Weeds and Wheat

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

The appraisers carefully examined the old paintings. The colors, lines, brush strokes all looked like an official Rembrandt painting; they were fairly certain that it was. But there were discolorations around the edges that were not on the original paintings. They looked as if someone had actually tried to make it look old. Now, they were uncertain as to its authenticity. There were many imitations that looked like the originals and they couldn’t be sure. Further testing had to be done. So the owners of the paintings had to wait to find out the paintings true identity.

This is was an actual episode from the PBS series Antiques Road Show. From time to time, I have the opportunity to watch it and this particular episode really intrigued me. Even the expert appraisers Leigh and Leslie Keno, were stumped and couldn’t tell if the paintings in question were real authentic Rembrandt paintings. Sometimes, it’s hard for even an expert to tell a fake from the real thing.

The parable in Matthew’s gospel today brings up the same problem. Sometimes even an expert farmer can’t at first tell the good wheat from the weeds. It’s hard to believe isn’t it? There should be a way, even if just a small one, to distinguish between what is good and bad. When Jesus told this parable He may have had the wheat-like weed called darnel in mind. It looks just like wheat and the only way you can tell it’s not is when it begins to grow. The seeds tell the truth about the plant. Until then, they can grow together, side by side, and no one can tell the difference. And if you try to pull out these wheat-like imposters, you might pull out the good wheat. So you have to wait until they’re grown. Our parable today says it’s not worth the risk of potentially getting rid of some of the good wheat.

But waiting isn’t easy. Patience really is a virtue that’s hard to do sometimes. The enemy knows this. Jesus said in the parable the enemy sowed these weeds in the field when everyone was asleep. And upon discovering what has happened, worry can creep in very fast. What if these bad weeds choke out the good wheat? Surely something has to be done to stop this! It could get out of hand. Everything could be lost. The whole crop could be ruined. A farmer pays a lot of money for good seed and to have someone come in the middle of the night and sow seeds to destroy it all would make any farmer enraged. They would want revenge! They would demand justice! And most likely they would go all out to find the culprit and make them pay! The wheat cannot coexist with weeds! What kind of a crop is that?

I think most of us would be pretty angry too. We’d probably keep a close eye on the crop. And as soon as things started to look a little off, as soon as we noticed things changing, we’d get in there and try and get rid of those weeds. The truth is we probably wouldn’t wait. We’d get in there fast and try and get rid of those weeds, because after all, if we examined things close enough we could probably tell, right?

It happens every day. We think we know the people who are good and the ones who are bad. It’s easy to judge a person based on the way he or she looks. A person whose lifestyle and beliefs don’t match ours is written off as bad. Maybe they drink a little too much, or smoke, or have some other vice that we feel is wrong. Maybe they hold a different political belief. Or a person who doesn’t have a church affiliation is often judged.

And we look up to the doctors who treat patients every day, but we don’t see that some of them don’t treat people who have no insurance or are homeless with the same amount of care. Or the executive dressed nicely is often seen as a respectable hard worker with a great paying job. But what about the insider trading that might be going on? And a person who goes to church every week must be a good Christian, even though we may not know their harmful actions during the week may be shocking.  You see, it isn’t so easy to tell the good from the bad.

We do this in our conversations too. Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears listen.” He had to remind us of this both in last week’s gospel lesson and this week’s because listening is something we don’t always do well. It’s easy to make judgments even in our conversations. We make judgments based on what we think is the reason someone did something, which can lead us to become angry and even volatile. If we take a moment to listen, we might find that the individual’s reason for doing something was done out of genuine care and compassion. Listening is important to understand one another, and to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions labeling someone or something weed or wheat. Listening is important to hear where God is speaking in the midst of our conversations.

And that’s the point of today’s parable. We are all weeds and wheat, sinners and saints. We all do things that are wrong. We all sin. And the evil happens while we are asleep, while we are oblivious to what is really going on. The seeds of evil and injustice are systemic and pervasive and they happen so often that it is a part of our culture and we aren’t even aware anymore of what is really happening. We watch the news and hear opinions instead of actual newscasts. They are slanted to skew what is really happening. The weeds of racism, violence, and greed are such a part of our culture, that we can’t even see the truth anymore. We look in magazines and watch television and the weeds of materialism and sexism are everywhere and we just blindly accept that this is the way life is and that we can’t do anything about it. So we avoid challenging those people and things that are harmful instead of speaking Jesus’ words of truth that demand justice and repentance.

