Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, Year A
June 28, 2020
Lessons: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand the importance of the basics when it comes to practicing radical hospitality, which in turn is an integral part of faithful discipleship.
Key Scripture: Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. –Matthew 10:40
What does it mean to be church in a time of global pandemic? How do we move forward when folks can’t even agree whether COVID-19 is real or merely an elaborate hoax? Faith leaders from the United States and other countries continue to seek advice from one another and their denominations, judicatory bodies, and governmental leaders. Even so, there is precious little agreement about what to do and how to do it when it comes to reopening houses of worship. In many places, congregants are pushing for a speedy and full reopening, while in other contexts a more measured approach in underway. Either way, it is critical for congregational leaders and worshipers alike to understand and be able to articulate the “why” behind a desire to reopen too quickly.
Getting to the “why” of the situation means taking time to drill down to the deeper emotions, fears, expectations, and power alignments. We have to ask the hard questions because this is a critical time for both church and the surrounding culture. Our human temptation and tendency will be to avoid the blood, sweat, and tears hard work of internal examination and readiness for change, and instead hasten toward a quick return to the way things were—with even more time to arrange the deck chairs on the promenade of failing institutions.
Some of you are working heroically to make sense of uncharted waters and to discern how Jesus would lead in these times. You have moved forward in myriad creative, safe, and faithful ways, and in doing so you are bringing the gospel to new communities of people. You are letting those rivers of living water flow from your heart (John 7:38) to quench the need and prayer of others, modeling radical hospitality and discipleship to be a wide welcome in God’s name.
Other people express sentiments like these: “Can’t we just quit talking about the virus and privilege and racism and police brutality, say we’re sorry and move on?” Or, “I’m just longing for a return to our life, to our church and community, to the way things were.” Or even worse, “I put my trust in God when it comes to this virus. No one is going to keep me out of church, and you can’t make me wear a mask.” Again, the only way to the other side of health and reforms that ensure that black and brown lives matter is through the pain of examining our hearts, experiences, and failings. We must continue to dig for the “why” beneath these laments and requests. We must welcome others in Jesus’ name, loving God and neighbor fully and lavishly.
Some of these critical issues like racism, poverty, and violence against black and brown bodies will take all of our will all of the time, with no let-up. This kind of discipleship takes full investment and willingness to suffer with those on the margins. This is a big work, but we do not do it alone. Keep working one day at a time. Be gentle with your mistakes and resolute to see change come. But what about worship?
The bottom line is that reopening our churches is also an act of hospitality. It may be an even greater and more radical act of hospitality to delay opening churches for face-to-face worship. Most reputable sources agree that worship is one of the riskier places for virus exposure. A recent article in Forbes online, “A Stairway to Heaven: Reopening Churches and Coronavirus,” pointed to heightened health risks of worship services because they usually include vocal music, handshakes and hugs, passing an offering plate, communion, and refreshments. The author, Judy Stone, also an infectious disease specialist, concludes, “Even if you don’t have formal church choirs, my bet is that the reopening of places of worship, with the relatively close proximity of attendees and the exuberant and vocal expressions of faith will fuel more outbreaks and deaths.”
How then might we faithfully welcome one another in the name of Jesus, and therefore in God’s name, while still being mindful of the great love command? What is the most loving thing to do? Remember, Jesus is telling his disciples here that there is no shame in starting out small and keeping things simple. Eugene Peterson translates this week’s gospel in The Message and amplifies this point:
“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing” (Matthew 10:40-42).
Yes, my friends, we’ve been called into a large work, one that we cannot do alone. Our work is mutual in giving and receiving help. There is no shame in starting simple and small. Meeting someone’s physical thirst with a cup of cool water may also open them to receive Jesus’ living water pouring from your very heart of love. And the best news of all? Don’t worry about not being able to go back to exactly the way things were or even how you think you remembered them. Change is inevitable and God’s creative work continues. We are promised that we won’t lose out on a thing. No FOMO in the life of a disciple. Let’s get ready for an adventure!
Are you worshiping outdoors yet, or are you still digital? If you’re doing parking lot church, invite everyone to wash their windshields in thanksgiving for their baptism. After all, if we don’t keep our focus on the road ahead, life to become complicated. Keep your windshield clean, give thanks for your baptism, and trust that the Holy Spirit has you covered.
If you’re worshiping in a grove or pavilion, consider asperges (using a green branch to sprinkle baptismal water on gathered worshipers) as part of your Thanksgiving for Baptism. If you’re really brave, let the children take part. If you’re truly fun and foolhardy, let them loose with super soakers (and very clear instructions).
If possible, hold your outdoor or digital worship outside, near running water. Remind people of the importance of water and how water is so critical to all aspects of life on earth. Give thanks for the gift of water and perhaps have a noisy or special offering to benefit a water charity.
It’s more important than ever to stay in close contact with your youth. The longer the effects of COVID-19 are experienced as life disruptions and trauma, the longer it will take to recover a sense of normalcy. Check out this article for ideas about how to work with teens during this particularly difficult time, as well as how to encourage and equip parents to deal with grieving teens. Your youth group can help by having hard conversations in safe space, simply by staying connected, by celebrating and encouraging creative endeavors and self expression through music, dance, art, writing, etc. You can also provide suggestions and resources for self-care, mindfulness, and maintaining schedules. You’ll also find ideas for helping teens process and safely express their grief and loss. Thank you for doing this important and loving work with God’s beloved children and young adults.
This week’s focus verse is Matthew 10:42 – “… and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Following Jesus doesn’t have to be difficult. We can all do something to share God’s welcome and love with others. Even giving someone who is thirsty a cup of cold water can be an act of great love and care. It’s a way to say “you matter, I see you and know you are thirsty, and I care about you. Jesus loves you, and so do I.” Even something as simple as seeing your dazzling smiles can brighten up a really bad day. So thank you for being you, for loving God, and for loving your neighbor with the simplest of things—like a cup of cold water.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for the gift of water (for the gift of water). Thank you for the gift of baptism (Thank you for the gift of baptism). Help us to share what we have (Help us to share what we have), even a cup of cool water (even a cup of cool water). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace) Amen. (Amen.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Giving doesn’t have to be complicated. When we combine our varied gifts and resources ministry happens and thirsty people receive both cool water to slake their thirst and living water that will connect them to Jesus. Thank you for doing all that you can to keep Jesus’ love pouring into the world through our congregational programs, ministry, and outreach.
This week spend some time reflecting on how you are feeling about reopening in your area. Are case numbers still decreasing, or are they on an uptick following earlier reopening attempts? Are you willing to continue to wear a mask to protect others, particularly those who are part of vulnerable populations? Why or why not? Are you pushing to have your church reopen? If it has, are you attending worship in person? If not, are you content to wait longer? Are you still trying to minimize your risk of exposure? Are you willing to go an extra mile to minimize exposure to vulnerable populations? What frightens you most about the current situation? What opportunities for stronger communities and more resilient and fearless churches may be just over the horizon? What can you envision? What would energize you? How might you participate in something new? What might be your simple “cup of cold water” to share as radical hospitality?
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/06/trust-obey-and-get-going/
Images: renee_mcgurk, Elvert Barnes, and Dan Keck, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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