Archives for June 2014

Bible Study: 6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A)

July 20, 2014

Donna Stanford, Bishop Kemper School for Ministry

“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.” (Matthew 13:40)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In each of the four lectionary readings for this Sunday, we see expressed the themes of promise, blessing and belonging to God.

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob is on the run. He and Rebekah, his mother, have connived to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving Jacob his older brother Esau’s birthright. Jacob’s deception, which led Isaac to grant him the blessing due the first-born son, fuels hatred in Esau. When Rebekah is told that Esau plans to kill Jacob, she sends Jacob away to her brother in Haran.

Our story begins when Jacob stops on his first night on the road. He lays down with a stone under his head for a pillow and falls asleep. Little does he know that he is on sacred ground. Jacob dreams of a ladder or ziggurat to heaven with angels climbing up and down. However, it is not the angels who speak to Jacob, but God. God stands beside Jacob and introduces himself: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (verse 13).

God makes the same promises to Jacob that he made to Jacob’s ancestors: land and offspring. In a sense, God includes a caveat with his blessings. In essence, God tells Jacob, “You will be blessed when I fulfill my promises to you. But these blessings are not for you to hoard. It is through you and your family that all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God then makes a personal promise to Jacob: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (verse 15). God’s promises of presence and protection – of belonging to God – are central to the covenant relationship between God and his chosen people.

Jacob awakes a transformed man. He recognizes the awesomeness and sacredness of his encounter with God and commemorates it with a shrine made with the stone on which he slept, calling the place Beth-el, “House of God.”

Are you hoarding the blessings God has given you? How can you channel your blessings so that you will become a blessing to others?

How has your experience of God’s grace transformed you?

Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23

The psalmist, resting assured in God’s promised presence and protection, turns to God for deliverance from his enemies. His blessing is his relationship with God. The psalmist addresses God by his personal divine name, YHWH (“LORD”) (verses 1, 3), and speaks to God directly: “you know” (verses 1, 3), “you discern” (verse 1), “you trace” (verse 2), “you press” (verse 4), “[you] lay your hand” (verse 4). The psalmist is awed by the completeness of God’s all-encompassing knowledge of him; God knows his actions, thoughts, and words (verses 1-3).

The psalmist affirms that God is always present with him. No matter where the psalmist goes, whether to the extremes of heaven or the grave, “Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast” (verse 9). The psalmist trusts his future to God, assured that he belongs to God. He welcomes God’s testing, which will reveal the psalmist’s righteousness and commitment to following the ways of God (verses 23-24).

Does God knowing you fully make you uncomfortable? Are you able to say with the psalmist with no reservations: “LORD, you have searched me out and known me”?

Have you ever wanted to escape from the presence of God? When and why?

Romans 8:12-25

To Paul, every human being is subject to some power, and lives either in the domain of the flesh, under the power of sin, death and law; or in the domain of the Spirit, under the power of grace. Paul has assured believers in an earlier verse that they no longer live in the domain of the flesh, but now live in the domain of the Spirit, because the Spirit of God dwells in them (Romans 8:9).

In today’s passage, Paul describes life in the Spirit in terms of relationships. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (verse 14). The indwelling Spirit is God’s presence with believers. Believers are blessed; we belong to God’s family – children of God by adoption (verses 14-15). We are God’s heirs and, therefore, joint heirs with Christ, sharing in his suffering, death, resurrection and glory (verse 17). We are to live unafraid, knowing that we belong to God.

Just as God fulfilled his promises to Jacob, Paul admonishes believers to wait with patience because God will fulfill his promise of future glory. God will free all of creation “from its bondage to decay” (verse 21). Believers and all creation must endure the birth pangs of the completion of salvation – of the promised restoration of creation to what God intended it to be, begun when God chose a people to be his instruments of blessing.

In what ways do you sense that you are living in the “in-between” time?

Discuss your experience of life in the Spirit.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a field sowed by two sowers.