The weeds are indeed trying to choke out the good wheat. But we are all weeds and we are all wheat. Like the words of cartoonist, Walt Kelly, who invented the comic strip Pogo many years ago, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” He said this in response to the environmental crisis back in 1970, and his words still ring true today. It’s easy to see the enemy in someone else. It’s harder to look in the mirror and see who we really are, and that the problem may be staring back at us.

Where is the good news then? Why did Jesus say to not do anything about getting rid of these bad weeds? Because He knew that we all have the potential to be weeds or wheat. We all have the potential to do good or bad. But Jesus came to redeem all of us, the whole crop! We aren’t the one’s responsible for judging. We aren’t the ones ultimately responsible for destroying evil. That is up to God. And God has already accomplished this through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We may suffer now, but as St Paul says in Romans 8, we wait with hope, with an eager expectation, knowing that God is with us and the final victory over evil belongs to God.

And knowing this, we are empowered to be a part of taking care of all people because Jesus said how we treat others is how we treat him. And we are responsible for holding one another accountable – not to change each other – but to treat each other with respect and compassion. We all have the potential to grow into healthy wheat. We can’t cut anyone down prematurely because not one of God’s children must be lost. What if St. Paul was destroyed early on in his life when he was killing Christians with a vengeance? He did everything he could to stop Christianity from spreading, but God took that weed and transformed him into one of the biggest witnesses for the sake of the gospel. If God can do that for Paul, God can do that for all of us. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to become what we were created to be. God can take the seeds sown by evil and transform them into agents of grace.

Look at the dandelion weed. People put pesticides on them and try to kill them, but are they really destructive weeds? Dandelions are potent healing herbs used for treating many ailments such as liver disease. They may appear harmful, but in reality they can save someone’s life. Things aren’t always as they appear to be. We have to look closer, listen more carefully, and see things through God’s eyes of love and not our own.

Leigh and Leslie Keno, the appraisers from Antiques Road Show, had to examine the paintings carefully in order to see if they were real Rembrandt paintings or just really good imitations. They looked real, but examining them closely they saw strange discolorations and markings they didn’t usually see in a Rembrandt. It now looked like they were looking at an imitation, but it’s a good thing they didn’t give up, because they were in fact, real authentic Rembrandt paintings worth a fortune. They had been stuck up in an attic and dismissed for a long time, but they didn’t give up on them. And God does not give up on us. God looks deeper and more carefully into our hearts than anyone else. God sees our potential and is willing to wait it out because it’s not worth any of us getting pulled up before we mature.

We are all weeds and wheat, sinners and saints, imitations and authentic masterpieces and God loves us all. It’s out of that great love that we are transformed by God’s amazing grace into authentic priceless beloved children of God. And we are transformed to be a blessing to others.  Amen!

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God’s Reckless and Abundant Grace

Sunday, July 16, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Don’t bother plowing the field. Just throw the seeds anywhere. It seems a bit irresponsible doesn’t it? But that’s what we hear from Jesus in the parable of the sower. Anyone who knows anything about farming knows that you plow the field, you get the soil ready for planting, you wait for the right time and the right conditions, and then you plant the seeds. A lot of planning goes into the process of planting in order to maximize the yield. You can’t just throw them around haphazardly. It takes timing and precision and hard work.

But that’s not what the sower of seeds does in today’s parable. The sower throws the seeds and scatters them wherever they fall. The sower doesn’t consider how fertile the soil is prior to planting, and as a result some fall on hard soil, shallow soil, and thorny soil. Except for those whose seeds fall on good soil, the rest are snatched away by birds, scorched by the sun, are choked out by thorns, or die. If this sower of seeds was given a grade in farming they would get an F. How on earth is this any way to manage a crop and ensure a bountiful harvest?  In fact, it seems more than irresponsible; it looks like poor stewardship. Seed isn’t cheap and throwing them around as if it doesn’t matter could cost a farmer a year’s wages. Planning is needed. The sower needs to be careful and plan out his or her strategy.

