all push for perfection, but that is not what God is asking
by Mimsy Jones
ago, my husband Frank and I chartered a big, box-like motorboat
in Florida. The boat, called a Grand Banks Trawler,
had a large inboard motor, and, all in all, was more boat
than we needed. Frank thought it would be great to cruise
Inland Waterway for several days, just the two of us. He
is a great sailor, but had never captained a motorboat. I
had been in some motorboats, but knew absolutely nothing
about them. It was risky, but, being over-achievers and wanting
to try something new, we decided to go.
We stocked up on provisions and were already sitting in
the boat when an instructor joined us for the mandatory lesson
that was supposed to last several hours. It was a beautiful
day, so we were impatient to be off, and we did not listen
as well as we should have.
off eagerly, only to find ourselves aground five minutes
later. Gently, but firmly, we had run right onto
a sand bar, and though we pretty quickly extricated ourselves,
it was sobering. We should have listened more carefully.
The instructor had warned us about sand bars; what else had
he said that we’d forgotten?
Inland Waterway, as most of you know, is wider than the
Mississippi River, or at least it is where we were. I
had pictured something more like a canal, so the vast expanse
of water was a surprise, not to mention the strong wind that
soon whipped up. In fact, the whole day was a surprise: the
hard rain, the way that big boxy boat bounced around, and
the fact that everything not nailed down could blow away.
I can still see an entire roll of paper towels flying out
By day’s end, we were exhausted. About five o’clock,
Frank called the nearest marina, which was on Captiva Island,
and got permission to tie up there for the night. The minute
we turned into that harbor, I relaxed. But Frank didn’t.
He had to dock the boat, and we soon realized that we were
by far the smallest boat there. We looked like Little Toot
in New York Harbor.
Frank steered through the looming yachts, straight toward
the place assigned to us. He drew alongside and yelled to
me to jump off and tie us up, which I started to do.
I was on the dock with the rope in my hands when suddenly
the boat lunged forward, into the wooden dock, and there
was a sickening sound of splintering wood, a terrible sound
of a motor grinding, and then silence.
“I forgot what that guy said about docking,” Frank
said, looking sick. Standing there, with a small white rope
in my hand, feeling helpless and humiliated, I saw a man
walk slowly down the dock toward us, obviously from one of
the enormous yachts. He wore khaki shorts and a clean white
shirt and sandals, and he had a drink of some kind in one
took the rope from me and tied it expertly to the dock,
and then he looked at Frank and said gently, “Captain,
I watched the whole thing. You made a perfect landing but
then it looked like you weren’t satisfied. That’s
when you messed up. Don’t you know ‘the enemy
of good is better’?
enemy of good is better. How right he was, and is. Most
push for perfection in everything.
said, “Knowing the correct password – saying, ‘Master,
Master’ for instance – isn’t going
to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious
obedience – doing
what my Father wills. I can see it now – at the
Final Judgment, thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master,
we preached the Message; we bashed the demons; our God-sponsored
projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know
what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All
you did was use me to make yourselves important. You
impress me one bit.’” --Matthew 7:21-29, The
gospel verses are the conclusion of a great body of teaching
called The Sermon on the Mount, which includes the
Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and the Lord’s Prayer.
The Sermon on the Mount takes up almost three whole chapters
of Matthew’s gospel, and contains the foundation of
Christian living, then and now.
taught his disciples how to live more than what to believe. “Only the one who does the will of my Father
in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven,” he says.
of the Father is pretty much spelled out in The Sermon
on the Mount: strive for justice among all people,
treat others as you want to be treated, and when you pray
say, ‘thy will be done.’ That, as we know, is
a huge order in itself. And it is enough.
I read the gospel reading in a Bible study class this week,
there was an audible sigh. “What brought that
on?” I asked. “We just never hear anything like
that,” one person said. “Like what?” I
pressed. “Well, that we don’t have to accomplish
so much,” a woman said. “I try to accomplish
so much, at church and at home and at work that I am almost
sick.” Of course, the gospel doesn’t exactly
say that, but it’s what she heard.
thought it was a fascinating reaction. Here is a gospel
down what many of us hold dear – being
well-thought-of for our good works – and a group of
devoted church members felt like they’d been given
more we talked, the more I began to understand: they want
be good people; they want to do God’s will
as much as possible. They just want to hear that they don’t
have to be the ‘best’ Vestry member, the ‘best’ stewardship
captain, or the most popular Godly play teacher. They want
to be good parents (and grandparents, daughters, and friends),
not necessarily the best ones.
the women pointed to a verse from today’s psalm,
Be still and know that I am God. “Look
at that,” she said. “I don’t even know what
that means.” I thought she was going to cry.
means just what it says. STOP. Stop doing, stop talking.
time to be still, to breathe, to grieve. In stillness
and quiet, we are much more likely to draw near to God, to
know God, and in turn ourselves. Everywhere I go, people
say they are exhausted. We have forgotten that rest is one
of the 10 Commandments.
does not mean we are to deny our gifts and talents. Jesus
never condemned a person’s abilities. It is good
to preach and teach well; healings are great blessings, to
the healed and to the healer; and there are ministries that
really do bring the kingdom of God closer to people. We are
to use our talent, not use it up!
is to do these things quietly and well, not to be noticed
and praised. The best advice I ever heard about
preaching was from Francis of Assisi who told a young monk, “Preach
always; use words, if necessary.”
Jesus used words, they were carefully chosen. Often when
asked a direct question he didn’t give a direct
answer. Instead, he told a story, a parable. He used children,
widows, Samaritans, and wayward sons as examples of much
your house on a rock, Jesus said, not on sand. And
not talking about building in Colorado instead of in Destin.
He’s talking about building our lives on solid materials,
solid principles like those in the Sermon on the Mount. He
is not talking about building the biggest house, or the safest
house, just a good house, based on the truth of his teaching.
We can’t do better than that; we shouldn’t try.
The enemy of good is better!
years ago, Frank bought a motorboat in Maine, a small one
like the lobstermen use. It has a modest-sized outboard
motor. Even though he can drive it all over the bay by himself,
Frank likes for me to come along. But he has learned his
taking me on what he said was a “day cruise,” he called a man named Harold, an old salt who has lived his
life in a boat and now teaches people about them.
him immediately. “The captain here,” he
said, nodding toward Frank, “wants you to learn how
to dock this boat, or at least help him dock it.” I
rolled my eyes up to the blue sky. “But what I am going
to teach you is more important. Take
your time. Don’t
try to impress anyone, and don’t do anything until
you are comfortable. There’s no such thing as a perfect
landing. Just do as well as you can. That will be good enough.”
“Oh, yes, Harold,” I said. “I understand.
I learned years ago that the enemy of good is better.” He
looked surprised, then winked at me and said, “Then
get on out to sea; you’ll be fine.”
Copyright ©2005 The Rev. Margaret Jones.
Preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN, May 29, 2005.