Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and 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.” (Matthew 10:40-42)
According to the famous historian known as St. Bede, often referred to as the Venerable Bede, Alban lived sometime during the 3rd or 4th century. According to tradition, during a religious persecution of Christians, Alban hid a Christian priest named Amphibalus from the Roman soldiers in his home. He was so impressed with the message and life of this priest that he converted to Christianity. Eventually the Romans found out that Alban was hiding the priest and they came for him. Alban traded clothes with the priest and the Romans took him thinking they had taken the priest. He was brought to the judge who instantly recognized Alban. The judge was angry and demanded that Alban denounce Christianity. He would not, and after much persuasion and argument, he ordered Alban to be executed. The story of Alban and the hagiography is in your bulletin. The testimony and the martyrdom of Alban so impressed the judge that he ceased all persecutions of Christians in the area. Alban knew what the priest needed, and he gave it to him. We could say that by giving Amphibalus a cup of water, Alban gave his life to minister to the overwhelming and obvious need of the priest. In that way he modeled the words of Jesus who said; “If anyone come after me let him or her deny themselves, pick up his or her cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) St. Alban is the patron saint of converts, persecuted and refugees. I cannot think of a better patron saint that fits the personality of this church, a church dedicated to ministering to the persecuted and refugees.
We want to be a welcoming church, welcoming all people, everyone…young people, seniors, middle aged, all people. Jesus said: “He or she, who welcomes others, welcomes me”. What is the cup of cold water that we want to give? The cup of cold water is a metaphor for anything that we can give to others to help meet their needs in some tangible way. At the Welcome Church in Wells Park last Sunday afternoon, for our Eucharist Service and meal together, we always bring bottles of water to hand out to everyone. We live in the desert, and everybody needs water. We all know that. And, we also bring enough food for everyone. Everybody needs something to eat, right? And, we bring a Eucharist service. We “do church” together. There were about 40 people last week that shared Eucharist, prayed together, and broke bread together in fellowship. It’s a church without walls, open to everybody, housed or un-housed, rich or poor.
We want to be known as a church that welcomes everyone…welcoming the newly arrived into our community, welcoming everyone, welcoming those that are marginalized, and giving people what they need. Water is a symbol of a particular need. If it’s encouragement that’s needed, just a simple word of encouragement can be like a cold glass of water on a hot day. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones”. (Proverbs 16:24) We all need water and all people need encouragement, to be welcomed and accepted for who we are, not for what we have done in the past, or what we will do in the future, but for you, just as you are right now.
Welcome the hurting. You know we might not be able to fix what is broken., but we can walk beside others and encourage them. Welcoming means to care for one another. What can we do to help? What kind of encouragement can we offer? What kind of advice can we give to someone in need? We can all learn from our elders, those in our midst that have lived longer than the rest of us, if we listen. Many of them have been in similar situations that we might be facing right now, and if we allow their wisdom to assist us in difficult situations, it will be like receiving a glass of cold water. Sometimes we can’t fix what is needed, but we can walk alongside of each other.
Dr. Nicholaus Wolterstoff wrote a book entitled Lamentations For A Son. Nick was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale and had a summer home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His wife Clare is an Episcopal priest. We belonged to the same church in Grand Rapids, Church of the Servant, a Christian Reformed Church, several years before Naomi and I were received into the Episcopal Church. Nicks son was climbing in the Swiss Alps during Spring break from college and fell to his death. Nick said that this tragic event totally devastated him. He had counseled leaders to deal with these types of tragedies and stages of the grieving process, but when it happened to him, he became the grief stricken one, the hurting one in need of care.
Nick said it did not bother him that when people came to him and said things like “this was God’s will” or “it was his time to go” or other things that people say because they don’t know what else to say. He said he wasn’t really listening to the comments, but what he appreciated was the people that came to share in his sorrow. It didn’t matter so much what they said, and if they didn’t say anything that was okay too. The fact that they were facing this tragedy with him spoke volumes about their concern for his family. It’s like they were offering him a cold glass of water. He said what hurt him were the friends that avoided him because they did not want to face Nick and this tragic situation. He mentioned that he was walking down the street not long after the accident, and he noticed a friend about a block away that crossed to the other side of the street in order to avoid talking to him.
We can walk beside each other. We cannot always fix what is hurt or missing in someone’s life. Some of you have suffered loss, family and loved ones with incurable illnesses, and I know some of you are facing troubling and perhaps tragic situations in your life right now, situations that we cannot fix. But, we can encourage each other and walk beside one another, and that speaks volumes. That’s what Jesus means when he says: “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”. (Matthew 10:42) When we do this we are ministering to Jesus.
Mother Teresa, A Catholic Nun and Nobel Peace prize winner, ministered in the slums of Calcutta, India. She was asked once by a reporter, “how do you do this day after day, facing these people with such overwhelming and tragic needs?” She responded with these words: “I see Jesus in the faces of everyone I meet. He comes to you in the hungry, the naked, the lonely, in the drunkard, the prostitute, and the homeless. Jesus may come to you in the lonely father, mother, or sister in your own family. Are you willing to reach out and show love?”
We all are called to care for one another, and to care for the people in our community. And, I think we are trying to do that with our Food Pantry on Tuesdays, the Bethlehem Food Pantry, mentoring school aged children, the Welcome Church in Wells Park, linking up with other churches and agencies in our community, working closer together with other Episcopal Churches and Diocese resources in order to be more effective in ministering to the needs of others.
Welcome one another. Let’s find creative ways to use meaningful opportunities to minister to one another more effectively in the church, and may we continually strive to find meaningful and creative opportunities to minister to those outside of our walls, bringing to our community the love of God, in the Power of the Spirit, offering water to those that are thirsty..