Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Unbearable Joy of Fear-Filled Discipleship

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  (Matthew 25:14-30 NRSV)

Let’s make one thing clear:  you are enough.

If in, reading this parable you think you’re not enough, you’re not alone.  As Christians, we profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  With that, we are saved by grace through faith.  I repeat: saved by grace through faith.

You see, it’s all about grace.  Grace is God’s greatest gift to the world.  We don’t earn it; we don’t deserve it.  Grace is that unexplained provision that you didn’t expect; that moment of serendipity; that sense of feeling God’s presence, perhaps for no reason at all.  God’s grace is irresistible.  Grace is God’s way of saying,  “I love you more than you can ever know.”

Then what’s this parable all about?  Did Jesus change his mind and decide that we’re not saved by grace?  Perhaps we forgot to read the fine print and we have to work for salvation after all.

Let’s begin with that third slave.  Does he remind you of someone you know?  Someone who sees the glass half empty.  She has an excuse for every bad thing that’s happened to her and it always ends with: it’s not my fault.  He blames other people and other situations for his bad luck in life.  She can’t possibly accept people as they are, but reads into every action a negative connotation.  He’s angry most of the time.

Our third slave is like that.  He sees in the master a harsh man.  Yet, what we see is a generous man, trusting his slaves to care for his money while he’s gone.  He gives money to each slave, “according to his ability.”  He sees in the one-talent man the potential to make money.  Apparently, the two-talent and five-talent slaves have proven themselves in the past and receive more responsibility.  Not only that, the  money with which he entrusts them is huge.  One Talent, alone, is equal to 15 years’ wages.

The third slave had a golden opportunity to rise above his station, to prove to himself and to the master his God-given gifts.  Instead, he couldn’t take the risk.  He was afraid so he played it safe.  Despite the master’s faith and trust in him, he couldn’t trust himself enough to risk.  Rather than drop the money off at the local bank, he angrily buried it.  “There!  I’ll show him!”

I don’t want to be that slave.  God has richly gifted me.  I want to pay it forward.  But, I’m afraid.  I’m scared to do more than drop a dollar in the hand of a homeless man at the red light.  I write checks to various charities, knowing that my few dollars will do so much more than I can imagine.  Yet, I never have the time to drop in and visit the homeless shelter.  I’m afraid to risk.

The two- and five-talent slaves dove in with both feet!  They felt God’s grace and it empowered them to step up and make things happen.  They managed to double the investment, but it took years.  It wasn’t easy.  They almost lost everything a few times.  Some investments weren’t as lucrative as others.  They misjudged, on occasion.  But, the master had trusted them so they kept at it.  And the day he returned, they proudly returned to him twice what they had received.

What will you do with what God has graced you with?  I hope that you’ll spend some time thinking about how you’ve been gifted.  That those painful experiences may have also been teaching moments; that your career choice developed your skills; that age and experience have taught you more than you realize.

This week, as you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps you can give thanks for those things.  List them, embrace them.  This is where life has brought you by the grace of God.  God has been with you, yes even you, through both the easy and the difficult times in your life.  What have you learned from them?  In what ways are you a better person for having lived through them.  It took risk, but you did it anyway.

Now, pay it forward.  Where is God calling you to be?  Perhaps giving more money to the poor.  Writing letters to your Senators encouraging acts of justice for those who are sidelined.  Volunteering at the local shelter or food pantry.  Mentoring young people who are just beginning their careers.  Working with children to encourage them to reach their potential.

Will you take the risk?  Jesus calls us to do just that.  Risk.  Jump into that river of grace.  Expand your horizons.  Accept Jesus’ invitation to that high-risk adventure of faith and discipleship.

Scared?

Yes.  So am I.

Find someone to jump in with you.   And then welcome others to that unbearable joy of fear-filled discipleship.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

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Walking the Talk

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.[b] And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.[c] 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12 NRSV)

The funeral was painful.  He had suffered cancer for two years and died peacefully. Surrounding him at his death were his closest friends and his family.  Anyone who knew us would have viewed the dichotomy.

His family knew his brokenness.  We knew him to be an angry man who tried to handle it and, at times, managed to do so.  But, we also remember the rages and the humiliation at his hands.  He was a brilliant man, but his narcissism ultimately controlled him.

His friends only knew a man who was funny, talented, caring and knowledgeable.  They were younger than him, and he mentored many of them.  They had many stories to share with us.  His friends loved him and listened to his wisdom while teasing him.  His family loved him while tiptoeing around him.

The funeral was painful because no one was willing to speak up for the painful side of him.  No one permitted family to speak about his brokenness.  We weren’t allowed to share the story of his daughter’s wedding day when he felt the presence of God and worked diligently to convert to Catholicism.  We weren’t allowed to grieve the loss of this broken, hurting man.  Instead, we buried a pillar of the society who could no wrong.

That’s why All Saints’ Day is important for me.  Traditionally celebrated on November 1st, it’s a time to remember those who have died in the faith.  These are the saints who have gone before us.

We remember them because they taught us or modeled their faith.  Like the woman who got tired of seeing the children playing in their yards instead of going to church.  She gathered them up and brought them to Sunday school.

Like the elder who took a young, newly married man and mentored him through his early 20’s.

We remember those who told their stories boldly.  The World War II Veteran who ran behind a hill with his fellow Lieutenant when the bombers flew over.   When the bombing was over he turned to see that, though he came out unscathed, his comrade had died.  Why?”  he asked.  “Why not me, I wasn’t married with a family like this guy.”

We remember those who suffered long illnesses with grace; the musicians who showed up every Sunday morning; our Sunday school teachers; our Youth leaders.  We also remember those who showed up, broken and alone.

Jesus is still in the temple in Jerusalem.  The religious elite are done arguing with him.  Jesus knows, however, that this reprieve will be short.  Within a few days he’ll be betrayed, tried and crucified.  Before he goes, he has some more teaching to do.  So he turns to the crowds and his disciples to begin the teaching.

“Do as the religious leaders say.  They are learned men and they do a good job interpreting scripture.  Don’t do as they say, though.  They don’t walk their talk.”

When we are put in a position of power, it becomes all too easy to believe our own press.  Ministers and pastors run into this often.  They are seen as men and women with Biblical authority.  They are intelligent and speak truthfully.  And they get used to being treated with deference.  The more beloved they are, the greater the honors given them.  Before long, they arrive at a banquet and head for the best seat in the house like a metal is drawn to a magnet.

After a while, no one dares argue with them.  No one confronts them.  And they fall easily into a state of being loved, not for who they really are, but because of their authority.

There are a few who go further.  These are the ones who aren’t particularly comfortable in their own skin.  They make sure you know that they are the Rev. Dr. Jones from that tall steeple church.  They pretend humility.  They pretend everything.

They are the hypocrites.  The ones who deceive themselves and others into believing they are something they aren’t.  The ones who cover up their sins behind pretenses of pietism.  The phonies and fakes.  The fearful and broken.  The proud and damaged. The loving and lovable.  The caring and cared for.

In fact they are all of us.

We are the saints who say one thing and do another.  We say, “yes” to the Beatitudes until we see the latest news.  We speak of racial equality while ignoring our white privilege.  We strive to serve the poor but can’t seem to find the money or the time to reach out ourselves.  We pray for peace and demand vengeance.

It’s all of us.  We are confused and torn by what we honestly believe and how we carry out that belief.  We look for the Kingdom of Heaven and see very little, if anything.  We are worn out by compassion for hurricane victims and threats of war in the world and violence in our nation.  We are sick and tired of those who seek their ten minutes of fame.  We’re tired of arguing and bickering; of agreeing over nothing.

Where’s the good news?

The good news is found on All Saints’ Day.  In many churches across the world, it was celebrated this past Wednesday.  Others will celebrate it today.  There is much good news to be found in this remembrance.

We remember that a Sunday school teacher may have been a great person, but they were also bigoted;  that the wonderful choir director was an abusive husband; that each of these saints weren’t perfect.”  Saints are Christians.  And they were Christians.  But, they were also broken in some way, just as you and I are broken in our ways.

On All Saints’ Day we remember those who have gone before us not as perfect people but as people perfected by our Lord.  This is a reminder that our Lord is perfecting us right now in this minute and every day.

Embrace your brokenness and let it go.  Give it to God.  It won’t be easy.  For some of us, it’ll take a lifetime.  But you can begin, if you haven’t already.  Give to God your pain and desire for revenge; your broken spirit; your fear; your burdens.  Let it go.

It’s a gift to God who will embrace you even as you let go.  God will fill that void left by the anger or fear.  Perhaps not today, but soon.  God will work with you to transform your life, to perfect you.

As I sat at that funeral, I was angry and, sadly, everyone knew it.  But in the years since then, I’ve learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’ve looked back on my life of abuse and realize that God was present with me to make me stronger.

Most of all, I give thanks that when he took his last breath, I believe with all my heart that he fell into Jesus’ arms and sobbed out a lifetime of pain.

Do we have the courage to do the same on this side of life?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 


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