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A Cup of Cold Water

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
June 18, 2017

Matthew is not my favorite gospel writer. He is often so absolute and dualistic, dividing the world into good sheep and bad goats, setting up everything he says as a way to compare Jesus to Moses. But sometimes his absolutes reach to the very core of what I believe Jesus was trying to teach: The law of love is not a cozy reminder to be nice to people. It is a challenge to care deeply and open-heartedly for all people, especially those in need.

We spent the season of Lent hearing from many faith leaders the importance of welcoming the stranger in every religious tradition. Now Jesus reminds his disciples to open their hearts to all. Radical welcome is what we practice in this church, but how well do we do when we leave the building?

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…” Such a beautiful phrase but “little ones” in the original Greek is probably better translated “the throw aways.” It is a word that sounds like “psteue” (spit). It was a reference to the children of the poor. The poor were considered bad enough, the lowest of the low, in a hierarchical world like ancient Palestine, but the children of the poor were useless and regarded as nothing. Certainly their parents loved them as much as we love our children, but the culture had no use for them, just as our modern world has not use for them.

If you have ever been to a truly empoverished country, or the ghettos of America, you have seen children that have no one to care for them. You can blame their parents if you choose. You can quote callous folks, like politicians who remind you “the poor will always be with you,” but Jesus singles out these little ones for care.

And that cup of cold water can be a blessing and a life-saver. We take our wonderful water from the tap for granted. Down in the central valley the wells are still dry. Water is still bused in and there is never enough. And if you lived in Flint, Michigan, water there is poison. And the courts had to force the city and state to finally begin to address the issue, but they are still drinking bottled water.

Water is a symbol of God’s abundance and blessings. Elsewhere, Jesus at the well speaks of himself as living water, the Spiritual meaning of the waters of life overflow in our lives of blessing. But water is also a political issue (just as religion is not only spiritual but political). Water from our tap is a blessing, and it takes government and taxes and community will to ensure that it continues to flow. We are called to stand for ensuring that a cup of cold water flows not just because we can draw it from our tap and give it to whoever we chose. We must ensure that water flows for every little one. We are challenged to get involved in our community, to do what we can to ensure water flows but that it is also drinkable.
And then there are the oceans. Our planet is over 60% water but our industry and our waste are polluting it to such a degree that sealife is dying. Our interconnected world is in trouble. And water is calling us to care.

I know I am preaching to the choir here. The question really is not so much to educate us to the crisis our world is facing, but to ask what are we chosing to do about it; and how do we do our part without burning ourselves out?

Matthew’s words may hold the key: Welcoming an individual, welcomes the Christ. Welcoming a prophet (even an obnoxious one) welcomes the courage of a prophet into ones life. Welcoming a righteous person (a good person, a kind person, but also an opinionated know-it-all) welcomes their best qualities into our lives. Giving one cup of water, one cold cup of water, to one little one helps that one child and begins to transform our lives.

Again I think of that little boy throwing starfish into the sea when the sand is covered with them. Why? You can’t help them all. But I can help this one!

We begin where we are. We do small acts of kindness with great care. And the world is changed. We sign one petition, every day. We reach out to one lonely person. We write one card of thanks, or concern, or blessing. We slow down enough to notice the need. To respond.

On Saturday, June 10, our friends at Pacifica Institute Muslim Center brought us a magnificent dinner and shared with us about Ramadan and why they fast for a full month every year. Our speaker, Deanna Kaya had organized the event. She brought food, helped with set up, and introduced two videos. She told me later that her throat was so dry from going without water all day that she was sure everyone would notice her gravely voice. (I didn’t.)

We learned that they fast from sunup to sundown which in June includes the very longest days of the year. They drink nothing, eat nothing, and get up earlier to pray more prayers in addition to the usual five times a day. The men went into our parlor to do their final prayers after we broke the fast. The women said they will do those final prayers at home before bed. And they will be up at 3 a.m. to do it again. Although it should be noted that children, those with medical needs and pregnant women, or any who feel they cannot or do not want to fast are exempt. No one is judged for the choices they make about this.

Part of the tradition of Ramadan includes the importance of sharing the evening meal with others in the community. The couple at my table had traveled all the way from Tiburon to join us for dinner. They had two small children who will no doubt sleep on the way home. But we didn’t end the evening until 10 p.m. Sleep will come late. And they will be up again early!

The cup of cold water at each table was a real treasure to them. They appreciate the longing for clean water around the world. They use their time of fasting to remind them that everything is a gift from God that they can chose to give back to God.

Sometimes I think our faith demands too little of us. But then I remember: We are asked to love unconditionally everyone!  All the time! That Christianity has become a religion that argues about doctrines and who is right and who is wrong, and who is in and who is out, is a great tragedy to me.

Jesus asks only one thing of us: to love. And by his example he showed us that love is hard. It may require us to lay down our lives (our egoes) for our friends, our neighbors. And who is our neighbor? That pstue, that throw away child, that little one, who asks only a cup of cold water. May we see their need. May we respond to it. May it be so. Amen.