Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 2005 (Proper 8A)

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on June 26, 2005. 
Based on Matthew 10:34-42 (Proper 8, Year A).

Small things matter. This isn’t a particularly enlightening statement. But given the big picture context of our readings this morning, it’s important to remember. The psalm sets the tone: “Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. I will establish your line for ever, and preserve your throne for all generations.” Forever, from age to age, for all generations. That is a long time. And it hints at the all-encompassing, cosmic nature of God.

The letter to the Romans moves from this everlasting-ness to the heart of the Christian faith. Through baptism sin is washed away and we are made alive through Christ’s resurrection. That’s pretty basic theology but it’s still big picture stuff. 

Finally, Jesus tells us to take up the cross and follow him. And when we think about taking up his cross and making sacrifices, we think in terms of the major priorities and direction of our lives.

So there is a global flavor to this morning’s service. Which as we worship outside seems to fit in nicely. In a few moments I’ll even use the eucharistic prayer known in church circles as the “Star Wars” prayer. Not because I use the Force to consecrate the bread and wine but because it reminds us of God’s cosmic “bigness.” It speaks in wonderfully graphic language of the “vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, planets in their courses.” So between our readings and our eucharistic prayer, this service has a larger-than-life feel.

But at the end of it all, in the very last sentence of the gospel, Jesus speaks of the simplest act, the smallest act — offering a cup of cold water to someone who thirsts. “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones,” he says, “truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” So we start out big and we end up little. We start out with the all-encompassing nature of God and we end up with the simplest act imaginable.

But simplicity can be deceiving. Giving someone a cup of cold water may not feel like the bold action that Christ demands. It’s not inspiring. In light of Jesus’ command to “take up the cross and follow me,” it feels somehow lame. But giving someone a cup of cold water can be a radical act. It’s what’s behind it that gives it power. If it is given as Christ would give it, it is a strong response to the gospel. It is a practical way to share the love of God with another.

And of course the image of a cup of cold water also invokes the cosmic reality of Christ’s presence in the world. Whether we know it or not we all thirst for the gospel. We all thirst for that peace of God which passes all understanding. Which does make the first line of this morning’s gospel reading rather curious. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” It’s a strange image. One I’d rather ignore. But there it is. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” It just doesn’t fit with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd or the Prince of Peace.

And so some explanation is helpful here. First, it’s not a literal image. Jesus obviously doesn’t wield a sword. It’s just not his style. So the sword of Christ is, of course, metaphorical, but it’s even more powerful than an implement of war. It is an eschatological symbol. In other words, it refers to the day of judgment. On that day the forces of sin and evil and darkness will be vanquished; light and peace will prevail. A modern day translation may well read, ‘I have not come to bring peace, but a light saber.’ Apocalyptic imagery does tend to feel like an action thriller. But beyond the imagery is the truth of Christ. And it’s not always easy to hear or proclaim. 

And so this passage from Matthew’s gospel begins with a sword, moves to the cross and ends with a cup of cold water. Bold themes translate into practical action. And it is the small acts like handing out water at a village fair or bringing dinner to a grieving family that are the foundation of God’s kingdom. Not because they’re “nice” but because they reflect the love of God.

You’ve seen signs for handymen that say, “No job too small.” A motto for this morning’s passage may well be, “No act too small.” Because that’s what Jesus wants us to know. Everyday faith is enacted in the small things of life. The cups of cold water that are offered. And Jesus, even while speaking of the difficult parts of our faith, still brings it all back to the small things. They are the building blocks upon which all else is erected. Without the small acts we can’t know what it is to fully live into the baptism and cross of Jesus. 

God is made known through the details of life. So open your eyes to what surrounds you. Seek out small ways to make a difference in the world. And through these small acts of love, you will come to know the cosmic glory of God.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005

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