A well thought out plan or strategy is essential for any good business. If you want to be successful you have to have a plan. You have to lay out specific achievable goals in order to achieve the desired long-term outcome. And even though a church is not a business we often still operate out of this same model. If we want a church to grow we come up with specific strategies. We look at the demographics of a community. We target certain areas to see where a new church might best take root. We come up with communication plans, and evangelization plans. We look into buying high tech equipment to enhance our worship experience. We strategize because after all, you can’t just start a church – grow faith – on nothing….or can you? Can you just scatter the seeds anywhere? What if they don’t fall on good soil?

If a person wants to be successful at anything we are taught that he or she has to have a plan and has to come up with step by step strategies on how to achieve whatever it is he or she desires. Otherwise, we might hear “Don’t bother wasting your breath.” or “Your words are falling on deaf ears!” Have you heard those words before? Maybe they were said to you when dealing with a difficult person who wasn’t going to listen to your advice. You saw the possible dangers in their actions, but they weren’t going to listen to you. Perhaps you knew someone who just didn’t listen to anyone and got in trouble over and over again. Maybe you prayed for someone to have a relationship with God and yet they still haven’t come around year after year. (St. Augustine’s mother Monica prayed for him for almost 20 years before his conversion!) At some point, I’m sure you’ve heard those words uttered and they weren’t meant as a compliment. They were judgments against someone who was deemed unredeemable. They were words spoken about someone who was a lost cause. Words meant to save were falling on deaf ears.

It’s easy to write these kinds of people off. Just like it’s easy to pass judgment on the sower who scatters perfectly good seeds on any kind of soil. It makes me think of people like Albert Einstein who didn’t speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was age seven. He was eventually expelled from school and refused from the Zurich Polytechnic Institute. Einstein also went on to win the Nobel Prize and changed the course of modern physics. I think about Thomas Edison who for years was called “too stupid to learn anything” and fired from his first two jobs. He tried over 1000 times to invent the light bulb, but on a later attempt he succeeded and changed the course of modern electricity. Writer, Theodor Seuss Giesel, was rejected by over 27 different publishers before writing his first children’s book, and later became one of the most successful and best loved children’s writers known as Dr. Seuss. And I think of a young, awkward youth who tried to learn music, yet neglected to practice and his teachers felt he was utterly hopeless. Yet to thousands of us the musical genius, Ludwig von Beethoven was hardly hopeless!

The words, “don’t bother wasting your breath” have been spoken to these and countless other people who were deemed lost causes, yet someone believed in them. Someone kept nurturing them. Someone scattered words of encouragement in the hope that their words would germinate in good soil. The problem is, we don’t always know what the good soil looks like. We can’t always tell right away what is the good soil. And we don’t always know if the seed will sprout despite the best of soil. I’m sure we’ve all seen seeds sprout up out of cracks in the soil, between rocks, or in the most unusual places. It’s a gamble. And it’s a gamble that the sower in the parable today was willing to take. Jesus is the sower in today’s parable. Jesus sows the seeds of God’s grace, and doesn’t select only the finest soil in which to scatter that grace. Jesus didn’t come to save those who are good – for none of us are good. He came draw all people to Himself. We all yearn to become good soil, but how can we? Last week we heard St. Paul say in his letter to the Romans that we “do not do the things we want, but instead I do the very thing I hate.” The truth is, we can’t by our own efforts become good soil, but the good news is that through the saving grace of Jesus he makes us good soil.

Yet it would seem by all logic that Jesus sows God’s grace rather recklessly. Jesus didn’t plow the fields and then scatter the seeds of God’s salvation and grace only in good soil; he scattered God’s grace, love, and compassion among thieves, criminals, outcasts, the broken, diseased, and even betrayers. Jesus didn’t feel anyone – any soil – was a waste of time. Jesus didn’t feel any conversation spent with those on the margins of society was a waste of breath. Jesus didn’t feel any work toward proclaiming the kingdom of God was a waste of energy. Jesus didn’t feel any amount of pain, or suffering, or death was a waste of his life if it meant bringing us all back into a right relationship with God. Jesus’ last breath was not a waste of breath.

