“A cup of cold water”. It sounds simple. And Jesus our Lord doubtless means it to be.
“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 this Ember season we have been considering the Church’s ministries.
What character do they have?
In the gospel today Jesus speaks of the prophet, the righteous person and the disciple.
The context in this 10th chapter of St Matthew is the instruction, the final of the instructions, Jesus gives to the 12 disciples.
Whatever hardships lie ahead, and whatever complications and uncertainties, the briefing which Jesus gives concludes on the note of God’s delight in us.
And this ministry of the 12 is not to be the rare achievement of a spiritual elite.
No; rather Jesus says that those who greet them are loved in the same way as the apostles are loved.
Simple welcome, it seems, is enough to bring the name of ‘prophet’, the name of ‘righteous’, enough to earn the same reward,
and to make of us hosts to the Son and to the Father.
And surely a cup of cold water is a wonderful gift to accept …
and the act of being given it – humbly, freely, with pleasure – is itself a real joy to receive.
Our recent hot weather is sufficient reminder of that: there were days when I was walking over hot fields in the afternoon sun and a draught of water was all I wanted.
I am put in mind of Thomas Traherne’s insight that there is “a real valuableness in all the common things” –
“Air, Light, Heaven and Earth, Water, the Sun, Trees, Men and Women”, he writes in his Centuries of Meditations; “I was guided by an implicit faith in God’s goodness: … For thus I thought within myself God being, as we generally believe, infinite in goodness, it is most consonant and agreeable with His nature, that the best things should be most common.”
Traherne remembers understanding as a child that “water, every drop of it was a precious jewel.”
So today’s gospel affirms us in our relatedness to God, our common Father;
relatedness characterised by open-heartedness, by real valuing of what is given and simple.
Jesus’ teaching is timely encouragement in a world that looks for a different sort of leadership, a world that pursues other values,
a world in which water is already being fought over as a source of wealth.
Now let us turn to Jeremiah and listen to a prophet.
Hananiah is prophesying that the yoke of the King of Babylon will be broken within 2 years. It is wish-fulfilment for the harassed people of Judah and their king.
Jeremiah is not denying the desirability of this future, but he reminds us that the message we are more likely to need to hear is one not of our wishes but of our fears: war, famine and pestilence. We’d be foolish today to refuse such voices.
“As for the prophet who prophesies peace”, he says, “when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”
What is subtle here is that Jeremiah himself does prophesy peace – the return from Babylon but after 70 years not 2, and through embracing, not breaking, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar. Scripture shows this prophecy coming true.
Jeremiah – he of the jeremiads – is a true prophet.
But … it is not exactly peace, not the full shalom, the well-being for which Israel is looking in its covenant with God. Second-temple Jerusalem never is.
“when the word of that prophet comes true”:-
The risen Christ says, “Peace be with you.”
And in Matthew’s telling, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Our true shalom, the one which is uncompromised and unshatterable,
is not to be in the kingdoms of this world which our ingenuity may create and defend. Christ our true prophet announces the peace that God gives,
the peace we extend when we present ourselves and offer welcome.
Presenting ourselves is St Paul’s theme in his discussion of the righteous life as one that is free. How do we embrace the character and ministry of the righteous person? We present ourselves to God. Just that.
Like giving the cup of cold water, we embody a relationship by making a simple gift.
And in all these ways, God is before us.
The gift of life is from God.
God gave the Israelites the water they needed from the rock in the desert, and the rock is Christ.
And Christ, who beside the well asks for a drink Himself, proffers water that is living – God’s Spirit to those who seek.
Today we give thanks for those who have been presented for ordination and we pray for them and the Church they serve.
And we are reminded that those thus set apart and given God’s gift are not different but manifest the character of the whole church: –
Deacons serve in a diaconal church, a people who serve Him who came as a servant of all.
Priests hallow a priestly people in the name of the one High Priest.
And Bishops? They have oversight of those called to judge the nations, called by Him whom Abraham named Judge of all the earth: God who saw all that he had made and it was very good.
Here is the meaning of the simplicity of that cup of cold water:
God who oversees all is Himself good and loves all He has made without end.
“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; 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.”