The glass is half both.
You can be an optimist or a pessimist and be right, which could be why the debates in our
polarized society never seem to get resolved.
The truth is always larger than my portion of it, and some parts contradict other parts: this part of the glass is empty and that part is full and it's the same glass, but only one of many.
Sorry if that pours cold water on your worldview, but complexity and paradox and contradiction
and polarity and messy disorder are, alongside consistency and clarity and order, all
ingredients in the rich recipe of life.
Matthew's gospel understands and illustrates this.
No other gospel is so withering and merciless in its demands to show mercy.
No other gospel showcases the parable of wheat growing in the same field with weeds.
And this morning's snippet about welcome and water round out a bigger picture we've
been seeing only in part the last two weeks.
Jesus is finishing his instructions to the twelve he is sending out like sheep into the midst of wolves.
With word and power over demons but no budget or change of clothes, they are being released to the world with no guarantees about how they will be received.
Jesus is not optimistic.
He predicts rejection, arrests, inquisitions, trials, mockery, division, possibly death,
possibly worse – don't be afraid, he repeats several times, because of course they are.
He counsels them to expect a lot of empty; prepare for disappointment, because that's a big part of working for God, who is not welcome in a lot of places unfriendly to truth and love.
If you've hung in there through the last two weeks, you remember it's a grim view that doesn't
match the Pollyanna idealism some people entertain of church and faith.
Why else would there need to be a parable warning us not to try to pluck out the weeds?
Jesus will not let us settle for half-glass optimism.
Nor will he let us settle for jaded pessimism.
There is water alongside the emptiness in the glass.
There is a welcome for the word in the world.
And God notices and rewards it.
Jesus will memorably repackage this private training truth for public consumption in his
upcoming masterpiece, the parable of the sower.
The word of God is flung everywhere, and three out of four times it meets with resistance and
at least the appearance of futility.
It also finds good soil and produces.
The news of the kingdom of heaven will also fall on receptive ears.
The word the apostles are sent to proclaim will be inefficient but will not be wasted effort.
They can expect rejection, confusion, apathy, trouble ... and also welcome.
And God sees it all.
Even the hairs on your head are counted, Jesus told them.
Not one sparrow, with a net worth of one half of one cent, falls apart from God, who thinks you are worth even more than a nickel!
God sees and cares about it all, even the modest welcome given to a rookie, one of those naive, vulnerable, excitable, shaky newcomers Jesus nicknames the little ones.
God will reward every act of kindness shown to every ambassador of heaven.
This is not about earning salvation; this is not us achieving grace.
To borrow John's phrase, these ambiguous rewards are grace upon grace, a recognition by God
of even the tiniest impulses of kindness toward the God who first lavishes it undeserved
and overwhelming upon us.
What Jesus is describing is God thanking her child for a Mother's Day gift God paid for, or God thanking his slow preschooler for "helping" to push the lawnmower.
These rewards come not because we help God get things done so much as we crack open the
door to God getting things done in us, which of course are themselves rewards, whether noticed, appreciated, wanted, welcomed, or otherwise.
And those who are called to bear God's word somewhere—apostles and prophets and righteous
ones and little ones and disciples and church—will experience all the reactions God always does: resistance, confusion, disillusionment, rejection and welcome – hardpan, rocks, thorns, and fruitful soil – sweat, blood, tears, wounds, and a cup of cold water.
The word will find a welcome somewhere, and it will matter.
You might not notice it, but God will.
Think of all the wonders you miss every day.
Think of all the sunrises you will never see, on this planet and others.
Think of all the beauty that happens without you knowing it.
Think of all the lives you will never touch, the stories you will never hear, the love shared by
others you will never feel.
Think of all the acts of kindness and welcome that are no less important because you are not
the one experiencing them.
Think of all the thank you notes you could write but haven't.
Think of all the grace that others have shown you with only a fraction of it sticking in
Even the cup of cold water in hot, dusty Palestine, even the sparrow that stumbles in the underbrush, even the little things we do see and do not appreciate, God rewards.
That's one more thing we usually don't see, but that doesn't mean it's not there.
The glass is smaller than we can see and bigger than we can know.
There is more to the story than we can possibly fathom.
God knows it all, and loves us all, and appreciates every moment of mercy, and rewards every
one of them from a heart so full of mercy that rewards are only a fraction of the story,
half a drop in an enormous and overflowing cup.