One of the things that I love about kids is that they are practical. I love the story of the school children that were lined up in the cafeteria of a Christian school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. A teacher placed a note in front them that said: “Take only one, God is watching.” Moving through the line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. One of the children had taped up a carefully written note: “Take all you want; God is watching the apples.”
On this Stephen Ministry Sunday, let’s be practical and explore ways that we can care for one another. In Stephen Ministry, we call that offering a “cup of cold water.” Our scripture today talks about offering a drink to a thirst person. Back in the ancient near east if you wanted a cool drink you had to find a very deep well, and it took some work to get to the cool water. Sharing a cup of cold water was an act of kindness that required some effort. To me, it means rolling up our sleeves and looking at the practical side of helping each other. That’s not always the easiest thing to do. Gal 6:2 reminds us to “carry each other’s burdens for in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
One of the simplest and most meaningful things we can do is to handle one another with care. The story is told of the little church that had fallen upon hard times. Only five members were left: the pastor and four others, and they were all getting up in years. Nearby the church there lived a retired Bishop. It occurred to the pastor to ask the Bishop if he could offer any advice that might save the church. The pastor and the Bishop spoke at length, but when asked for advice, the Bishop simply responded by saying, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”
The pastor, returning to the church, told the church members what the Bishop had said. In the months that followed, the church members pondered the words of the Bishop. “The Messiah is one of us?” they each asked themselves. As they thought about this possibility, they all began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each member himself might be the Messiah, they also began to treat themselves with extraordinary care.
As time went by, people visiting the church noticed the aura of respect and gentle kindness that surrounded the five old members of the small church. Hardly knowing why, more people began to come back to the church. They began to bring their friends, and their friends brought more friends. Within a few years, the small church had once again become a thriving church, thanks to the Bishop’s simple words – the Messiah is one of you.
I love this story. How would things be different if we could get it into our hearts and our minds that the Messiah/ Jesus is among us? Would we treat one another differently? Would it become second nature for us to extend mercy, would we be kinder to ourselves, too? Think about our scripture this morning. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And how did Jesus reply? “Just as you did it for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me.” Jesus is saying – that was ME, that was the Messiah among you whom you served.
God intends for us love, encourage, and support each other. I know that is not always easy. It’ a little scary to step out of your comfort zone to help someone, it’s challenging to learn new ways of caring, it takes an effort to stand up for our neighbors. It requires that we step out in faith.
Another important thing we need to do for one another is to pray. The surest way to bring someone close to your heart is to pray for them. Martin Luther once said: “Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.” So, we pray and then ask God to use us. To possibly even step out of our comfort zone to serve one another. Anything worth doing is going to seem a little intimidating or frightening at first. You could probably ask each Stephen Minister here if they were nervous when they began their training and they would probably each say yes.
The circus is not as popular as it once was, but when I was a little girl, the circus came to town around my birthday and I always looked forward to that special treat. I loved the sights and sounds. The silly clowns; the animals; the glittery costumes. But my favorite was always the flying trapeze. You know the one where the beautiful trapeze artist is swinging back and forth high above the heads of the spectators. While not far away is the handsome, strong man, also swinging back and forth preparing to catch her as she leaps. The anticipation builds, but the act can never be complete until she lets go. So, she swings and when everything seems right – she lets go. And for a few heart stopping seconds she is in mid-air. No longer safe on her swing, nor yet caught in the arms of her partner. Yet her faith in her partner’s ability to catch her is strong enough to allow her to let go.
When our faith in God’s ability is strong enough to allow us to let go, he stands ready to catch us. So, what type of leap are we talking about here and how did we get from cups of cold water to a trapeze act? Well, for each of us the leap is different. Your leap might be to step out and ask for help. You may need the support of a Stephen Minister, or the hand of a friend, or a listening ear. Or perhaps you leap might be to answer the call to help someone else; to offer that cup of cold water. Erma Bombeck once said, “be courageous and bold. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”
So, this morning let’s do several things: let’s treat one another kindly, gently, and with respect knowing that Christ is among us, let’s pray for one another, and then let’s ask God if he is calling us to step out of our comfort zone to serve him, and then let us hold tight to our faith as we let go.
You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are,
God has put you there. God has a purpose in your being there. Christ lives in you and has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in the grace and love and power of Jesus Christ. — Rev. Richard Halverson