|Submitted by G.S. Williams on Fri, 11/18/2011 - 06:47|
So I've been a busy guy this month: on top of raising three kids, taking care of a wife pregnant with twins as best I can, working full-time afternoon shift after two years on medical leave, I also volunteered to guest-preach twice at church. All of that has made it considerably harder to find time to write fiction, but I am trying to carve out moments for stories.
I hope to get that back on track soon. In the meantime, here's the message from church on November 13th.
Good morning my brothers and sisters in Christ! How good it is to be home, in God’s House, visiting my friends and family. That’s what excites me about preaching, seeing the Family of God and sharing with you my thoughts and ideas about our holy Parent. To share in the joy together as we experience the Holy Spirit in community.
God’s family is pretty big. So big that even in the same church there can be strangers. But, all of us are Children of God. We pass the Peace of Christ to each other, and there is a bond of fellowship from one to another. To be in community together means we are here for each other in good times and bad, ministering as a family even when the person who needs us might be a stranger on the street. Here, they are part of the body of Christ. That requires an openness, an honesty, a level of intimacy, for church to function.
In preaching, that becomes a delicate balance. The message has to have some general, universal application. I can’t just stand up here and tell stories about my life, without making my experiences relevant to my community. I have to be able to say “this is what I learned, this is what I saw, I hope it is helpful to you” or “these are my ideas, what are yours? I think this is worth talking about.” It’s not about just me and my experience, but a way to facilitate experiences for us all. The personal and the universal have to blend.
So, when I preach, as I’ve said in the past, I look to the lectionary calendar readings to find my topic. That way, the Church and God are hopefully guiding the message far more than me on my own. And the past few visits, I’ve been handed some interesting themes. Last time the readings called for Jacob struggling with God to become Israel, and led me to meditate on how we are all meant to struggle for righteousness and follow God in our own lives. Before that was the Creation story of Genesis, and then last year at this time we dealt with Advent, the constant yearly waiting for Christ’s arrival. Before that we had Revelations, and so we’ve spoken of the beginning in Genesis and the ending, Alpha and Omega.
When I volunteered to preach this Sunday, I said to myself: “ I’ve dealt with some of the heavy topics. Creation and Apocalypse, waiting for Christ’s Coming, the Kingdom of God. I bet I’m going to get another heavy topic. No simple, easy “discipleship” or “love thy neighbour.” No, that would be too easy. I’m going to get something controversial, like the Wrath and Judgement of God. I bet I get the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
That’s what I said to myself. And, as if on cue, that’s exactly what the lectionary had on its calendar. And for me, that makes perfect sense. When I started my first discernment process, to study theology almost a decade ago, one of my committee meetings centred on the reading of Matthew 25 that we heard this morning. It was one of the first times I ever sat down and interpreted scripture for its relevance in my life at a detailed, thorough level. And I started discernment again two weeks ago, and here I am with the same scripture again.
When I was in discernment, I read Matthew 25 with my committee. And at the time, I heard the story of the talents and I thought to myself “It’s no coincidence that what they used as money is now the word we use for our skills.” Jesus speaks in metaphor all the time. He says the temple will fall and three days later be lifted up, but he means the temple of his body, not the physical place. He talks about sowing seeds for growing faith, not food. He talks about being the Bread of Heaven, spiritually sustaining us. So the talents aren’t about investing money. This story is about God giving us spiritual gifts. If we invest them, use them, they grow. We shine. If we bury them, we find ourselves in darkness.
I knew something about the darkness that comes when you bury talents. When I was in elementary school I was a very shy boy and avoided public speaking. I thought about trying out for the school musical, or running in the class election, or going out for sports teams. And I always talked myself out of it. I got picked on for being small and I got picked on for being bookish, and so I thought I would get picked on for trying anything new. So I put myself in a corner in the dark.
I’m sure we’ve all had moments like that. Freezing up before a speech, or having nerves before opening night. Stressing over a job interview, or wondering if that boy or girl we like will ever call. Becoming a parent and wondering if you’ll be able to be a good one. Being sick to your stomach before the big game. Doing your job and wondering if the economy will hold together. Getting sick and wondering if it’s like the time a parent or a grandparent took ill and the end is near. There are all kinds of reasons to have fear.
So at first, it’s not very reassuring to hear that maybe God is ready to throw us into darkness when we’re too scared. When the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, God sold them over to enemies. Again and again. Handed them over. Maybe God will hand us over to our fear.
But I have something to tell you. I firmly believe God doesn’t do that. We do it to ourselves. The people of Israel did evil, for a season, but God had Deborah in place to help them when they repented. The man in the story assumed the master was hard and so he hid the talent to make sure he didn’t lose it, to avoid punishment. He made up his mind before he even tried. The others saw the trust they had been given, and worked hard because they were trusted. And bread cast upon the waters returned sevenfold. The master doesn’t turn him out because he’s hard or punishing, he gives the man exactly what he asked for. You want to bury? You want to live in fear? You were already in darkness, because you didn’t return the trust in me that I gave to you. I can’t take that step for you. It’s a self-fulfilled prophecy. God doesn’t need to punish people. We do it well enough ourselves.
The good news today is that those prophecies and judgements are not for us, the People of Faith. You are not in darkness, brethren, as Paul reminded the Thessalonians in the Epistle reading this morning. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
It is because of the encouragement of Christians that I found my talents. My friends encouraged me to try out for plays, to run cross country, to try student politics and church. My church family encouraged me to do discernment, not just once but twice. The purpose of the scripture today in Matthew and in Judges is not to make you fear the wrath of God, but to encourage you to seek out those who are in darkness. Christ paid for our lives with His own to bring us home to Heaven. We do not need to fear the darkness. Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for Thou art with me. I belong to the Light, and so do all of you. And we are here today because we were encouraged by other Christians. Family and friends, the Holy Spirit and God worked to bring us here and make us who we are today.
We have already seen the Truth. We have been made clean through baptism, confessed our faith and been forgiven for our sins. We no longer have to fear, because we have been claimed. We are called today to show others that they have nothing to fear either. God let Israel stay in the hands of its enemies until they looked to Him for help. When they called on the One to whom they belong, He took them back. He is waiting for the lost to call out, so He can come find them. The message of the Gospel today is not to fear the master. It is to look for those who keep themselves in the dark corner and brighten it. Let them know that the one who they fear does not bring darkness, but light and love. Bring them into the fold of God’s Family. For truly, we are Children of the Light, thanks be to God.