Even a cup of cold sounds good. Summer days often leave us parched as the heat increases and the humidity is high. Sounds like a little thing. In another week will be starting the morning of July 10th at Vacation Bible School hosted by Emmanuel for the Midtown Lutheran Parish. We will sing and dance, hear many Bible stories about Jesus and A Mighty Fortress. We will likely memorize key Bible verses, hopefully planting seeds of God’s Word that will sprout and grow. For many children who will be present at our Vacation Bible School, it will be a one-week-out of a year when they get to hear this Good News about the love of God and the love of Jesus Christ who gave up his life so that we might have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life in him. The cup of cold water to these children will come in the good news of Jesus Christ in many forms – Community friends coming for the Creation Station with kittens from Noah’s Ark, which will be our mission focus, and Hoo Haven bring an owl and tortoise, and the Water Reclamation District coming to talk about Clean Water, a Pastor from India, Pastor Jane will be coming by; there will be rhythm and dance in the new dance studio, and we’ll plant a garden of milkweed plants for the Monarch butterflies; there will be singing, dancing, stories, skits, memory work, hugs, snacks. Our neighborhood community helpers will come as the Fire Department Police Department, and the Strong Neighbor House worker, Grant will be there. We are inviting all to come; who will you be inviting? The welcome mat will be out. God’s Word will be welcomed into our hearts. Serving will come with a cost – time out of our everyday lives, water bottles have been purchased as Emmanuel is a “green church” and Styrofoam products are not used there. We’ll give water bottles out so children can even have a cup of cold water. There will be trail mix and raisins, fruit, cookies baked, root beer floats, as well as monetary donations. It will come with a cost of sacrifice on many families’ part so that a mom, a dad, a teen can be there to bring this good news to the children, to make such a huge difference in their lives. It will not be a little cup of water that they share, but will seem more like bucket after bucket of “living water” poured down to wash and cleanse us, to refresh and renew us. For some of these children, it is their only time of the year to actually get spiritually fed with this good news of Jesus. For some, it is packed away until next year’s week of VBS. It makes these hours spent even more precious when we get a very limited opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ with them, with the Teens Growing In Faith, and the volunteers who will serve throughout the week.
Our lessons for today talk about sacrifices and rewards – a prophet’s reward, which often came with a high cost. A righteous person’s reward also came with much sacrifice. But rewards promised that will not be taken away in the end. The sacrifice, the cost of discipleship will be remembered and will be rewarded Jesus says. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear what it cost those first disciples: John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos. Judas Iscariot, after betraying Jesus, hanged himself. Peter was crucified head downward, during the persecution of Nero. Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony. James, the younger, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple, and then beaten to death with a club. Bartholomew was flayed alive in Albanapolis, Armenia. James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded in Jerusalem. Thomas, called the Doubter, was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel, in the East Indies. Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows. Simon died on a cross in Persia, what we now call Iran. Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded. What huge sacrifices! Why would anyone leave their homes to follow someone who might have them lose their lives in such horrific ways? They frequently were humiliated and hungry as they were not welcomed everywhere they went. They frequently were persecuted for the service they did and the message they proclaimed. Paul, who once was Saul, one who also first persecuted believers, converted in his blinding experience and given a new name, Paul says that it was because they were convinced and convicted by the Word of God, that they couldn’t help themselves but to serve and be a follower of Jesus. Their final reward was not the horrible death they experienced, but the reward of eternal life, the free gift God gave through the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, who died to sin, death and the devil, and is victorious over all that is evil. They served faithfully, proclaimed faithfully, and were rewarded for their faithfulness. That is our promise as well. In my own humanness, I want to cry out for those who have made great sacrifices and what seemingly came of that was great loss – loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of home and country. I want to weep because grace is not cheap. Sometimes we want the Lord to provide as if we drove up to an ATM machine, stuck in the card, entered the pin and are rewarded with money in the tray. We want it at any cost but to ourselves. God’s grace has never been cheap, has always come at a great cost.
I attended the Rockford Urban Ministries dinner Thursday with Mayor McNamara urging the faith communities to collaborate and cooperate with community rebuilding and revitalization, helping those most vulnerable, and noting that the city’s greatest growth over the last 17 years has been with the immigrants that have been resettled here, and the ownership many have provided in new businesses. Also at this time is the congregations who are assisting with the resettlement of Fairground residents to New Towne and pairing congregations with a family to build relationships. While there are 23 congregations signed up, 17 more are needed. This is not about providing for any financial need, but the need for connecting and building relationships. Is that an invitation that we might consider? We need 5-8 people who would be willing to connect with a family. Is that our cup of cold water to them? There will be those who think we are fools for Christ in giving up our time to serve, to make sacrifices of time, money, and giving of our talents to serve Jesus Christ. But we are a people of hope and a people of promise. We can have any number of other masters, serve our busy schedules, serve honor and prestige by the positions we hold, but to those who chose Jesus Christ to be their master, their reward for serving, for giving even this cup of water, are made holy. Through God’s grace, we are made children of God and set apart to serve, to offer to others this cup of cold water that will bring them new life in Jesus Christ. That is what we are summoned to do, that is our calling, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and to serve others and to love them as we are loved by God. Our mission is not packed away like the VBS materials, but our mission is our everyday calling. We are a people called by name and sent to be the presence of Jesus Christ not only here, but to others in our world. Let it be so! Amen!

Jeremiah 28 : 5 – 9
Psalm 89 : 1 – 4 , 15 – 18
Romans 6 : 12 – 13
Matthew 10 : 40 – 42