Jesus’ last breath was the beginning of eternal life. Through our baptism we have died to sin and now live in Christ. St. Paul says in Romans, “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” And since the Spirit of God dwells in us we, like Christ, are to be sowers of God’s word and God’s grace. We are to bring the gospel to all whom we encounter. We as the church do’t need to come up with new strategies and new gimmicks to grow the church. Yes, it is important to make plans, and reach out in mission, but it is not our mission, but God’s mission for the church that we must engage in. Jesus urges us to be generous, even seemingly reckless with kindness, compassion, mercy, and grace. Jesus asks us to scatter God’s grace, and love everywhere. It is not our job to decide who is worthy of receiving it. It’s not our job to decide who is good enough to join the body of Christ. God’s love and grace are meant for all people. It’s our job to welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned, care for the poor and oppressed, forgive those who sin against us, and scatter God’s love everywhere.

Yes, we will meet opposition. Some will try and choke out the good news that is Jesus. Some will try and suppress it. But the world needs to experience Jesus.. Violence and hatred can only be squashed by the God’s word of love and grace and forgiveness. We must let God sow these seeds of healing through us, and not worry about where to plant them or how to make them grow. We are to scatter the seeds of the gospel, the seeds of faith with seemingly reckless and frivolous abandon because it’s not our job to make them grow, it’s God’s.

God germinates the seeds. God’s grace pours life into all things, as it does through the waters of baptism. And the waters of God’s grace continue to work in the least likely of places, and in the least likely of people like you and me. God sows the seeds of grace with frivolous and reckless abandon, and that is good news for all of us who may not always be good soil. But thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they will sprout and grow and yield an abundant harvest. Amen.

 

Rest In the Journey

Sunday, July 9, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. These words from Jesus can feel like medicine to a wound, and yet they can also cause some discontent. Who among us hasn’t experienced burdens and may even be experiencing them now? Life isn’t always easy. We’ve heard over the last few weeks in Matthew’s gospel that being a disciple doesn’t lead to a life of ease; being a disciple of Jesus means that we will face some really tough times if we are really doing what he asks us to do- proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. It may seem almost contradictory therefore, when Jesus says “You will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” There’s nothing easy about this Christian journey when we face tough times. If we’re honest, we’d like a Savior who takes away our burdens rather than giving us the strength we need to overcome them. We’d prefer a Savior who takes away our problems rather than helping us to face them. It’s only natural to want things to be a little easier, especially if we’ve been struggling with something for a long time.

We’d prefer to have our prayers answered the way we want them answered rather than allowing God’s will to be done. Even St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans today, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Left to our own selfish desires we would choose our ways all the time, and what we want is not always what is good for us. St. Paul acknowledges that we are sinful and are constantly pulled to make the wrong choices. Our journey of faith is not an easy one, so again, why does Jesus say that if we take his yoke upon us our burdens will be lighter?

For those who don’t know, a yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs. It makes the load lighter. Jesus is saying that if we take up his yoke – his cross, his ministry – then our burdens will be lighter too because we aren’t carrying them alone. Jesus is carrying them with us. If anyone knows about carrying heavy burdens, it’s Jesus. Only he carried our burdens willingly out of his great love for us. More often than not we make our burdens worse than they need to be. We try to fix them ourselves. We make then harder by trying to be right all the time. We burden ourselves with trying to be perfect. Jesus offers us rest from these burdens, and invites us to help ease the burdens of others too.

Being yoked with Jesus means that we are connected with him in our journey. We are united with him in his mission to unite the whole world into relationship with the Triune God. That journey and connection begins in our baptism.

Today we have the joy of celebrating Gwendolyn Rose Harrison’s baptism. It is truly a joyous occasion because it is the beginning of the discipleship journey that we have been talking about all month. Our faith journey begins when in the waters of baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We are yoked with Jesus- united with him – as we live out our lives as disciples. Life for Gwendolyn will not always be easy, but she will not be alone as she faces life’s challenges. Jesus is with her through the Holy Spirit. Her family, her friends, and her church community will also help her along the way. It is part of the promise we make at her baptism, and at each baptism. We promise to support her in her faith journey. It is the promise we have made for all the youth in this congregation, and all of us need to keep these promises to nurture each other in our faith journey.

