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The Way of the Turtle

Welcoming Christ In Our Midst

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James Dean - Rebel

Welcoming Christ In Our Midst

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James Dean - Rebel
Acts 4:1-10 & Matthew 10:40-42

Earlier in the 10th chapter of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples to go into the nearby villages and towns. He gave them authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure every disease and every sickness. He also warned them that they would not always be welcome. Jesus told them, "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them..." He warned them that they would be "dragged before governors and kings" because of him. But they were not to worry what they were to say, because the Spirit would speak through them.

Peter and John found out that Jesus was not kidding. After Pentecost the disciples stepped up their game and began going out to heal and preach just as they had been doing when Jesus was still with them. Lo and behold, they were dragged into jail and questioned just as promised. "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit" gave their defense, again, just as promised.

As the story in Acts unfolds we find those who accused the disciples in a quandary. It says, "when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition." Later we find out that the disciples were warned to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and John's reply? "Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Peter and John had good news in their souls and they were not about to hold that inside of them. If healing a person of a disease got them into trouble, it was worth it. Jesus said, "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." In the name of a disciple ... or maybe better put, if you give even a cup of cold water because you name yourself as being a disciple. If because you follow Jesus you do even the smallest act of kindness to someone else, you will not lose your reward.

If because you follow Jesus you welcome and are welcomed, you will not lose your reward. We like to be rewarded, don't we? We like to know that someone notices the good things that we do. Jesus is saying that these good things will be noticed – they will be noticed by everyone. Not everyone will respond the same way though. Some will look at our love and compassion on others as being offensive. Whether we receive love and compassion in time of need or give love and compassion, some people will be offended even to the point of being angry and wanting to make us stop. Isn't that dumbfounding?

Jesus tells us to welcome people anyway. Jesus tells us to help people anyway. He isn't real clear about what the reward will be, just that there will be a reward. If you receive a prophet you will receive the reward of the prophet. If someone welcomes you on account of you being a person of faith, they are welcoming Jesus. If you do a small act of kindness for someone, like giving a cup of cold water to someone who thirsts, you will not lose your reward.

This reward ... I don't think it's the reason we are to welcome and to accept being welcomed. Instead I think we should tuck this promise inside our hearts for the day when people express their dissatisfaction because we are generous and welcoming, and in case we are ever brought into the courts because we heal and teach the hope of Christ. Remembering these words of Jesus will give us strength and courage. Even if those around you criticize your good deeds and think you should be more selfish, you will remember that you are generous because you are a disciple. You are welcoming because you have been welcomed.

When we are welcomed, Christ is welcomed. When we welcome others, Christ is welcomed. Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me." Who is the "you" that Jesus is referring too? Specifically in that moment Jesus was talking to his 12 disciples. But in the larger teaching, Jesus is talking to everyone who loves him. Some of those people go to church and some don't. Some of those people look like us and some don't. When Jesus tells us to give even a cup of cold water to the little ones, I think he is saying, don't try to figure out who is a prophet and who is righteous. Don't decide who you should welcome ... just welcome people. Love people. If someone is thirsty, give them something to drink. And if someone else doesn't think that thirsty person deserves a drink, give them a drink too.

This week we held the funeral service for Casey Jones. I had already chosen the scriptures for this week before I found out that I was officiating at his funeral. When I began to talk to people about Casey, I heard many of the stories that he used to tell. But one story I heard twice. It was the story of when he was a little boy and he was playing with his friends. It was a hot summer day and the boys were playing hard. They were tired and got very thirsty. They went to the back door of the house of one of the boys where they were greeted by the child's mother who said, "You can all come in and have drink of water ... except for the Jones boy." Casey's family was poor. That was the only reason he could think of that this mom didn't let him in the house or give him a drink of water. At that young age he decided that he would make something of himself. Which he did. However, once he began to make money he did not forget what it was like to be excluded. From the stories I hear he was a generous man and genuinely interested in how things were going in people's lives.

Casey was not a church-going man. One might say that it wasn't because of Jesus that he was generous and welcoming. I say that we do not know. I also wonder about the mother who refused him a drink of water. I wonder if she would have given him that drink if she had known who he was to become.

We don't need to know who someone will become, where they have come from, or what they believe. Peter and John healed a lame man who was begging at the gate of the temple. They did not ask him what he believed. The story tells us that "Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, 'Look at us.' And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, 'I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.' And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong."

The leaders were offended that Peter and John healed this man. But Peter and John regarded him as if he were Jesus. Inspiration was tucked in their hearts. When they were arrested and then the next morning questioned, their answer was that they did it in the name of Jesus. They did it for the sake of Jesus, to welcome Christ and the one who sent Christ.

Tuck this in your hearts. When you welcome others you are welcoming Jesus. When you help others, you are helping Jesus. It is a simple principle, but difficult sometimes. We want our reward to be more immediate or more apparent. We want our good deeds to be noticed here and now. Sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes our reward is deep inside our spirit. It might take prayer and faith to accept it. Truly, I tell you, keep doing good deeds for the sake of welcoming Jesus in our midst and you will not lose your reward.
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