Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Every moment a welcome


Casa Hogar, Oaxaca, Mexico, 2008

         “Y cualquiera que dé a uno de estos pequeñitos un vaso de agua, de cierto os digo que no perderá su recompensa.” This was the Bible verse painted on the wall of the outer office of Casa Hogar, an orphanage in Oaxaca, Mexico—where David and I went on our first international mission trip. “[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.” Every day in that small outer office one of the staff of the orphanage would lead a Bible study, host a staff meeting, tend to a scraped knee or soccer ball request. Casa Hogar was a place was full of little ones: little ones who were blind or deaf, little ones in wheelchairs, with canes or walkers, little ones who stayed little because of early malnutrition or a problem at birth, little ones who were starved for love and thirsty for whatever we had to give.

         A cup of cold water is no small thing in a hot, dry climate. Especially if the water has to be boiled or bottled to be safe to drink. A cup of cold water is no small thing to a homeless person or someone overcome by heat exhaustion. A cup of cold water can be as powerful and meaningful a Communion as the bread and juice and wine on this table. A cup of cold water can be all it takes to offer an extravagant welcome.

         At midday in the scorching heat, Jesus came to a well and by asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water, he extended to her an extravagant welcome; he gave some radical hospitality. He made room for her in ways that no one would have dreamed of doing then.
Imagine a centuries-long family feud due to some ethnic racism and hard feelings, a hard-and-fast division of gender and gender roles, and the added shame of living in a small village where everyone knows you’ve had 5 husbands and the latest one isn’t what anyone would call a relationship.

         I’m not going to pretend to know who you’d be embarrassed to be caught talking to or who you wouldn’t want to be in the same room with, but imagine them offering you a cup of cold water to drink. Really. I want you to close your eyes and imagine it (but don’t fall asleep). You’re tired, you’ve had a long day and it was 90 degrees in the shade. Someone cut you off in traffic or jumped the line for coffee or at the store. You called customer service and spent three hours on the phone and whatever it is is still not working.

Plus you basically feel judged or lacking in some way every time you leave your house or apartment just because you’re you.  Like that Samaritan woman. Like some of the people who would be receiving the disciples on their mission trip. And then this person, who you wouldn’t be caught dead with, someone you think hasn’t a clue how to live the gospel, let alone knows what it’s about, someone you think can’t treat people right, they hand you a cup of water—a paper Dixie cup, like those little cups the dentist uses, so thin you can feel how cold the water is—what are you going to do?

         You drink the water. Of course you do. What else would mercy require of you?

And as the water floods your dry mouth and the cold hits the back of your throat and you feel it travel down through your chest, your body begins to release some of that tension and anger and grief you’ve been holding onto all day, all week, this past month, this long year. And then it’s like a waterfall, like doors opening, the twang of a spring stretching, and something like air can get to the back of your brain. A sigh escapes your lips. Maybe some hot tears well up.

         Suddenly much of it doesn’t really matter anymore.
A generous space appears where before there was only bedrock, where now something green can grow. The word used by the apostle Paul for hospitality means love of strangers, even if that stranger is us who needs welcome, mercy, and a cup of cold water.

         Every moment is a welcome, that moment when we open ourselves to mercy, kindness, and compassion in our lives, our bodies, our spirits. Every moment can be a welcome, when we extend that mercy and kindness and compassion to someone else. Even when that mercy is something as small as a cup of cold water from someone we least expect to give it.

         “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts the Creator, who sent me.
Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”


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