The master sows good wheat seeds in his field. At night, an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat seeds. When the wheat comes up and bears grain, the weeds come up as well. The master refuses to let his slaves gather the weeds. He tells them to let both of them grow together until the harvest, when the reapers will collect the weeds to be burned and gather the wheat into the barn.

Jesus privately interprets the parable to his disciples as an allegory. He is the master, and the good seeds are the children of Kingdom of God. The enemy is the devil, and the weeds are the children of the evil one. At the final judgment, the Son of Man will send his angels to root out sin and evildoers, and the righteous will inherit the Kingdom. God’s promise in the parable is that evil will not overcome the good.

There is a more contemporary dimension to the parable. In a previous chapter from Matthew, Jesus called us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” or “is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Could it be that the final judgment isn’t a distant event in linear time but is now? Could it be that the Kingdom isn’t someplace that will be established in the future but is here now? Were both inaugurated with the coming of God in Jesus?

Jesus issues a warning: Those who reject Jesus’ message are refusing to participate in the Kingdom. They are refusing to be the blessing to all the families of the earth that God calls believers to be. Those who accept Jesus’ message and follow the praxis of the Beatitudes belong to God, are his children and have inherited the promised Kingdom.

What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God?

How does your faith that God’s Kingdom will triumph over evil and death influence the way you live?

Bible Study: 5 Pentecost, Proper 10 (A)

July 13, 2014

Debra Goebel, General Theological Seminary

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21).

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Genesis 25:19-34

Our narrative opens with Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage. After many prayers, Rebekah, who was barren, miraculously conceives twins who “struggle together within her.” In great pain, Rebekah inquires of the Lord why she should be subjected to such suffering.  The Lord reveals to Rebekah that she is carrying within her womb the founders of two nations and that the younger twin would one day rule over the older.

We are told that the first twin to be born was named Esau (representing the Edomite’s) and that the second twin emerged from the womb gripping his brother’s heel. He was named Jacob, meaning “one who supplants.”  Jacob’s name would later be changed to Israel.

The boys grew to be very different men. Not only did they look very different, but they acted differently as well. They represented two very different lifestyles, which were in conflict. Esau was a skillful hunter, while Jacob was a shepherd. Esau’s livelihood depended upon a wilderness inhabited with game, while Jacob’s livelihood required pastureland for his flocks. Shepherding would naturally yield a far more consistent source of food for a growing population, therefore, it is possible that pastureland had begun to encroach on hunting lands. Perhaps this is why Esau returns home from hunting one day, unsuccessful and famished.

When Esau asks for some of the stew Jacob is cooking, Jacob demands that Esau first sell him his birthright, which was his inheritance as firstborn son. Esau, on the point of starvation, asks what good this birthright would do him if he died of hunger. If it was the case that the game, which was vital to Esau’s livelihood, was becoming scarce due to the increase in pastureland, this land that Esau stood to inherit no longer held any value for him. Esau agrees to sell Jacob his birthright in exchange for a meal.

Jacob and Esau were twins. They were different in so many ways, and yet they shared the same parents. The same can be said of the two nations they came to represent. They were different in many ways, and yet God was the God of both.

God is the God of all. God sees us all as brothers and sisters. Many times we know this in our heads, but it can sometimes be difficult to feel it in our hearts! When have you struggled to feel that God was also the God of someone very unlike you? What might help you to feel more like a brother or sister to someone quite different from yourself?

This story is about more than two brothers who are very different. It is about the struggle that occurs when the needs and desires of two dissimilar lifestyles come into conflict. Where have you observed this in the world today? How might there be harmony between them without one overpowering the other?

No doubt there are people in your family who live very different lifestyles from your own. Do you sometimes wish they would live a lifestyle more like yours? Conversely, do you sometimes envy their lifestyles? How might you honor your own without being critical of others’, or wishing you lived more like they live?

