Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pentecost 26 - Year A

Did you know that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it DOESN’T make a noise?

Yes, that’s true. The tree’s fall will send out a sound wave. And it remains only a wave until it comes in contact with an ear which processes it as sound.

At least that’s the theory. Proving it is something else altogether.

Today’s gospel asks a similar question: If you have gifts and talents and you bury them under ground so no one can see them, how do you live the life that God intended for you?

You don’t.   They remain but potential until they come in contact with other’s lives, which then allow them to bloom and grow.  

At least that seems to be the message that today’s parable is getting across.  Proving it is something else altogether.

In one sense, this parable is easy for us to understand. For any of us who have investments, be it an RRSP, RESP, a stock portfolio, or whatever, this parable sings our tune. Investments. High yields. The value of risk and reward. Tough bosses.

But then the parable turns in on itself. Jesus’ listeners, while cheering on the high performing slaves, probably waited with baited breath to the find out what was going to happen to the one slave who plays it safe.

They could relate. The crowd was used to getting beaten up. They knew what was coming. If you’re on society’s bottom rung, you get used to the feel of people’s shoes on the back of your neck.

“I know you are a harsh man,” the slave says in his defense. “Reaping where you did not sow, taking from where you did not invest. You’re a hard-nosed business man. Nortel has nothing on you.”

The owner stands back and folds his arms against his chest.

“Really.” he says. “I gave you a substantial sum to play with. You could’ve done whatever you wanted with it. You could have been a creative as you wanted. The least you could have done is put the money in a GIC or a savings account. You could’ve done SOMETHING. But no, you weren’t just safe. You were cowardly”

The third slave, for whatever reason, was terrified of his master. It’s amazing what fear will do to us.

BBT points out:

“Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light. It is suffocating inside and dark. There is no room to turn around inside it. You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you cannot see anyhow. There is no future in the dark. Everything is over. Everything is past. When you are locked up like that, tomorrow is as far away as the moon.”

I’m guessing that’s what the slave felt: a paralyzing fear that stripped him of any initiative. He couldn’t help but see his boss as a tyrant, even when the boss was giving him a tremendous opportunity.

I wonder if that’s how many people see God. They expect God to be a judgmental tyrant and they can’t see the kindness that God offers them. Cultural religion is rife with a judgmental God. How can God be God if he isn’t smiting evil-doers, flooding the earth, or being the ultimate authority figure?

People expect God to be a punishing tyrant because that’s how they experience many Christians. Unfortunately, some of the loudest voices the Christian church has to offer are also the most shrill and condemning.

Flipping through the channels and stumbling across religious TV you see many tele-preachers with their well-moussed hair-dos and beads of angry sweat dribbling down their scrunched faces, haranguing to vast crowds hanging their every word.

While most Christians have little to no resemblance to these folks, we tend to get all lumped together. We can talk until our voices are hoarse saying God is loving and kind, when someone will point to the end of today’s reading as proof that God is looking for reasons to punish sinners rather than save them.

The ending to today’s parable, if taken at face value, would strike terror in the heart of any innocent by-stander, perhaps hearing from Jesus for the first time. It only confirms the rumour they heard about God being harsh and judgmental. And it only confirms what the slave thought of his boss:

“As for this worthless slave,” the boss thunders, “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Wow. Is that a veiled threat?

It’s like Jesus is saying, “Either accept God’s kindness and generosity or you better get used to warm places.”

If I were one of Jesus’ disciples I’d say, “I don’t know if that’s the best tactic, Jesus.” If you’re trying to push folks to get off the couch and use what God has given them, then – maybe – you’ll want to use softer language, offer incentives, encourage rather than bully.

But those listening to Jesus, might have known that Jesus was in full rhetorical flourish. He wanted to hammer his point home; that God has lavished upon us so many more gifts than we can ever begin to use.

Our Bishop Steve Kristiansen, at last week’s Conference convention, said that if every Lutheran in the synod jumped all that the same time, we would create a tremor that the whole world could feel. Think of the untapped potential, latent among us!  We have talents among us that we haven’t even begun to delve into, let alone employ.

That’s what this parable is about. It tells us that God desires for us that joy of serving something larger than ourselves. God desires for us that sense of being caught up in something so HUGE that all we can do is take a deep breath and jump in head first.

George Bernard Shaw once said that:

“This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown out in the scrapheap, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish, little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

That’s what Jesus is talking about – to be a weasel, a selfish, little clod of ailments and grievances – the third slave – or to be part of a larger purpose, to give yourself, to give ALL yourself, ALL the living you have, to throw yourself into something bigger than you are.

God has created a world that is packed full of holiness – of beauty and wonder, of love and opportunities to love, of great joy – and gives it to US, to enjoy for a time – to see what WE can do with it. And God is tremendously excited to see what we might do with this wonderful gift.

I think that’s how God is asking us to think about our building programme, not as a solution to our building woes, but to use the new building as an offering to world, to use all our gifts to minister to those around us.

In other words: Trust the master. Take a risk. God has given us the gift of a lifetime! Maybe even longer!

May this be so among us. Amen.


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