Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Cup of Cold Water

We have this absolutely horrifying story in Genesis.
Abraham is going to sacrifice, to kill,
his son Issac.

Because God asks him to do it.

Abraham loves God.
Abraham trusts God,
Abraham believes in God.

Remember, it was pure miracle
that Abraham and Sarah even had a son--
Sarah was no spring chicken when Issac was born.

I can only imagine how beloved this longed for
and prayed for and no doubt doted upon child
was to both mother and father.

And of course,
this is the point of the story.
The story--and I pray it is only a story--
is to teach us a bigger truth--
not a story that is based on fact (( hope)--
but a story to show us
that Abraham,
who trusts God so completely,
is willing to give up that which means more to him
than anything in the world.
His son.

Abraham believes that God is always working for good.
Even when it is impossible for us
to see how that good is being born into the world.

Abraham never gives up on God.

To me, and probably to many of you,
that sacrifice just seems too much.
Too big.
Too heartbreaking.

And yet we know the echo of this story will appear again.
Another father will give up a son to be sacrificed,
to be crucified.
That sacrifice will not be stopped in the nick of time
but once more
life that will overcome death,
goodness will overcome evil.

But the immensity of these two sacrifices
is not the whole of God’s story.

In today’s gospel we hear from Jesus
and he does not say
we must risk and sacrifice everything
to be faithful, to be followers--
but he does ask us to start somewhere.

He does ask that we take a step toward thinking a little less often
about our own needs and desires
and a little more often about the needs of others.

Jesus seems to understand that small things matter, too.
Small sacrifices can make a difference.
Taking the time to welcome someone.
Offering someone a cup of cold water
(Ponder this when you are asked to host coffee hour!)

It is not only the small things that we give,
but also the small things we receive.

We need to pay attention.
To always pay attention.
Whoever welcomes you...
whoever does even a small thing for you or for me,
we need to take the time to look,
to look and see the face of Christ
in simple acts of kindness.

This past Tuesday
I had the privilege--
and it was indeed a privilege--
of going to visit JUMP.

I had the privilege of spending the morning
with some of the outstanding volunteers
from this Cathedral and other churches
who volunteer  each week
at the JUMP drop-in emergency center,

just in case you don’t know,
 because I did not
when I first arrived in this city of prolific acronyms--
JUMP stands for Joint Urban Ministry Project.

It was founded almost 30 years ago
and is supported by 25 area religious congregations.
JUMP strives to assist people with their basic needs--
food, clothing, a tank of gas or a bus pass.

Basic needs.

There is another basic need we all share.
To be treated with respect, with kindness.
To be given a cup of cold water--
both literally and metaphorically.

Right now because of limited resources,
only 11 households can be served each day at JUMP.
Others are turned away.
Gently, but turned away none the less.

That doesn’t seem like many or much.

At one point of the morning,
I heard one of the volunteers say to a young mother,
as he described to  her what could be offered to her,
he said, “I’m sorry. I know it isn’t very much.
To which she softly replied,
 “But it is something. 

And it makes a difference.”

Whoever gives even a cup of cold water...

There is more than water offered. There is a table set with light refreshments,
little muffins, tea and coffee. Hospitality.

There is a cart with books--books for adults and books for children.
They are free for the taking.  Generosity.

As we go about our daily lives,
days which are abundant for most of us in so many ways,
we must not forget what we are called to do,
how we are called to give and to serve.
We may not be able to make a super-sized sacrifice
but we can start somewhere.

Don’t ever thiink these families who come to JUMP have it easy.
Ask yourself how well you would do on receiving a $ 40 food card
to last you and your family of four three months?

People of faith came together and created JUMP
and people of faith come together and show up and meet people
and welcome people
and try to offer what they can--
a bag of groceries, a dozen diapers, a voucher to put $ 10 of gas in your car--
a cup of cold water.
And an overflowing abundance of love.

My morning at JUMP was eye-opening.
In some ways it broke my heart.
But in other ways it filled my heart to overflowing.

Jesus knew what he was talking about.
A welcome.
A cup of cold water.
Whatever we can offer makes a difference.

One of my favorite children’s books
is HORTON HEARS A WHO by Dr. Seuss.
Horton is an elephant
and one day while splashing in a pool of water
he sees this little speck of dust floating through the air--
and then he hears that tiny speck of dust talking to him.
Horton realizes that there must be a very small person
living on that very small speck of dust.

Horton then discovers that the tiny speck of dust
is actually a small planet,
home to a community called Whoville.
It’s where the Whos live.
Horton is asked by their mayor to help protect the teeny tiny planet
and Horton says he will,
over and over repeating,
“ a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Sometimes the world can overlook the people who seem small-
those who are poor or powerless,
those who are living on the far edges of our busy,
self-important lives.

Horton happily agrees to help,
and Horton does protect Whoville,
sometimes at great cost to himself.
(You’ll have to read the book
if you want to know the whole story).

But the reason that book came to mind
is what Horton kept saying over and over and over--
a person’s a person no matter how small.

I went to JUMP this week
and saw every person that came through the door joyfully welcomed,
treated with dignity and respect.
No one was judged unimportant or small.
There were a lot of Hortons reaching out to help the Whos.

Jesus tells us that each one of us matters.
Jesus calls each of us to do small acts of kindness and love,
especially to those the world seems to have forgotten,
especially for those who have almost given up,
on themselves.

In the Genesis story,
Abraham called that place of sacrifice,
“The LORD will provide.”

Many of us enjoy great abundance in our lives.
How we use and how we share that abundance
defines who we are, how we see God
and how we see others.

Helen Keller once said,

I am only one, but still I am one. 
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; 
and because I cannot do everything, 
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

It is often in the giving
that we receive the greatest gifts.
It is often when we offer a cup of cold water to others
that our own thirst is also quenched.

+     +     +

Sermon for Year A Proper 8
June 29, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

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