‘A young couple invited their elderly pastor for Sunday dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their son what they were having. “Goat,” the little boy replied. “Goat?” replied the startled man of the cloth, “Are you sure about that?” “Yep,” said the youngster. “I heard Dad say to Mum, ‘Today is just as good as any to have the old goat for dinner.’
To put the best spin on the young couple’s actions, perhaps they are taking Jesus’ words from our today’s gospel reading very seriously. In verse 41 of Matthew 10 Jesus says ‘Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.’ They may well have been looking for a reward from the Pastor; some tips on reading the bible, or holy living, or how to stay awake during a sermon.
Or perhaps something far greater. Jesus promise of a reward is intriguing. What sort of reward? When is it given? Is Jesus talking about the reward of heaven and eternal life when we die, or is the reward now?
For the sake of a reward, most of us tolerate many things, or receive into our house, people we don’t normally like to invite; like a tottery great Aunt for the sake of remaining in her will! We are brought up from a young age to be polite and courteous to those who can give us something, even if we can’t stand them; Just sit there…and smile and wave, all in the hope of some reward. Jesus is emphasising that we are rewarded, somehow, when we welcome or are welcomed into each others homes and lives; when Christians continue to meet together.
However, to welcome a fellow believer, to continue to meet together, does not entitle us to a reward. The reward Jesus is speaking of is not something we earn, a repayment after we have worked, like a pay back. His “Reward,” is not something deserved either, like an “award. And Jesus’ “Reward” is not a bribe, a carrot to entice us into having pastor around for lunch! Though, I won’t mind if you think that! No, Jesus means the reward is in the act of welcoming and being welcomed by fellow believers; the reward flows out of believers meeting together.
The reward is Christ himself, present with you. Jesus says ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.’ And in another place he says ‘where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’. Hidden within Christian gatherings is Christ himself, present for us in the words and actions of fellow believers. Jesus promises to be with us…wow what a reward. Remember years ago when our parents used to set the dinner table and make a setting for Jesus? This is a good practice to remind us that Jesus is truly present as our reward when we meet together.
No wonder the writer of Hebrews says ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ We meet together now, because Christ is truly present now, through his living and Spirit filled word, to bless us, guide us and protect us from falling into sin and trouble. This is a very practical and tangible reward, Christ being with us to give us his gifts of forgiveness and to lead us in our daily life.
Yet, has the Christian church lost sight of this wonderful reward? Michael Foss, Luther pastor and writer of such books as ‘Power Surge’ and ‘Real faith for real life’ made this comment ‘Christianity was the religion of the 20th century, Buddhism is the religion of the 21st . Why? Because Buddhism is about the now, its about practical religion; about getting results and pay offs; its about a real experience of god.’ Why has Christianity lost its appeal?
Perhaps for too long Christianity has proclaimed itself out of relevance as being so heavenly focused, it has no earthly good! Perhaps for too long we have been preaching a ‘future’ rewards theology; focused on heaven, on eternal life and how we are to long to be with Jesus in heaven, at the expense of what Christianity means in our life now
It is true of course that the goal of Christ’s death and resurrection was –‘to bring many sons to glory’; to win the victory over sin and death and give us eternal life. But have we lifted our eyes so high, that we fail to see Jesus in the person next to us; do we yearn for Jesus in heaven so dearly, that we miss his yearning for us in the friendship of a fellow believer? I remember a number of years ago I was walking past a beachside carnival, when a little girl come racing past me, her eyes focused only on the jumping castle. She had broken from her mother’s grip and was running to reach her goal, the jumping castle. But with her eyes focused only on the goal, and not on where she was going, she soon tripped and fell; she had lost sight of where she was because she was focused on where she wanted to be.
For the sake of our heavenly reward, have we as Christians, as Lutherans in Gilgandra, let go of the Father’s grip and lost sight of where we are, because we are so focused on where we want to be? Are we so heavenly focused, that we have tripped over our reward to make Christ real in our lives and real in the lives of those around us now? If we have, we have lost sight of the gospel…Christ with us, for us and in us. Christ, after making atonement for our sins, ascended into heave so that he may be with us in our daily lives, as he promised, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
This is our reward now; Christ with us as we meet together and welcome each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us keep our eyes focused on the gospel, the good news, that Jesus came to save sinners and dwell among them; that’s us, and that now. Praise the Lord.
Brooke and Joshua, you have been baptised, you have the Spirit, and Christ lives in you. God has been with you and cared for you and nurtured you from your birth till now, and will continue to do so. But today is special, today you stand before God, and among Christian friends and confess to us and the world; that you believe. That you believe God the Father created you, that his Son Jesus redeemed you, and has given you his spirit, the Spirit that made you his child.
In confessing this, and in promising your allegiance to him and in promising to follow Jesus, remember to regularly meet together with other believers, to receive your reward; Christ and his benefits. Brooke, your Confirmation text is Proverbs 3:5-6. This passage will remind you to trust in the Lord with all your heart and, as you continue to meet together and welcome believers, your reward is God will make your paths straight; your reward is Christ guiding your life and judgements as your read and study his words to you. Joshua, your confirmation text is Colossians 2:6-7.
This passage will remind you that you have received Christ, and to continue to welcome and be welcomed by believers, since you live in him. Your reward is that you will be strengthened in faith and be overflowing in thankfulness.
Brooke and Joshua, take a look at the baptismal font in which you became a child of God. Take a look and say, ‘yes, Christ died for me, I am his child, I am today committing to being welcomed into the church fellowship of Gilgandra as a follower of Jesus.’
Members, family and friends of Brooke and Joshua, as we have heard, when we welcome a believer because they are one of Christ’s followers, you are receiving Christ himself, let us encourage each other to welcome Brooke and Joshua into our worship, into our friendship so that each and every one of us will continue to receive our reward, Christ with us and for us’. Amen