Sermon Archives

God Gets In

Rev. Kate Layzer
Sun, Jul 09

Text: Matthew 10:40–42

In the middle of a 3-day heat wave in June, when the temperature was the 90s, I poured a bag of ice into a beverage cooler—the same cooler we’ve been using for refreshments on the lawn after church—and put the cooler in my all-purpose blue wagon. I turned on the garden hose out front and ran it for a while, then filled the cooler with water. The ice made a musical sound as I rolled the wagon into Harvard Square. “Would you like some cold water?” I asked, holding out a paper cup to a wilting man leaning on a storefront, begging for spare change. “Would you like some cold water?” I asked a blind man holding out a cup. “Would you like some cold water?” I asked a group of kids from Chicago, and a man dressed in business clothes. “Would you like some cold water?” I asked the young woman with a cardboard sign who lovingly puts out bread and pieces of straw for the nesting sparrows in her vicinity. Everyone was sweltering; everyone said yes. Some asked for seconds. Some asked for a cup for a friend. Some bent their heads to a stream of water poured from my ladle—a kind of impromptu street baptism without words, the water dripping off their hair as they sighed deeply. It was so hot, and the water so refreshing. The denizens of the Square drank, I drank with them—not just a baptism, but a street communion. “Then he took the cup, and after he had given thanks for it, he gave it to them.”
And from the overflowing gratitude of my heart, I did give thanks. It was such a ridiculously easy thing to do, and it filled me with so much joy. I can’t tell you for certain that that’s the reward Jesus is talking about when he commends the practice of giving cold water to thirsty people, but it’s hard to imagine a better one. I loved it so much, I went back and did it all again the next day.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been hearing selections from a passage of Matthew in which Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs to the towns and villages of Galilee, to bring the good news of the kingdom to anyone who would listen.

The mission was distinctive for its radical simplicity. Take nothing with you on the road, Jesus says. No purse, no staff, not even a spare pair of sandals. He sends them out quite literally empty-handed. Two by two they arrive in those Galilean villages and towns—hungry, thirsty, tired, needing a place to crash and a cup of cold water to wash the dust from their throats.

“These little ones,” Jesus calls them. Little ones? These are adults he’s sending, fully grown men (and perhaps a few grown women too?). Why does Jesus call them “little”?

“Truly I tell you,” he’ll say a few chapters later, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Or as we heard this morning: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Humbly. That’s how he means for the good news to enter those towns and villages of Galilee. It’s to be carried by people who have become, voluntarily, as poor and as helpless as children: owning nothing, like children; powerless as children are to provide for their own needs.

Like children, or like beggars—a familiar reality in Jesus’ day, as it is in ours, the result of similar economic forces. The least of these.

Unarmed, empty-handed, hungry and thirsty and tired, the disciples arrive bearing good news that cannot wait—and an urgent need for hospitality. Is there a connection between the these two things, do you think? What’s the point of this voluntary poverty?

Is the disciples’ human helplessness a part of the message they’re bringing?

The disciples, these students of Jesus, have come to share a vision that has set them on fire: a new, voluntary way for people to be together, under the canopy of God’s all-embracing mercy and grace. Who will receive what they have come proclaiming? Not everyone, obviously. But if you’re in need of mercy yourself; if you’re open to new life from God wafting in across your dusty fields, or through your kitchen window; if you’re ready to listen to what a stranger might have to offer in the name of God, provided they’re willing to sit down at a table with you and speak with you face to face… well, you just might be the one who will receive a disciple of Jesus tonight.

At each stop, the good news of God begs for a welcome; at each stop God begs for a welcome. God, the invisible, the dispossessed, the driven out, who comes to us in Christ, owning nothing. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

How vulnerable does someone have to become to put themselves at the mercy of other people like that? And how vulnerable does someone have to become to welcome two strangers into their home—and perhaps their life?

It takes radical vulnerability, doesn’t it, to receive what God longs to give us?

We have to really want it. We have to be willing to lay aside our protections to welcome the joy and freedom that come from God—a new, person-to-person way of seeing each other in which all is grace.

