When is a cup of cold water, not just a cup of cold water? When is a cup of cold water a welcome and a help? Today, Jesus directs his words to the apostles who will someday be on the road, sharing the gospel. Jesus anticipates the different kinds of welcome they will receive when the apostles will tell people about Jesus, who have never heard about him. Jesus, the good shepherd, is letting them know what they should expect. Sometimes, he’s telling them, you’ll have good days, and he will be with them in unexpected ways.
He’s letting them know they will have bad days when he says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”
Prophets you may remember, are not treated well. They may be thrown down wells, like Jeremiah. Or they may get their head cut off like John the Baptist. Maybe the apostles suspect poor treatment, anyway. Who would want to be a prophet? Jesus complained to the religious authorities about how they treated their prophets. They stone the prophets, he says. So, that’s Jesus warning his apostles to expect poor treatment as long as they preach in his name.
On the other hand, Jesus says – “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.” He tells the apostles some people will offer you a cup of cold water because of who you are: his apostle, acting in his name, preaching in his name. The apostles are people who know him, and will bring their eye witness account and his WORDS with them to the mission field. The apostles will be people who will witness to all they knew and experienced of Jesus. They may feel they will need to have snappy answers to everything.
Sometimes, he’s telling them, they should expect a cup of cold water because they are telling the good news of Christ, and people are so grateful, or they are so curious, they will show their generosity to you. Expect it, he says.
This is a gospel about the welcome they can expect as Jesus’ apostles and missionaries. His Spirit will be leading them and preparing the hearts of those to whom they will speak.
As we know, like many denominations, the ELCA is around the globe; it’s in many foreign countries, including Rwanda. Have any of you heard of the Young Adults in Global Mission?
The Young Adults in Global Mission, are a group who are committed to giving a year of service abroad, being Christ’s hands and feet in their host country.
Although very different from what we’re used to here in New York state, yet these countries are also very WELCOMING places in unexpected ways.
The young people are very prepared, like the apostles, to think of themselves as the ones with the gifts and the talents.
Yet the people of Rwanda are the ones with the WELCOME, they offer that metaphorical cup of cold water to the young missionaries who are passionate about sharing the gospel. The young people are walking in the footsteps of the apostles who also left home and family to witness to the LIVING WATER that is Jesus.
Emily Ronsberg of Young Adults in Global Mission, tells the story about her first day in Rwanda. “She went to Matimba, Rwanda for eleven months. Matimba is in the northeastern corner of the country, up by the Uganda and Tanzania border and near the Ibanda Game Reserve. Her time was spent in service to the Matimba Lutheran Parish, the Kagitumba Lutheran Parish’s nursery school, and the Bwera congregation’s primary school, where she helped with English or other programs.” Emily was a super-prepared young American woman, ready to dive into her new assignment.
Emily wrote about her first time in Rwanda. On her first day in Matimba, “during evening tea Mama Kaliza (. . . host mom) asked to see a picture of my family and then commented on how she wants to talk to my mom Kathy on the phone someday. What she didn’t know was that that day had been particularly hard for me – I was missing my family and might have spent part of the afternoon crying in my room, failing to get a strong enough signal to hear their voices.”
But Emily says she was astonished by “the realization of the shared love and connection across the ocean astounded me and wrapped me in comfort and peace.” Emily was astonished and blessed by the welcome she received. Should she be astounded?
Perhaps she and all of us need to keep in mind is that the Holy Spirit is always going ahead, preparing hearts. In Mark’s gospel, we don’t see the resurrected Christ at the end. Instead, the angel tells the apostles that the risen Christ has gone ahead – he’s waiting for them in Galilee. Jesus is on the move.
Emily found a welcome waiting for her that she hadn’t anticipated, it was like that cold cup of water that Jesus promises when we step out in faith.
How are YOU a witness to Jesus? For example, if you talk to your children or grandchildren, what is it that you want them to know about Christ?
What do you want to pass on to them of your Christian faith?
Emily goes on to tell a story about how in Rwanda, it’s important to work at keeping your sandals clean. People notice your sandals. This is very difficult, as there are are many muddy roads, but everyone looks at your sandals. One day, she came in with extremely muddy sandals, and she was ready to just try and ignore that and go on to choir practice. She kind of half-heartedly tried to knock the mud off, and hope no one would notice.
The house worker, Mitchay, saw what she was doing, and insisted on cleaning her sandals for her. And a whole gamut of emotions passed through Emily: shame, principally – she wanted to tell her to stop! Stop! She felt vulnerable, she felt small that Mitchay should be doing this for her. Emily says, “Inside my head I’m practically screaming for her to hand me the soap and rag, to let me do it, so that I don’t have to feel this incredible sense of vulnerability and dependency. But instead I just sit there, watching her work, feeling like I could not have been laid bare any more than if she had been washing my feet instead.”
Emily immediately thinks about the time when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper, and she feels a connection with them in their astonishment and shame that the Lord is doing this humble work to them. She sees Christ in Mitchie; she sees him in the eyes of love radiating from the houseworker on her hands and knees, who in this small way is assisting Emily in her ministry.
For Emily, it’s the Last Supper, and Easter Sunday rolled into one – as Emily’s heart is both crushed and uplifted at the same time. She wants to refuse like Simon Peter, “No, Lord, not mine!” She says she feels “raw and exposed like never before.” But she understands it’s important NOT to refuse, to RECEIVE this foot washing that is for her sandals. It’s important to RECEIVE this grace-filled moment. She really saw Jesus in the servant, Mitchie,
Her own emptiness is revealed in this moment: the super educated missionary from America is on the receiving end; the missionary who has a myriad of gifts to share, but who also unexpectedly is there to receives too from the host family.
It’s GRACE, Emily says. She experienced GRACE in those moments. This is grace in which she receives what she does not deserve. She says in the past, she’s experienced many foot washings at liturgies, washed many feet herself, but this was so completely different. She’s already feeling vulnerable as a missionary in an African country, and now she’s doubly vulnerable and open with the house worker washing her sandals.
That cup of cold water Jesus mentions in today’s gospel? Jesus is telling the apostles to anticipate that grace will go ahead of them. They will not have to do everything themselves. There will be times when their needs will be anticipated, and in those moments, they will feel Jesus’ presence. That he will be with them. He IS with them.
What part of Emily’s story do you like or find touching? Have you ever had an unexpected encounter like this?
I thank you Jesus, for the cups of cold water that you’ve prepared ahead of time for us. Let us be humble enough to receive them with gratitude. Thank you for those people whose hearts you’ve already prepared. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Emily Ronsberg. https://embracingthejourneyrwanda1920.home.blog/2019/10/27/unimaginable-love/
 Emily Ronsberg. https://embracingthejourneyrwanda1920.home.blog/2019/11/27/overflowing-grace/