Psalm 119: 105-112

In these lines, the psalmist professes a deep faith in the Lord and the righteousness of God’s law. He does not view these laws as oppressive, but the means by which God might provide humans with a just, orderly and safe society. Humankind cannot thrive where injustice, chaos and violence reign. The psalmist describes God’s laws as a “light to my feet,” “my heritage forever” and the “joy of my heart.” Humans cannot thrive where injustice, chaos and violence reign. God’s decrees are not a burden for the psalmist, but the means by which God might lighten the sometimes heavy load of being human. Yet it is the psalmist’s experience that others act maliciously toward him. He is “severely afflicted” because “the wicked have laid a snare” for him, intending it would seem to kill him. He asks God to “give me life!” The psalmist declares that, regardless of the cruelty shown to him by others, he will uphold the oath he has sworn to the Lord and “observe” God’s “righteous ordinances” “forever, to the end.”

There are many places in the world where violence, injustice and chaos rob people of their sense of security and their futures. Try using the themes expressed in these lines to write a prayer for those suffering under repressive governments and systems.

Have you ever experienced injustice or a malicious act by another? How has this experience diminished or strengthened your faith? What aspects of your faith were helpful in dealing with this situation? What things were not so helpful?

What precepts of your faith are a “light” to your feet, guide your way, give you stability when the world around you seems to be in chaos?

Romans 8:1-11

Paul proclaims Christ’s victory over sin and death. Through Christ’s obedience he has spared us condemnation for what we were unable to achieve ourselves. According to Paul, our inability to keep the Law of Moses weakened the Law to the point of it being unable to offer salvation, leaving us subject to sin and death.

According to Paul, God sent Jesus to do for us what the Law could not because of our own shortcomings, not because the law was in any way inadequate. Jesus conquered our sin, and through this victory, freed us from its power so that God’s purpose might be fulfilled for everyone who walks “according to the Spirit.”

Paul tells us that to set our minds on “things of the flesh,” that is, our own destructive desires, can only result in death. However, to set our minds on the Spirit is “life and peace.” Paul reminds us that we are in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells in us. Therefore, even if our bodies are “dead because of sin,” our spirits are still alive because of Christ’s Spirit, which dwells within us as righteousness. It is only possible for us to be in “the Spirit of Christ” because the “Spirit of Christ” is us. Paul adds that because Christ is raised from the dead, that is, because he is immortal, his immortal life is in everyone in whom his Spirit dwells.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel as though Paul is handing me pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I need to get all the pieces in the right places before I can see the big picture. I think the picture Paul wants us to see might look something like this: God gave us some rules to live by in order to provide us with a safe, just society, keeping us in good relationship with God and one another.

Yet because of human weakness, we were unable to obey these laws. In fact, our disobedience amounted to misuse of the Law and made things even worse. The Law could not then fulfill God’s purpose. It did not give life, but death. In order for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, therefore, God sent Jesus Christ who would achieve what the Law, because of our own sinfulness, could not.

According to Paul, Jesus does not replace the Law, but fulfills its purpose – just as a doctor does not replace a medical textbook, but fulfills its purpose. A medical textbook can describe symptoms and recommend treatment, but if it is misunderstood or misused, it can do more damage than good. A doctor can actually save lives; he or she fulfills the purpose of the textbook by understanding it and using that knowledge to heal others. I believe this is the picture that appears when we assemble all the pieces Paul has given us.

What does it mean to you to have the Spirit of Christ “in” you? What does it mean to you to live “in” Christ?

Scripture is often misunderstood and misused, and therefore unable to fulfill God’s purpose. How does the “Holy Spirit” overcome this?

How has your understanding of scripture changed over time? How has this change impacted your life “in” Christ?

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

In Chapter 13 of Matthew we can imagine Jesus standing in a boat a little off shore but still within earshot of the crowds. On the beach, they eagerly await his message. What were they hoping to hear? Whatever it was, Jesus tells them in his parable that the message he will deliver will take root in very few of them.

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the “seed” represents the Kingdom of God. Jesus is represented as the sower, and people as various locations where seeds may fall. When the sower drops a seed on a path, it is exposed and quickly snatched up by a bird. When he drops a seed on rocky ground, it begins to sprout, but without depth of soil soon withers. A seed dropped among the thorns is soon choked and dies. But a seed dropped on fertile ground yields a bountiful harvest.

