And yet…the fact remains that every 60 seconds…a disease called Malaria claims a child’s life.
Is it a “sign of our times” and our times alone? I don’t think so. Even in Jesus’ time, there were diseases that claimed people’s lives for which no one seemed to have a name…much less a cure. Does it matter, then…whether this picture was taken here in the United States…or on some continent thousands of miles away…in a place called Africa? I think we know the preferred answer to that one as well. Just as a mosquito doesn’t favor one skin tone over another, neither does the Creator of heaven and earth. To quote the lyrics of a song we all (hopefully) learned in Sunday School:
“Red or yellow…black or white…they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves…the little children of the world.”
The real question is this: do we…love…as Jesus loves?… Not just with our minds but with our hearts? To the point that we can no longer just stand idly by and watch from a distance, as thousands upon thousands of children are continuing to die from Malaria. We know there is something we can do to stop it. And our chief motivating factor…can be nothing less than Jesus’ love.
I am impressed that today’s Gospel lesson takes place on the very night in which Jesus has just proceeded to wash the feet…of all twelve of his disciples. Yes…Judas was present…for Jesus to openly demonstrate even to him…the all-inclusive nature of God’s unconditional love. In fact we read that it wasn’t until after Judas had left the room that Jesus decided to give to the remaining eleven a new commandment:
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.
Spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, spoke of Jesus’ unconditional love in this way.
We are judged NOT first of all by what we say…but by what we live. When people say, “See how they loved one another?” They, in turn, catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced and are drawn to it as by a magnet.
We, as followers of Jesus, are sent into this world TO BE “visible signs” of God’s unconditional love. Marked by God for love…to love one another, make no mistake…this will be the distinctive mark of Jesus’ community.
Sounds so easy to do. And yet perhaps we haven’t fully understood what Jesus is asking of us. Like exhausted runners nearing the end of a fast paced marathon…sometimes a mere “cup of cold water” really does make all the difference in the world. We see volunteers handing them to folks all along the route even stepping up their own pace so as not to slow the runners.
As exciting as all of this can be…there is another type of marathon being run every single hour of every single day. Folks just trying to make it through the race…by putting one foot in front of the other…and holding on in the marathon of life. The “cup of cold water” that these folks are longing to be given…is in truth...Christian caregiving at its core. What makes it distinctively “Christian” is what lies at the heart of today’s message.
I’m thinking of a phone call that I received late at night…when a rather shaky voice on the other end proceeded to tell me of a recent visit to the doctor’s office. The news was completely unexpected…with extensive surgery being scheduled in just one day. Already sensing that the prognosis was not good, my fears were confirmed when the woman shared with me that she was scared. It was then that I knew it was time to say a prayer. She thanked me, and we agreed that a visit would soon be in order…and that I would come to her.
When I did get to see my friend…she was in her home…lying on the couch (which had become her makeshift bed). She was having trouble getting comfortable…seeing one leg in a brace of sorts that wouldn’t allow her to even bend at the ankle or knee. For six weeks, she would have to remain in such a state…as powerful drugs would work to rid her leg of any infection and keep it from becoming wide-spread.
Needless to say, her appetite was virtually none existent due to the sheer volume of antibiotics. And yet, as I took her by the hand, she began to talk about her family…and how helpful everyone had been. Folks from church had begun furnishing meals twice a week…even stopping to visit which completely lifted her spirits every time they did. I could see it in her eyes. I could see it in her face. Every single act of caring was like receiving a cup of cold water…on one of the hottest days of the entire year.
We can all relate. Whether it was a reading about the 23rd Psalm from one of Max Lucado’s books….or the remembering of a much beloved hymn…the response was always the same. Through the many acts of caring...Jesus was re-presented over and over again. Sometimes in the words of Scripture themselves, but mostly in the form of caring conversations and quiet listening to the heart of one struggling to even find the road, much less stay in the race.
And the really good news? Is Jesus comes…and makes himself known…to all with eyes to see. And ears to hear. And hands to touch.
In the breaking of the bread…
in the lifting of the wine…
in the splashing of the Baptismal water…Jesus comes.
In the preparing of a meal…
in the cleaning of a house…
in the rides to the doctors and back…Jesus is there.
In the purchasing of a mosquito net in order for a family to sleep in safety…
in the giving of a “cup of cold water”…
we all catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God which according to Jesus…is already here.
Just imagine…a world in which every 60 seconds…Malaria does NOT claim a child’s life. Could it happen in our lifetime?
The preferred answer is: Godspeed! Amen