Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sermon: A Cup of Hot Coffee

Matthew 10:40-42

The scripture from Matthew is all about how we give and receive hospitality. It is about welcoming the stranger, and being welcomed when we are strangers. Obviously, in Jesus’ day, especially in the desert, it was vital that you offer strangers water when they were travelling. To not do so might be condemning them to death. They might literally collapse from dehydration if you refused them. So one of primary values of that area at that time was hospitality to strangers, especially in the provision of water.

Jesus knows that as he sends the disciples out, they will be dependent upon the hospitality of others for survival. It simply is a reality of their being travelers in a harsh environment. Perhaps he is reminding them of that, or perhaps he means for his teaching to be a reminder to those who will be receiving the disciples that they have a duty to treat his followers well. To provide them with what they need.

As you read the passage, you may have a bit of déjà vu, when Jesus says those who receive you are also receiving me.

The language here parallels what Jesus says at another time in his ministry (a probably more famous passage later in Matthew where Jesus describes separating the sheep and the goats, and the goats complain, when did we see you hungry, when did we see you thirsty, and Jesus says whenever you did not do it for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did not do it for me.) In today’s passage, Jesus says that when we receive a stranger we have received him, and when we receive him, we receive the one who sent him. The two passages are very similar. I think it is helpful to see that Jesus shares this teaching more than once – he repeats it because it is important that we know that how we treat the least of these is vitally important.

But the thing is, we live in different times and a different climate than Jesus, with different needs and fears. Travelers can get water from the store, or a large coke from McDonalds. There are inns and hotels. It is a lot less likely that we are going to have someone come to our door whose very life is dependent upon whether we give them a cup of cold water or not.

So how does this scripture connect with our lives today? I would extend Jesus’ teaching, and say that the hospitality that Jesus is suggesting is anything that gives life, that helps the person to survive.

Today that might still be water, especially in situations around the world where water is scarce, or unclean. But more often it is in helping them with the very things they need to survive the day.

It could be food, like we do through RAM. It could be heat like we do through RAM. Like in this video: Show [Take Care of Each Other]

What is interesting is that such generosity not only helps the other person, but it also helps us. Studies have shown that being generous with others actually increases our happiness. In the 2015 World Happiness Report, Richard “Davidson and Brianna Schuyler explained that one of the strongest predictors of well-being worldwide is the quality of our relationships. Generous, pro-social behavior seems to strengthen these relationships across cultures. Generosity is even associated with better health and longer life expectancy. Generosity seems to be so powerful that, according to researchers David McClelland and Carol Kirshnit, just thinking about it “significantly increases the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A, a protein used by the immune system.” So it seems that money can buy happiness, if we spend it on other people.”[1]

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, ““I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way— I’ve certainly found that to be the case so many times— you gave and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you. “And there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”[2]

But you may say to yourself. I have no money, I can’t afford to give away much. It could be something simpler than money. Anne Weems has a brief poem:

Sometimes that cup of cold water,

Turns out to be a cup of hot coffee,

And what we’re asked to do is to pour it . . . and to listen.[3]

What I think she is saying is that a deep conversation, an opportunity to connect and share, a chance to shed one’s guilt and shame or talk about the things that one fears, to really talk, over a cup of coffee might be the most life giving thing we could do for a stranger.

I confess, it is something I don’t do as well as I should, I often don’t really take the time to listen to everyone’s story – there are so many people and so little time, and I suspect that may be true for many of you. And yet Jesus suggests when we do such a life-giving thing, we are doing it for him. Wouldn’t you like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Jesus this week?

Jesus says that everyone who does this will certainly be rewarded. He doesn’t say what the reward is, but let’s be honest, who doesn’t want a reward from God. Share a few cups of coffee with strangers, listen and talk with them, and in return get an invitation to a banquet in heaven. Sounds good to me!

But if even that is too much for you, consider walking around with a smile on your face. Look people in the eye and smile at them.

That may be the cup of cold water that sustains them on a difficult day. Perhaps that day they have heard nothing but complaints, perhaps that day no one has said “I love you” to them, perhaps that day there has been nothing that has brought them joy, and you bring a smile that says – I am happy to see you.

Sarah Stevenson in Psychology today tells the following story, “It’s a rough morning. First, my alarm doesn’t go off. Then I’m late getting my son to school because another driver decides to roll into me. It doesn’t damage my car, but it completely wrecks my mood. Then I get to my doctor’s appointment only to realize I’m an hour early. Just great. It must be a case of the Mondays!”

“I decide to pop into little French cafe around the corner to grab a cup of tea while I’m waiting. As I sit under my little gray cloud, my pretty, young server Colette flashes me a dazzling smile that sticks there for the entire interaction. I can’t help but smile back. In fact, I even catch myself smiling while washing my hands in the bathroom. Suddenly my day doesn’t seem so bad. I finish my tea and head to my appointment equipped with a grin on my face, feeling as though I’ve slipped on a pair of rose-colored glasses. Today’s lesson? It turns out that when I smile, the world smiles back.”

Later in the article Sarah explains, “Did you know that your smile is actually contagious? The part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling when happy or mimicking another’s smile resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear and surprise. When the picture of someone smiling was presented, the researchers asked the subjects to frown. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went directly to imitation of what subjects saw. It took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down. So if you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.”[4]

So smiling can be a cup of cold water given to another as a lifeline, and it actually will help you feel better as well.

Whether it is literally a cup of cold water, a cup of coffee and a conversation, or a smile, make sure that you are practicing generosity. As you do it, you are doing it for your own health, for others, and as Jesus says, even for him.

[1] Lama, Dalai; Tutu, Desmond; Abrams, Douglas Carlton. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (p. 265). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[2] Lama, Dalai; Tutu, Desmond; Abrams, Douglas Carlton. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (pp. 263-264). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[3] Seasons of the Spirit

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