“What Reward Did Jesus Promise?”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 30, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 131; Mark 9:33-41

    This morning we are going to consider what Jesus meant when he said, "I assure you that anyone who gives you a drink of water because you have the spirit I have been pointing to, he or she will certainly receive a reward." (Mark 9:41) What does that reward look like? What can we expect?  Rewards come in many forms but we have to be spiritually aware enough to recognize them when they appear.

    When our son was working for a Garden Center in Maryland, he waited on a customer who ordered a sixty-pound bag of nutrients for his lawn. Steve picked up the bag and carried it to the customer's car.  After the sale's transaction was completed, the man gave Steve five-dollars as a tip.  To my knowledge, that was the first time Steve ever received a tip for helping someone. 

    The five dollars was not what was important.  What was important was how transformative the experience was for him.  Someone had shown him their appreciation and chose to express that with a symbol of five dollars.

    When Lois and I came to Bermuda, we were told that it is customary to tip the baggers in grocery stores. We do not have that custom in the United States but because we learned it here, it has become automatic when we return to Maryland. When Sheila  told me that often the money that baggers receive is the only income that is coming into their household, I increased my giving to them. 

    We can think about these little transactions as monetary rewards, but there is something else that is happening that has nothing to do with what we receive or what we give.  Our spirits feel appreciated when we are on the receiving end and equally we feel rewarded when we are the giver. 

    I miss that transaction here in Bermuda when we are eating in a restaurant.  When we find an eighteen percent gratuity automatically added to our bills, something is missing from the transformative aspect of rewarding a server for the service they have rendered. 

    Rewards can motivate people to accomplish more with their energy than they might if nothing satisfying is part of their experience.  We can easily miss what Jesus was teaching if we choose to understand these transactions between people purely on a material basis. 

    A man was in a grocery store when he noticed a young woman bagging groceries for three cashiers.  Her motivation was not one that she hoped people would tip her.  She was too busy and a lot of people ignored her because she never was still long enough to give her a tip.  Her inner reward was to keep three cashiers ringing up their totals for customers without their having to stop. As he was leaving, he was so impressed with how she was performing that he said to her, "Miss, one day you will be managing your own grocery store."  

    His comment was remarkably transformative in a way that he could never have known.  That compliment made her glow for the rest of the day.  She revealed the result of that experience while being interviewed for Fortune magazine's most recent edition that featured the most powerful women.  She traced her motivation to continue reaching for higher goals to that one comment.  However, she never became that store manager.  She became the Chief Executive Officer of a large International company.

     In our lesson this morning, Jesus was talking about rewards that come when we are extending our energizing spirit in the direction of others.  What we are doing has little to do with us.  When we value others and we communicate that value in some symbolic way, that response does something to them.

    A woman in my former church was in another country.  She was driving with her two daughters to find a gasoline station while her businessman husband had an evening meeting.  It was dusk and she was beginning to worry if she would ever come across a gasoline station.  Her tank was about empty and she was in the middle of nowhere.  Finally, she crested a hill and found a gasoline station just ahead of her. 

    As she pulled in, she saw a half dozen men loitering outside the little store.  She got out of her car and discovered that the long-outdated pump did not take credit cards.  She had to pay with the currency of the country which she did not have.  She noticed all of the men were walking toward her car.  Sensing that they had more on their minds than helping her, she immediately got back into her car and locked the doors.  The men began taunting her, trying her door handles, demanding that she get out of the car and the six of them started to rock her car. Their words and activity completely panicked her two daughters.  They exclaimed "Mommy what's happening?  Why are they rocking our car?"

    She prayed, "Oh God, I don't know what to do.  Please help me.  I am terrified." Just then a motorcyclist came over the hill. Seeing what was taking place, he pulled into the gas station and ordered the men to stand-down. They did so and returned to the front of the little store.

    She rolled down her window to thank him and explained her situation.  He said, "Don't worry, I will fill your tank for you." He went into the station, paid the attendant and filled her tank.  She said, "I can't pay you."  He said, "You don't have to.  You were a damsel in distress and I happened to be one of King Arthur's Knights."  He smiled and said, "Welcome to Tunisia!"  She said, "I cannot thank you enough. What is your name?"  He said, "My name is Gabriel."  He put on his helmet, mounted his bike, and drove off into the night leaving her in tears of gratitude. 