Martin Luther called baptism “the most precious jewel” because through our baptism we receive the promise of Jesus’ presence with us always. We receive forgiveness, grace, and the gifts of the Spirit. When we face challenges, burdens that seem too much to bear, choices where we don’t know what to do, we – like Luther – can profess, “I am baptized,” as a way to remind ourselves that we have the power of God living within us to remove the fear that tries to take hold of us. In baptism we come to the fountain of living water and are refreshed. It is here that we first hear Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The rest that Jesus offers is the promise of his endless grace, the promise that we are loved by God, the promise that no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in we can trust in the promise that God is always with us.

The waters of baptism do not take away life’s burdens, but they make the burden’s lighter because of our connection with Jesus who overcame death, and gives us the promise of eternal life. Eternal life isn’t just that life that awaits us after we die; it begins with our relationship here and now with Jesus. It begins the moment we are cleansed through the waters of baptism, and continues through our life’s journey as we walk with Jesus.

Baptism is worth celebrating because it is where we first experience Jesus’ life –saving power and grace. This grace changes us; it transforms us; it seals us through the power of the Holy Spirit and marks us with the cross of Christ forever. In baptism we are claimed as God’s beloved, and that is a promise that remains with us through our entire life.

Today, we celebrate Gwendolyn’s baptism, and we celebrate our own. For through the waters of baptism we have been yoked with Christ – our burdens are lighter, and our hearts find rest in him. In Christ we find rest for the journey, and rest in the journey. Rest in the promise of God’s steadfast love and amazing grace.  Amen.

They Could Even Be Jesus

Sunday, July 2, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 20:40-42

Our readings from the last three weeks have been part of Matthew’s Missionary Discourse. Today we hear the last part. It began two weeks ago when we read what Jesus outlined as the basic instructions for being a disciple: Keeping it simple, by not worrying if we have everything we need, but trusting that God has given us all we need through the power of the Holy Spirit who will give us the words we need to speak. Therefore we can share our faith stories, and the kingdom of God with others knowing that we have been called by God to do this work. We don’t have to be experts or perfect to be Jesus’ disciples.

Last week we heard difficult and challenging words from Jesus who said, “Do not think I have come to bring peace, but a sword.” We had “the talk” about how being a disciple isn’t always easy, and sometimes following Jesus and living as he wants us to live causes divisions. Not everyone wants to hear that we need to love and welcome everyone. Not everyone wants to hear that we need to help those in need, because it might require changing the way we live our lives. Yet Jesus assures us that we must be courageous in following God’s will instead of our own.

Today, we hear how even the smallest act of kindness and welcoming is great in God’s kingdom. In our gospel lesson today we hear Jesus say, “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.” A cup of cold water- is that all it takes? It seems easy enough doesn’t it? Who among us wouldn’t offer a cup of cold water to someone who needs it? Yet, opportunities arise every day to offer refreshment to people, and if we don’t have our hearts and minds in the right place – focused on Jesus – we may pass right by these opportunities.

While in seminary, a group of seminarians including myself slept in cardboard boxes on the square in downtown Gettsyburg to raise awareness about homelessness even locally. We had signs with statistics and a donation box for clothing. It was a particularly cold night; the temperature was in the 30’s, which doesn’t seem that cold, unless your sleeping in a cardboard box. I didn’t sleep well that night. Even I – who loves the cold – was cold down to my bones. And the noise kept me up, and I was in a constant state of alertness. It’s hard to fall asleep when surrounded by potential dangers. We were surrounded by classmates and friends, but we thought about all those who are isolated and have no one. It helped us all to really understand what it meant to be on the streets with no one to care for you. And now, when we see people begging for money on the side of the road, we have a deeper empathy and compassion for them. It’s easy to just drive by when we see these people, saying they should just get a job, but we don’t know their situation. Jesus didn’t tell us to assess everyone’s situation; he said to respond with love and compassion. Think of what would have happened to the entire world if someone hadn’t welcomed Mary and Joseph into their stable that holy night thousands of years ago. Who knew that even that small act of welcome to use a stable would usher in a miracle.

