Sunday, November 20, 2011

More Light and More Water, Please

November 20, 2011
More Light and More Water, Please
Matthew 25:31-46

When I first arrived in Nevada four years ago, one of the first things that I did was to buy one of those cute little cactus groupings that are arranged in colorful bowls filled with sand and rocks.

I was quite proud of the one I found. It had several small round cacti that were bright orange, red, and green. It also had a rather spectacular tall green cactus with very long and very sharp spikes. The bowl itself was a multi-colored ceramic affair that fit perfectly on a small table near one of the sofas in our living room.

I was totally happy. I had become a true Nevadan complete with cactus and a couple of dream catchers.

However, my husband was quite annoying in his nagging me about the care of my cherished cactus. Time after time he said, “It needs more light, and you need to water it every once in a while.” I being my stubborn self, would reply, “It has plenty of light, and it’s a cactus, it doesn’t need water.”

The cactus remained on the table, pretty far from any natural light, and I watered it only once every couple of months and even then with just a little bit of water. After all, it really didn’t need any water – right?

Wrong - Very wrong.

About eight months after I purchased this poor little set of plants, I happened to look across the room and saw, much to my dismay, that the proudly tall green and very spiky cactus was limply hanging over the edge of the brightly colored bowl, and a milky fluid was leaking from its side - leaking all over my landlady’s fairly expensive beige wall-to-wall carpet.

My beautiful cactus was dead.

What in the world you might ask does my ignorance how about to care for a few little cactus plants have to do with today’s readings.

A great deal really. The words that we have just heard spoken in Ezekiel’s prophesy; Paul’s exhortations in his Letter To The Ephesians; and Jesus’ teachings in Matthew’s Gospel are all about caring. Caring about God’s creation and caring about God’s children; caring in a way that will make the world a better place; caring in a way that drives us to live as Jesus would have us live – watching out for and over people, places and things in need, and helping where we can.

Caring enough to give light and water.

In the Old Testament lesson, Yahweh calls Ezekiel to prophesy against the shepherds of Israel – their leaders. He is to condemn them for feeding themselves and not their sheep. They have failed to heal the sick and to see the lost. They have ruled harshly, and as a result the sheep have become scattered and become food for wild animals.

Yahweh pronounces judgment: “Behold, I am against the shepherds…I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be food for them…I will bring them out of the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land…I will feed them with good pastures…I will seek that which was lost…I will feed them in justice.”

In Matthew’s Parable of the Sheep and the Goats deeds of mercy, meeting the specific needs of people, especially those who may go unseen and unheard, such as those suffering from persecution throughout the world, are the way to righteousness; the way to eternal life.

Jesus’ words are emphatic. We need to be mindful of the poor and the needy throughout the world. We need to care for all Christians - persecuted Christians in particular; and we need to support those who proclaim the Gospel and those whom they serve.

“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. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We are left with no ambiguity with regard to our duty. Christ will bless those who show mercy to “the least of these;” to those who watch for opportunities to minister to needy people throughout the world.

Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians could not be clearer. He writes,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

Paul prays that, in our hearts – with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we will see the gift of salvation that Jesus gave us through his death on the cross. Paul prays that we will become good shepherds of that gift and that through it we will come to know the joys of eternal life both now and in the world to come.

Paul prays that in seeing the gifts that God has given us, we will understand the incredible gift that we have to give others, and that we will engage in the giving of that gift – in caring for the sick, the needy and the lonely.

Now, you are going to ask me how does all that relate to the story about my cactus and to life, in general?  Well, pretty simple – I was not a good shepherd. I failed to recognize the gift of my little plant. I failed to understand that my little plant needed light and water and in so doing – I killed it. Pure and simple – it died for lack of care.

Now I am going to take a big leap from my cactus plant to our church, Grace in the Desert. 

That, quote/unquote, nagging that you are hearing this month from various members of the vestry and clergy, that nagging phrase that says, “Without your support we won’t be able to do the things that God is asking us to do here at Grace,” is a nagging that we all need to pay attention to. 

Grace in the Desert is our gift; it is is our church and it has a mission – a mission in Christ to serve our community and to care for the sick, the needy and the poor – to care for God’s sheep. Our gift of Grace has made us shepherds.

Our jobs as shepherds cannot be carried out with insufficient light and water.

Most assuredly without abundant support Grace, and our work at Grace, will die just like my cactus; just like any plant or human being will die if left uncared for; just like sheep who stray will die and be food for wild animals.

As members of the Grace in the Desert community we are the shepherds of our Church. Our membership at Grace is a symbol, an outward manifestation of our membership in God’s Kingdom. As members of God’s Kingdom, we need to tend our sheep. We need to hear the nagging. We need to move the plant, and water it! We need to respond with action; not complacency.

Grace in the Desert can be a great light in a troubled community and a troubled world. Grace in the Desert can heal many, many people. Grace in the Desert can bring us all closer to the eternal life that we all seek.

These are profoundly important goals. They cannot be reached without light and without water.