Do Small Things, with Great Love

Jun 26, 2020

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 10:40-42
Pastor Sandy Selby
            I moved to Akron thirty-nine years ago to work for BFGoodrich. Having moved to a city where I knew no one, my priorities were to get settled into my workplace, make new friends, and find my way around Akron, which, as those of you who are not Akron natives have learned, is not easy to do. And I wanted to start looking for a church that I might join. In looking for a church home, my main criteria were these: good preaching, good music, good hospitality, and a congregation large enough that I could worship there every Sunday without immediately getting sucked into serving on a committee.  
            On my first Sunday in Akron, I chose to visit a church that was large enough to allow for a degree of anonymity. I found a seat in the sanctuary, hoping I wasn’t occupying someone’s favorite place that secretly was reserved for only them. Thirty-nine years later, I don’t remember anything about the music or the preaching that day. What I do remember is the “welcome” I received. After the service, two people rushed up to greet me. The conversation went something like this:
•         “We haven’t seen you before! Is this your first time here?”
•         “Yes, it is. I’m new to Akron. I just moved here for my job.”
•         “Oh! What do you do?”
•         “I’m a financial analyst at BFGoodrich.”
•         “That’s wonderful! Would you like to be on our Finance Committee?”
I did not return to that church, that shall remain nameless.
            The form of welcome I received is what is known as “instrumental” welcome, hospitality that is a means to an end. A person is “welcomed” not for who they are, but for what they can do for the community they are visiting. That form of welcome is not what Jesus had in mind in his instruction to the disciples in today’s reading from Matthew. Let’s look at this brief passage in its context.
            Jesus has been going from village to village, demonstrating the power of God through a series of miraculous healings. Then, Matthew says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). Jesus knows he needs to expand his mission. So he commissions his disciples and empowers them to join him in his ministry of healing and hope. They are to go on that mission leaving behind all of their possessions and traveling from village to village, depending on the hospitality of those they visit, relying on them for food, water, and spare clothing. Jesus warns them that this work will not be easy, as he is sending them out “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16). There will be conflict and persecution.  But, he says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). The sacrifices are many! The stakes are high! But the rewards are great, not only for the disciples but for those who welcome them.
            Then Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt 10:40). He describes what that welcome that hospitality is like: “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” (Mt 10:42). In the gospels, “little ones” at times clearly means “children.” Here, in this passage, Jesus is referring to the disciples and other itinerant missionaries. But to the community to whom Matthew was writing in the late first century, and to us, today, the “little ones” are any people, children or adults, who make themselves vulnerable to do his work for the Kingdom of God in this world. Whoever welcomes the “little ones” who appear at their door, or in any way come into their lives, welcomes Jesus himself. Later, in the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus extends his description of those who need hospitality to include anyone vulnerable—those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, imprisoned. Jesus proclaims that in the Kingdom of God, all are welcome. So it is our work today, as followers of Jesus, to extend boundless hospitality to all.
            The word “hospitality” derives from the Latin word hospes, which interestingly means “host," “guest,” and “stranger.” Host, guest, and stranger are one and the same; there is no distinction, no hierarchy, no power dynamic. As St. Benedict said in his “Rule” that he wrote in the chaotic and dangerous context of 6th-century Europe, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, who said: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’” (Matt 25:35).[1] Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister says it this way: Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts.…Hospitality is an act of the recklessly generous heart.”[2]
            A recent Washington Post article describes such hospitality, an “act of [a] recklessly generous heart” that occurred in London two weeks ago and was captured in a photograph that went viral on social media in Britain. The photograph shows a black man carrying an injured white man over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. The context in which this photograph was taken was a Black Lives Matter protest in central London, where over a period of several days, there had been ongoing protests and clashes between the Black community and white supremacy counter-protestors. Tensions were high as the protest march neared the Waterloo Bridge, with protestors carrying Black Lives Matter signs and chanting slogans, and white supremacist skinheads were chanting racist insults from the sidelines.
            The Reuters photographer who took the photograph of the black man carrying the injured white man on his shoulder describes what happened: “I heard someone shout, ‘That’s not what we do!’ and I saw a skirmish and someone falling to the ground.” At that point, Patrick Hutchinson, a black man who was marching in the protest, saw a white man on the ground, under attack by protestors. Hutchinson and his friends formed a cordon around the man. Then Hutchinson, the black protestor, picked up the wounded white supremacist counter-protestor and carried him on his shoulder to safety.
            Hutchinson said on Instagram, “We saved a life today.” Later, in an interview on national television, he expressed his wish that someone would have stepped up to save George Floyd. Then he said, “I just want equality for all of us. At the moment, the scales are unfairly balanced, and I want things to be fair for my children and my grandchildren.” According to the Washington Post, “The British tabloids, even the right-wing ones, called Hutchinson, a ‘hero,’ and accolades poured forth on social media from politicians and ordinary folk. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said, “‘Patrick Hutchinson’s instincts in that moment represent the best of us.’”[3] 
            Sister Joan Chittister writes hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.”[4] In so doing, we meet the conflict and turmoil around us with mercy and compassion. And yet, in this time of fear, uncertainty, and danger in which we live today amidst the dual viruses of COVID-19 and racism, our instincts may tell us to wall ourselves off from the chaos and suffering around us. The Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says it this way:
We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings…A kindness and a tenderness begin to emerge. We don’t have to tense up as if our whole life were being spent in the dentist’s chair.[5]
            “We don’t have to tense up as if our whole life were being spent in the dentist’s chair.” We all know what that’s like! Jesus says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  Don’t tense up; let go. Extend welcome, show hospitality to others, not because of what we can gain from them—-not so the first-time visitor can be on our Finance Committee—but because when we welcome others into our space and our hearts, we welcome Jesus. Love all, welcome all, with acts of mercy and compassion.
            Jesus says, “whosoever 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.” Notice that Jesus uses the word “even a cup of cold water;” in other words, this seemingly small gesture is huge! Today, wearing a mask, social distancing, and being here in church without being able to sing together is not easy, but it is huge! It’s a cup of cold water, a gesture of mercy, compassion, and love for our neighbor. Commentator David Lose writes,
We often imagine discipleship as requiring huge sacrifice or entailing great feats, and sometimes that is exactly what discipleship comes to.…[But] discipleship doesn’t have to be heroic…even a cup of cold water can make a huge and unexpected difference to those to whom we give it and, according to Jesus, such acts have eternal and cosmic consequences.[6]
            What we do, every day, matters. Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things, with great love.”
[1] St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Benedict, Chapter 53: The Reception of Guests
[2] Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 131-132.
[3] “Black Lives Matter protestor hailed as hero for saving suspected far-right demonstrator in London melee,” The Washington Post,, June 15, 2020.
[4] Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 131-132.
[5] Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2002), 113, 116.
[6] David Lose,, 6/29/14.