Following Christ, bearing Christ’s heart, is very simple: share Christ’s empathy and kindness in all things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 13 A
Text: Matthew 10:40-42
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
A cup of cold water. That’s all you need to know to be a faithful disciple. Or at least it’s a start.
That’s what Jesus says today. And that’s a bit confusing. The past few weeks we’ve heard a lot of challenging things from Jesus from the verses in Matthew leading up to today.
He sent out disciples to heal, to bring life, to drive out demons, to proclaim the reign of God. That seems to need skills and abilities we don’t easily see in ourselves. Jesus himself was overwhelmed at the sheer number of God’s children he needed to reach in person, that’s why he’s sending you and me.
And Jesus warned about opposition that will come to those who bear Christ’s heart into the world, rejection, even worse. Following him might even break up families.
If you’ve been listening carefully, and if you hope to be a faithful disciple, Jesus’ words are daunting. Nothing sounds easy, and the work we can see for ourselves that God needs to be done in this world is overwhelming. Maybe it’s easier not to follow.
But today Jesus says, “don’t overthink it.”
A cup of cold water. That’s all you need to know to be a faithful disciple, he says. Or at least it’s the start. Because it reveals two critical qualities of the heart of Christ that are simple, and easy to understand. They take all the overthinking and anxiety out of following Christ on this path of discipleship.
The first quality is kindness. The heart of Christ you bear is kind.
Kindness is seeing a thirsty “little one,” and offering a cup of cold water. It’s the only action Jesus asks for today. And it’s the simplest of acts. To notice someone, and to be kind to them. To be kind to that one person whom you are with. That family member. That friend. That co-worker. That stranger.
Kindness is the first quality of Christ’s heart. Your heart in your anointing as Christ.
Can you be kind? Jesus asks. Then you’ll do just fine following me. You’ll do wonders when I send you out into the world.
The second quality is empathy. The heart of Christ you bear is empathetic.
Empathy is sharing the suffering of the other one. Empathy is not assuming you know what the other person is going through. Empathy is not putting your experiences on them. It’s listening, intuiting, simply being with another person until you can share in their feelings and needs.
Because a cup of cold water might not be what’s needed. You don’t want to assume you know what another is going through, or what they need. Or assume they respond to the world as you do. You want to be with them, and listen. And if there is something you can be or do, be ready.
Empathy is the second quality of Christ’s heart. Your heart in your anointing as Christ.
Can you find empathy for my children? Jesus asks. Share their pain, listen to them, be with them in love? Then you’ll do just fine following me. You’ll do wonders when I send you out into the world.
Of course, the obvious question needs to be asked: Is this enough?
Can kindness and empathy bring healing to the sickness of this world, life to the death in this world? Can they drive out demons? Proclaim God’s reign? Jesus answers this by modeling it himself.
Yes, he came as God-with-us, incarnate in our human flesh, and bore God’s sacrificial love for the whole creation, for you, on the cross. That’s huge, universe-healing stuff. And yes, he called followers and sent them out, incarnate Christs like him, to be community together and to spread God’s love across the world, so the big changes God needs changed in this world could happen.
But Jesus also had hundreds of one-on-one moments of kindness, hundreds of times he deeply felt the pain of just one person, and was God’s love to them. The vast majority of what Jesus did was kindness and empathy for those he met individually, touching them personally with God’s love.
Now it’s true, the problems of the world won’t necessarily be solved only by your individual kindness and empathy.
If you’re giving out cups of cold water, and everyone is, at some point someone’s got to ask, “why is everyone always so thirsty? What’s going on with our water supply?”
The ills that cause so much pain and suffering, the systems and structures God needs removed, need more than that moment of kindness you’ll show this afternoon, more than that empathy you’ll find tomorrow.
So we gather together as a community. To pool our kindness and empathy and ask God to guide us to make a difference in a bigger way than any single one of us could. Ask God to focus our work on being a part of God’s justice and mercy in this city and world, so we can make a difference on all that ails our world: racism, sexism, classism, oppression, inequality, socially authorized violence, so many things.
And we can’t do it alone as one congregation. So, we partner with other communities, within our city and beyond. For example, we are members of Align, an interfaith group of 17 congregations in Minneapolis working on the severe problems of housing in this city, from rental assistance to low cost housing, and all kinds of things in between, including advocating at the legislature. Other partners we have in this city work with us on issues of food scarcity, and domestic abuse, and mental health counseling.
The kindness and empathy each individual has, multiplied in a community like Mount Olive, then by other communities of faith, across the city, across the nation, across the world: suddenly walls fall, chains are broken, lives are restored, wholeness comes.
But don’t overthink it, Jesus says.
It all starts with a cup of cold water. Your kindness. Your empathy. For all. No exceptions, not even that person that really gets under your skin, or that stranger you fear. No exclusions, not even that one you profoundly disagree with, or just don’t like. That’s the heart of Christ you are called to bear.
You’ve heard from Jesus that you’re needed, you’ve been anointed for this. You’ve heard you are called to proclaim God’s reign, bring healing and life, that you’re sent as Christ. You’ve heard it might be frightening, challenging, risky to bear God’s heart in your world.
But you’re not doing this alone: you have all of us in this community, and we have so many others who partner with us. And you have the Holy Spirit in you, changing your heart into the kindness and empathy of Christ.
It’s pretty simple, Jesus says. Can you handle a cup of cold water? Then you’ll do just fine.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen