A CUP OF COLD WATER
June 26, 2011
Second Sunday after Pentecost
[Jesus said] “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 reward 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.”
Eight-year-old Jared and his dad, Joe, were playing a game of catch one hot summer afternoon, when Jared asked, “Dad, is there a God?”
Joe says he had the same helpless feeling he experienced on the high school baseball team when he lost sight of a fly ball in the blazing sun. He didn’t know whether to move forward, backward, or just stay put. A string of trite answers raced through his mind. In the end Joe opted for honesty, “I don’t know, Jared,” he replied.
Yet Joe’s agnosticism failed to stifle his son’s curiosity. Jared dug a little deeper, “If there is a God, how would you know him?”
“I really have no idea, Jared. I only went to church a couple of times when I was a kid, so I don’t know a lot about those kinds of things.
Jared seemed deep in thought for a few minutes as the game continued. Suddenly, he headed for the house. “I’ll be right, back,” he yelled over his shoulder. “I have to get something.” Jared soon returned with a Mylar balloon fresh from the circus along with a pen and an index card.
“Jared, what in the world are you doing?” Joe asked.
“I’m going to send a message to God – airmail,” the boy earnestly replied. Before Joe could protest, Jared started writing on the index card, “Dear God, if you are real and if you are there, send people who know you to Dad and me.”
Joe kept his mouth shut, not wanting to dampen his son’s enthusiasm. This is silly, he thought as he helped Jared fasten the card to the balloon’s string. But God, I hope you’re watching, he added to his silent petition. After Jared let go of the balloon, father and son stood with their faces to the sky and watched it sail away.
Two days later, Joe and Jared pulled into a free car wash that a church was holding as part of their outreach into the community on a Saturday morning. “How much?” Joe asked as he neared the line of buckets, sponges and hoses.
“It’s free,” the guy told him. “No strings attached.”
“Really!” Joe exclaimed. He was intrigued by getting something for nothing. “But why are you doing this?”
“We just want to show you God’s love in a practical way.”
It was as if that simple statement opened a hidden door to Joe’s heart. The look on his face was incredible, “Wait a minute,” he practically shouted. “Are you guys Christians?”
“Yeah, we’re Christians,” the man replied.
“Are you the kind of Christians who believe in God?”
The man couldn’t help but smile, “Yes, we’re that kind of Christians.”
After directing a big grin at Jared, Joe proceeded to tell the story of releasing the helium balloon with its message only days earlier. “I guess you’re the answer to one of the strangest prayers God’s ever received,” Joe said.
[Larson, Craig Bryan, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (1998: Baker) pg. 145]
How often is it that our acts of kindness are an answer to someone’s deepest prayer?
Jesus mentions a simple act of kindness in today’s Gospel reading that can have profound results: a cup of cold water.
The mental image of a cup of cold water really catches my attention. It’s so simple, but is there anything that hits the spot better than a cold cup or bottle of water on a really hot day, sort of like the ones we’ve been having lately?
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus thought really carefully before using an image like that when he spoke, or if he just sort of threw it out there casually. Something tells me that Jesus probably didn’t do very many things casually or without a lot of thought. So I’d like to take apart that image of a cup of cold water this morning and see what it might tell us about how we can reach out to others in the name of Jesus Christ.
First, let’s start with the water. Water is some of the most common stuff on earth. They say water covers about 70% of the earth. The human body is made up of about 50-60% water.
But just because water’s common doesn’t mean it’s not important. Just ask the people out in west Texas who are suffering through one of the worst droughts in recent history how important water is.
Water is a basic human need. While a healthy person could live up to eight weeks or longer without food, most experts agree that 3-5 days without water is about as long as a human being can survive.
So it speaks to the importance of water that Jesus didn’t talk about giving a cup of hot oatmeal to someone. Food is a need, but water is an even more important need.
Giving water to someone is a way of saying that we are called to meet people’s needs. We can’t meet every need that a person might have, but we can try to meet the most important ones.
Some people have a literal need for clean drinking water, especially in developing parts of the world.
The statistics can be very sobering:
• Nearly one billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water.
• Waterborne diseases cause the death of 1.4 million children each year.
• The ancient Romans had better water quality than half the people living in the world now.
• Women spend thousands of hours each year collecting and carrying water in some parts of the world.
More and more Christians like Scott Harrison are answering the call to give access to safe drinking water to people around the world.
