Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Matthew 25:31-46 and Making Peace By Denise Levertov
Good morning and Happy Sunday! Thank you for being here and for showing up to and for this day. As we come to this time in our gathering, where the invitation is to dive a bit deeper, to hear beyond the surface, I invite you to take a deep breath and let yourself arrive more fully.
And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19 verse 14)
It’s hard to know how to start a conversation these days. Most of us have flat out refused the introduction from the old normal. Because that was, “How are you? Fine. How about you?” And now that is just flat out ludicrous in this time. Some of us have found ourselves responding with the truth through laughter and through tears: I am terrible. But I am still here. I am still here and I am still showing up with my heart intact. That thought gave me peace this week.
Tears have come more frequently, out of frustration and anger. Because in our household, we are back to screen school with no end in sight and the only kind of respite seems to come with the sleep at night. But I am here and you are here, and we are here and we are still showing up, refusing to give up, to turn away or to become numb. That’s what I am feeling right now with a bit of urgency- that we can’t let ourselves become numb.
Because I am observing how powerful and corrosive slow change can be, whether it be a long, slow exposure to things like mass shootings in schools, or a long slow exposure to lies that begin to unsettle democratic foundations built centuries ago, or a long slow exposure to a virus that has killed 250,000 people in our country. During the Korean War 35,000 Americans died in action and during the Vietnam War 57,000 died and this number that rises daily far exceeds that, but our response hasn’t matched that loss. My fear is that we are becoming numb.
We are in a war with something invisible and it is not just COVID, but the spreading lack of care for other, lack of devotion to the truth, lack of love for those who are dying, hurting, being suffocated by this illness and public health orders that aren’t accompanied by economic relief.
We are in a battle that is spiritual and viral. And we can’t let ourselves become numb. That is part of what I believe people of faith and conscience can bring to this fight, part of what will keep our hearts and hopes. We refuse to stop caring about those who don’t have enough to eat. We refuse to accept the deathly “normals” we have created from a lack of healthcare and lack of leadership and lack of a willingness to standup to corporatists. We commit ourselves to extending generosity and kindness in the face of false created constructs of scarcity. We refuse to become numb to this.
We dare to believe that the act of living itself, that acts stemming from what we believe, have significance in the cosmic web, the divine field of love, that some of us call God. Each act of living could be a vibration of light.
As the poet Denise Levertov wrote, “A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making…
A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.”
We are in a battle that is both spiritual and viral. We will fight, by refusing to let ourselves become numb to the hurt of others, to the harm that is coming from the pain and despair of this time.
I think that is part of what Jesus is getting at with this story we heard from the Gospel of Matthew today.
We hear that people from everywhere, people from all nations are invited to gather and to hear, but that not everyone will understand the instructions. As many scholars have pointed out, the only description of last judgment in the Gospels, is here in this 25th chapter of Matthew. But there is not a word about believing right, a creed or a religious rite a theological stance. Instead, when Jesus is speaking about how we will be judged, what matters in the eyes of the holy are small, but significant acts of kindness- acts like not turning away from someone who is thirsty or hungry, not forgetting how much of a difference one tiny thing can make, not forgetting that as we advocate for changes and laws and policies for a just world for all, we can’t forget these words from Jesus, “Come, you that are blessed by my God, inherit the kin-dom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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, 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.”
And of course the people are confused because they know they have cared for Jesus. But, they don’t get that all of the times they didn’t do that, were just as important. ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
“each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal”
I believe we will get through this, by choosing to keep feeling , to not give up on caring. Maybe if we aren’t crying at some point right now, it is because we have become too numb. And I wonder if this is just too hard to do on our own, especially right now.
Which is partly why so many of us need this church.
This congregation, this community, is an oasis of hope, in a time of hurt, an oasis of engagement and kindness, in a season of turning inward and turning to meanness, an oasis of faith, in a time infused with fear. An oasis is a "fertile in the desert." It is a place of renewal in a harsh landscape, offering respite from dangerous conditions. And right now, it is a place that will support all of us in a commitment to refuse to stop caring. This is a place that supports all of us in a commitment to refuse to become numb to all of the deathly “normals” of this time, to commit ourselves to extending wild generosity and abundant kindness. We dare to believe that the act of living itself, could be a vibration of light.
It is a really hard time and we are not fine. But we are still here and we are still showing up with our hearts intact. And on this Stewardship Sunday, I am reminded that this is part of why we invest our time and talents in this congregation, to keep our hearts open and soft, to keep our hope alive. We give ourselves to this Oasis so we can share life with others who are also devoted to those same things:, convicted about the fact that truth, kindness and love for the other matters. Jesus wasn’t partisan, but he sure was political and this text tells us again that at the end of the day what matters isn’t what we profess, but how we show up in the act of living.
The entire business model of our church is built upon the idea that we offer all we do freely, now to the entire world, casting a vision of a world that is not yet, by creating among us a beautiful community that is already, an oasis.
This year, we took a big leap in our budget as a church, to get serious about matching what we profess, with our practice. And even in a pandemic, powerful possibilities are emerging because we believe in this vision and generosity has brought more generosity.
Our family has student loans and a mortgage and a dream of retiring one day and we also believe it is essential to invest in beloved community. I have learned of the shame or discomfort around money, especially in a time of deep economic distress, but I have also learned that some of this shame and discomfort comes from an economic system designed with winner take all, zero-sum, profit-first, principles based on scarcity. And ours is a frame of abundance, calling out scarcity as a myth, where we know that among us is enough.
Our family is pledging to this church, to this oasis, this year because it is too hard to live the way we intend to, on our own, because want and need to share our lives and invest in a place and a people that believes what matters in the end is kindness and love. I am grateful that we have support from other places so we can give back. This year we are pledging $332 a month, or $3,984 for the year. In some ways it feels like a lot and still in others ways, it doesn’t feel like enough as we aim toward a full 10% tithe. I share with you the actual number today because in a time like this, especially, transparency and honest feel essential. I want you to know that I would never ask of you, something I am not also committed to myself.
I have shared before how odd it seems to those in other professions that I give this money back to my employer, but this community is also my spiritual home and giving back is an investment in beloved community, in making sure this oasis is here for us and also for those who have yet to hear our message, and for all who come after, for this generation and generations to come.
Our tradition invites each of us to invest our time and treasure and talents as we are able, joyfully and thoughtfully, giving God our own, whatever the gift may be, knowing generosity brings more generosity.
Beloved of God, I believe we will get through this by choosing to keep feeling, to keeping our hearts open, to keep showing up, to refuse to become numb. But that might just be too hard to do on our own so we give thanks for this congregation, for this church, for this oasis. We are in a battle that is spiritual and viral and we can’t let ourselves stop caring. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Each act of living could be a vibration of light. May it be so.