Year A — The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28)

Commentary for November 13, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

Judges 4:1-7
Well, first of all, let’s hear it for Deborah; it is nice to recover at least one remembrance of a woman in a place of authority in Israel. (Sorry for those who may still be caught in the “God can’t call a woman” trap…guess that’s exactly what God did here. But, I digress!)

Sisera, the villain of the story, is going to meet a painful end at the hand of another strong woman, Jael (see v. 21 in this same chapter.) But, the point of the story — as always — is that God is in control and will respond to the cries of God’s people.

Sure, there’s a little retributive justice that they have to go through first. But, God works through the circumstances of our lives to bring about God’s own good purposes, in God’s own good time. Thank God for the Deborahs and Jaels and multitudinous others who have listened and obeyed when God called.

Psalm 123
It may be a bit of stretch for most of us to truly understand what it means for a servant to look to a master for the OK to live, work and breathe. A “maid” depending on her “mistress” for sustenance and support doesn’t ring that true with most of us, either, I would suspect.

Regardless, we do look to God for relief in our distress…and for mercy when what we find in our world is contempt.

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Do we serve a “do-nothing” God? That’s the question that the prophet raises here. There are those that believe neither that God will do good, nor that God will do harm. The just don’t believe much about God at all!

I don’t know that the way to their conversion will be through blood-pouring and dung-flinging…but “the day of the Lord” is coming, nonetheless. What do we have to say about that, preachers?

Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
I like the thought of God’s existence being “from everlasting to everlasting.” God lives in all of the time between the boundaries of eternity…and exists outside those boundaries, as well. There is simply nowhere — no place, no space, no time — that God is not.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Back in the way cool 1970’s, there was lots of interest in the ending of the world and the image of “the thief in the night” received a good bit of airplay in the popular culture. Hal Lindsey made a mint from the publication of The Late, Great Planet Earth (28,000,000 copies sold and counting!)

I remember lying awake at night, pretty much scared to go to sleep, wondering if I might snooze through the Second Coming and miss the excitement. (It wasn’t until a few years later that we learned from Tim LaHaye about being “Left Behind.”)

Notice that Paul tells the Thessalonians, “but you are not in darkness;…that day will not surprise you.” (v.4) The purpose of this passage is encouragement, not warning (though I’m brushing up on my apocalyptic imagery, just in case!)

Matthew 25:14-30

Like so many of the parables we have been reading during this stretch from Matthew’s gospel, this one has a bit of a tough pill for us to swallow at the end. We’re not fond of weeping and gnashing of teeth, when it comes right down to it.

I commend to you Dr. Chilton’s treatment in the sermon below. Look especially for his comment, “Jesus calls us to leave our fear behind and give ourselves over totally to trust and faith in God.” I believe that is, indeed, the message of the parable. Don’t worry that you might mess it up; go ahead and live life with the “talents” God has given you. 



Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

A few years ago, my brother Tony got our Aunt Mildred a motorized recliner that would push itself up into a standing position.

One day when he went to visit her she said: “Tony, I’m having a lot of trouble getting out of my chair lately.”

Tony said,  “Let me have a look at the motor.”

She said, “That won’t do no good. I never plug it in.”

Tony,“Well, whyever not?”

Mildred, “Well, what if the electric power went out whilst I was alaying back in it? I’d be stuck up there like a hog on a fencepost. I wouldn’t never be able to get out of it.”

Today’s Gospel Lesson is the parable of the talents. Let me tell you upfront; this story is not about money and investment strategies.

This story is about our God-given abilities and how fear and a lack of faith keep us from using them.

Aunt Mildred had a lot of real and quite reasonable fear in her life. Her husband had died, she was in her eighties, she had health problems, she lived alone on a farm.

She also had a lot of gifts for dealing with that fear. Her problem was that fear kept her from using her gifts to deal with her situation.

In the parable the third servant, the one who received only one talent, took that talent and buried it in the yard. Why?

Well, he says “I was afraid,” and that probably is true. He also calls the master “harsh and cruel,” which probably isn’t true. What most certainly is not true is that God is like the master in the story. God is not “harsh and cruel.”

And, to tell you the truth, all that “harsh and cruel” stuff is beside the point. It’s not his master that the third servant is afraid of; it’s failure.

He is afraid of fouling up, being a disappointment, making a mess of things.

My son was a college basketball player. He says that the worst thing that can happen to a team is in their head, not in their hands. He says that when a team starts playing to avoid losing rather than playing to win, they are in real trouble.

The Third Servant is playing not to lose; rather than taking chances, trying to win.

This story has much to teach us in our current economic crisis. It’s not a good time to be extravagant; but it is also not a good time to give in to fear. If we are to pull out of this downward spiral, we must work together and dare to take risks on each other. We can bury neither our heads nor our abilities in the sand.

A story from the life of Martin Luther may be helpful here.

After Luther got into trouble with the Pope, he was invited, no, summoned, to the city of Worms to defend himself against charges of heresy.

There he stood, in front of the most powerful man in Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor. And though he was admittedly quite afraid, he refused to back down and left the City of Worms.

His friends feared for his safety; they didn’t trust either Pope or Emperor,  so they had Luther kidnapped and taken to the castle of Wartburg.  Luther went around disguised as Squire George, while stories were circulated that he was dead.

While Luther was in hiding, his fellow teacher and reformer Phillip Melanchthon was in charge of things back at Wittenberg.

Phillip was as quiet and retiring and hesitant as Luther was loud and aggressive and assertive. Phillip always fretted over doing the right thing and doing things right.

Many in the Church were recommending rash action and rapid change. Others wanted things to stay the same. Still others wanted a gradual change in church and society.

Phillip just couldn’t decide what to do. He couldn’t make up his mind, so he wrote Luther. He laid out his options, in a professorial set of pros and cons in columns and tables. He said to Luther,” If I do this, this could go wrong. If I do that, that could go wrong, etc. etc. I just can’t decide; I don’t know what to do.”

Luther wrote back, somewhat impatiently, “Look Phillip, you’re right. It is hard to know what the right thing to do is. Anything you do will have some sin in it. Therefore, sin boldly, but trust the grace of God more boldly still!” (And you thought he was talking about beer, didn’t you!?)

Luther’s advice to Phillip is the answer for the Servant with one talent and the answer for us as we face uncertain times.

Sure, we’re afraid.

Sure, we’re uncertain.

Sure, we might mess up,

Sure, we might do the wrong thing.

All of that’s true and possible.

But Jesus calls us to leave our fear behind and give ourselves over totally to trust and faith in God. We too are called to sin boldly; to act, to act now, and to also trust that God will take care of us.

Henry R. Rust writes of a visit to a tiny Christian congregation in a village in Kenya. They met in the open air beneath a thatched roof.

When it came time for the offering, a round flat basket was passed up and down the rows of benches as people put in coins and small bills.

The basket came to a young woman with two small children. She looked at the basket for a long time.

Then she took the basket and placed on the dirt floor in front of her.

Taking off her sandals, she picked up her children, held one on each hip, and stepped into the offering basket; standing with head bowed praying for several minutes.

Then she stepped out of the basket and passed it on.

The basket has come to us. What will we put in it? Will we put in only our fear and anxiety, allowing them to hold us back? hold us back?

Or, will we drop our guard in the presence of the holy and step boldly into the center of God’s will and way; giving to God the one thing God really wants, our complete and total trust and love?

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “Year A — The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28)

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