24th Sunday after Pentecost ~ Year A
|Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 | Psalm 90:1-12 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 | Matthew 25:14-30|
How many times have you marveled at the energy of a young child running circles around you? A few times? Every time? It’s enough to leave us breathless, those of us with many more years of experience, wear, and tear. That’s a different kind of breathlessness than that of holding a newborn child, especially if we’re there in those first moments after birth, holding the bundle of newly emerged energy even while the lifeblood from the mother tries to find a balance. She’s exhausted, and we’re amazed. In that precious moment we are in the presence of a miracle pulsating with life and potential, acutely aware that something nearly magical has happened, that the veil between what was before and what is now has been crossed in a visible and tangible way. Gratitude wells up in our hearts and often our eyes, and a whispered “Thanks be to God” might be all we can say. We are present to something real, something meaningful (even if we don’t exactly know how yet). We mark the day annually, celebrating birthdays for the holy days they are in our lives but especially their meaningfulness in the lives of others.
Other occasions of joy and gratitude, love and meaning, we don’t often celebrate but experience in the moment. We shop and box up food for a family, doing the inconvenient thing especially in this time of covid to shop for others to provide something more than physical nourishment. Our act of giving unconditionally to another in need says we see you, we hear your need, and we give of our abundance to share with you. Again, we offer thanks to God.
We reduce, reuse, and recycle to reduce waste and our footprint on this planet, showing our care for Creation and hope for future generations. We listen intently to the person speaking to us, sharing their story, our phones silenced or forgotten while we abide in a moment together to laugh or cry but to be fully awake and present to one another. These moments and so many others give us the opportunity to recognize the value of life and presence and to glimpse a sense of our purpose, our meaning. Ahhhh. How many of us wonder what our purpose and meaning are in this life?
Especially now when life’s troubles are so great, when death and devastation are so prevalent, do we wonder if who we are and what we do makes a difference?
If we think about the most meaningful moments of our lives, are others present? Do they know how much that moment meant to us? The mother who blesses us with entrance to her birthing room, the mentor who blows our mind by holding a mirror to our brilliance … do they know how much they have enriched our lives? Do you think the people who owned the property behind my childhood home knew how much it meant to me that I could wander in their woods and play by and in the creek and imagine untold stories while perched on the fallen tree by the waterfall? These are sacred moments in time that I barely give credit for; why would I expect someone else to be aware of them?
We’re wrapping up the Season after Pentecost and moving quickly toward Advent (officially, in case we haven’t already started our preparations). I cannot help but feel our lectionary preparing us for our lessons to keep awake and not to lose hope. Our collect commends to us our scriptures–to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, and I have to tell you that I was caught in a moment not necessarily of breathlessness but of love and appreciation and gratitude while studying the Word of God. Yes, I know it’s in my ordinal vows to study Scripture daily, and I share much time with you engaged in the Word through the Daily Office, Bible study, and our Sunday Worship. But those of you who also engage daily in Scripture know what I mean when we truly open our heart and mind to seek understanding and Wisdom from the Word of God. With practice and perseverance, dedication and humility, work and openness, we realize that the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus were speaking truth to their experience when they said their hearts were strangely warmed. When the one whom we know to be the resurrected Jesus opened Scripture to them, the Word that was in their hearts, the Word they knew to be of God, was enkindled in a way that reminded them they had not only ingested the Word, but they embodied it. Jesus Christ reminded them of what they had within them. A few moments later, they would be fully aware of what was with them all along, even if Jesus Christ was no longer physically present to them.
The words we hear today in our lessons invite us to live into our lives of meaning and purpose.
