Small Gestures

boy giving thumbs up

Summer is here and, as some have suggested, we are in for a summer like no other in the lifetimes of most of us living today. We have a continuing pandemic due to the corona virus that does not seem to be subsiding in the number of cases and deaths. We also have continuing protests and demonstrations in the streets and public places for justice and better lives particularly for black and brown people (but ultimately for all races and peoples) and they don’t seem to be subsiding either.

I have found myself wondering if perhaps there are connections between the two. On the one hand, we all experienced how the life we took for granted was so quickly taken away from us when a virus appeared that no one was ready to treat. It has brought economic, social, psychological, spiritual, and/or personal hardships to most of us. On the other hand, we watched in horror when in specific occasions black and brown citizens were killed by police and civilians that in no way seemed to fit the infractions of the law for which they were being accused. It has opened conversations about racism, white privilege, and policing particularly as it relates to black and brown citizens.

We are still very much in the midst of both and with outcomes yet to be determined. But what I wonder is this: have these times of great vulnerability in one way or another unleashed deep within our human spirits the realization that if we are to survive now and in the future: we have to learn to treat each other better than we have been doing in so many areas of our lives?

Here’s where the words of Jesus in our gospel for this coming Sunday (June 28) may speak a word for us in this time. Jesus said:

“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
Matthew 10:40-42 The Message

What I note about this passage that may be unique in Jesus’ teachings on serving each other (or “treating each other better”) is that he links giving and receiving and that the smallest of acts of either can make a difference.

So might it be that focusing on who is speaking, listening intently to what is being said even when it is difficult to hear, and making gestures and speaking words that let the speaker know you are hearing them are as much a part of these smallest of acts as the proverbial cup of cold water?

Look! We are in the midst of a pandemic and so these words may hit us particularly sharply because we used to know how to go about trying out these behaviors if we chose to do so. Now many of us are trying to follow the best guidance given us to wear masks and keep physical distance of 6 feet or more. So either our acts of trying to listen and relate better to each other or the small acts like giving cold water are much more challenging.

I think these words of Jesus might help us to relax just a little bit. I think that relaxing might help us be creative in how we can be open to receiving the gifts offered us (even when they are gifts we don’t want to hear/accept), to learn to listen and respond in ways that show we really want to treat each other better, and find the “cup of cold water” gifts that we can offer even during a pandemic. What do you think? What small gestures might you try out now?

Prayer...

Gracious God, we address you as a God who listens and hears us. Teach us to listen and hear you and each other. Sometimes your words to us are words we don’t want to hear. Teach us to receive them and the goodness in them you intend for us. Help us to learn from you how to treat each other better. Enliven our whole beings to discover many little “cup of cold water” gifts that will help both receiver and giver. Amen.

Keith Hammer

Keith Hammer

Retired ELCA Pastor

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jim Grunow

    Thanks, Keith, for this devotional. I was struck by these words, “But what I wonder is this: have these times of great vulnerability in one way or another unleashed deep within our human spirits the realization that if we are to survive now and in the future: we have to learn to treat each other better than we have been doing in so many areas of our lives?” I certainly wish that were so. I suppose only time will tell.

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