All Saints' Episcopal Church

A Life That Becomes the Gospel

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A sermon preached on Matthew 10:40-42 by the Rev. Dr. Bob Brown on June 28, 2020…

We are living through a tragic pandemic.  According to Johns Hopkins University, in our three -county trade area of Pope, Yell and Johnson counties, we have suffered close to one thousand cases of the novel coronavirus.  This has resulted in several local deaths, and many hospitalizations.

All of us are painfully aware that the coronavirus has changed our lifestyle in some unpleasant ways.  Sadly, it has necessitated a change in the way we worship God, and in our seeing and being in contact with each other.  Thankfully, it has not changed the Christian love that we feel for each other. In fact, it is because of that love and consideration for each other that we have adopted our current mode of worship.  In sharing our Christian love, we emulate Jesus, and attain our spiritual fulfillment and joy.

This week, I had a very harrowing experience.  I was in a local business, and I couldn’t help but notice two unmasked women talking and laughing very loudly.  This is an exact recipe for spreading the virus, and, of course, they could be showing no symptoms and still be carriers and spreaders.  

As I was standing in line to check out, one of them got very close behind me, making me very uncomfortable.  I politely asked if she could give me slightly more room, and she reacted with absolute and obvious scorn!  The other begin to protest loudly, saying rhetorically that my mask would not be of any protection to me. 

Of course, I was wearing a mask out of courtesy and consideration for others, and for the protection of other people! 

She then said, “I will cough”, and she did so, very loudly, without coughing into her sleeve, elbow, or fist!  Thankfully, she was some distance away!

Of course, I made my exit as quickly as I possibly could, without offering any reaction.

We will return to this sad occurrence in few moments.

In modern America, our identity is wrapped up in our occupation, and thus in the business or organization we represent.  When making a new acquaintance, it is considered normal to ask “What do you do?’, or “Who are you with?”  This establishes a lot about the person, an identity, if you will, in the minds of most people in contemporary society.  But this wasn’t always the case. 

Those of us of a certain age—and that includes me—and those of us who grew up in the traditional small town south of the last century, remember a time when your family connections established your identity. 

And this was the way of the ancient world on the middle east.  In ancient Israel, in the Jewish society of the day, to extend hospitality meant that you were honoring the family and the one who send the person, as well as the individual himself. 

So, it is in our Gospel lesson for today.

In the previous chapters, Jesus has gone about the countryside healing the sick and preaching the Gospel of love.  He has been moved by compassion for the pitiful crowds, and by the plight of humanity, and the human condition.  And he prays for them, and empowers his disciples to go forth in his name to spread the Gospel and heal the sick.

And true to his culture, and so that the disciples will understand, Jesus says that those who welcome them, not only welcome them individually, but also welcome Jesus himself, and the one who sent him, meaning the Father. 

And Jesus further states that those who offer even a cup of cool water to the downtrodden, or the ill, or the discouraged, or to the less fortunate, are blessed in his sight, and will receive their reward.

Now the instructions of Jesus to his disciples do not only apply to them in that time and in that place, but they apply to us, today!

We are to act with kindness and consideration, and yes, even the love of Jesus, to “the least of these, our brothers”.

Jesus says that the kingdom of God is at hand.  That is, the kingdom has arrived for all of us, even in this life.  This is in spite of our pain, or our suffering, or our needs, or the plight of those around us.  And what is that kingdom?  It is the kingdom of love!

The Greek language, of which Jesus undoubtedly had knowledge, along with his native Aramaic and Hebrew, has many words for love.  There is the love that we have of God.  There is the love that one feels for family and relationships.  There is romantic love. And there is the love that we feel for those who are around us.

We are to love God with all our hearts.  And how do we express this love of God?  By our obedience to the word of God!  We honor God, and keep his commandments, by our faithfulness to his instructions, and to the call of Jesus.

Consider our own congregation here at All Saints.  We have a wonderful ministry in Neighbors Table, which meets a definite need in our community. We see about each other, and reach out to each other in times of need. We are an open congregation, knowing that all who seek God in this house of prayer are to be received and welcomed.   We offer Christian formation through Sunday School and bible study, and discussion groups.  And all of these are acts of compassion and love. 

We reach out using modern technology and social media to spread the message of love and compassion.  And we are faithful stewards of the resources which we have been given, knowing that all comes from God.  Our Rector Teri does many things of which no one knows, nor should know, to render help and love to people of all situations. We are obedient in many, many of our ministries, some of which are suspended by our altered circumstances.   In ways to numerous to count, we express our love for those around us, thus keeping the instructions of Jesus.

Most of all, it is incumbent on all of us to live out the Gospel.  We must live, before our fellow humans, a life that becomes the Gospel, and makes it obvious that we are followers of Jesus. 

Thanks be to God that he has given us the love of Jesus to share!

Which brings me back to the two women I encountered last week in the checkout line at the local business.  I have no idea what the state of their spiritual lives happens to be.  It is beyond me to judge, tempting though it may be. That is known only to God. 

But I do know that all of us must provide a better witness and example.

We must behave and live according to the commands of our Lord.  We must treat each person we encounter exactly in the same way, and with exactly the same consideration, that we ourselves wish to be treated.  No exceptions, no excuses, no omissions. That is the love which Jesus demands of us.  That is the Kingdom of God on earth. We are to make it obvious to those around us that we follow Jesus, and we must bear witness to his name.  To do less is a disobedience to his instructions given to his disciples, and to us, so long ago.

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