"The world would be better if more people lived like they were made to live." For Harrison, that meant leaving the lavish life in the Big Apple and committing his life to the billion people who don't have access to clean water.
After ditching his Christian faith at 18 years of age, Harrison "had been working at selfishness" for ten years, selling $350 bottles of vodka, promoting nightclubs and fashion events, and hanging out with beautiful people.
He should have been happy, he said, but he was instead confronted with how arrogant and selfish he had become.
Realizing he was spiritually bankrupt, Harrison began reading The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer, and praying. As he put it, he was "drinking heavily and partying at night, but praying by day."
It wasn't until six months later that he decided to leave New York and dedicate a year of his life in service to God and the poor. He volunteered to serve as a photojournalist with Mercy Ships, a global charity that operates hospital ships in developing nations.
The ship took him to Liberia where he faced poverty and human suffering that he had thought unimaginable. There was no public electricity, no running water, no sewage, and no mail. Families had to walk miles to collect water – and dirty water at that – from ponds and puddles.
So on his 31st birthday in 2006 Harrison started charity: water and already the non-profit has raised more than $20 million – every cent of which has gone to helping about 750,000 people in 16 countries get clean and safe water.
Harrison gave up birthday gifts for donations toward building water wells in Africa. Since then, hundreds of people have joined, giving up their birthdays each September. He doesn't plan to stop until every single person on the planet has clean and safe water to drink.
[Website: Christianpost.com, Sept. 2, 2009, "New Yorker Trades Lush Life for Water Wells," by Lillian Kwon]
Jesus made it clear later in Matthew’s Gospel in that great scene of dividing the sheep and the goats that we are to meet the physical needs of people: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me …” (Matt. 28)
But giving a cup of cold water can also mean meeting their spiritual needs as well. Too often Christian missions have chosen one or the other. Sharing the good news with someone whose stomach is empty. That doesn’t cut it, as James reminds us in his letter:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)
But it’s also not enough simply to offer food or drink and never share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We can’t fill their stomachs and ignore their hearts. We are called to care for people’s eternal souls as well as their physical bodies.
So giving water represents meeting the needs of others in practical ways.
Giving “cold” water means that we offer them our very best. When you’re really thirsty, which would you rather have, a glass of warm water or a glass of ice cold water? Most of us would prefer cold. Jesus took the time to say “cold” water specifically.
There’s the temptation sometimes to give less than our best when giving to others, as though the “poor” or those in need didn’t really deserve our best. When it’s time for the food drive, we reach way back in the pantry and pull out the cans of food that our family would never eat – the Brussels sprouts and artichoke hearts -- or that are out of date and that’s what we give.
We were in Wylie after the tornado of 1993. The community was inundated with donated clothes – they came by the semi-trailer full. And a lot of them were worn-out, dirty, torn. People even gave underwear, and they hadn’t been washed!
Jesus says that when we give to someone in need, we’re giving to Jesus himself. The next time we’re thinking about meeting someone’s needs we need to ask ourselves, Is this the kind of gift I would give to Jesus?
Finally, it’s a “cup” of cold water we give. To me that means that even small things mean a lot.
Jesus didn’t say, a gallon of cold water or a 55-gallon drum of cold water. Just a cup. A cup might not seem like very much but when you’re thirsty, a cup of cold water is mighty good.
I’ve always liked the saying I’ve heard attributed to Mother Teresa, who said of her work with the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta: “We do no great things here. We do small things with great love.”
Mahatma Gandhi was stepping aboard a train one day and one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track. He wasn’t able to go and get it back because the train was pulling away from the station.
To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi calmly pulled off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first one.
Asked by a fellow passenger why he did that, Gandhi smiled. “The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track,” he said, “will now have a pair he can use.” Even little things can make a big difference.
[Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart (1998: Word Publishing), pg. 330]
Sometimes we might hesitate to help people in need because we can’t do a whole lot. We can’t make a huge donation. We can’t give a grocery cart full of food. We can’t give a week or a month of our time. So we don’t do anything at all.
But don’t think that way. Think instead: Can I give even a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name? Even little things can mean a lot – a few cans of food; a few dollars; an hour a week of your time.
In the body of Christ little things mean a lot because we’re not giving them or doing them all by ourselves. Our cup of cold water is joined together with dozens, hundreds, thousands, and millions of cups of cold water from other Jesus-followers all around the world, becoming a veritable river or ocean of living water, flowing out to the world to quench their thirst of body and of spirit. Amen.