Sermon 11/16/2008: Proper 28A

November 17, 2008 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

Matthew 25:14-30

This week’s Gospel lesson is the second of three parables that make up Matthew 25.  In them, Jesus speaks about the time when God’s kingdom will be revealed.

I spoke last week about our Christian assertion that now, God’s kingdom is present, but hidden, and at some point will be revealed to all.  But it is not only the kingdom of God which is to be revealed.  In some strange way, everything is to be revealed, so that the thoughts of our hearts, the meaning of our actions in the present time, will be laid bare as well for all to see.

If the message of last week’s lesson could be summed up, “Live expectantly,” and the next week’s Gospel lesson can be summed up, “Live compassionately,” then perhaps this week’s Gospel would be: “Live responsibly.”

Responsibility.  Such a boring word.  Such a kill-joy.  As a satirical magazine has pointed out, there is a reason they’re called “Fun-yuns,” and not “Responsibility-yuns.”

“Live responsibly.”  That’s a phrase that those advertising beer use to remind you not to use so much of their product that you drive under the influence (or do something similarly if not so catastrophically stupid, like post pictures of yourself drunk on the Internet).

How can such a phrase be rehabilitated?  You see, it was more than mere responsibility that moved the first two slaves to imrove their master’s property and that moved the third slave to bury that large amount of money in a hole in the ground.  It was relationship.  It was the quality and the content of relationship that determined the action of the three slaves.  We might be able to say that it is relationship that determines responsibility.

Think of the one who asks Jesus in Luke 10:25-37, “Who is my neighbor?”  Who am I responsible to love?  With whom am I in relationship?

In response to that question, Jesus tells the story of a man who falls victim to thieves and is left for dead, who is saved not by those who are related to him by blood or religion, but by the one who feels in his guts the common relationship of humanity and who is therefore moved to take responsibility for him.  Jesus urges that we take the Samaritan for a model when asking “with whom am I in relationship?”

In this parable, Jesus speaks not of relationships among human beings, but of relationships with God.  We are urged to model our relationship with God in the here in now upon Jesus’ relationship with the Father, exemplified in the story by the relationship of the first two slaves with their master.  We are urged to avoid the relationship of the third slave, which is a relationship of fear and not of love.

If I were to ask, “What is the opposite of love,” most would answer “hate.”  But it is actually fear that is the opposite of love.  1 John 4:18 tells us:  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  The words may have been written with the third slave in mind.  His every word and action is an excuse for his inaction.  He comes right out and says, “I was afraid.”

He has no relationship with the master except that of fear of punishment.  Fear is related to hatred in that it gives rise to hatred.  It would have been better, thinks the third slave, to have been given nothing at all, for then there would be no opportunity to be punished.  He resents the opportunity he has been given, the responsibility given, and indeed begins to hate the master.  And he receives nothing less from the master than what he expected of him – punishment.

By contrast, there is much love and joy in the actions of the first two slaves.  When they come into the presence of the master who has returned, it is like Christmas morning.  Aren’t you excited when you can give a gift to someone you love?  Don’t you lie awake at night thinking of her face when she receives the surprise?  Is not the joy multiplied abundantly when the one who receives rejoices with the one who gives?

Sometimes we might look upon the first two slaves as presenting the doubling of income in self-satisfied assumption of a reward.  But what actually happens?  They don’t get a share of the earnings, like a CEO might get a bonus in the good old days; instead, they get more responsibility!  “You have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things!”  The reward is to have a deeper relationship with the master.  The reward is the joy.

Jesus tells this parable not to teach us how to be good servants to masters, or good children to parents, or even good workers for employers.  Jesus tells this parable to show us how to be children of God in the present, how to be in relationship to God.  God establishes that relationship with us.  He creates us and washes us by water and the Word in Holy Baptism.  He gives us a unique, unrepeatable life to life; one that has never been before and will never be again.  And he calls us to live it for him.

Enter into his joy.  Live your life responsibly, because when you’re in relationship, you respond to the one with whom you are in relationship.  And don’t worry about losing it all.  Sometimes when we look at this parable, we worry: “What if I blow it?  What if it all disappears?”  No life lived for God is ever a waste.

Perhaps we are now overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task before us.  Let us close with words of Mother Teresa, who said, “There are no great things, only small things with great love.”  She said of the day of judgment, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will NOT ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?,’ rather he will ask, ‘How much LOVE did you put into what you did?'”

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