Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 26, 2017
Matthew 25: 31-46 – New Revised Standard Version
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
There’s been a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth lately, judgment and eternal punishment, people cast into outer darkness, lots of apocalyptic nightmares – and that’s not just the latest drama coming out of the White House.
As Matthew winds his gospel down to its conclusion, he ramps up its intensity, speaking of wars and rumors of wars, nations rising against nations, famines and earthquakes, cursed fig trees, foolish virgins, talents that don’t include singing and dancing but crooked investment schemes. It’s like a bloodbath for hypocrites, snakes, and broods of vipers. And there are all those constant warnings to get ready and stay awake and remain vigilant… On the one hand, good material to encourage resistance in our culture of cruelty, and on the other hand, material that tests our capacity for mental and spiritual endurance. That resilience I’ve been speaking of.
Frankly, the constant bombardment of the texts from Matthew has been a little overwhelming and a lot of exhausting. The Bible hasn’t calmed my nerves or soothed my fears. It has raised my blood pressure, as though watching the news doesn’t do enough of that already. Therefore, when I came upon today’s reading, I was relieved.
Today’s text is the mantra of progressive Christians. This text preaches, I thought. After weeks of “apocalypse now,” we finally get to the heart of the gospel: “What we do matters more than what we believe.” It’s the basic statement of faith for progressive Christians from the Book of James: “Be doers of the Word, not hearers only. Faith without works is dead.” So, I breathed a sigh of relief. We made it to the end on a high note.
This is the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next week, the First Sunday of Advent, begins a new year and a new adventure, this time through the Gospel of Mark, although on second thought, Mark is slightly crazier than Matthew, and on speed. When reading through Mark, if you played the drinking game with the word “immediately,” you’d be drunk in a few chapters.
But today’s text isn’t as simple as we might think. It does make it clear that to follow Jesus, to love Jesus, means to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked…” To love Jesus is to love the least of these. And when we don’t, we don’t love Jesus. But it’s not as simple as that. If only Matthew would have left verse 46 out. It was fine without it. But he went back to that old theme of the past few weeks. To not love the least of these, to not love Jesus, means eternal punishment.
I want to tell Matthew, enough already! Enough with all the pressure. And, while I’m at it, in this would where crazy is normal, to Matthew and everyone else, enough telling me what else I need to do, or worry about, or fix or organize or protest. And on top of that, always asking, “What did I do wrong? Or what did I forget to do? Or what didn’t I do enough of?” Enough!
Earlier in the week I read a piece by one of my new favorite authors, John Pavlovitz, entitled “The Place Called Enough.” It spoke to what my soul needed to hear and I decided this is what I would like to share with you, this last Sunday of the Christian year.
“There’s a place I like to visit from time to time: a place called Enough.
[Not the place just before I give up or check out because I’m worn out. Not the place that means I’m done.] It is that place where my endlessly racing heart finally slows, where the ever-clenched muscles in my jaw release, where my labored breathing stretches from short, shallow sips into slow, savoring swells.
There, my chest expands and contracts fully, without interruption. I get a full breath, and my mind no longer chases what was or might be or should be, but pauses to quietly rest in what is.
There, in Enough, all of the hot, crackling noise [that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not good enough] ceases; the constant comparisons that tell me that I’m not measuring up, the never-ending criticisms that forever state their disapproval, the taunting whispers reminding me of what I have failed to grasp and what I have failed to do. And all that I am most surely bound to lose.
When I am firmly planted in the place called Enough, there is nothing more to prove or earn or achieve or make. There is no frantic striving, no jockeying for position, no desperate running-after. There is only the wide expanse of gratitude upon which I can rest all of myself.
I’ve been here before. I so love this place, but I always feel like I’m only a temporary guest here, only stopping for the briefest of seconds before needs and expectations and worry all conspire to rip me out and pull me back to a familiar place – of what I fail to do and how much I lack and “less-than” I feel.
No sooner do I find a momentary clearing and my thoughts are once again cluttered with swirling lists of unfinished work, of needs unfulfilled, of looming battles to be waged—and I begin to run again after that which is forever just beyond the reach of my outstretched fingertips.
In the end, it is self-induced. They are my choices. And it is exhausting. And I fear that I have developed an insatiable compulsion. Like an addiction, it causes me to breathlessly pursue a high that never satisfies but only promises that it soon will. After just one more win, just five more pounds, if only I just had a few more bucks in the bank. Then, I’ll get to Enough for good—I could live there, instead of this not yet good enough.
I’m tired of just passing through gratitude and simply taking a vacation in contentment. I want to stay here. I want to live in this place.
I dream of the time when I will make my home here, when I will stay for more than a day or a season, to find thanksgiving my soul’s default setting; when I will dwell upon the sufficiency and beauty and goodness of the present without needing alter it or get an upgrade.
I look to the day when what I see in my home and at work, and what I see in my bank account, and what I see in the mirror are no longer reminders of what is yet to be done or fixed or gained, but clear confirmation of what is already mine—and that this news yields only a full, satiating joy.
Maybe today will be the day when I permanently retire from running in circles and lay my head back upon this singular moment and need nothing else to complete it.
I pray this for me. I pray it for you. May we believe presently that we have enough, that we do enough, that we are enough.
May you and I learn to live in thanksgiving, to take up residence in contentment, to make our homes in gratitude.
May we find the beautiful, but so often elusive, place called Enough, and may we stay there/here for good.”
I read that and re-read it all week. It felt so good to hear. And yet I must admit my discomfort, too. Is it my addiction? I get that we “have enough.” We still struggle with wanting more, but in reality, you and I have enough. I believe that we “are enough.” We can still grow and develop but who we are is sufficient. And good. But even though I’m busy enough, I still wonder, is it true that I “do enough?”
I read that and fear it is an escape. An excuse. For people to say: I do enough. I’ve done enough. Don’t bother me. John, the guy who wrote the piece, isn’t someone in hiding, removed from reality. He is an evangelical pastor and one of the fiercest critics of our leaders and the times we are living in.
He shares the same fears and disgust of a Christianity only concerned with saving souls from the earth but caring nothing about their conditions on the earth. The people who are pro-birth, but not pro-life for the living, which addresses the basic message of today’s text: if you don’t feed the hungry, you don’t love Jesus.
But perhaps my problem is, or rather the antidote to my compulsions, I just have to get back to, and keep going back to, the basic intention, the setup of creation. God’s establishment of sabbath and the wisdom of it. Always coming back to the rhythm of sabbath and our need for it; at times, desperate need for it.
For activists, for all of us, to rest and renew and re-create. And, for those at rest and at ease to get active. Faith without works is dead, but all work with no faith may kill us. The UCC has a popular bumper sticker that says, “to believe is to care, and to care is to do.” Yes, and, how can we do, if we can’t just be?
So, before we get back to the work of resisting the new forms of cruelty our leaders have come up with over the weekend, and seem to keep coming up with every day, adding to last weeks and last months and a whole diabolical years’ worth of injustice… let’s set aside our lists of all the work that is not yet done, of what is yet to be fixed or achieved, and dwell in the rhythm of this present moment’s goodness and sufficiency. Saying, enough already, OK? Exactly.
Already enough. You are enough. I am enough. We are enough.
 https://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/11/24/the-place-called-enough/. I have made some alterations so its reads in my own voice
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world