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       Weekly Scripture
“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.
                     Matthew: 10:40-42
June 28, 2020
“Risky Business”
It’s been said that you can’t get anywhere in life without taking risks. I can get behind this notion. We cannot live life, let alone succeed in anything, if we are unwilling to take risks. So, we take risks all the time, especially to achieve a goal or do something we want. Each of you took a risk this morning. To be here for worship, you got in your car and drove here, right? I’m guessing you didn’t think much about the inherent risk associated with driving. When we choose to do something, when we make a decision, there is always a risk that something will go wrong. So, before we make a big decision, we weigh the risk, asking ourselves, does the reward outweigh the cost? Businesses understand this, hence why people who work in risk assessment make good money. Businesses want to know that a risky move or investment is going to reap a large enough return to outweigh the inherent cost. So that pay people to run the numbers and tell them if an investment or opportunity is too risky. This is the underlying premise of the show Shark Tank. Investors listen to people promote a product they invented, ask a bunch of questions, and then, if they feel they can make a profit with little risk of losing money, they invest. Okay, so now you’ve had a very basic lesson relating to economics, but what I want you to realize is we go through this process of risk assessment, albeit often on a smaller scale, all the time … like when we get in the car to go somewhere or decide to try a new restaurant and risk food poisoning. We weigh the outcomes of our decisions, count the cost, and decide whether to take risk. Last Sunday, we heard Jesus give a risk assessment regarding being a disciple and sharing the gospel. In today’s gospel, he helps his disciples see that the risk is worth taking anyway. Today we examine the rewards of Jesus’ charge to his disciples to go out and be harvesters, sharing with others the good news that the kingdom of God had come near through him. He had warned his disciples that the task they had been given would not be easy. He had told them they would be not only rejected, but that the authorities and religious elite would persecute and make an example of them. Even their own families would reject and ostracize them, because their message would be one that many would find offensive. So far, it’s hard to understand why the disciples would take on such a mission. It sounded like a death sentence, socially and literally speaking. But, apparently, Jesus saved the best for last. He wrapped up his charge to his disciples by speaking of the rewards that would come of their efforts. Speaking in terms of hospitality, Jesus tells them: “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 rewards of the righteous; and 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.” Hospitality was a staple in Jesus’ day. One was expected to welcome and care for a traveler or needy person. Considering Jesus had instructed his disciples to go out with no provisions, meaning they were completely dependent on God and those who would be sympathetic to them, he knew they would be dependent on those with whom they would interact to be hospitable. However, in Jesus’s statement there is more at play than simple hospitality. I’m sure Jesus understood that many would welcome the disciples out of a sense of obligation and a desire to not be disgraced by their community when the neighbors found out they refused one in need. Jesus goes on to use the phrase in the name of: “whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of the prophet” and “whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person.” The phrase “in the name of” indicated that Jesus was talking about those who would show hospitality because of who the disciples represented. In other words, Jesus was talking about those who would open their doors and welcome the disciples because of who they followed and the message they carried. They were the ones who were eager to hear and receive what the disciples had to say. There would be people who would receive them because of who they represented, and their reward and the mission of the disciples would be justified. Yes, the mission that Jesus was sending the disciples on would have its setbacks and the disciples may be met with hostility because of the message they carried… but, at the same time, there would be rewards and the risk would not be for naught. The message they carried with them would bless others by offering them salvation, a relationship with God, and the opportunity to experience the kingdom of heaven in this world. No, not everyone one would accept it, but some would and for them life would change. As I reflected on this passage, I started to think about the impact their decision to take the risk and share the gospel would have on the world. The disciples would be partakers in kingdom work, charged with carrying the message of Jesus to others and making new disciples. Those who received them would also receive Jesus and would then share become key players in the narrative, blessing others as they had been blessed with the presence of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, welcoming them into the community of believers. Each person who welcomed a disciple and his message was one more person welcomed into the fold of Jesus. This pattern would continue throughout the ages until today. Have you ever taken the time to wrap your mind around the fact that you are sitting here today because, nearly 2000 years ago, someone watched, interacted with and learned from Jesus, and then decided to take the risk and share the good news with someone else? As the esteemed theologian Frederick Bruner once wrote, “the persons who received the living apostles with the hospitality of faith became, in fact, members of the apostolic church, who, in turn, passed on the deceased apostle’s message to still other hospitable persons, and so on, through a great chain of witnesses that extends down to us.” Now, as disciples ourselves, the charge falls to us. We have a responsibility to continue to share the gospel with others, sharing the story of Jesus though our words and our actions (remember, hospitality is part of the equation, too). We are now links in “the great chain of witnesses,” to use Bruner’s term; the chain is not to end with us. There are more links to be added so that the gospel is carried far into the future. So, what do we do? We share the gospel, whenever and wherever we can. We tell the story, welcome and love our neighbor, all in Jesus’ name so that those who receive us, receive Jesus, too. It is not always an easy task, even today, when Christianity is prevalent, and most people know who Jesus is. There will be some who will respectfully smile and offer polite responses, while others respond with hostility. That’s okay. Jesus cautioned about them. When met with resentment or hostility Jesus told his disciples to “shake off the dust from your feet and leave that house or town.” Simply put, just walk away. It is not our responsibility to make them accept what we have to offer or have faith in Jesus. Chances are, continuing to confront them will only make them defensive and more resistant. Hitting them upside the head with the Bible won’t work either, even though you might think it’s worth a try. There is peace to be found in knowing that all we are responsible for is sharing the news and loving like Jesus. And sharing Jesus is what we will do because there will be some who will welcome Jesus; some will hear the good news, and will welcome Jesus, our community of believers will grow, and God will be glorified. What holds true for Jesus’ first disciples holds true for us today. So, go; take the risk. There will be hostility and resentment along the way; but there also be welcoming. Jesus will be welcomed. And wherever Jesus is welcomed, so is the kingdom of heaven. The church goes, and God is glorified. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Amen.
                               Prayers of the People
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you taught us to pray, and to offer our petitions to you in his name. Guide us by your Holy Spirit, that our prayers for others may serve your will and show your steadfast love, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. There are many among us who are sick. We pray for those who are battling the coronavirus as well as other life-threatening illnesses. Their bodies are under attack, so we ask that you strengthen their bodies to fight whatever it is that threatens them. For those who must undergo harsh treatments, we ask that you protect them from the harsh side effects of the therapies they must withstand. We pray for our medical professionals and their support staffs. As hospitals across continue to deal this pandemic while also taking care of their other patients, we ask that you continue to guide, strengthen, and protect those who provide medical care to all in need. Bless them with good health and time to rest. We once again pray for our civil servants: our firefighters, police officers, and the men and women in our armed forces. We ask that you shield them from danger, especially when they are forced to confront dangerous situations to serve and protect. We pray for our leaders as well. Inspire and guide them so that the decision they make may be just and serve all people. Lastly, we pray for your Church. Through your Holy Spirit that unites us as one body, continue to lead us and inspire us. Embolden us to preach the gospel and love our neighbor, even when it comes at a risk. God, we praise and magnify your name. You are our strength, peace, comfort, and inspiration. You, in your faithfulness, continue to bless us and for that we are profoundly grateful. In Christ’s name we pray; amen.