John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
This passage allows me to acknowledge the influence of two of my ministerial mentors.
The first is the Revd Jeff Williams, a member of my first pastorate and, until he retired, Head of Christian Aid in Wales. Many years ago he was on a radio debate with his opposite number in another Christian charity. That charity worked exclusively through Christian partners overseas, and believed that evangelism went hand in hand with practical help. Jeff explained that Christian Aid worked with those of all faiths and none, and eschewed proselytism. The other charity leader asked “So what is it that makes Christian Aid Christian?” Jeff replied, “Because we support people without asking anything whatsoever in return – not even faith.” Or, as Jesus said, “whoever is not against us is for us.”
The second is the late Revd Murdoch Mackenzie, who said in a sermon when I was on placement with him in Runcorn that Jesus’ words “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward” means that even the smallest act of kindness has eternal significance.
What a thought for a day when we think of our faults and failings as penitents kneeling for ashing. Psychologists say that we tend to remember a single error far more vividly than a multitude of good judgements – and I know that is true of me. So on the day when we purposefully call our sins to mind, how reassuring to be remembered that our forgotten good deeds also have eternal value.
Perhaps we should spend this Lent not giving something up, but rather giving out a (literal or metaphorical) cup of water each day – and not asking for anything in return, because we bear the name of Christ.
Loving, forgiving God, on this day of penitence we acknowledge our sins of omission and commission. We place our sorrow, guilt, and tortured memories at your feet and beg you to forgive. But, in your grace, you not only forgive us, but acknowledge our seemingly trivial good deeds of omission and commission and promise that we will by no means lose our reward. May that assurance fortify us this Lent to walk in your way. Amen.
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches together in Wales), member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff