“Our Common Cup”
The Rev. Dr. Seth Weeldreyer, First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo
July 2, 2023, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 24:42-49; Matthew 10:40-42

Sent out from Kalamazoo to Colcord, West Virginia, most went eagerly with fond memories. Me? No clue. I’ve driven through Charleston with stunning vistas, but never left the superfast highway. This time country roads took us to other peoples’ home, maybe one I’d find, too. In those mountains, I’ve enjoyed interstate twists and vistas, mini-adventure around each curve, scary, rainy treacherous or exciting. On this careful mission driven by care we got off just south of the city, hauling a trailer and precious human cargo through even sharper curves and more intimate glimpses of mountains, rivers, and mists clinging close. Or as we’d find out later, actually toxic smoke blown in, like a haze of poverty settled in those hollows for generations.

As we unloaded, I understood what a few detail questions beforehand never could. All the “church mom” Meredith preparation … buying food, renting vehicles, communicating with folks in Colcord ready for us to arrive. Talking with them through how to settle in again, what to expect for the week, jobs to do, and reconnecting with people, some of whom faced major life events since last they’d come. Because of course, more than decks stained, concrete painted, outdoor steps rebuilt, an inside floor completely reconstructed, roof leak fixed, a massive hole under the kitchen sink filled so snakes and other unwanted guests couldn’t come visit … as we were loosed to march off into faithful service—the glory of the Lord, Hallelujah! … beyond all that physical work, it’s really about people. Building a home, beginning with the heart. The work many of you did, cooking and baking, shopping and dropping off towels and fruit and chips and cereal, every cooler with your name on it, your bike stolen while you popped in with a box of granola bars. All so twelve of us could connect with 3, 4, 5 times that many in hills of West Virginia.

With Art who has a few opinions about life, just ask him—what government makes us do or not, views scrawled across the front of a t-shirt, accented with Appalachian fervor. Or don’t ask. He’ll tell you anyway, if we let him, all afternoon, that first day. If willing to listen in and beyond pure Libertarian, we taste how for him life and faith goes so far beyond personal choice and consequences and selfish desires. It’s about service, with all our resources. That’s why that chain smoking, coffee slugging curmudgeon ran this mission program over decades. That’s why he uses all he earned in mines and a Michigan GM plant to keep paying other people’s bills so their gas, power, water won’t get cut off.

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones …” Jesus urges. He’s sending out his closest friends and followers on a mission to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons – to bring life. He’s warned: it won’t be easy. No naïve bliss, rather a dangerous journey of likely rejection, even persecution. And people decades later listening to Matthew are nodding: “yeah, we get it.” You see, across the millennia of all who’ve tried to live this divine call, to embody the risen Christ … friends, this holy purpose and promise comes to you and me, too. To give and receive the presence of God. Truth of living faith Jesus makes clear here is that whatever we do, if we call ourselves Christian, we represent God. We meet each person, all people as though they’re Jesus, an incarnation of Sacred Love.

We share smiles and handshakes and moving into deeper connections, ancient traditions of holy hospitality can be real and relevant in our twenty-first-century lives. We embrace the simple fact that we depend on and are accountable to one another, including strangers, anyone we deem different. Here’s the beginning of good news. True hospitality flows from truth that in God’s grace strangers have much to teach us. “Us” / “them” not as competitors; companions, bringing gifts to any host or guest alike.  Life exchanged in perspectives, promise, hospitality as the foundation of community … as we all come to feel more at home in the world.

In that spirit, Isaac and Rebekah meet at a well. It’s a glimpse of a romantic love story, which ultimately conveys bonds of community – the whole Hebrew people – formed through a common cup or bucket of cold water, entwining lives, families, futures. That’s all the other names listed, even camels. In the desert, more than nice, it’s necessity. Parker Palmer writes: “weaving and re-weaving fabric of hospitality because they knew if the fabric failed, they would sooner or later perish … today’s generous host will be tomorrow’s needy guest.” In much the same way, strangers enter our lives and invite us to expand the scope become more expansive, including forms of otherness that seem utterly alien to our way of life. … when we fail to offer hospitality to a stranger, like cutting off a flow of water because of unpaid bills, our spiritual journey comes to a sudden halt. [i]

