Random Acts of Kindness

On July 3, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Random Acts of Kindness Rev Walt Weiss For the last ten years, I have driven an older car that has served me well, however, recently, I have needed to call for a tow truck on three separate occasions. The particular road side assistance company I use, has a standard practice which I thought about when […]

Random Acts of Kindness
Rev Walt Weiss

For the last ten years, I have driven an older car that has served me well, however, recently, I have needed to call for a tow truck on three separate occasions. The particular road side assistance company I use, has a standard practice which I thought about when I looked at today’s gospel reading. Upon arrival, the driver gets out of the truck, and without even asking if you are thirsty, immediately hands you a bottle of ice cold water. After waiting in a hot car, for sometimes up to an hour, I have always appreciated this simple act of kindness. Throughout the ages, the impact of offering someone “a cup of water” has gone beyond the basic need of quenching someone’s thirst, to being a symbol of hospitality and caring. And though our reading seems to be directed primarily to the twelve disciples, I believe that this concept of hospitality and caring, is one which is relevant to us today, as modern day disciples or seekers and students of Truth.

Before we look at these verses at the end of Chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel, I think it is important for us to understand what has gone on just prior to this. At the end of chapter 9, Jesus looked upon the multitudes that were following him, and he was “moved with compassion” and he instructed his disciples to pray for laborers to bring in the harvest, or rather to bring his message to those he saw as sheep without a shepherd.

Then at the beginning of chapter 10, it seems that Jesus is calling his disciples to be the very answer to that prayer. The scriptures tell us he gave them power to cast out unclean spirits and to heal every manner of sickness and disease, cleanse the lepers, and raise the dead. Wow! That sounds like what we would call “super heroes” today, and I am sure that made them excited. That was the hook he used to draw them in, but them in the rest of the chapter, he explains the reality of what it will cost them to carry this out. He tells them not to carry any money with them, but rather to depend on the hospitality of others to provide for their needs. He warns that they are being sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves, where they will be persecuted and hated; their families will turn against them, and in the end, they may even lose their lives. I am sure at this point, they are looking at one another and wondering what did we just sign up for? Being a follower of Jesus is not always going to be easy, not then, not now. So Jesus closes his little recruitment speech, with these words of assurance we read this morning and in them outlines one very important requirement for discipleship.

“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 person; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these littler ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Now, I have to admit, that when I first began reading these verses, I felt like Jesus was speaking in circles and could not make much sense out of it. But upon further reflection, I began to understand that Jesus is talking about the importance of welcoming one another, and holds out the promise of a reward to those who practice this very basic ingredient of hospitality. Welcoming the stranger and offering hospitality was a cultural and religious requirement for the Hebrew people, taught in the Torah, and the means by which the Hebrew community showed their faithfulness to God, so the audience to whom Matthew writes this, well understood its importance. When travelers came into a town, they went to the well in the center of the town, and the townspeople would offer them food and lodging. These travelers were not their family, they were people who often had different foods, different clothes, different languages, and different gods.

In this 10th chapter, the author also has Jesus underscoring the importance of hospitality, and referencing Sodom and Gomorrha, not with any connection to homosexuality as is often preached in other churches, but rather as a place that did not show hospitality to travelers or strangers.

For us today, though we may make our lodging arrangements well in advance on a website, or have no shortage of places to eat, the human need for hospitality, or feeling welcome, is constant. Yet, so is the fear of strangers. In the Greek, the word for stranger is xenos, from which we get the word xenophobia, fear of the stranger, which unfortunately can lead to nationalism and racism. When we offer hospitality, sometimes doing just a simple thing as paying attention to someone, we are bringing who we are, what we have, where we are, to the situation. To be truly welcoming we must set aside our discomfort for how one may be different or strange to us, and meet him or her as they are. As to the reward referenced in these verses, there are some who would try to make us believe that the reward Jesus is talking about is some kind of heavenly reward after we die, reserved for those who do the right things when they are alive. But once you put aside this concept of a judging God giving special treatment to some, and punishing others, and realize that we are all equally and eternally loved by God, then it allows us to look at other possible interpretations. I believe that the reward is in the gesture itself, it comes as we do whatever it is that the situation requires, and our lives are blessed as a result of the interaction or connection we have with one another.

