Sunday, November 16, 2014

Twenty-Third after Pentecost

Proper 28A  Matthew 25: 14-30

Good morning and grace and peace.  A chilly November weekend, and with the holiday decorations in full bloom around the shopping mall we continue to notice in the cycle of our church year and lectionary an unofficial but distinct season of “Pre-Advent.”  Archbishop Cranmer’s magnificent prayer on Holy Scripture which we have prayed this morning he originally placed as the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, drawing close together in our minds and heart God’s self-expression and Incarnation in the Bethlehem Child and in his Word written.  The compelling image of the Bible in the Manger, the gift that comes to us of God’s presence and promise.  Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which thou hast given us in thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ.

The gospel reading this morning is again a part of the series we’ve been reading over these last weeks: Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, at the Temple.  Because we’ll be all bagpipes and St. Andrew next Sunday, this is our last hour in this Holy Week scene.   Jesus and his followers in the midst of the bustling crowds of the pilgrims who have come to the Holy City for the Passover. 

The confrontation first with the priests and scribes and then continuing with the Pharisees.  The parable of the Five Talents this morning flows directly out of the parable of the Five Wise Maidens and the Five Foolish Maidens that we heard last week.  The previous story ends with the unprepared Maidens running out to try to find a place to buy lamp oil in the middle of the night, then to return only to find themselves locked outside the door of the Groom’s family home, unable to come inside and join the banquet.   And then immediately following, as we’ve just heard: “for it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.”   The preposition “for” an explicit connector.    The story here grows directly out of the preceding one, to explain it or expand it in a different way.   From wise and foolish maidens to faithful and unfaithful servants.   

In this sermon or series of sermons and responses, we have had two kinds of sons, two kinds of tenants of the vineyard, two kinds of wedding guests, two ways of approaching the payment of taxes, two kinds of bridesmaids, now two kinds of servants.  Here one kind of servant who understands the responsibility that has been given to him, and who accepts that responsibility and who acts as a good steward, even when to do so means that he must take a risk, perhaps even put his life on the line-- and another kind, who doesn’t get it.  Who doesn’t understand the responsibility that has been placed in his hands.  Who steps back from his moment of opportunity, who shirks his responsibility.  He accepts the Treasure from the Master, reminding us perhaps of the Son a few weeks ago who told the Father that he would absolutely and without question do what he asked.  But like that Son, this servant doesn’t follow through.  He perhaps in fear, is unwilling to risk, unwilling to put himself into this with his whole heart, just buries in the ground what the Master has given him.

And of course the dramatic conclusion.  The faithful servants are welcomed to the fullness of life when the Master returns—but like the Bridesmaids, like the Unruly Tenants, like those who ignored the King’s invitation to the wedding, the unfaithful servant is condemned and cast into outer darkness.  With an eternity of consequences: weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Again.  Offered I guess we might say here as we roll on toward the end of the year.  A framework to think about as we assess our own lives.  Think about just how we’re doing.  Two kinds of people.  Two ways forward.  A decision to make, with real consequences.

One way of approaching this story as a kind of free-standing unit is to say that the moral of the story is how important it is to be good stewards of the gifts God gives us.  Which is a great moral.  If God has given you a beautiful voice, sing his praises in the choir.  If he has given you the eye and the hand of the artist, create paintings that enrich and inspire.  If your work and life situation have provided an abundance of financial resources, put them to work to build up the Body of Christ and support its mission.  Care for the sick.  Feed the hungry.  Certainly an echo here of what Jesus says to his disciples in the twelfth chapter of St. Luke: “From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.”  Don’t hide it under a bushel.  Let your light shine!

But the context adds more for us.  Something to say to us about what the stakes are in this.  Not simply an encouragement to overcome any fear of failure and to do what it takes to be all we can be, but let’s say also, a serious word of warning.  High stakes.  With that weeping and gnashing of teeth, with doors to the wedding banquet that are locked and that stay locked. 

Because what we come to understand is that what that parable of the Two Sons is about is not simply that we should obey our parents or keep our promises.  The moral of the parable of the tenants is not that we should remember to pay our rent on time, or that as landlords remember to do background checks before signing lease agreements.  The moral of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet not simply that we should plan to attend the next royal wedding we’re invited to.  The moral of Parable of the Coin not simply that we should pay our taxes.  The moral of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens not simply that we shouldn’t put things off to the last minute.  Though those are pretty much all good points to keep in mind.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.

Standing here at the crossroads of cosmic history.   That’s the breathtaking reality.  Here in Matthew 25, Holy Week.  At the door of his holy temple.  Before us.  The creator and sustainer of the universe, word made flesh, only son of the father, God from God, light from light, very God from very God.  In our midst.  He has come to us and for us. 

The Advent Calendars are flying off the shelves.  That time of year.  The four candles on the table.  The map of our journey week by week, on our way to Bethlehem.  In the distance and not very far away we can hear the Angel Choir rehearsing their Gloria.  And of course that time of year is actually the eternal present of our lives.  The one born that night in the City of David is born into our world and into our lives as a present reality.  Meeting us in Word and Sacrament and in the way we walk in our day to day lives.  In the quiet of our own thoughts, the secret corners of our hearts.

And what we do with all that is the question.  The question for Advent and Christmas and for Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Good Friday and for every day.   As we leave our pews and approach the Holy Table.  As we get back into our cars and head home.   Two kinds of people, in all these stories.  Two kinds of people who make choices and then who must live with the consequences of those choices. 

He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . . . .  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

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