Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 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; 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.
The first summer I was in seminary I worked as chaplain in a beautiful state park in Pennsylvania. The job was modeled after the chaplains often found in national park settings and was funded by a group of local churches, keeping the church-state separation.
Part of my daily responsibility was to walk to every campsite to greet the campers and invite them to participate in the Saturday evening campfire sing-along and Sunday morning worship.
Not everyone was delighted to have a chaplain interrupt their precious moments of relaxation. Some folks were barely civil as they let me know in no uncertain terms that they were not interested in any group activities and especially not in any form of “religion.” Some people wouldn’t even acknowledge me as I tried to smile and offer a warm welcome.
But then there were the people I remember all these decades later. They were the ones who greeted me enthusiastically, invited me to “pull up to the picnic table,” and offered me a cold cup of water or lemonade on a hot summer day. Their friendly smiles, words of appreciation for a ministry tentatively offered, and their thoughtful generosity were a bright spot in what was otherwise a somewhat weary and discouraging day. For a young, inexperienced seminarian, they provided encouragement as well as a glimpse into the ups and downs of ministry.
Why do I remember them so fondly? They didn’t provide anything fancy, but each one offered some much-needed kindness. That is what I hear Jesus asking us to do. We are told to reach out, see beyond the awkward and sometimes bumbling attempts at conversation, and recognize a person created in God’s image. And that person might be yearning for some compassion.
Let’s not make hospitality more difficult than it needs to be. Often the simplest gesture of thoughtfulness can make all the difference – like a cup of cold water on a hot day.
Welcoming God, as we receive your endless love and care, help us to offer caring, compassion and consideration to all your people. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster is pastor at East Woodstock Congregational Church.
June 28, 2017