Our Gospel reading for this morning consists of the final three verses of Matthew chapter ten, tying onto the end of our reading from last week, where if you remember, Jesus spoke to the twelve disciples of what it means to follow him… total and utter commitment… even if it means separation from those they love the most.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
In today’s gospel, as Jesus continues this discourse, he speaks of a couple things. First, he commissions his twelve disciples to be a gateway to him. That should they live a life of utter and total commitment to Him, in turn, others will come to do the same. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me, receives the one who sent me.” And then, following this commission, he goes on to tell them how exactly it is, that they live a life of utter and total commitment to Him, and of the reward they will receive should they do so. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of the least of these in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.”
Here, in these final three verses of Matthew chapter ten, Jesus transitions from these large, seemingly unattainable, expectations of what it means to be a disciple, to choose Jesus over against even those we love the most… to an act of service that most of us would deem as insignificant… giving “a cup of cold water” to someone in need.
This coming Tuesday, we celebrate the 4th of July, our Independence Day. The day that commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, in which the then thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new independent nation… The United States of America…
In today’s world, July 4th is arguably known most for its’ picnics and barbeques, fireworks, baseball games, and family gatherings, but at its core, it is a day in which we pause as a nation to celebrate and give thanks for the freedom we hold in such high regard… A day we are to reflect on the values we hold as a nation that go all the way back to those of our founding fathers and mothers — from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, to Abigail Adams and Betsey Ross… And too, it is a day we are to reflect on those who have, at great risk, defended these values for others.
So what is freedom?
For some of you, conversations around freedom are much more personal because the way this fight for freedom has affected either you yourself, or those you love the most — your fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons.
This weekend, at the congregation my parents serve, my dad will share a bit about his Great Uncle Clair, a combat infantry veteran of the Korean War, who went to fight for the freedom he believed in so deeply, only to return as a prisoner of his own mind because of all that he had experienced.
This past week, one of our Stephen Ministers who has spent much of his adult life offering spiritual care to men in prison, came into my office to offer condolences after hearing about Olivia’s death. So we sat and talked for a while, and as our conversation took shape, it became one surrounding exactly what we celebrate as a nation on July 4th… freedom… Or maybe more accurately, around the freedom we claim to have, but doesn’t always happen in the way we imagine it to…
For me, as it is for each of you, should you take some time to reflect, the freedom we hold as a nation is personal. I know and love many of those who have, at great risk, given their lives to a life of service to ensure it, many of whom are from within our St. James family. But too, I wonder if this freedom is today what our fore fathers and mothers had hoped for?
As a nation, we are made up of millions held captive by addiction… whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or others… of millions imprisoned by mental health struggles, living daily trapped within their own minds… and of the millions incarcerated in prison, giving America, “the land of the free”, the world’s largest inmate population and highest incarceration rate. And too, there are of course the loved ones of those directly affected by all things who find themselves imprisoned daily by fear, sadness, anger, etc.
While this issue of freedom is most often made political in today’s world, as so many things are, for the faithful, for me and for you, it is really much more. It is an issue of faith and of discipleship.
In our Gospel text from last week, we heard Jesus offer some difficult words meant to challenge those who seek to follow him, to place him above all things, at all times. In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains that this act of “following him”, of discipleship, can take place through the simplest of ways… by welcoming the prophet or the traveler… by offering a cup of water to the thirsty… by caring for the least among us in whatever way they are in need of caring for…
For Jesus, this is discipleship. For Martin Luther, as he describes in his Treatise on Christian Liberty, it is the Freedom of a Christian. That as fully forgiven children of God, Christians are no longer compelled to keep God’s law (to follow what God commands simply for the sake of avoiding punishment should we fail to do so), but rather we freely and willingly to serve God and neighbor because of all that God has already done for us in Christ. Or as Luther further describes, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
Today, we are reminded that authentic Christian faith typically shows up in the simplest of ways… these small gestures of hospitality, whereby a glass of water, a caring ear, a kind word, or a helping hand out of the love of Christ has the ability to set one free from whatever it is that binds them. This is the nature of Christian freedom, and I suspect, pretty close to what our founding fathers and mothers had in mind as well. It is the freedom to act for the good of another, even at the cost of your own wants and needs, because Christ has set you free from any worry for your future through his sacrifice on the cross.
As you gather with family and friends this week to celebrate our nation’s freedom, remember the freedom that you have in Christ. The freedom that makes that which you celebrate possible. As you barbeque and are in fellowship with those you love the most, help a neighbor, open a door for someone, offer a bottle of water to a traveler on a hot day, share an encouraging word to someone in need of hearing… say a prayer for whoever comes to your mind.
For in our acts of compassion and mercy, regardless how small or insignificant they may seem, God is work in our lives guiding us along the way and offering us his promise. “And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to the least among them because they are my disciple, I tell you the truth, they will certainly not lose their reward.” For Christ has set you free, so that you might do the same for others. It’s with we give thanks and praise. It’s with this we seek to make the world all that God created it to be. One of love, compassion, service, and hope. Thanks be to God. AMEN.