If we look to Zephaniah, we hear a prophet chiding a people who have become complacent, perhaps indifferent. Though they worship on the day of the LORD, they come before God in their comfort, out of habit, maybe proud of themselves for living so faithfully. They lack the awareness of their frailty and vulnerability that Psalm 90 addresses. This psalm appeals to God to “teach us to number our days / that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” If we continued to the end of the psalm, we’d find in verse 17 that the psalmist also asks for God’s graciousness to “be upon us; (to) prosper the work of our hands; / prosper our handiwork.” Unlike the Israelites Zephaniah addresses, the psalmist asks for God’s blessing, guidance. The psalmist plainly attributes God as refuge, as God of indignation and of grace and loving-kindness. The work of our hands as children or servants of God can lead to prosperity, if we receive the graciousness of God, if we apply our hearts to God’s wisdom . . . if we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
But what of this parable of the talents? Are we to pursue venture capital so we can do amazing and awesome things with all the money we earn? Well, sure, if you can. I’ve got nothing against good fortune for you and give thanks if you can share that with the church. 🙂 But this parable is a gift from Jesus, and as such, it appeals to the wisdom of our hearts, something greater than our materialistic or capitalistic world can comprehend.
A talent, I read, was equal to 15 years’ earnings for a day laborer. In the parable, the master who is about to leave gives one servant the equivalent of a lifetime’s earnings. To another he gives an adult worker’s earnings–retirement secured. To another, he gives 15 year’s worth–he’s invested in the pension. The master leaves for a long time, each person left to do what they could. Informed by the third servant’s judgment of the master, I’ve always thought that the first two played into the game, dealing and swindling like the master, likewise to be commended for earning their gains by whatever means necessary, whether it was right or legal or fair or not.
For today, I have read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested to hear a different perspective. Yes, I read commentaries alongside my Bible and printout of the readings. I don’t do this work alone, and I don’t suggest you engage alone all the time, either.
The third servant hid his talent out of fear. Did you hear that?
When the master returned, does he count the talents? What does Jesus say the master commends? The trustworthiness. “Well done.” “Good.” Their reward? A promotion? A bonus? “Enter into the joy of your master.” I realize that the slave/master language is difficult. We can reframe it and hear it more clearly, perhaps. Have you ever had a boss thank and reward you and commend you to their joy? But what if we hear this parable from Jesus and see Jesus as the master in the story and his disciples, even ourselves, as the servants? Jesus says, I’m with you now and give you your life, a long time, or a few years. What will you do for the glory of God? What will you do to build up this kin-dom of heaven? Like a Saint you live your life to make more disciples, spreading the Good News to all whom you encounter, so full of life and love as you are. Like another saint, you commit your work to raise the valleys, to the care of the oppressed and the marginalized in whatever way only you can. Well done, good and faithful servant.
How many of us, though, are like the third? We’re given this moment, and we’re afraid. Sounds amazing, Jesus, but I’ve heard stories, and you go messing around where you shouldn’t be. It’ll be easier and safer if I just keep on keepin’ on and find my peace and security in the coins I earn myself. (That’s where the reading from Thessalonians comes in today for me. “Peace and security” was a slogan on Roman coins, reminding the citizens of the source of their peace and security. Paul reminds them that the joke’s on them when Christ returns because the source of peace and security is God alone. So instead of Roman armor and ways of life, better garb up in faith, hope, and love.) In the parable, is says the master had him thrown into darkness, but truly, didn’t he choose to turn toward fear instead of living into the life that was offered to him?
This life that we have, isn’t it easy to be afraid. No matter how many times we’re commended by scripture not to be afraid, we’re crowded by fear and prone to bury our life–our greatest gift and talent, denying the world of the image of God we’re given to share in this world.
But when we give a little space for faith, hope, and love, when we give space to receive grace and mercy, when we allow ourselves to be dependent upon the one who gives us life eternal–from before we were born to the ever after–what happens? What happens when we have God as our first priority, when simply being present in a posture of gratitude, as a beacon of light and love that guides all we meet to God? We have the opportunity to share the presence of God with others, whether we realize it or not. Have you ever done an act of kindness and worried that it meant nothing? Have you ever regretted being present to someone? When we are sick, when we are dying, do we focus on fear? Sometimes. Those who focus on fear are those who are too crowded by darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who, even at the last moment, realize that their life was full of moments that give glory to God know what it is to enter into the fullness of joy of Christ. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).There’s no doubt that these are trying times, but I assure you that our lives are meaningful and filled with purpose. Where you see the presence of God, there it is, already with you. It has been with you all along, since you were knit together in your mother’s womb. Others might recognize it before we realize it ourselves. There is joy to be had if we know where to look. We’ll see it wherever we seek God. There is nowhere we are that God is not. Thanks be to God.