When Faithful Work is Never Wasted
Tomorrow is the end of an era. I will stand on the steps of my first church and say goodbye to those who I have served in my very first appointment for the last two years. Facebook reminds me that two years ago we were throwing picnics and imagining big things. I was taking donations of squirt guns and slip-n-slides and hoping to build a robust community of dreamers on the south east side of Atlanta. I had a lot of ideas and an endless amount of enthusiasm. Some things will never change.
We had a lot of successes at that little church. We re-did the sanctuary. We invited our neighbors to outdoor movies, Christmas photos, and easter egg hunts and they came! We invited them to art events that were less successful. We found some solid funding by inviting unique renters during the week. I learned that the banner making genes are strong even if I use a paintbrushes where my mother and grandmothers used sewing machines and crisply cut fabric.
Most importantly, I learned what faithful work looked like and how to claim that as enough even when the butts in the pews and the money in the plate told a different story. I learned that God calling something good doesn’t gaurantee success. I learned that God has a much different view of success than we do.
I will not be preaching on the lectionary text for this week in my grey pulpit in that pretty white building. It isn’t my pulpit anymore. But I will be reflecting on it here, in my new newsletter. Covid-19 has laid bare so many things, has closed a lot of doors, but also has let me preach to a wider audience, something I would like to continue to do even though I will not be preaching on the New Hope Facebook page anymore. But I love writing for the internet, and I love preaching, and it seems that the next iteration of that is right here, as a subscription newsletter.
So, with that introduction let us look at the text for today
40 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and 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."
None of these will lose their reward. You don’t know how I have needed to hear that. None of these will lose their reward. We are living in a state of extreme uncertainty. In the past four months alone their has been a lot of changing information on how to be safe, what sacrifices you and your family should be making if you can, even the efficacy of wearing a mask has been up for debate. It is not anymore, wear your mask.
As we think about the sacrifices we are trying to make, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a whole lot easier if we knew for sure those sacrifices would make things better. It would be easier to stay in my house and wear my mask if I was told yes! This is helping! Your corona-virus inconveniences will make this world better. We don’t have those assurances, we really only have our best guesses. Is all this work for nothing?
Jesus promises us in this passage it is not all for naught. Jesus says He sees us and understands and if we are trying to love our neighbor well then it does matter. The efforts that we make, the inconveniences we take, the simple act of giving water to those who are thirsty, that stuff matters. God sees it.
Tomorrow I turn in my keys to the church that didn’t go the way I was hoping. There is no garden, the chickens died, there are not enough people who come every week to need a social distancing plan. Did it matter? Did all those hours of painting and scheming and laying down bricks for a labyrinth that no one else used? I think they did. I think that God’s economy does not look like ours, and what counts as “wins” and “losses” are not counted that way in God’s accounting book. By all accounts New Hope failed. We did not gain enough members to continue. And yet, the work that we have done in the sanctuary has provided an opportunity for rentals that will let the feeding program continue. If those things continue those who live on the grounds get to stay.
It was supposed to be the end. But it is not. And it seemed like everything I did as a pastor did not end “succesfully.” But God does not keep track like we do. The scoring system in the kingdom of God is so much more generous than we could ever imagine.
Wear your mask. Give out cool drinks freely. Keep dreaming even when you fail. God is keeping track of the ways that you are trying to serve this world God loves, and God is proud of you.