Sixteenth century nun, Teresa of Avila, summed up today’s Gospel lesson well. The words are on the cover of the bulletin. I invite you to join me in reading them.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Service to others is at the heart of who you are as a community. Observing you, I know you serve, not because we’re commanded to, or out of fear of going to hell…. You care for the least of these because you know that acting the least of these into wellbeing is what brings us closest to God.
As we begin the pastoral transition process, a lot of things will change. Once Allen and I have moved on, things will really change. Even amid the changes, though, some things won’t change at all. We looked at one of those things last week–the call to be generous. Pastors come and pastors go, but the call to be generous remains. As does the call to care for the least, which we hear about in today’s Gospel lesson. If we call ourselves a community of Jesus’ followers, and if we meet Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, ill, and imprisoned, then it doesn’t matter who the spiritual leader is, the number one item at the top of a church’s to-do list is caring for the least of these…acting the world into wellbeing.
Missions outreach already was strong when I arrived at Pilgrimage. You’d been serving lunch at MUST for years. There was a Missions Intern program for the youth that was pretty amazing. I do confess, though, to being startled my first February at seeing construction paper underwear strung up in the entry way. Undie Sundays was a new experience for me.
In our church’s mission statement, we covenant to grow in service. Since 2001, we have grown in service by leaps and bounds. I invite you to name some of the missions projects we’ve engaged in the last 16 years. (Responses) The biggest challenge we’ve faced in terms of missions has been limiting what we do so that we don’t spread ourselves too thin.
One of the places we’ve worried about spreading ourselves too thin is with Family Promise hosting. We began serving as a host congregation about four years ago. Back when our involvement was a new thing, we had lots of energy around participating in Family Promise. Now that we’ve been at it a while, and now that we’re hosting, like, 15 times a year (Aren’t we? It sure feels that way sometimes. J), it’s been more challenging to get enough volunteers to sign up, especially for overnight hosting duties.
Feeling the very real pressure of these challenges, the Missions Committee asked Council to decide whether or not we should continue hosting for Family Promise. We didn’t want to commit to something we wouldn’t be able to sustain.
By the time Missions brought their request to Council, I was starting to suspect that the church in Asheville would call me…which left me in a quandary. Should I encourage you to pursue the idea of continuing to host, encourage you not to host, or just stand idly by?
In the midst of my fretting, God’s Spirit quietly said, “It’s not about you, Kim. It’s about caring for the least of these. It’s always been about caring for the least of these.”
So, I called Camilla Worrell, Executive Director for Family Promise, and asked her what kind of assistance we could get, especially in enlisting volunteers. Camilla told me that Family Promise might be able to help with volunteers, but that the quickest way to add volunteers would be to find them ourselves. When I asked how to do that, she suggested partnering with groups outside the church with whom we already have relationships.
In the last two months, that’s what several of us have been doing. Amy Jones has talked with her husband Wade about inviting folks from Wade’s Buddhist group to participate. Kendra Derby has enlisted folks from a couple of groups she’s involved with. Deb Loche and I both have spoken with Byron Wells, pastor at Chestnut Ridge Christian Church, about their partnering with us. In addition to enlisting the help of all these other groups, several folks from Pilgrimage who haven’t volunteered in the past also are stepping up. It’s been heartening to see how the community has come together to ensure that we can continue hosting next year.
Today’s Scripture is just great—all about caring for the least of these, about meeting Jesus in those we serve. I know some people for whom Matthew 25 is the Bible.
The thing that’s always puzzled me about this passage, though, is this business about the sheep and the goats. Why sheep and goats? Jesus uses them as a metaphor in the story he’s telling, but what point is he making by using those particular metaphors?
Not having a lot of experience either with sheep or with goats, I decided to do some research….on Youtube.
I confess that I spent a lot more time viewing videos of goats than I did of sheep. Goats are way more interesting, right? Especially baby goats! Baby goats jump. That’s pretty much it. They jump. And butt heads with other goats. Goats jump on anything—boxes, hay, other goats, horses, cows…I even saw one video where a goat jumped on a sheep. And the sheep just took it.
Yeah, sheep just aren’t that interesting. They eat, they run away from things, they eat, they run away from things. How many goat videos do you see on Facebook? How many sheep videos? I rest my case.
I remember one of the stops we made in Ireland. In the next field over, we saw a dog herding sheep. The dog was brilliant…but most striking was watching all those sheep move as a single entity. If one sheep moved right, they all moved right. If one moved left, they all moved left. It was kind of like that in the videos. Sheep all eating—together. Sheep all running away from something—together.
The goats, on the other hand, often were engaged in individual activities—jumping on things, butting heads with other goats, dogs…cats. The goats did sometimes run together, but they never sustained the herd mentality for long…too many things to jump on. Too many things to butt with their heads.
This is completely unscientific and un-exegetical, but here’s what I wonder…I wonder if the point Jesus was trying to make in describing disciples as sheep and non-disciples as goats is the penchant sheep have of sticking together.
Do you think Jesus was asking us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned by ourselves? Can you imagine trying to do Family Promise all by yourself? Or the Kairos Prison Ministry? I doubt the program would be nearly as effective if volunteers only visited residents went individually.
There’s something about serving together that makes us stronger, isn’t there? When I told Mahmooda we were looking for partners for more parts of our hosting for Family Promise, she said they really couldn’t do any more than they’re already doing. When I asked if they could continue providing breakfasts and lunches, she didn’t hesitate at all—“Yes! We want to serve with you.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned more about Islam from serving with our friends at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community than I’ve ever learned from any book.
I’m beginning to realize that reaching out to others to help us with Family Promise isn’t merely an act of desperation—though it is, perhaps, that. In reaching out to other groups, in partnering with them to care for families without permanent housing, we are growing deeper in faith.
I heard my friend, Karen, preach several years ago at a church in the inner city of Baltimore. She said something that’s stuck with me. She was describing a difference between congregants at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church and folks who live in the suburbs. She said, “The difference between us is this—we know we need each other to survive. They don’t.” When we have enough resources to take care of all our needs—and then some—it becomes easy to forget our need for other people.
Watching you these last 16 years, I know that despite any abundance of resources we might have, we know we need each other to survive. We know that discipleship isn’t a one-person sport. We know that caring for the least of these isn’t something we can accomplish alone. Jumping around and butting heads with others, drawing attention to ourselves…that’s definitely more entertaining…but true discipleship, the means by which we are able to draw closer to Jesus, closer to God, is to do what we do together.
To remind us of our call to help each other care for the least of these, I invite us to read St. Teresa’s words again. This time, though, delete all the “y’s” from the word “yours.” Christ has no body now but ours.
“Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours. Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Ours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Ours are the hands, ours are the feet, ours are the eyes, we are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but ours.”
Let us use our one body to do something.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017