Jesus proclaims, “Let anyone with ears listen!” Well, it seems further explanation was necessary.

A little later in the gospel, we hear a slightly expanded version of the parable. Jesus explains that the seed sewn on the path, which is snatched away by a bird, depicts how the “evil one” may snatch the Kingdom from one’s heart if one does not properly understand it. The person who is like rocky ground receives the word with joy, but without proper roots, his or her faith cannot withstand the challenges of life. The person who is like a thorny bed yields nothing because the cares of the world are more important than God’s Kingdom. But the seeds that are sewn in good soil, that is, in people who have understanding, produce a tremendous yield.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been all four of these places at various times in my life! I’ve been the path, when I was so wrapped up in where I wanted to go that I never even attempted to understand what God was putting right in front of me. I’ve been the rocky ground, when I neglected to nourish the things that were most important in my life so that they withered and sometimes died. At other times I’ve allowed my daily anxieties, like thorns, to choke out the truly wonderful things God has given me. And yet God, with loving persistence, never ceases to broadcast his unlimited bounty of seeds! God knows that there will be times when I am a rich loam and a seed takes root and grows.

How have you been a well-trodden path, rocky ground, a bed of thorns, and good soil? What were the circumstances in your life at those times? What might have made a difference in how receptive you were to Christ’s Word?

What makes “good soil”? Do you believe people are just born with it, or can good soil be developed?

How does it make you feel when others appear to be rocky ground or beds of thorns? Do you become frustrated? How can we faithfully proclaim the gospel without being pushy?

Bible Study: 4 Pentecost, Proper 9 (A)

July 6, 2014

Nancy J. Hagner, General Theological Seminary

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-15; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart.” (from the Collect for Proper 9, Book of Common Prayer, p. 179)

The readings for July 6 fall two days after our country’s July 4 Independence Day celebrations. As a whole, they are a call to rely on God, “to be devoted to you with our whole heart,” an important reminder that we are utterly dependent upon God’s grace, mercy and power.

Zechariah 9:9-12

Writing after the return from exile, the prophet Zechariah expresses the vision for the restoration of the Kingdom. In the case of today’s passage, the vision is one of God as the Divine Warrior “triumphant and victorious” as he protects Jerusalem from invaders, brings peace and reigns “to the ends of the earth.”

The passage is notable however for verse 9: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This is, of course, the image and text picked up by the gospel writers of Matthew and John when they describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. God is paradoxically both humble and the ruler of the world.

Verses 11-12 remind us that God also remembers God’s covenant, and because of that promise will set prisoners free and “restore to you double.”

The image of Jesus riding on the donkey into Jerusalem is so familiar because of the Palm Sunday liturgy. In what ways is God both humble and powerful?

What does the wonderful turn of phrase “O, prisoners of hope” in verse 12 suggest? In what ways are you a prisoner of hope?

Psalm 145:8-15

Coming near the end of the psalter, this hymn of great praise recalls in verse 8 the passage from Exodus 34:6, which proclaims, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Because God is “good to all,” all things in creation – people, trees, animals –are to give thanks and tell of God’s glory.

How do you praise God?

Does patriotism interfere with our praise of God as sovereign? How do we balance love of country and love of God? What does this psalm suggest?

Romans 7:15-25a

This reading contains Paul’s famous explanation of the human conundrum: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate!” A universal experience for human beings, we cannot “will our way” to righteousness. Even when we know what is right, too often desires overtake us and we behave in ways we would not choose in a perfect world.

But that is Paul’s point; we are not living in a perfect world, but rather in a world filled with sin. Paul asks, “Who will rescue me?” and answers his own question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus is the One who rescues us from sin and “this body of death.” We have no power in ourselves alone. We must rely on God and God’s saving action through Jesus Christ. Nothing else can save us.

Can you relate to Paul’s dilemma?

How does Christ “rescue”?

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus is speaking to a crowd and laments the ways they have not understood both John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ own ministry. They have accused John of “having a demon” because he fasted, and criticized Jesus for eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” The messages of each were lost in the face of criticism about what and with whom they ate! Jesus says that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” suggesting that His actions, miracles and healings, which many people had witnessed, were much more important than the petty criticism about who his dinner companions were.

