November 16, 2008 XXVII Pentecost (RCL Proper 28A)
Judges 4: 1-7; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30
“Hear, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest.” It’s important to begin this morning by acknowledging what we just prayed a few minutes ago as our Collect of the Day, this great tribute coming from the sources of our Anglican life and tradition, composed by Archbishop Cranmer back in the middle of the 16th century and until we got to our new American Prayer Book appointed for the Second Sunday of Advent.
A tribute and hymn and affirmation of the Holy Scriptures at the foundation of our lives as Christian people. And simply to notice that this is not a prayer about Scripture as a club that we might use to beat each other up, nor as a vaguely interesting collection of ancient texts towards which we are to have simply a scholarly interest, but as food, the nourishment of our lives, as comfort in our distress, God’s gift to us and presence with us, and as the blessing and assurance and promise of a hope that is above all a transforming presence in our lives.
In some sense the character most profoundly consistent with Christian faith and with the renewal of life that is ours in Christ, a sense of “falling in love” with the Bible. Not putting it on a pedestal, not, again, turning it into a weapon, but to experience in it the depth and wonder and joy and spiritual food of God’s goodness and mercy.
That said, we have this morning the beginning (and unfortunately just the beginning) of one of the most interesting stories in the Book of Judges, with Judge Deborah and General Barak and General Sisera and the surprising and unlikely hero Jael—and if those aren’t familiar names, we might notice that one of the intentions of our new Revised Common Lectionary is to recover for our common life and corporate memory some of the great Biblical stories where the key characters are women, and this is certainly one of those, and a very vivid and exciting one.
Jael and Sisera, by Gustav Dore
A story about inspiration, passionate loyalty, creativity, authority, and risk-taking in the shadow of an intense wartime conflict.
A story that fits well within a context of a work like the Iliad, with fascinating characters and vivid, breathtaking action—and just edgy enough to make it at least something like a PG-13 feature. And friends: I hope that inspires you to run home and read the rest of the fourth chapter of Judges, as with our observance of St. Andrew’s Day next Sunday and then with the beginning of Advent I’m afraid we’ll miss hearing the exciting development and conclusion of this story in our Sunday readings. I’m not going to tell you the story here—but do go take a look at it when you get home.
Having said that, I would build a bridge from the themes of this story to our gospel reading, in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew, and the Parable of the Talents. Perhaps a parable that we hear with slightly different emphasis in the midst of the current disturbance of the financial markets. But this story isn’t really set before us as a guide to the investment of our retirement accounts—just as the story of Jael and Sisera (which you may not have read yet, but will soon, I know!) isn’t really intended for us as a guide for how to deal with enemies in a time of war. What we look for here is something deeper, about attitude, character. About how we live our lives as a faithful expression of the hope that is in us.
And to say that in both of these stories, we have before us a spirit of confidence. Not fear, but a kind of holy boldness. Stepping forward. To use a word that is popular, this is about being “proactive.” Taking initiative. Thinking outside the box. Not waiting for someone else to do what needs to be done. As it is sometimes said, “not just to talk about change, but to be the change.”
In that context I would say a good word this morning for the great ministry of our Five Talents Prayer Circle, which is by the way an open and growing circle of friends. Always glad to expand the circle and add more members. It began here a couple of years ago as a group of us were inspired by the work of Five Talents International, a ministry that works by way of micro-lending in small, faith-based communities mainly in Africa and Latin America assisted by local Anglican and ecumenical partners to support individuals and to build up communities with a sense of self-sufficiency and independence and productivity.
Our Circle has sponsored a project in Lima, Peru, which has been very meaningful and very exciting in many ways, and that in turn led us to a friendship with Dean John and Susan Parks and a sense of collaboration with their ministry at the Anglican Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Lima, and to the little missions fundraiser and Harvest Brunch this morning. I know for the Five Talents Group, as for our “Off the Floor” volunteers and by way of the East End Cooperative Ministry and so many others of our missions initiatives, there is this sense of what it means in Christian community for us again “not just to talk about change, but to be the change.” To know Christ, to meet him in our own lives, and then to become his hands, his feet, his heart, in an active outreach that touches real people in real ways. Those whom he loves, and for whom he died, and whose lives he embraces and gathers in and lifts up into the eternal life of God’s heavenly kingdom.
This is what our new life in Christ is all about, as the reading from First Thessalonians would highlight for us also. Paul, in this encouraging word. The world may seem dark, but it’s not dark for us, not ever again, not for those who live in Christ, who have stood at the foot of his Cross, who have known his forgiveness, his grace, who know the great hope of his resurrection, who are transformed by his continuing presence, his love, and who anticipate his victorious return. For us, even the darkest night is bright as midday. “For you are all children of the day . . . not of the night or of darkness.”
Which is the word that calls us to the Holy Table this morning, to share the supernatural food and drink of his life with us. Which is why we can take those Five Talents, whatever they may be in our lives, and not hide them away, but send them out to increase to an abundance. There is no place among us any more for fear, but instead we are called to open our hearts and our minds and our lives to a spirit of confidence. To live from this time forward not in an environment of harsh judgment, hostility, defensiveness, but to be lifted up into a gracious and gentle and joyful future.
We know the end of the story. His victory. Therefore we will not be afraid. Never again. Because he first loved us, we are freed to love one another and to open ourselves to the world. Because he gave himself, so we can give ourselves to the world on his behalf, without fear, confidently, as agents of compassion, healing, reconciliation. “Well done, good and faithful servants.”