today we listened to two readings from the Gospel of Mathew. Two gospel readings? That’s right, this is not normal, yet for a service for all it seems more logical to me to choose two texts, which are related, instead of touching on a completely different topic with one of the readings.
Today’s topic is how people, who support and want to follow God, handle the other, the neighbors, their fellow human beings. And what they can expect.
The actual sermon text, according to our reading system, is the second reading: the latter gospel text.
First, we need to know who was meant, when they said „you“. „Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me“ refers to the 12 apostles, who Jesus sends on a mission to share the gospel; he sends them on their way. They should heal the sick, awake the dead and do other miracles. Nevertheless, Jesus tells them beforehand that this path will not be an easy one. They will encounter rejections.
Thus we need this promise that there will be other people who will support them. They will support them because Jesus too has sent them.
This is how the second text is different to the first one, where it is mainly about caring for the ones more in need. Give the hungry something to eat, look after those who are sick and give to those who have nothing. This is how you ensure that your faith is not something you say, but you show through your deeds that you want to do God’s love and take it seriously.
When Jesus supported the 12 apostles, as he sent them out, and used other groups of people to compare them with: the prophets, the righteous, and the ‚little ones‘ as the text calls them here. And he talks of a reward, for those who are welcoming one or more of those people.
What is the reward of a prophet, or the reward of a righteous? What is the reward I get when I give to a disciple, a follower of Jesus – a glass of cold water? What is a disciple?
This is exactly what I asked myself.
And it is not very easy to find an answer.
I have looked at this question by asking: Who is a prophet and who is righteous? How do I know that?
Prophets like Elia or Deborah are a people who are on one or several missions in the name of God. A human angle so to say, a person who appears as God’s messenger. Most of the time those people are on unpleasant missions: to say God’s will, even when the people or the powerful do not want to hear it. In exchange, God gives those people special protection.
What else is a sign of a prophet? Often God is calling those prophets. They hear God’s voice and answer. Prophets talk to God, just as we talk to other people. Questions and answers, just as we would like to do with God. They say it was like this in Jesaja’s and Jeremiah’s stories, two great Prophets in the history of Israel.
So what could be a reward for a prophet?
I believe it might be the special relationship and closeness to God. To be chosen. From all the people on this earth, God chooses this very person for them to be his messenger.
What does this look like for the righteous? Who is the Bible referring to?
People who are called righteous are those who follow God’s rules. Those who adhere the laws, which have been written down in the 5 books of Moses. Most of the time, especially when we look at the psalm, there are on one hand the righteous, those who do God’s will, and on the other hand the unrighteous, those who ignore God’s will. God promises the righteous that they will live through or because of their faith (Hab 2,4).
I know this is overly simplified, but this is how we could describe a righteous person.
In short, we can say that the reward for the righteous is eternal life and being with God for eternity.
The last example, the one with the glass of cold water for the little one, it is less about a reward for a glass of water but that ever those small and simple deeds will have a big effect. God does not forget even those small deeds. They are important and valuable.
By now we have noticed that the term ‚reward‘ is a bit tricky. Here Frank refers to the German word ‚Lohn‘, which is in the German context closely connoted with the word salary. However, in the English language, the term ‚reward‘ is already implying a gratification, which is the point Frank wants to make here.
In any case, it is rewarding and important to welcome people and support them.
Today it might seem strange for us to get the same reward for taking somebody in without at least helping them with their mission.
„Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.“
This is because we live in a constitutional state. We are not being haunted because of our Christian faith.
At that time, as the apostles have been sent out, or at the time during the Nazi regime or in China or in North Korea today – it was and is very different.
Here supporting and welcoming someone makes one an accomplice and thus they have to fear the same punishment when they are caught.
Thus they will get the same reward.
There is support.
And this support, no matter who they are, is helpful even today.
Whoever welcomes a messenger, also welcomes Christ. We all are messengers of the gospel. Every one of us can talk about Jesus.
Whoever welcomes Christ, as we have heard today, is welcoming Him who has sent Jesus: God the Father, the Creator of the Universe.
Thus it is simply beautiful to hear this reminder that we are meeting Christ in our fellow beings and fellow Christians. We welcome God and then He will live with us and be always with us.