How often do we focus on details of a situation or a person and miss the greater message?

In the last part of today’s gospel, we have Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Thank goodness! In spite of our petty inclinations, and in spite of our blindness to God’s truth so much of the time, Jesus shows us again and again God’s “steadfast love.” He knows that all of us are weary and carrying heavy burdens; this is a wide-open invitation to all of us to “yoke” ourselves to Christ and finally find “rest for [our] souls.” Jesus does not promise that our burdens will be gone, but rather that he will walk next to us, sharing the weight of them as we walk together.

Think about the image of a pair of oxen pulling weight that neither could possibly do on their own. What burdens are you carrying that might be lighter if you were yoked to Christ?

The other meaning of “yoked” is to be like the one you are yoked to, as a student is to a teacher. Jesus says “I am gentle and humble in heart.” In what ways are you gentle and humble as you seek to be more like Jesus?

Bible Study: 3 Pentecost, Proper 8 (A)

June 29, 2014

Doreen Rice, Bishop Kemper School for Ministry

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 22:1-14Psalm 13Romans 6:12-23Matthew 10:40-42

Genesis 22:1-14

This passage has troubled readers for centuries. The image of God asking for the sacrifice of a child is both disturbing and a view of God not universally held by Christians. The passage has provided a number of interesting and varied interpretations from the notion that it is not God testing Abraham, but Satan, to the extrapolation of Jesus as our sacrificial lamb. The passage even inspired the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling,” where he asks whether one should obey a command from God despite it being morally wrong.

Traditionally, it was believed the text reflected a movement away from the sacrifice of the first-born, which belonged to God, to animal sacrifice instead. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, we read of Abraham’s great faith in God – a faith so strong he would obey any command, including the murder of his child. Following this passage is God’s rewarding of Abraham’s faith by the blessing of all nations through Abraham’s offspring. Isaac’s life is critical for this to occur.

As I write this, Memorial Day activities are being held. One of our local television stations is broadcasting photos of local military men killed in action. It is heartbreaking. And a sacrifice that is almost beyond comprehension.

Does God ask us to sacrifice as we live our lives as Christian witnesses? If so, how does making a sacrifice for our faith help us grow spiritually? Or conversely, hinder this growth?

Is there a sacrifice just too great for you to make as a Christian?

Psalm 13

This psalm reflects the traditional motif of despairing/trusting/rejoicing. Walter Brueggemann describes this as secure orientation / painful disorientation / surprising reorientation.

In verses 1 and 2, we read of confusion: “God, why are these things happening to me?” In verse 3, the writer asks for God’s help. The pivotal verses are 5 and 6. Here, we find the use of the past tense. The writer “put his trust” in God’s mercy in the past and does so again. This faith results in singing to the Lord because he “has dealt” with him richly. God has been present previously during times of pain and confusion. These “Dark Night of the Soul” experiences when pain and suffering can be overwhelming are also times when our faith can be its most powerful. Our faith will carry us through the pain.

The psalms are such a commonplace part of our personal and corporate prayer that they can be rather prosaic. The power of the psalms, however, is their ability to help when we ask God “Why?” during times of crisis. They can provide comfort, because our pain is reflected in the passages. Additionally, the psalms are not simply a “been there, done that” empathetic writing, but a show of force for what happens when we live our lives within God. We lament, we question, we have faith – and God responds.

This psalm is a wonderful example of a Good Friday experience transitioning to Easter Sunday. Through our faith, we understand that the Good Friday experiences we suffer throughout life end in the Easter Sunday experience of God’s steadfast love.

Discuss times during your life when you felt distant from God and how his love broke through this pain. How did your faith play a part in this?

Romans 6:12-23

Reading Paul’s letters is like listening to one end of a telephone conversation. We have Paul’s responses to situations that various churches and people were experiencing that we can only surmise.

Romans is a letter Paul wrote to a church he did not visit nor found. It is believed a mature Christian community existed in Rome at the time Paul wrote the letter.

