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written by Constance Morgenstern
©2020, 2022

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"Love Can Be a Cup of Water "
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Study and thoughts behind

Recent years, since the start of COVID, have been undeniably strange! Many traditional church ministries have been curtailed or changed.

Already, however, we see how these difficult times have birthed possible improvements in our ministries. Maybe, when the rug is (seemingly) pulled out from under us, we can get closer to solid ground? With that in mind, let’s examine some scriptural ideas that are part of our song "Love Can Be a Cup of Water."

The song’s title and beginning come from a statement of Jesus in Matthew 10:42. Jesus says that God acknowledges/rewards even tiny, simple things we do to support his people working on earth.

We can see that same heavenly approval of small, simple works in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Feeding someone, providing clothing, welcoming a stranger..., all these practical kindnesses are raised in honor as Christ suggests that they were done for him personally! Or, remember please how Jesus affirmed the temple offering of a poor widow, who gave—greatly—her two small coins (Mark 12:41-44).

So often, we don’t credit small things very much. We would rather think about large-scale successes! Maybe that’s one reason the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand appears in all four Gospels (See Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:34-44, Luke 9:11-17, John 6:1-13).

That famous story is rich in lessons for ministry—including our song’s basic idea that small things are not always “small.” This is, after all, the story in which five small loaves of bread and two fish end up feeding five thousand men, plus women, plus children, plus leaving twelve baskets full of leftovers!

In John's version of this story, before the miracle, the disciple Andrew voices an outlook that we, too, might sometimes feel: He says, “Here’s a boy with five small barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?”

In Matthew's account, Jesus provides the answer, “Bring them here to me.” Then Jesus looks up to heaven, gives thanks, breaks the loaves ... and we know what happens! In holy hands, small things are the stuff of miracles.

When we think about small things, we might recall Jesus speaking about mustard seeds. He talks about them in two ways, which I’ve sort of combined in the song. In one, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed which somehow grows into a tree so big that birds can perch in it (e.g. Mark 4:30-32). In the other, he says that if we have faith, even the size of a tiny mustard seed, we can move a mountain (Matthew 17:20) or command a tree to plant itself in the sea (Luke 17:6). The illustrations are related because they all show how small things can have outsized results through the power of God.

Remember how Jesus sent out his followers to wider ministry? (This was the occasion for Jesus' statement about the cup of water.) As those followers went out to spread Christ’s message, they found they could heal people as well (Mark 6:12-13, Luke 10:17)!

Or, think of disciples Peter and John, later in Jerusalem, as they healed a crippled man who was begging for money (Acts 3:1-10). Peter says, “Silver or gold I don’t have, but what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus, walk.”

I think that current ministry looks a lot like this. We give what has been given to us. Do look at the last part of Matthew 10:8. We might give “small” things, and it might not be money, but we can give in thanks, and trust the power of God to accomplish something with it.

The Apostle Paul expands our notion of what gifts from God can be passed along. In his epistles, he likens the church to “the body of Christ" (Romans 12:4-8 or 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), and he lists various kinds of spiritual gifts that individual people receive and utilize for the overall functioning of the church.

I love this concept! What you can do for the well-being of people may be totally unique to you. Various spiritual gifts, combined with your own experiences and fascinations, can shape your work as Christ’s follower, and increase your joy!

For a few years, I was part of a program in my denomination to encourage congregations to listen to the Holy Spirit and then try out creative ministries for people in their areas. Watching those congregations, alongside my own, makes me think that congregations, too, have personalities and unique ministries. And, so often, those unique ministries come out of the gifts and enthusiasms of individual Christians from the pews! It makes me incredibly happy to see this! Christians are using what they have for Christ.

God clearly does want us to use our gifts. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the servant who just buried his one talent in the ground—and made weasely excuses about it—is rebuked and rejected by his master. That’s a key point. Another is that not every servant gets the same number of talents. Whatever the talents, though, each servant was expected to produce something with what they received.

Jesus spoke often about how we, as his followers, are to make disciples and to help meet other people's needs (e.g. Matthew 28:16-20, Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 6:31, or John 21:15-17). Loving Christ and loving others are organically intertwined, as Jesus beautifully taught in the metaphor of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). They are so completely related that a person who does not love/serve others (“bearing fruit”) is suspected of not having much of a relationship with God (Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 7:15-23, 1 John 3:10).

The good news here is that Jesus is willing to help us start being fruitful (Luke 13:6-9). The bad news is that people who resist his efforts may not get more chances.

I suppose it also appears to be bad news how some congregations may feel a bit battered and scattered just now. For myself, going to church services online creates some loss—not seeing, physically, my dear church family! At the same time, we are connected by technologies that did not exist in Jesus’ time, and the Holy Spirit—the original wireless!—means that Christ is present with even two or three of us, gathering via screens (Matthew 18:20).

The early church didn’t get far before it, too, faced a scattering (Acts 8:1-8). In that case, God used the scattering to help spread the Gospel outward. Even in our churches now, there’s some of that. I’ve heard of curious people quietly visiting church services online, when they might not have had the courage or opportunity to visit services in person.

Recently, also, I read a “conversion story” in which a man told how he watched a believer go through adversity with surprising grace and courage. He was intrigued about what empowered the believer’s life, and that helped bring him to faith. Similarly, the way we believers function through these times—even while apart—might nudge others to seriously consider God and Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:3, Matthew 5:16, John 15:8).

Our lives, Jesus said, are like salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) as we influence what’s around us. Using another metaphor, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like yeast, in which a little bit added to dough works its way through the whole batch (e.g. Luke 13:20-21). So, I believe that God will use our scattered efforts during this time of COVID. Ministries of faith will seem less tied to a steepled building, and people might seem a bit more "real" in their natural environments. Through technology, we still can be strengthened by our church brothers and sisters. Moreover, we still have the Holy Spirit connecting and leading us to do (even “small”) things. We have Christ. And, we know to never underestimate anything where God is involved!


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