Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sermon for Year A Proper 28

More will be given…

This parable we hear today is a bit ironic.
The message here seems to tell us to invest.
Don’t squander or bury your money—your talents.
Invest and you will earn more.

Our 21st century ears hear that
and we are likely to say, “Oh, really?!!!”
Considering the past few weeks,
sometimes it may be better to bury our money in the backyard
like the criticized and chastised servant did.

Of course,
this parable was not written or told in the 21st century,
but in the first century.
This was centuries before Wall Street
and bull markets, unsecured loans
and other such modern day financial ventures.

Besides, making money, turning a profit,
is also not the real meaning behind this story Jesus tells.
Jesus is saying—
to all of us—
regardless of our century—
each of us
is given gifts.
These gifts are not for any of us to clutch tightly and fearfully.

The work we have to do in this world
is to use these gifts to grow the kingdom of God.
That is the investment we are to make.

It takes courage.
Fear makes us
want to hold onto our talents—
our money, our gifts, our blessings—
What if we don’t get any more?
What if this is it?

We have that urge to hide what we have--
Oh maybe to occasionally give others a peek—
But to live as if what we have been given
is scarce (i.e. if we use it we will lose it)—

Or to live with the attitude
that what we have been given is not real, not important, not significant---
(i.e. why would God bless me?!?!!!???)

But the truth is,
the TRUTH is
we are all blessed.
Each one of us.
How we use our blessing is both our life journey,
and our faith journey.

I—along with several other members of this congregation—
have spent the past three days at Diocesan Convention.
There were 113 clergy and 108 lay delegates from this Diocese present;
58 parishes were represented.

Once a year,
we come together to do the business of the Diocese.
We come together as a touchstone
for how we are doing as a Diocese—
financially and spiritually.
It is an exhausting but also invigorating experience—
to take a larger view of God’s kingdom.
At our annual meeting on December 7th I will show you a DVD
that tells a bit about our Diocese,
and gives us a bigger view of what is happening in our parishes
and in the diocese as a whole.

This year our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori
was our speaker.
She was also the preacher and celebrant
at the Eucharist on Friday evening.

The theme for this year’s convention was DISCERNING THE WAY.
Discerning the way.

That is really what we are all about.
Not just our Diocese, but this parish, St. John’s
And each of us as individuals.

We are here, alive in this world.
discerning the way.
Our way as Christians,
our way as human beings,
our way as part of various communities.

I want to share a few thoughts from our Presiding Bishop.
Her background is that of a scientist.
She is an oceanographer.

One comment she made was this:
when fierce storms come up
it’s better to go into the deep water
so you are not caught in the shallow currents
and tossed against the rocks.

As our Presiding Bishop she has been faced with
fierce storms of threatened division within our church.
She has calmly and fearlessly steered the church
directly in to the deep water.
Bishop Katharine so totally trusts that God is in control
that she does not try to steer the boat (AKA the church)
around the storms—
She knows that is impossible—
She is facing the challenges head on.

Bishop Katherine believes that one of the gifts
God blessed her with
is the gift of dealing with conflict
and helping others face and deal with conflict.
Helping people understand that they need “those others”—
The people they don’t agree with,
The people they don’t like,
The people they think don’t get it.

She believes that a reasoned faith
is about using all the gifts we have been given.
When we put our own gifts in use
we stop being envious of other people’s gifts, other people’s lives.
We aren’t angry or obsessed
with what other people are doing with their talents
because we are too busy, too happy, too engaged
with our own talents.

Bishop Katherine said:
Churches divide and begin to spat
when they focus on the internal—
instead of the external—the true mission of the church.

The church is not about a private little house of worship that is ours.
The church belongs 100% to God.
We come together to worship and pray to give us strength for the journey,
to engage in the gospel
so that we can go out and LIVE the gospel,
to use our talents
so that the least of the Body
is not pushed aside or ignored.

The catechism in the Book of Common Prayer
Asks the question,
The answer given to instruct our faith is this:

asks the Catechism (Page 855).
The Church pursues its mission
As it prays and worships,
proclaims the Gospel,

And the last question of that section of the catechism is this:

The Church carries out is mission through the ministry of ALL its members.

ALL its members.

We are each and all
given gifts
so that we might be a part of God’s marvelous mission.
What a partnership we are offered!

So if you or I
are taking our gifts and burying them in the backyard of our lives
we show a blatant distrust
of God’s continuing work in this world.
Cynicism has no role in the life of a Christian.

We have the responsibility—and the joy—
of using our gifts.

The Church calls us to grow,
not stand still.
It may not be to grow in numbers;
the most important growth is in our own relationship with God.

Church is
not a place to let our fields go barren
or overgrown with old weeds of the past.

Where we choose to worship
must be a place for us
where the soil is rich and deep—
a place where our gifts and the gifts of others
will have a chance to grow.

Church is a place to grow deep roots as we connect with God
and to grow tall towards the sun
as we walk humbly, love deeply
and act justly in the world where we live.

If we feel our gifts cannot grow in the place we worship—
then in the words of our Presiding Bishop—
“Some people will find a more fruitful experience worshipping elsewhere.”
She is wise to counsel each one of us:
Find that place where you can grow.

This is hard to hear
But I think it is true.

Bishop Katherine said:
Churches divide and begin to spat
when they focus on the internal—
instead of the external—the true mission of the church.

The slave who dug a hole in the ground and hid the gift he was given
was truly a slave.
He was held captive by his destructive focus on the internal.
He was critical and judgmental
—seeing only the harshness of his master ,
instead of recognizing and celebrating the generosity
that was present.
This slave was afraid.
held captive by fear.
Fear is, indeed, our worst enemy.

The slave who hid his gifts in the darkness of the dirt
was a person with no vision for the future.
He was so imprisoned by the present moment
he had no hope, no trust, no delight in looking to the future.

God has entrusted us with so much.
Our blessings truly multiply
when we live with generosity, with gratitude and with vision.
We are indeed called to encourage one another,
to build up each other.

The parable says that God doesn’t have much use for those who choose to play it safe.
It is hard to use us if we hide in fear.
If we cannot see the blessing because we are blinded by our fear, our anger, our lack of hope.

But the truth is this: We are called to risk everything.
Repeatedly, Jesus calls us to risk everything.
We are called to risk everything
for the one who continues to risk everything for us.

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