November 22, 2020 143rd Anniversary, 2020 Gratitude, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Matthew 25:31-46 “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.”
In the silence of this moment, let us recall what we are particularly grateful for this year - even this year which has been so difficult, filled with reasons to give thanks.
November 22, 2020 143rd Anniversary. - 2020 Gratitude St. Luke UMC
I made my list of gratitude for 2020 as I promised in the letter I sent you this week. I know we all tend to think that 2020 was the worst year ever and can’t wait until it’s over. You might think then, that it would be difficult to come up with things to be grateful for. Not in the least. I filled up the first page without stopping to think really. There are so many wonderful things to be thankful for. I thought the German TV ad even put the virus into perspective as we reflect on the toll that previous crises have taken on people who took on the struggle.
And it’s when we get to the things that have taken a toll on us when our gratitude gets real. How could we not be grateful for the vaccines that seem to be very close and very effective? As I think back on the times in 2020 when I was having difficulty - those are the times when I find myself most authentically grateful - for breathing room and beauty when I felt like leading services and working from home were going to drive me crazy. I am so grateful for people who helped me gain perspective on hard situations, who helped me realize mistakes i made were forgivable, maybe even understandable.
Every one of you is on my gratitude list in some form, many by name. i’m thankful for people with a sense of humor and people with energy, people who do the work that needs to be done again and again, who go into the fields (as Marge Piercy says) “to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along… who move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out.”
Of course I feel most grateful for the people and things that helped me out of places where I was feeling low, or hopeless, or worried. Of course, those are the places where we really give thanks - when we see people making a difference in the ways our community or our children are hurting the most. That’s why today we are giving gifts to the people and groups working with children and helping to give them skills and hope in a wild world. Boy, do we appreciate that work!
Now, let me relate this to our scripture reading this morning. At first read, Matthew’s take on end times, with the Human One coming back to judge the sheep and the goats might not seem to have much to do with gratitude or thanksgiving. Jesus says, that the righteous at the end of time will say, “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?” And Jesus says, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
It’s pretty easy to misread this passage. Many people read this passage and think it’s about what you ‘should’ do. You should feed the hungry, visit the lonely and imprisoned, and give clothes to those in need. Worse, some people read this passage and think it’s about punishment, that it’s about scaring people into helping out the poor or people in prison.
Notice though that this passage is much deeper than that. It’s saying that God lives with the hungry. Jesus is found wherever people are sick or in prison, or naked or thirsty. God lives in and loves the vulnerable, the hurting, the disabled parts of us, the parts that have trouble seeing straight. That’s where we find God, because that’s where God finds us.
Yes, there’s a threatening tone to some of this passage. It’s pointing out how dangerous human tendencies toward apathy and separation can be. When we think that our actions have no consequences, that what we do doesn’t matter, we are losing our humanity, we are losing ourselves
Jesus calls us to love those who are considered to not be able to love us back not so that we can earn God’s love or anyone else’s love, “not to curry favor, not to make sure we are considered righteous at the end of time. We give as an expression fo the love that is inside of us, bubbling up, spilling over, and flowing out.” when we are in touch with who we really are in Christ. [p. 337, Feasting on the Word, 2nd Pentecost.]
Did you see in the passage how the people didn’t even know what Jesus was talking about? When did we see you poor or hungry, or in prison? I don’t recall doing that! (Oh, yeah, I helped out Krista. But what does that have to do with caring for Jesus?) When we are living out of God’s love, when we are fully human, that love becomes habitual. Love is what we do, because we are God’s people.
In Matthew, the righteous are surprised to realize that had cared for the ruler of all Creation, because they had simply shared who they were and what they had freely, without calculation or expectation. We find God’s liberating love where we least expect it, because we were just acting out of our most human instincts, our honest compassion. When we forget about ourselves and care about others, we find the Living God.
So let’s bring this back to gratitude. Of course, we feel grateful for the people and things that helped us out during 2020 in a place we were hurting. Of course, we feel most grateful in the places where we were hungry, thirsty, where we felt naked or imprisoned. Those are the places in ourselves and those are the places in others where we most know God’s presence, where we find Christ living within and among us.
It’s not about what we should do, or what we’ll get in trouble for if we don’t do. It’s about who we are in and through the presence and power of the Living God.
When we practice compassion until it because habitual and part of who we are, then we are really living as part of God’s community. Every one of you is on my gratitude list this year, because I feel your prayers for me and I know your compassion for the world. You carry on the legacy of this church that has been living out the love of God for over 143 years. Thank you.
This is God’s good news.
Responsive Hymn 62 All Creatures of our God and King