So after understanding that a basic requirement of discipleship is to be welcoming, I also began to see that in order to accomplish this we must recognize the Divine presence in each person we encounter. These verses are consistent with the very core message that Jesus taught, and the very same message that is proclaimed week after week here at Sunshine Cathedral – our unity with the Divine and with one another. That is the whole basis for why we need to welcome each other and welcome the stranger, because on a spiritual plane, we are all connected.

It is this interconnectedness of our lives that was expressed so eloquently in our second reading by Wendell Berry. In order to recognize the Divine within each individual, it requires that we first understand our own relationship to the Divine, then we can attempt to translate this to others. This is something which Jesus understood completely. He said, If you have seen me, you have seen God. He knew that he was one with God. Although we are each intensely aware of being flesh and blood, we are more than that. The body is Spirit become visible. There is an essential being in each of us. We may call ourselves by any name, but each of us has a more basic name, “I” or “I Am”. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I Am”. Each of us is an individualized expression of the Divine. We are forever one with God life. This life permeates our entire being.

Emerson put it this way, “There is no ceiling between myself and my Source, there is no point in time or space where God, the Cause, begins and I, the effect, ends”. This was such a hard concept for me to grasp at first, having been brought up in a tradition that basically put God way up in Heaven, wherever that is, and the separation from God was more than just a physical distance, it was a spiritual divide that could not be crossed because of my supposed sin or depravity. But once you begin to understand that there is not a spot where God is not, since God fill all, there is no place for anything adverse to God, there is no place in God’s presence even for the concept of sin. When we can begin to get a handle on this core teaching of Jesus, God living in, and through, and as us; that in God we live and move and have our being, then we can begin to see the Divine in others.

The Hindu/Indian greeting “Namaste” embodies this concept, with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upward, thumbs close to the chest, the person says softly, “Namaste” – I bow to the divine in you or more fully the god in me bows to the god in you. I will be the first to tell you that this is not an easy spiritual exercise, especially when we encounter those who do not seem to be expressing that internal divinity themselves, but at least, as we begin to practice this in all our encounters, this can begin to have an impact in our lives and in the world.

So, a requirement of discipleship is to offer hospitality and be welcoming. To do this it is essential that we recognize the Divine in each other, but then there is also our responsibility to do something – The essence of spirituality and holiness is not a matter of following religious rules – if we think that, we have missed the mark. For Jesus, a truly spiritual way of living is about being willing to give someone a cup of water on a hot day. It is really no more complicated than that. Jesus’ example was to offer a cup of water – but it could have been something else.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia). There is so much that can be done if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities.

I have always the loved the bumper sticker inspired by something that Ann Herbert scribbled on a placemat in Sacramento, California in 1982, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Princess Diana had her own take on this.

There are so many avenues here at Sunshine Cathedral to do just that. I truly believe that the reason I came back to Sunshine Cathedral after my first visit was because of the warm welcome I received from the greeters and ushers, but that is something that each of us can do – seek out the first time visitor or someone who has been coming for a while, but you have never introduced yourself to. You can assist with the Brown Bag lunch program, or bring in food for the Pantry of Broward on our monthly collections. But hospitality and kindness are not just things you practice here in church – it is probably much more impactful, outside of the church, where people do not expect it. We are God’s hands and feet as we go out in to the world each day. When we look around, sometimes it can seem that the needs of others are so overwhelming – how can we begin to make a difference? At most every traffic light or entrance to the highway, there are those asking for a handout. The appeals on television to assist with caring for the starving or for orphans can make us feel that since we can’t fix it all, why bother?

I am reminded of the story by Loren Eisley, “The Star Thrower” – A man was walking along the beach in the early morning hours, and he sees a young boy who appears to be dancing – he is bending down, then standing up and throwing his arms in to the air. As the man gets closer, he sees the boy bending down and picking up a starfish, then throwing it in to the ocean. “What are you doing?” the man asks the boy. “I am throwing the starfish back in to the sea. The tide is going out and if they don’t make it back in to the water, when the sun comes up, they will die”. The man looks out at the expanse of beach and sees that the tide has brought in thousands of starfish that are strewn upon the shore and says to the boy, “There are so many. You can’t possibly hope to make any difference!” In response, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean and said, “To the ones I throw back, it makes all the difference in the world.”

As followers of Jesus, we can make a difference in the world. One act of kindness at a time. And this is the Good news.

 

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