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19th Sunday after Pentecost                      __Mark 9:38-50           __             September 30, 2018

Today’s gospel reading has a lot of hard sayings:
Jesus talks of amputation and eye plucking if a particular appendage causes you to sin.
There is talk of rejecting those who are doing good things even if they are not of your tribe or clan.
Jesus warns of punishment if you happen to be a stumbling block for others.
And there is talk of worms and the fires of hell.
In short, for those who love to feel guilty and relish being spiritually beat up, there is some great stuff here because there is a lot that might cause each of us to squirm and feel uncomfortable.
And yet, I suspect the hardest words, the most challenging words involve Jesus’ reference to a simple gesture, an act of compassion and the act of giving and receiving a cup of water.
In St. Mark’s gospel we hear the words of Jesus: “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will be by no means lose the reward.”
How can such a simple act be so difficult for us?
And how can such a simple act be so meaningful and important?
Let me ask you, have you ever offered a cup of cold water to another person?
Have you ever reached out to assist someone or to comfort them?
Maybe even a complete stranger?
On the surface, these random acts of kindness might not seem like much of a big deal, they might even come across as fluffy and overly sentimental to some.
And who knows, maybe they are, but here is the deal, in the eyes of Jesus simple acts of kindness, a cup of water is a big deal, perhaps even a holy act and that ought to grab our attention.
I can’t think of a single place in scripture where God has instructed us to be the greatest, the strongest, the most powerful.
In the book of Micah, it is suggested that we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
Nowhere does Jesus suggest we strive for the riches of the world, to be part of the 1%, to be masters of our own domain, titans of the temporal.
In the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that we ought to strive to be merciful, poor in spirit, peacemakers and to thirst for righteousness.
Last week in the gospel Jesus tells us to welcome the child, elsewhere he suggests that we embrace and care for the vulnerable, the outcasts, the least of our brothers and sisters.
And yet, what is it that the culture encourages?
Who is that we seem to honor and reward?
The celebrities, the rich, the powerful, the self-proclaimed greatest among us.
Today’s gospel paints a different picture, a counter-cultural picture.
I once read: “The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in simple accumulation of gentle, soft almost invisible everyday acts of compassion.”
It sounds simple, and yet there are so many who are incapable of everyday acts of compassion, there are those who are unable to stir up even the simplest acts of Christ-like compassion.
And maybe this is a reminder that even the simplest thing, can be a stumbling block for the powerful, the self-sufficient, the so called winners of the world.
Not sure what I’m talking about?
Let me give you an example or two of how little things are a big deal.
Try asking someone how they are doing and then stick around long enough so the other person can respond and get the impression that you do care.
Try making a phone call, an email, a text to someone you know who is having a hard time, even saying a simple “I’m praying for you. You aren’t alone in this.”
These are cups of cold water, simple kind gestures.
When you are standing in line at the cashier, when the waitress is taking your order, when you encounter the woman in the hospital who cleans the rooms—have you ever talked to them?
The simple act of acknowledging another person as a fellow human being is huge.
So, next time you are checking out at the grocery store try acknowledging the person at the register.
You don’t have to invite the cashier over to your house for lunch or anything, but take a look at his or her face while they are trying to find the price of arugula on that laminated list of produce.
When the cashier looks at you while handing you your change, all that is required of you is to look back.
Just meet the person's eyes for a second when you say thank you.
Sometimes that is all another person needs to know that he or she has been seen.
Everyday acts of compassion.
A cup of cold water or its equivalent.
Acknowledging someone’s humanity, in small acts of kindness, tenderness, gracefulness and gratitude.
“For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will be by no means lose the reward.”
On the flip side, let me ask you, have you ever been on the receiving end of a cup of cold water?
Has anyone ever held out their hand to assist you, to help you, or comfort you?
Let’s be honest, accepting help can be hard, humbling, and for some, impossible.
By mid October I will mark the anniversary, if you will, of my trip to the doctor with an infected blister on the bottom of my right foot that led to the amputation of one of my toes.
For the next six weeks—a stretch of time that seemed endless—I was entirely dependent upon others.
While some might relish the thought of others waiting on them hand and foot—I found it difficult to just sit like a slug.
I was dependent on Julia to daily change the dressing and bandage on my foot.
I needed some of my clergy colleagues, such as Pastor Olson and Pastor Bauer from Trinity to cover for me as I was restricted to the house and recliner.
While I am grateful, it was also hard to be on the receiving end of these metaphorical cups of cold water.
And I know that I am not alone.
I once had a member of a former congregation who I would visit in order to bring her communion.
Every time she would lament about no longer being able to drive to worship.
Every time I offered to arrange a ride for her so she could join us on Sunday.
Every time she flat out refused because there was no way she was going to accept charity.
The irony of it all was that before she had to give up her car keys, she was the one who provide rides for her fellow widowed friends who could no longer drive.
She had no problem offering a cup of cold water, but she could not accept one.
Let’s be honest, we take a lot of pride in being self-sufficient, in doing for ourselves, we dread the thought of being a burden to others.
We are taught to carry our own weight—earn your own way—take enough water and be ready to fend for yourself.
Many of us have bought into the myth of American individualism and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.
And for many there is real humility in receiving.
To receive help means to acknowledge that you didn’t have it all figured out yourself.
It means revealing your vulnerability, your ignorance, your helplessness.
These are not our cultural values.
It’s why it is so hard for us to grow old, or to be ill.
We are not comfortable accepting that cup of cold water from another person.
Perhaps this is why we struggle with this idea of grace, and we live with the illusion that we can earn our salvation.
Perhaps this is why the cross of Christ is such a scandal, it reminds us that we cannot save ourselves, we are dependent of the grace of God and the love of Christ.
It means we have to trust someone other than ourselves.
During my recovery time last fall I had plenty of time to contemplate this paradox.
On the one hand I was frustrated by my inability to be about my daily routines, pulling my weight, doing my job, contributing in some meaningful manner.
I was frustrated because I had to be patient and allow the healing to take its time.
At the same time, I was flooded with gratitude to many of you who offered me a cup of cold water in a variety of forms: the meals, the get well cards, the visits.
I became acutely aware in a whole new way of my need of other people, of my connection to and interdependence with the people around me.
Doing it all myself is a good way of isolating and walling others out.
Receiving help—just as is offering help—makes tangible our common humanity, our need for each other.
A faith community is one real place to receive that kind of care and help.
It is a gift that those who are unconnected to a faith community simply miss out on—as there are few other communities where this kind of love and care is so readily offered.
In a community grounded in love and gracefulness there are all kinds of little ways, all kinds of cups of cold water we receive from one another in prayers, in errands run, in help offered or meals delivered.
Sometimes we know we need to receive it; sometimes it is harder to do so.
But it is good and necessary to receive—to be welcomed, to allow ourselves to need.
It’s part of what ties us together.
It allows us to be Christ to one another in very tangible ways.
Jesus said: “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will be by no means lose the reward.”
Perhaps the good news this morning is that we don’t have to do it all ourselves.
In fact, you need not to do it by yourself.
Others need to give to you; you need to receive.
In doing so we grow, and know more deeply God’s love at work in our midst.
May we receive that cup of cold water, know our need for it, drink it, and be grateful. Amen

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