A colleague of mine is a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Union Deposit, but lives in Dillsburg, so she doesn’t use the parsonage. Instead of renting out the parsonage, this small church offers the it free of charge to families who have relatives in Hershey Medical Center and need a place to stay close by while they are there. They have partnered with another non-profit organization called Love Inc. that helps coordinate this. This small church knows that they are not a church to make a profit, but are called as disciples to welcome those who are in need and to show them the compassion and love of Jesus. To these families who are helped, it is a welcome relief. They experience the love of God in the midst of their struggles.

I know a young couple that lived next door to a young Muslim woman attending the local university in their city. Every day they would smile and offer a genuine welcome of hospitality. It’s just second nature to them to be friendly. After a while they received a small thank you from this young woman that read, “Thank you for always smiling at me, and being kind to me.” From the way it was written they could tell that not everyone in the neighborhood treated her so kindly. They had no idea how much this meant to her. Their small acts of kindness and welcoming made an impact in this woman’s life far greater than they will ever know.

While there is hatred, racism, and violence each and every day, there are also stories like this. We need more of these acts of kindness and welcoming because it isn’t violence that’s going to end violence, it’s love. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” This modern day prophet knew what it was to be courageous and speak out against injustice. He knew that in welcoming all people we welcome Jesus himself. Jesus tells us that in our gospel reading today, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” The way we treat each other is the way we treat Jesus.

As we’ve discussed the last few weeks prophets like Jeremiah, Martin Luther King Jr. and any one of us who speak God’s words are not always welcome because the message is often met with ridicule and contempt. Sceptics ask, “But what if we are kind to those who don’t deserve it or who might be taking advantage of the system?” Jesus tells us to treat others just as we would treat Jesus, no exceptions.  It might be wise for us to take a look at our second reading from Romans today, where we are reminded that we ourselves are sinners. We don’t always do or say the right things. We sin and ask God for forgiveness, and then we sin again. Yet, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we have been set free to be slaves to sin. Through Jesus we have the gift of sanctification – meaning being made holy – each and every day. It’s a process, yet each and every day we are given another chance to begin again. How can we not show others the same grace and compassion that God shows toward us? Jesus has freed us from sin, so that we are now free to serve God and spread the kingdom of God here on earth.

The kingdom of God is different from this world in that there is no concern as to whether there is enough to go around. Jesus sends us out to continue his ministry, and in Jesus’ presence there is always more than enough. I am reminded of the story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah and the widow at Zarephath. God told Elijah to go to Zarephath where God would tell a widow to feed him. This must have seemed odd to Elijah because widows and orphans were among the poorest of the poor, but Elijah did what God told him to do. When Elijah came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks, and he called to her and asked her to bring him a little water. Then, he asked for her to bring him back a little bread too. But she told him that she only had enough oil and meal to make a little loaf of bread for herself and her son that they were planning on eating before they die because they were so poor. But Elijah told her not to be afraid, and to make some for him first before they made some for themselves. He said that God told him to tell her that she would have enough – that the ingredients would not run out and God would provide. Can you imagine if someone asked you to do that when you were in dire straits? But she went and listened to Elijah, and just as God had promised there was more than enough for all of them for a long time. This poor woman gave all she had to welcome this prophet, trusting that God would provide. That is the kind of hospitality and welcome that God asks us to show others.

Small acts of kindness done with great love make the difference sometimes between life and death. This widow was afraid she was going to die, yet she chose kindness and generosity over fear and self-preservation. Jesus tells us that the small acts of kindness – like a cup of water – are also rewarded. And we don’t act with kindness to get the reward, but because God has been gracious to us, we are gracious to others.

We may never know the impact of our actions, but like seeds they will spread and grow. The beggar on the street, the angry person in the check-out lane, the new person who just moved in next door… welcome them and let them welcome you because the Holy Spirit speaks through all of us, not just the prophets. The next person we welcome, offer even a cup of water, go out of our way to help, may not look like it, but they could even be Jesus. Don’t let that encounter with grace pass you by. Amen.