Romans is the longest of Paul’s letters and singularly important to an understanding of the fundamental doctrines of Christian life. The central theme is God’s redemption offered to Jew and gentile alike through the faith of Jesus Christ. Because of this, Romans is roundly considered to be the most influential of Paul’s letters.

Despite this fact, scholars disagree on Paul’s purpose for writing to the Romans in response to the conflict between the gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians there. Theories include Paul’s wish to counter the notion that the gentile Christian emphasis on justification by grace apart from works of the law encouraged immoral behavior. Another idea is that Paul’s inclusion of the gentiles reflects his belief that God’s promises to Israel had not been fulfilled. At the time of the writing, the Jewish Christians in Rome were being attacked by their gentile counterparts for being too strict with regard to the law and by their non-Christian Jewish peers for being negligent with the law.

The passage here deals with being “slaves” to sin and the death this brings as opposed to being “slaves” to God and the resulting grace. Paul tells us that God’s grace is bigger than any human sin. In verse 14, he writes that sin no longer has dominion, because we live under God’s grace. We can see in verses 15-19, Paul addresses the question he understood the previous verse would elicit among his readers: “If we live in God’s grace, why can’t we continue to sin?” Paul tells us when we live in God’s grace we have an obligation to participate in this grace, to truly live into that grace. In verse 23, Paul explains what sin offers, i.e., death, versus God’s grace, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

An interesting discussion with regard to this reading starts with a focus on verses 17 and 18:

“But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

We can read these passages as our freedom from sin, but perhaps a more interesting view is our freedom not to sin. The latter reading offers a more proactive look at the participatory nature of our living into God’s grace. This grace does not simply offer a passive swipe of God’s hand to provide an alternative to sin and death, but demands our partnership. We must be obedient to and active within the teaching entrusted to us.

What does living in God’s grace mean to you? How do you participate in this grace?

Do you see a difference between “freedom from sin” and “freedom not to sin”?

Is the freedom not to sin a hallmark of being a Christian? Does living into God’s grace and all that that offers us trump our human inclination to sin?

Is this freedom empowering? Is it burdensome?

Matthew 10:40-42

Matthew, although appearing first in the New Testament, is believed to have been written after the Gospel of Mark. Matthew’s audience was Jewish, illustrated by a stress on Davidic lineage in the opening verses of the gospel and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and Jesus’ references to Isaiah. In a sense, the Gospel of Matthew acts as a bridge between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Jesus Christ is the authority and the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus is another Moses with a message that extends beyond the Jews to the gentiles as well.

Matthew constructs his gospel around five major points of Jesus’ teaching, including the Sermon on the Mount. These five points reflect the five books of the Pentateuch and Jesus as a new Moses.

The passage here is part of Jesus’ commissioning and sending of the disciples, which is a part of Jesus’ own ministry. Jesus tells the disciples their work is like his work. For example, in verse 40, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” Jesus is imparting knowledge and purpose to the disciples and ultimately to the church. Matthew is the only gospel in which the word “church” appears. The church is the way Jesus is present to us and the way we live out this presence in our interactions with others (“whoever gives even a cup of cold water”) will be rewarded.

In this passage specifically, Jesus reveals the Father and we reveal the Son: Welcoming of disciples = Welcoming of Jesus = Welcoming of the Father.

As we consider our lives as a community of the faithful, this passage can offer inspiration as a corollary to Jesus’ admonition that we love our neighbors as ourselves. A simple act of kindness, which may seem as inconsequential as dropping a small pebble in a pond, may have an exponential effect, just as that small pebble will create ever-larger ripples.

What implications does this passage have for our work as Christian congregations?

What does outreach mean to you personally and corporately? Do you reach out to those at the furthest edges of society, the little one Jesus references, with something as simple as a cup of cold water?

Going one step further, do you welcome “the little ones” as if you were welcoming Jesus? Do you look for Jesus in their faces?

What are the rewards we experience when we look for and see the humanity of those we serve as opposed to simply meeting a physical need they may have?