5 Then the prophet Jeremiah answered the prophet Hananiah. They were standing in the Temple of the Lord. The priests and all the people there could hear Jeremiah’s answer. 6 He said, “Amen! Let the Lord really do that! May the Lord make the message you prophesy come true. May the Lord bring everything from the Lord’s Temple back from Babylon. And may he bring back to their homes all the people who were taken as captives.
7 “But listen to what I must say to you and all the people. 8 There were prophets long before we became prophets, Hananiah. They prophesied that war, hunger and terrible sicknesses would come. They would come to many countries and great kingdoms. 9 But a prophet might prophesy that we will have peace. The message of that prophet might come true. If it does, only then can he be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord!”
12 So, do not let sin control you in your life here on earth. You must not be ruled by the things your sinful self makes you want to do. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to serve sin. Do not use your bodies as things to do evil with, but offer yourselves to God. Be like people who have died and now live. Offer the parts of your body to God to be used for doing good. 14 Sin will not be your master, because you are not under law but under God’s grace.
Slaves of Righteousness
15 So what should we do? Should we sin because we are under grace and not under law? No! 16 Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, or obey God. Sin brings spiritual death. But obeying God makes you right with him. 17 In the past you were slaves to sin—sin controlled you. But thank God, you fully obeyed the things that were taught to you. 18 You were made free from sin, and now you are slaves to goodness. 19 I use this example because this is hard for you to understand. In the past you offered the parts of your body to be slaves to sin and evil. You lived only for evil. In the same way now you must give yourselves to be slaves of goodness. Then you will live only for God.
20 In the past you were slaves to sin, and goodness did not control you. 21 You did evil things, and now you are ashamed of them. Those things only bring death. 22 But now you are free from sin and have become slaves of God. This brings you a life that is only for God. And this gives you life forever. 23 The payment for sin is death. But God gives us the free gift of life forever in Christ Jesus our Lord.
40 Whoever accepts you also accepts me. And whoever accepts me also accepts the One who sent me. 41 Whoever meets a prophet and accepts him will receive the reward of a prophet. And whoever accepts a good man because that man is good will receive the reward of a good man. 42 Whoever helps one of these little ones because they are my followers will truly get his reward. He will get his reward even if he only gave my follower a cup of cold water.”
For the last few weeks one story have come up over and over during Children’s Chapel, the story of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. I think it is a good time to recount exactly why Lot’s family was saved from destruction and why Lot’s wife was punished. From Genesis 19:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening. Lot was sitting near the city gate and saw them. He got up and went to them and bowed facedown on the ground. 2 Lot said, “Sirs, please come to my house and spend the night. There you can wash your feet. Then tomorrow you may continue your journey.” The angels answered, “No, we will spend the night in the city’s public square.” 3 But Lot begged them to come to his house. So they agreed and went to his house. Then Lot prepared a meal for them. He baked bread without yeast, and they ate it.
17 The two men brought Lot and his family out of the city. Then one of the men said, “Run for your lives! Don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Run to the mountains or you will be destroyed.”
I think it is very well timed that we have been discussing the story of Lot and his treatment of the angels, with his subsequent warning to evacuate, and we come to today’s Gospel reading from Matthew. This piece distills the central theme of Lot’s story, without some of the more fantastic and distracting details. When we discuss Lot’s family and Sodom, we are very likely to get sidetracked on exactly what the men of the city wanted to do to the angels, or the fact that Lot offered his two daughters to be victimized instead. When the kids hear the abridged version, they tend to focus on the wife turning into a pillar of salt. Understandably so, who wouldn’t want to see a several thousand year old salt statue. Of course, these tangents miss the point of Lot’s actions. It was hospitality that is the central theme, and it is hospitality that is central to today’s Gospel. “He will get his reward even if he only gave my follower a cup of cold water.” If we take that into context of today’s world, I doubt that many of us can expect our reward. Have we been perpetual, even simply consistent, in offering so much as a cup of water to those in need? Do we see the lonely kid on the playground and leave the game we are playing with our friends to go invite them in? Do we look the other way when we see the homeless person asking for change on the street corner? Do we decide to stay home and have brunch instead of helping out at the food bank?
What Lot did in taking in the two angels, protecting them from the men of the city, and going so far as to offer his young daughters up, is not what we are all called to do. We are called by Jesus today and every day, to simply offer up a cup of water, help a little one, and accept a good man. It is easy to see the differences between ourselves and others, to find ways to say, you are not like me so you must be wrong, but that is the way of the world, not the way of God. Search and find the smallest good in someone, even if they are wrong, even if they are hateful and hurtful. Look for a reason and an opportunity to offer that cup of water.