Grace is what the disciples come proclaiming, and it’s all they have. They can’t buy, bargain, or trade for what they need: They can only enter into humble human relation with others who are thirsting for the same kind of honesty, a kindness the world too often forgets to offer.

Thirst… It’s one of those irreducible realities, a constant reminder of our mortality. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return. Rich or poor, black or white, documented or undocumented, we depend on water to sustain our bodies. And it’s ridiculously easy to lose sight of how vulnerable we are when we’re lucky enough to have free access to water: when we’re able to own or rent and pay our water bill; when we don’t live in a place where the water supply has been poisoned, like the people of Flint Michigan, among many others; when we aren’t refugees fleeing war or drought, crowded into camps, waiting in line for water to drink and to wash our bodies…

And so there’s something jolting and prophetic in the life Jesus and his disciples embodied: coming among people as strangers, pleading to be seen. Placing themselves at the mercy of their neighbors, drawing people together in simple kindness—inviting them into a way of life that chooses mutuality over privilege.

Think of Jesus, tired and thirsty beside the well of Jacob, when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. “Give me a drink,” he says. He offers himself in his timeless human vulnerability, a wanderer in need of water. Who is the Samaritan woman today? Perhaps she is the good people of Humane Borders, Fronteras Compasivas, who’ve rigged a system of water stations in the Sonoran Desert for desperate migrants from Central and South American trying to make it to the U.S. on foot—so that they don’t die a horrible death by dehydration and exposure. “Give me a drink,” Jesus says, and they respond with 55-gallon industrial-strength blue plastic barrels fitted with spigots and labled AGUA. Agua. Can’t get much more basic than that.

Again Jesus speaks, this time from the cross: “I am thirsty.” He draws our eyes to gaze at the abandoned one, the one for whom we have lost all human feeling. To Terrill Thomas, for instance, an African American man incarcerated in the Milwaukee County jail, whose water was cut off for 7 days as a punishment, who died in his cell crying for water, while guards did nothing.

“I’m thirsty.”

The pervasiveness of this kind of inhumanity in our society isn’t just death to the people we refuse to see. It’s death to our own souls too. And so Jesus comes to us, reaching out a hand to draw us out of our numbness and insularity, and back into living connection with God, with ourselves, with each other, with the earth.

Something powerful happens in those human connections. When we look in each other’s faces, when we listen to each other’s stories, when we offer a sandwich or a cup of water, person to person, God gets in.

Like a border crosser. Like a refugee. Like a homeless wanderer on the earth, God gets in, eager, thirsting to give us that gift of life that is water to our souls, the inexhaustible kindness of God, that bottomless well which is for everyone and everything on earth.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Our tiniest gestures of welcome become channels by which God enters our physical world—God who is mercy—the one to whom it is so, so easy to turn a deaf ear, so easy to ignore, so easy to turn cynical toward. Nothing is easier in this world than to slam the door in God’s face.

When it got really hot last month, the woman in Harvard Square who puts food out for the for the nesting sparrows started putting a dish of water out, too. She tells me that passing dog walkers won’t allow their thirsty dogs to drink from that dish, no matter how warmly encouraged. They hurry past, pulling the dogs along with them—terrified to stop and make a human connection with someone who sits on a sidewalk. All day this attitude, this dread of people who can’t pay rent, falls on this sister like acid rain. Is it too much to ask the neighborhood to extend a little of the simple kindness she offers the birds and the mice, the unloved street creatures of the city?

What would happen if we were to slow down, pause, smile, say a few words? Get out of our cars, look up from our phones, lay down our fears… Resist the dehumanizing forces that are trying to shape us into something the market can extract profit from. Take a risk. Fill a cup and offer it; make eye contact as our hands touch.

It really doesn’t take much to make God feel welcome in our world. If you were to leave your phone and your wallet in your pew and walk out of here today with nothing, you would still have all you need to share God’s overflowing love and mercy with a thirsty world. Each tiny gesture, honestly offered, makes God visible, even if only for a brief glimpse—humble little shrines to kindness and welcome wherever we go, a dish of water placed for sparrows. Surely goodness shall follow me all the days of my life, if I am willing, if I leave doors open behind me for grace to enter in. May it be so. Amen.