Sermon for Sunday, November 16, 2009, Proper 28-A, RCL~E.
This week I actually saw one t.v. reporter ask that networks financial reporter what investors should do with their money. He said "bury it in the backyard. Only be sure do double wrap your money in plastic ."
It is a good thing that today's Gospel is not really talking about money. Some people want it to go there...otherwise, why would Jesus say this in the middle of stewardship season? No, the lectionary puts this lesson here because (a) it is near the end of Matthew's Gospel and (b) Jesus is leading up to something.
Last week, we heard about being ready. Last week story and this weeks are both about judgment...not so much as what it will be like but what will be expected of us. So we heard then that the church was likened to bridesmaids who escort the groom to wedding feast. The image is that the church lights the way for the Christ so that everyone knows he is coming. As I said then, we light the way and show the world the Christ so that all may find their way to wedding banquet.
Today, we a given an image of a person who invests his money with his servants and then counts up the profit. So if Jesus is talking about judgment and what is expected of us, what is this story telling us?
Let's clarify the cast of characters here: the owner is God, the slaves are us, and the coins are...what? What do you think? I think the gold--the talents--is our faith. And when I say faith I want you to think of this on your mental blackboard: our faith+ our mission. I put the two together in a kind of equation because faith, for Jesus, is something that changes us and motivates and causes us to act.
It is a handy little pun that the coins in this passage are called "talents." It seems to line up very nicely with our American idea of "everyone is special." We all know that every here has a talent or a gift or something to contribute. So I just could stop here and say "Everyone use your talents!" and go home.
But this is not an After-School Special. Using our spiritual gifts and our, ahem, talents, is part of what's required; but just as this passage is not strictly about money it is also not really about gifts, spiritual or otherwise.
The real question is this: will you use your faith to forward the reign of God? Will your faith do some real earthly good right now? Will your faith grow and be of some good to others? The real question is what good is your faith?
Look at the two who multiplied their talents. Now look at the one who didn't. We don't know exactly what the others did to multiply their talents, but we know exactly what the one who gave back the one did. He buried it in a hole.
He did exactly as that talking head on the t.v. said to do. He double wrapped his talent and buried in a hole. Why? Because he was afraid. He was afraid of his master. He was afraid of losing it. He was afraid of what might happen.
I don't really know what the other two did to multiply their faith. But I really know what it means to bury one's faith in a hole. It's a scary world out there. We don't know what's coming next. Everyone may have run on "change" in the last election, but things are very uncertain and change is scary. It would be easy to retreat, to hang back, to hide, pull the cover over our heads and say "wake me when it's over!" It is easy to hoard what we have lest we lose it.
How many of us put our faith in a hole? How many of us do not allow our faith to lead us? How many of us try to protect our faith instead of resting on it? Faith that is reduced to words and neither challenges us nor helps us grow is like faith that is buried in a hole. Faith that never stretches and grows is like faith buried in a hole.
I wish I had a talent for every person I used to meet in hospital who was attempting to negotiate a very grown up problem--a health issue, a serious disease, relationship or work issues--on faith that has not been cultivated or nourished since they were a kid in confirmation class. That is why we have adult formation, Fr. Andrew's Simplified, Illustrated and Painless Bible Study, spirituality circle, the availability of spiritual direction and are planning a parish retreat for next June; because burying our faith in a hole makes us unready for life as it is.
These are tough, uncertain times. It would be natural for us to bundle our faith up, double wrap it and bury it in the backyard. But precisely because the world is uncertain makes this exactly the right time for us to exercise our faith. Now is the time to take what God has blessed us with--our spirituality, our prayer, our study, our community, the stories of our encounters with the holy and with holy people--and bring them to a hurting, frightened world. Now is the time to take all the God has given us and do some earthly good with it. Now is the time to risk it all for the sake of the hungry, the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the sick and the jailed. Because the faith we share, the good we do, the dignity we profer is returned to us over and over again.
There is no time like right now to take the blessings we have, resist the temptation to bury it and stay safe--or to dig it up from where we buried--and make our blessings grow by being a blessing to others.
Our faith does not belong in a hole. Our faith, our mission, our blessings are meant to be shared.