Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 † Psalm 90:1-12 † 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 † Matthew 25:14-30
A video version of this sermon can be found here.
The kingdom of God, the reign of God, the world in which God’s will is done is like this: a man going on a journey summoned his servants and entrusted his considerable riches to them.
We’ve talked about this parable before. It is a sticky one—one of those that can be read in multiple ways depending on how you identify the players, depending on the way you read it. And there may be no right answer to it, except the one that gets us closer to the deep truth of God’s life in the world and in us in this moment in time, which is probably the one that disturbs and challenges us the most.
I suspect we know the traditional reading. This is a story about the importance of doing something with the gifts and the talents we have been given. And this is true, isn’t it? It is important. The master to whom the talents belong is God, or maybe Jesus, and the servants are the disciples—us, you and me—who take what we’ve been given and use it for good, or don’t perhaps to our peril. Paul kind of sums up this idea in his letter to the Thessalonians: “Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” Make investments in God’s ways, in other words, and be cautious when God’s ways challenge those ways to which we have grown accustomed.
There’s much to be drawn from this, and some difficulties as well. How, for example, do we reconcile this callous or even cruel absentee owner for whom forgiveness seems to be a rare commodity, who seems to take delight in enriching those who are already rich and throwing the one who already had little into the darkness—how do we reconcile this image with the God who in Jesus is love and justice equally? How do we imagine that this one who gave his life for the sake of the world could be so hard-hearted?
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16 † Psalm 19:7-14 † James 5:13-20 † Mark 9:38-50
In his book of essays called My Story as Told by Water[i], northwest writer David James Duncan writes of the chasm between his father and himself. His dad was a World War II vet whose perspective had been forever fixed by the searing experience of liberating a Nazi concentration camp. Duncan was a product of the protest culture of the 1960s Vietnam era. His experience was not unlike many in that age. He describes it this way:
In 1966, when I was fourteen, I began to question the war at our family supper table. The instant I’d speak up, my father would snap that the only reason I could criticize the war at all was that our troops in Vietnam were protecting my freedom to do so. I would argue back by saying that my freedom did not strike me as being dependent upon the clique of Saigon businessmen whom Americans were actually protecting, or on the deaths of the civilians our troops kept “accidentally” killing. Dad would then go off like a bomb, bellowing that I would never talk such rot if I’d seen a concentration camp.
Duncan describes the escalating series of arguments and tensions that grew night after night at the dinner table as both father and son found themselves dug-in deeper and deeper like fox-holes in perspectives that were shaped as much by their stations in life—Duncan as a student watching young men his brothers’ ages going off to a senseless and unwinnable war, never to come back, his father as a veteran of a more comprehensible war with an identifiable enemy, a clearer finish, and now a defense-industry salary that supported his family, including his son of fourteen years.
“I know now,” Duncan writes, “that no argument I could have constructed would have changed my father’s mind, any more than his ‘Nazi’ mantra could change mine. We needed wisdom.”
Isaiah 40:21-31 † Psalm 147:1-11, 20c † 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 † Mark 1:29-39
It was a shot of darkness that I encountered this week. A blog referenced by an old friend, a single voice attempting to name what we have lost. It began with a familiar refrain, noting that in the past 23 days the United States has seen 11 school shootings.[i] According to Everytown for Gun Safety, which seems to be the source of these numbers, we would need to add nine days to the total and only one more shooting for 12 shooting in about 32 days, which lowers the frequency a bit, but frankly doesn’t feel much like good news.
The point of the blog, though, wasn’t the frequency of shootings or even gun violence in general, but what has happened to us as events like this continue to occur. Umair Haque, the blogs author, is suggesting that American culture is in decline, that this American experiment and with it, our notion of American exceptionalism, seems to be on the way out.
Haque’s diagnosis is sobering. He names five destructive tendencies, five social pathologies he observes in American culture that signal this decline. The first is signaled by this statistic about school shootings—that our kids are killing each other. Haque puts the number of shootings and its frequency in perspective in order to make his point. 11 school shootings in 23 days, or 12 shootings in 32 days, if you wish. It is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan, even Iraq. In fact, this just doesn’t happen in any other country in the world. It is, he suggests, a “new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.”[ii]
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
I have heard it said, and I have also said myself, that movement towards justice and peace takes time. In times of discouragement and doubt, I have gone to those I trust, I have come to this place on a Sunday, and I have asked how to hang on. I have been encouraged to try to do so, as best I can, by trusting that in small actions of love and in steady movement to the side of those who are vulnerable and excluded, we not only get powerful glimpses of love and hope in the moment, but get a sense that we connected to something bigger than ourselves, a power that is good and faithful, that gives life meaning and that moves the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
There have been a trail of Mary’s in the path of this arc. They have shown up in their own vulnerabilities, shown up on behalf of those who suffer and those who do not have equal control over their lives, or full access to the opportunities that others are afforded. A trail of Mary’s who hoped, I imagine, that maybe in the moment, their contribution would be the one to topple in some decisive way the systems that oppressed them and others, but who ultimately had to trust that the justice and sense of hope that propelled them would come in a larger way in the future, a future illuminated in important parts of their own lives for sure, but also bigger than who they were and what they could fully know. Mary, the mother of Jesus was in a line of Mary’s who’s heart sang, and whose heart pined for the world to turn.
St. Andrew Sermons