Plates jammed with meatloaf, collards, macaroni and cheese, steam rising in the air, the green, yellow and brown foods pushing up against each other, each flavoring the others, mingling the tastes and aromas.
My friend Marvin and his wife are close to a family whose daughter got a scholarship to go to Georgia State University in Atlanta that covered tuition but not books. Her mother made up dinner plates to sell to raise money to buy the materials she would need, and Marvin and his wife bought meals to support the young woman. They love the mother’s cooking, and they were happy to help provide her daughter with funds to purchase her textbooks.
And Jesus said, “ … and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Years ago, a friend in Virginia faithfully visited a person from his church who had been convicted of a crime and was in prison. A cup of cold water. When I moved into my neighborhood in Marietta, GA, over 11 years ago, a woman living up the street stopped by with her daughter, bringing gifts and staying for a visit so that we could begin to get to know each other. A cup of cold water. In each of these situations, one person reached out to another, giving her or him the gift of support, companionship and welcome. Cups of cold water taking different forms.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem clear as to what path to take. In the United States and many other countries in different parts of the world, elected officials and residents argue about immigration and what is to be done about it. And when non-native terrorists attack, feelings intensify, and divisions deepen on the various aspects of this complex question. We hear Jesus’ words, we feel their impact as they hover over us and move among us.
As a country with a generous heart, we in the U.S. want to provide refuge for those suffering from war, famine, disease in other parts of the world. We understand that our freedom beckons to many who grind out lives under oppression. And we stand with a cup of cold water in our hands. But we have questions, too: What about overcrowding? What about jobs and resources for people already living in the United States? What about following the path to citizenship? All reasonable questions answered in many different ways by reasonable people. Many questions, yes, but Jesus’ words hover still.
When I was in college in Tennessee, my then boyfriend and soon to be husband Richard and I decided to surprise my parents in Gainesville, GA, about three and a-half hours away, by going home. We ended up in an afternoon with sleet and at one point almost slid off the road into a ravine. We did later slide into a ditch and had to go to a house across the highway from the car and ask to use the phone. They let us in with no hesitation and the whole family with their friends formed a semi-circle in the room around us while I called my dad. Another cup of cold water.
We got as far as Dawson County in northeast Georgia and realized we couldn’t make it to Gainesville that night. We pulled into a gas station-grocery store combination on Highway 53 and called a minister in town and asked if we could stay with him. He turned us down. We then asked the Evans, the couple who owned the enterprise, if we could stay with them. And immediately, they said yes. They took us in, let us stay the night, even though they didn’t know us, didn’t know anything about who we might really be or what our intentions might really have been. Vivid memories: the large Bible on the coffee table; the religious hanging on the wall; the quilt on my bed; the old timey gramophone playing Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys. And the courage, the faith of the Evans as they took in two strangers on a cold night in the winter of 1971. They didn’t ask questions of us; they didn’t grill us regarding what we were doing on the road in that dangerous weather; they didn’t check our IDs. They simply opened their door, let us come in to their house, gave us sustenance and a warm place to sleep.
A life saving cup of cold water.
A life giving cup of cold water.