    A stranger had arrived at the end of her prayer and was kind enough to give her a drink of water.  It was miraculous.  Even though she is a woman who is financially independent, she was in a situation where she felt extremely vulnerable. The responses between the two were incredibly transformative. What that man did for her had taken up a permanent residence in her mind.  The experience had prepared her to help when her path crossed that of another person who needed immediate assistance.

    Her telling our Bible Study group about that experience transformed all of us who were present that morning.  She asked our group, "Do you think that man was really the Gabriel we all know from the Bible?"  I said to the group, "We will never know; he certainly had the spirit of that archangel."

    We need to ask ourselves how we influence others.  Last Sunday we discussed a lesson from the author who wrote the Letter of James. He wrote,

Someone can say, 'One person has faith and another has actions.'  My answer is, 'Show me how anyone can have faith without actions.  I will show you my faith by demonstrating how I am choosing to live.'  (James 2:18)

    All of us know the saying that "Actions speak louder than words."  Why does our behavior communicate much louder than what we say?  The answer is that when we are kind, considerate, and eager to serve others, we instantly communicate what is inside of us. 

    Compassionate people cannot hide who they are.  This is the reward that Jesus was describing.  That reward is not something that benefits just us. Rather it is a quality of life that inspires our growing spirit to extend its reach to others who may not be asking for anything from us.  We simply show up like a heavenly presence and make a difference.  Jesus was using a glass of water to symbolize anything done for another with a deed that we did not have to do.

    Regardless of someone's predisposition, how distracted someone is, or how self-absorbed he or she may appear, what does it cost us to show kindness to them? We can listen to someone's experience and while being an active listener, our presence can become that glass of water.  It costs us nothing and the reward can be highly transformative, so much so that others often pass that same glass of water on to others.

    Have you ever engaged in a spontaneous conversation with a stranger?  Lois and I were in Atlanta's airport last May when we experienced four flight delays. There were severe thunderstorms around our destination of Baltimore. The Air Traffic Control Authorities would not permit any flights to enter that airport's air space.  

    When we began engaging others in conversation, the entire environment was transformed as we learned about each other.  We discussed where we were from, where we worked, and where we were going.  People shared their war stories of past delays.  We see these delays on television where people are sleeping on the floor but it was fascinating to hear people talk about actually being in such a crowd of stranded air-passengers.

    All of us are walking history books. Our lives are packed with experiences that are fun to share.  But, do we share?  Do we offer someone a glass of water even when they are not asking for one?  So often that glass of water is our presence.  Touching someone with friendly words can spark a conversation that is always transformative. 

    Rather than holding thoughts within us or communicating to someone through a hand-held device, share your experiences and thoughts in person. There is no need to remain isolated. Rewards are all around us.  They come in different forms and they are always transformative.  Never become timid about sharing your glass of water.  Our glass of water may appear insignificant to us, but every act of kindness is transformative to both the giver and the one who receives.



Thank you, God, for creating within us the desire to learn more about the art of living.  All of us desire to grow beyond where we are.  Yet, too often we stand in our own shadow.  Sometimes we would rather listen to truth than to be faithful in living it.   We would rather withdraw from a potential conflict than to give others the benefit of our insights.  Help us to change.   Inspire us to make our faith visible beyond the walls of our church.  As we continue the adventure of living, help us to trust that we can be a channel of your love.  Amen.



We come before you today, O God, knowing how many times our faith has transformed moments of pain into lessons of triumph.  Our reversals have taught us patience.  Hindsight has helped us to define the "why" of life's many unexpected changes. Loneliness has taught us our need to give more of ourselves to others.  Boredom has provided us with the motivation to make more plans and to set higher goals.   We thank you for how our faith and trust in you have such transformative powers.

Each time we achieve anything it is because we have discovered how to use what you have given us.  We have discovered, also, that the moments in life that have truly mattered have been those when our trust in your love sustained us while our own abilities were weak, frail, and undeveloped.  May we always cherish the understanding that with you there is no mountain we cannot climb, no darkness that can permanently surround us, and no misadventure from which we cannot learn a valuable lesson.  You are there every step of our journey as we learn how to be more skilled at being the angels in the flesh whom Jesus called, My disciples.  

Continue to help us, O God, to create the atmosphere and environment at Centenary where all of us feel safe, secure, and loved just as we are.  Help each of us to be generous of heart and always eager to be of service.  We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . .