying to us today? What does it mean to welcome others with the Spirit of Christ?

A sermon needs to share stories about the importance of welcoming on several levels, (just as there are levels in the text about prophets, righteous and little ones).  We can talk about welcoming people/disciples/righteous into our worship services, into small groups, into classes and other ministries, into friendship patterns. There are so many different levels of welcoming “the righteous” and “the little ones” into our congregational life and our personal lives.

It is as if the spiritual family (of a congregation or small group) welcomes others (righteous, disciples and children) into that spiritual family.

Welcoming, hospitality, friendly, warm, embracing, affectionate: people normally are attracted to such groups which are an incarnation of love, where God’s love lives within the “flesh” and interactions of the community.

As human beings, we know when we are truly welcomed  and received into a group. Often we remain in that group if we are accepted, loved, and treated as if we are genuinely important/significant. 

First impressions are so important. A new person or guest sizes up a community within minutes about whether or not they are accepted or not, whether they will make friends or not, whether this is potentially a friendly community or not. 

I need to tell you four stories about the importance of welcoming. These four stories are important in understanding this Biblical text for our world today.

The other Sunday, we had a “Godspeed” for Sharon who was a choir member and soloist. In that Godspeed service, she wanted to publicly thank the congregation. She told one story, that story of showing up at choir practice ten years ago alone, nervous and a little edgy. She told the story of how so many people genuinely welcomed her into the group. That first impression was so important to Sharon. What a relief! The choir has been her spiritual home since, for the past ten years. In the first night of choir practice, she was royally welcomed, not in any formal or ostentatious way but in numerous informal ways. Little conversations. Little looks. Little head nods. The spirit of the choir made her feel welcomed and important. As the years went by, when Sharon got sick, people took care of her. When others got sick, Sharon took care of them. It was in the first welcoming evening and in the repeated similar events through the past decade that Sharon found a new community which transformed her life. That is what Sharon told us during the Godspeed service recently.

There was so much power in the welcoming. The way that she was welcomed was a sign of the refreshing love and acceptance she would experience for the next ten years. Her first impression of the openness and acceptance of the choir drew her into the choir and she remained there for ten years before she moved to another city.

In the Bible story for today, Jesus encouraged people to give a cup of cold water as a sign of giving something enormously valuable to the visitor. To give a cup of cold water is to give a special gift to that person. When other members of the choir gave Sharon love and acceptance, that was the gift that she needed. It was a precious gift to her. Love and acceptance was like a cup of cold water to her. Certain people in the choir gave Sharon what she needed. It was refreshing for her to be loved and accepted into that group where she could use her talent and sing praises to the Lord.

The quality of the welcoming is a sign, a signal, a symbol of what will happen later. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, you may be loved and accepted later.

Another example.  A second example. I think of seventh grade confirmation which I teach. Genuine welcoming, friendliness and acceptance by other kids in the class are so important to any seventh grader. I think of Mark 9:37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus was clear: When confirmation students welcome new kids into the class as new friends, we welcome Christ and God. New students who “stick with confirmation” are often students who experience a genuine Christian community of friendship, caring and love. They feel welcomed; they feel accepted; they feel that they are significant and important. First impressions are so crucially important. First impressions of friendliness and openness are a clue, a sign, a signal that there may be the possibility of genuine friendships here in this room.

To give a cup of cold water to a seventh grader is not to give that student permission to get a cold drink from the drinking fountain. A cup of cold water is a symbolic gift. It is giving a new seventh grader full acceptance, recognition, importance that they are in the class at all. It is this deep sense of acceptance which is like a drink of fresh, cold water.

The quality of the welcoming is a sign, a signal, a symbol of what will happen later. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, you may be loved and accepted later. The quality of welcoming may be a sign of the possible genuine friendships and acceptance.

Seventh graders only love confirmation is they have good friends in the class. The way a new kid is welcomed is crucially important. Will the new kid come back? Yes, if he or she senses a genuine welcome and the possibility of real friendships.

A third example. I think of the small groups in the Bible study I teach of THE LIFE OF CHRIST. During each session, there are three small-group discussion questions and interactions. If someone feels welcomed by people at a particular table, they feel a sense of relief. They want to come back to that table of friends. They want to experience genuine Christian community and love. They want to listen. They want to share. They want to discuss. They want to pray. Yes, human beings are wired in such a way that we want to be part of genuine, loving, open and welcoming communities.

Whenever a group of people welcomes someone into their friendship pattern, that new person normally comes back. The power of Christian group friendship is enormously transforming.

A fourth example. Years ago, I used to do “worship, preaching and evangelism” workshops around the country. I distributed some research entitled, Congregational Tools for Effective Evangelism. It was a survey of people who joined a congregation. These new members were given a list of 48 items why they joined a particular congregation. The “seven highest ranked reasons for joining” were:

1) 2.95 Because of what the pastor was like as a person.

2) 2.84 Because members made me feel welcomed when I attended.

3) 2.78 Because it helped me in my attempt to live a Christian life.

4) 2.68 Because I especially like the worship services.

5) 2.63 Because it was a place where my children could receive good religious education.

6) 2.56 Because the pastor preaches good sermons.

7) 2.53 Because I felt that something was missing in my life.

What was the second highest factor? “Because people made me feel welcomed when I attended.” What was the sixth highest factor? “Because the pastor preaches good sermons.”  In other words, the power of welcoming by the laity was more important than the power of preaching by the preacher in helping people determine if they wanted to join a particular congregation. What the laity said in the pews to each other during and after the worship was more important to people’s joining a congregation than what the pastor said from the pulpit. It is not that what the pastor preaches is unimportant; it is that what the laity say in “welcoming” is also very important. Often we as Christians undervalue the power of being a genuinely and deeply welcoming community. Often, too many Christians don’t “get it” about the power of everyday welcoming during our worship services.

The quality of the welcoming is a sign, a signal, a symbol of what will happen later. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, you may be loved and accepted later.

The people who are visiting are congregations may be seekers or they may be old time disciples. Either way, in the text for today, Jesus wants us to welcome them as we would welcome Christ himself.

I have given you four examples of the power of welcoming within the church. I have talked about choir, confirmation, Bible study and worship services.

BUT there is a problem. Inherently, in every choir, in every confirmation class, in every Bible study, in every worship service, the natural inclination is to be friendly to your old friends and not truly and genuinely incorporate new people into the choir, the confirmation class, the Bible study and worship. This pattern is as old as the human race. We continue to be friendly with our “old friends” and often unconsciously screen out other new people from our friendship patterns. This happens in choirs, confirmation classes, Bible studies and worship all the time.

These new people are often disciples of Jesus who are seeking a new community, a new choir, a new church, a new place to be where they can grow in Christ.

What are some of the rewards or blessings of being a genuinely welcoming community? There are so many blessings when we are a welcoming community. For example, Sharon sang in our choir for ten years and she graced us with many a solo. We see so many new kids in the confirmation class who have been brought by their friends, they make new friends at class, and they grow up as little disciples of Christ who become mature adults. In the Bible class, people find a small community of friends to discuss religious questions with. In worship, our services are transformed with all the new people.

Sharon’s life was blessed as she gave her gift to the Lord and sang to her heart’s content. Young people in confirmation grow up to be mature young adults in Christ. It is such a blessing to be part of a small group Bible study where you care share honestly and personally and grow in Christ. It is such a blessing where new people bring vitality into our worshipping community.

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

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