And of course, friends, as we come to another Independence Day, this is also all about how we’re at home together in our nation, amid the wider world. Our nation founded on hospitality to strangers from the earliest Wampanoag and Pilgrims to every alien foreigner who caught the gleam in Lady Liberty’s eyes, every human whose melatonin was darker, sole justification to suffer in dark bowels of sailing hell then be sold into slavery. If we ever want to argue for Christian origins of our nation this virtue of hospitality must remain central to the conversation … ever at best, an imperfect aspiration, too often tragically extended. Honestly, friends, I haven’t kept up much with the news for the past week. Maybe there’s some tragedy or cultural event I should reference now. Still, I believe this past week we’ve shared the good news of what really makes communities of faith and wider society flourish at best as God intends. So far beyond personal accolades, private success sipping for our crystal stem glass to public abundant life full and flourishing as we drink from a common cup, like that Jesus passed around among those who followed. Good news = if we continue this spirit, extend to many we’ve deemed alien other these vintage grapes of grace will bring healing to our society. We savored how each participant sent out in our group of twelve cared for each other with differing personalities, abilities, proclivities. Honest, hard, real, not children anymore come of age conversations shared with tenderness, respect, affirmation, encouragement.

Friends, I’m deeply grateful for a week in Colcord, forging bonds among our beloved church children become adults, as we all filled our water bottles and coffee makers from big water cooler. Time stood still as with no cell signal or Wifi we got off the super-highway of life, away from incessant social media posts, news reports and pundits. And we shared laughter over Uno, deep questions, a good-hearted quiz about my first impressions of each young adult and a surprising affirmation from them that beyond formal robes and roles this “church dad” apparently has “holy ris” … something about the sandals, jokes, and anecdotes through the walkie talky. I’m deeply grateful that those common bonds were given and received as we took our water bottles to the homes of others, in the blessed reciprocity of unbounded grace with good humans who may speak, dress, vote differently.

Gary offered warm generous mayoral welcome as soon as word got round we’d arrived. He keeps a list of projects needed, later, urging us to get out of smoke-hazy afternoon heat, emceed a traditional potluck dinner for us with them, and let us use their WiFi to stay connected with you.

Brenda’s son caught us after we drove through the neighborhood. You’ve been here before, helped over at my mom’s house? Yes. Just lost my forever job. Don’t have funds to fix the bottom step of her porch staircase, rotted off completely. We started unscrewing, then discovered, we could just rip out each rotten tread. Minutes after we began Brenda asked if we wanted a coke and, in the end, wouldn’t let us leave without sending her young grandson with flavor-ices for the road.

Darlene sat in a sunroom on a “vintage” couch, on a not quite trampoline floor. First day—the old out, new supports and OSB floor solid. Second day ground into a tedious slog laying the tongue and groove which kept popping out. Third day, trim … and all day every day she sat just inside the doorway with us. Collectibles lined every inch of the wall, shelves, kitchen table, constricted our path to her undersink hole through which snakes and other rodents became uninvited guests. Peering through claustrophobic clutter, I said: “I imagine you’re surrounded by many meaningful memories.” “Oh yes,” she said, “whenever someone dies I get a few more.”

Glenn and Kathy run the local market—a kind of well in the desert where we get our jugs of water, packing a little heat, and cooking pizza for us, as they do biscuits for the coal miners. And another Gary endures as a familiar local favorite, now affectionately deemed “church grandad”. Adventurous rides in his side-by-side gator truck thing, bags of hand-picked raspberries and cucumbers, corn muffins with a kick, even offering a cup or two of a little other home-brewed clear liquid we refused. Even truer in love he cultivates – a garden nestled against the mountain side, expanded since last we’d been there. Far beyond what he savors, every row planted, every sweaty summer day watering provides for many locals whose well is dry and cupboard bare. As I thanked him for taking two of our more adventurous young adults on his side-by-side up the mountain—saying I imagine it’s as meaningful to him, as to them, to share these hills he loves, and all the family / friends / life he’s shared there … and as his forefinger brushed his nose on the way to his eye, where so often there’d been a twinkle above that bushy beard I’d swear I saw moistness drawn from a well deep inside.

And so did I well up as I sat at their communion table in a sanctuary the size of our Gathering Place and Pine Island Chapel. Hope they didn’t notice I lit their two Christ taper-candles opening to inspiration for this sermon. Or maybe I hope they do see—the presence, the impact, that we’d been there to say in many ways: You Are Loved. And now I’m glad to be back home and come again with you to our communion table. To come home in our hearts as we always do after being sent by the Spirit to more distant ancient places, or to our meeting rooms, dining room, living rooms, city streets nearby, ever as pilgrims learning to transcend, to live as if each step, each moment was the end and an ever-new resurrected beginning. Sent with hope, vision, holy yearning for how all of what we experienced this week in West Virginia can be real among us, too. Inspired to get off the superfast highway of life. To journey through hills and valleys, slowing down on twists and turns between cliff faces and rocky streams, settling into the hard, broken, worn out and yet so lovingly imbued places of beautiful humanity. Sent to be Jesus and to meet the Christ as we share a common cup.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


[i] Parker Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 44, 147-150.