November 19, 2017
+ Last week, in my sermon, I just happened to mention in a kind of jokey, passing manner that I have been accused of being full of hubris once or twice in my life. After Mass last week, someone came up to me and said, “Did someone really say you were full of hubris? If so, I just want to say, they obviously don’t know you very well. That made me feel pretty darn good last week.
But I had to say, there have been much worse things said about me behind my back (and to my face) than being accused of hubris. As you may or may not know, the priest is often the catch-all of a congregation. If things are going bad in a congregation, the priest often is the one who gets the blame, whether or not she or he really is the problem. If people want to complain about things in a congregation, it is often much easier to complain about a priest.
Now, I knew this fact long before I ever went into the priesthood. I tell anyone who is heeding a call to ordained ministry that the first thing they need to develop is a very thick skin.
Luckily, here at St. Stephen’s, I have not had that issue much. People here seem pretty content with me for the most part. And I’m grateful for that. And if there are criticisms, which trust me, usually get back to me (they just do), I usually can go with it.
But there is one accusation that cuts through the thick skin of my “Priest armor.” Actually, maybe I shouldn’t even share my personal Kryptonite with you, but, I will…
The one accusation I don’t handle well is actually one that has never been leveled at me here at St. Stephen’s (at least I haven’t heard it). It’s an ugly word. It even sounds ugly. And it cuts deeply.
Words with the letter “z” often seem to have a razor-edge to them. The word is…
I despise that word. Now, you can say I’m full of “hubris” all you want. But, “lazy” is not something I handle well.
All this talk of laziness ties in well with this strange, difficult parable for this morning. We get this parable of the talents, of money lent and the reward awaiting those who were entrusted with the money, complete with its not-so-subtle wag of the finger at us. Trust me, I did not purposely pick this scripture for today; it just happened to come up in the lectionary today.
This parable is actually a very good story for us. Most of us can relate to it. We understood how good it is to have people invest money for us and to receive more in return. It certainly speaks in a very special way to us in this strange, scary and unstable financial environment in which we are living at this moment.
But, this parable isn’t really about money at all, as we probably have guessed. The parable is about taking what we have—and in the case of today’s reading Jesus is talking about the Gospel—and working to expand it and return it back to God with interest.
We, as Christians, are called to just this: we are called to work. We are called to do something with what we’ve been given. And the worse thing we can imagine as Christians is being called by that ugly word I mentioned earlier:
See. It cuts like a razor.
None of us want to hear that word directed at us, especially regarding our faith. It is that shaming admonition we hear in this parable:
“You wicked and lazy slave!”
It’s not what we want to hear. Rather, we want to hear:
“Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Over and over again in Scripture, we find this one truth: God is not really ever concerned with what we have; but God is always concerned with what we do with what we have. And we should always remind ourselves that it is not always an issue of money that we’re dealing with when we talk about what we have. The rewards of this life include many other things other than money—an issue we sometimes forget about in our western capitalist society.
The fact is, God is not always concerned about who we are or what we do. God does not care about or hubris. God does not care about our ego. But, God is always concerned with what we do with who we are and what we do. And when we’re lazy, we purposely forget this fact.
When we’re lazy, we think we can just coast. We think we can just “get by.” We think we can just give lip service to our gratitude and that is enough. We expect others to do the hard work while we sit back. But it isn’t enough.
To be "good and trustworthy” is to take what we have and do something meaningful with it. By doing something good, we are showing our gratitude for it.
In this week leading up to Thanksgiving, we might find ourselves thinking about all the things in our lives we are thankful for. And we should be expressing our thanks to God for those things. But what God seems to want from us more than anything else is to let that thankfulness be lived out in our lives.
Yes, we should give thanks to God with our mouths. But we must give thanks to God with our actions.
Today, we are reminded that, essentially, from that first moment when we became Christians in the waters of baptism, we are called to live out our thankfulness to God in our very lives, in what we do and how we act. Our thankfulness should not simply be the words coming from our mouths, but also the actions we do as Christians.
Let me tell you, right now, in places like Alabama, we see Christians behavior deplorably. I am not going to hold back on this issue. What we see there, right now, with the defense of Roy Moore by people who use their Christian faith in their defense is a brand new low in Christianity.
For Christians to hide behind their Christian faith and the Bible in their defense of someone like Moore is morally, reprehensively wrong. Each of us should be offended to our very core by them and their talk. When Christians know something is wrong and still refuse to turn away it, is hypocrisy. True and real hypocrisy.
And I want to be clear: this has nothing to do with forgiving someone who is a repentant sinner. I hear not repentance in any of the stories coming out Alabama. This is an affront to God, to the teachings of Christ and to everything we hold dear as Christians.
This is not what God wants from our actions. This is not what baptized Christians do.
As Christians truly thankful to God for all we have been given, we are to live a life of integrity and purpose and meaning.
And we must stand up again and again to what is wrong.
We show our thankfulness to God in our stewardship—in the fact that we are thankful by sharing what we have been given. By sharing the goodness we have been given. And in that sharing, we find the true meaning of what it means to be gracious. In that sharing, we find purpose and meaning in our lives. In that sharing, we find true contentment.
We all have our treasures in this life. We all have these special things God has given us. It might be our talents, it might be our know-how, it might be a blessing of financial abundance. It might just be our very selves.
We have a choice with these treasures. We can take them and we can sit on them. We can store them away and not let them gain interest. And in the end, all we have is a moldering treasure—which really isn’t a treasure at all. Or we can take a chance, we can invest them and, in investing them, we can spread them and share them.
During this stewardship season, the message is not “Give” The message of this stewardship time is “be grateful.” Be grateful to God for the treasures of this life.
These are the things we have—our talents, our God-given abilities, the material blessings of our lives—and to be truly thankful for those things, we need to be grateful for them and to share them.
We can’t hoard them, we can’t hug them close and be afraid they will be taken from us. And we can’t go through life with a complacent attitude—expecting that others are going to take of these things for us. We must share what we have. And we must share what we have with dignity and self-assurance and with a graceful and grateful attitude.
We must not be the lazy slave who hoards what is given him, afraid to invest what he has. We must instead be like the wise servant, the one is alert and prepared, the one who is truly gracious.
And if we are, we too will hear those words spoken to us—those words we all truly long to hear—
“Well done, good and faithful one…enter into the joy of your master.”