I love going to fall fairs: the Chatsworth Fall Fair, the Owen Sound Fall Fair, The Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, the CNE or Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, the Ottawa Exhibition, the fair on the Midsummer Commons, the Berrien County Youth Fair, … I have never been to the Calhoun County Fair, that is a pleasure yet to be savored. The excitement of the rides, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Ferris Wheel, Roller Coasters, then onto the food concessions. I loved the International Foods Building at the CNE where I first tried pizza, and of course candy apples, elephant ears, and caramel corn; are you feeling nauseous yet? When my head and my stomach could take no more we would go off to see the exhibition buildings, the judging of the horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, cats, the 4-H animals, and the prize entries of fruits, vegetables, flowers, crafts, quilts, etc, etc, etc. Jon and my first fall together we went to see Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band at the Ottawa Exhibition. We saw the Canadian Forces Snowbirds flying over Lake Ontario and the American Airforce in Air Shows in England.
Have you made entries in the Fall Fair or County Fair? We did as kids. It was pretty exciting. I placed 3rd for writing in grade 3and it was a big deal when Marsha and I won first prize for our chocolate cake with the adults. It is nearly as exciting to be a judge. Jon and I were judges at the Science Fair at Purdue for several years. How on earth do you decide who has made the best use of computer technology in two hours! I am sure not everyone agreed with my choices.
Judging is something we do all the time whether deciding on the best display of potatoes, our favorite coffee, or the stranger that walks through our doors to join us in worship.
The Bible warns us against judging others; “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”, Matthew 7:1-3. We do not like to think of the judgement of God and we certainly don’t want to think about ourselves as sheep and goats being separated into the good and the bad, the acceptable and the unacceptable, but that is exactly what today’s gospel is about. The past two Sunday’s gospel readings have been about eschatology and judgment. Are we the wise or the foolish bridesmaids? As we wait for the return of Jesus Christ and the installation of the Kingdom of Heaven, do we do acts of kindness and love for our neighbors and for the stranger? Does the light of the Holy Spirit shine through us; are we a bright light in dark and troubling times?
In the parable of the talents which slave do we relate to, the ones who risk all their talents and double their investment or the one who buries his talent lest he lose it? What are we willing to risk for the advancement of the Kingdom of God? We have been given the gift of love. We are loved by God and are called to love one another. The question is how much we are willing to risk for love, how far we are willing to take “Love your neighbor as yourself”. It is easy to love those who love us, our parents, our children, our friends, even our next door neighbors, but are we willing to risk loving our enemies, those who annoy us? Are we willing to be hurt or offended or even killed for our love of the other? Jesus calls us to love not only our family and our friends, but to love our enemies, to love the drug addict and the alcoholic, to love the single mother who is pregnant with yet another child, to love our Mexican and our Syrian neighbor, documented or undocumented, the family who just can’t seem to get their act together financially. We are called to love radically and non-judgmentally. Jesus knew that in going to Jerusalem he risked being arrested and killed and yet for his love of humanity and in obedience to God he willingly chose to go to Jerusalem where he was arrested, tortured and crucified for you and for me.
In this morning’s gospel Jesus is explicit that we will be judged, we will be separated like sheep and goats into the good and the bad. We like to think, no believe, that God is our heavenly father, our loving father, that we are his beloved children, that we are brothers and sisters with Jesus and yet Matthew is clear that there will be a time of judgment. We should not be surprised by this. As parents we must judge when our children’s behavior is unacceptable and correct them. We still love them, but they must learn that there are consequences to their actions. If we continually bail them out of trouble they will never learn to accept responsibility for their actions. As much as we want to avoid it or deny it, we know there will be a final accountability for our actions, for our very lives.
Matthew chapter 25 can be thought of as the central theme of the gospel. If we grasp nothing else, if we understand nothing else, we must understand today’s gospel, we must understand that by loving our neighbor as our self we are loving God. Some have expressed frustration with my liberal perspective and my advocacy for Social Justice. Some have said we are not interested in Gay Rights or Black Lives Matter or Universal Health Care; we want to know how to be saved, but I am telling you, today’s gospel reading says this IS how we are saved. Jesus will come to judge the world, the whole world, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, and Atheists. We will not be judged for correct beliefs, for correct doctrine or dogma; we will be judged on how we treated the marginalized, the poor, the sick, and the stranger. I am not sure that we even have to believe in God. We will be judged on whether we gave food to the hungry and something to drink to the thirsty; whether we welcomed the stranger, provided clothing for those in need, cared for the sick and visited those in prison. Look at today’s gospel; it is right there repeated four times. It does not matter whether we call the creator God or Yahweh or Allah. It does not matter whether we worship God on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It does not matter whether we even know that we are following the will of God. It does not matter whether this text was written for Christians or for Missionaries to the unchurched. What matters is the Great Commandment to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as our selves. We love God by loving our neighbors.
It is easy to love God who we cannot see or touch, who doesn’t interfere in our lives, or, depending on our perspective, it is impossible to love that which we cannot understand, that which we cannot even prove exists, that which makes us question our every action, our very existence. But we can learn to love and to care for those whose lives cross our paths, to love those who stand beside us. We turn away from news stories of war and violence because we must see that our enemies are humans much like us with children and families they are trying to feed and protect. Pictures of starving women and children with large, haunting eyes make us angry not because they have done anything to harm us, but because it makes us remember that when we sat down with our families to a large Thanksgiving feast this week, there were families around the world literally starving to death. We can close our eyes and ears and hearts to them or we can respond in whatever way we can, whether writing a check to Episcopal Relief and Development or hosting a community supper or visiting a lonely neighbor.
We are our brothers and our sisters’ keeper. In the end we will not be judged on the size of our bank account or our fancy cars and electronics; we will not be judged on whether we held correct beliefs; we will be judged on how we lived our lives, on what we did for those less fortunate than us, on our care for the stranger, the hungry, the poor, the sick and those in prison. Like sheep and goats at a county fair, we will be judged on whether we meet the criteria of loving God by loving our neighbor as our self. Amen.
What are you willing to risk all for? What would you die for? What have you given up for God, Family and Country?
How do you invest your savings? Do you invest in the stock market? Do you have Treasury Bills? Do you have a 401K or a Mutual Fund? Are you a high-risk or a low-risk investor?
This morning’s Gospel from Matthew is again included in the section about Eschatology, the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. The story is about a landowner, perhaps a non-resident landowner, who is turning over the care of his possessions to others. He splits up his wealth and property as he perceives their skill in managing it. To one he gives the equivalent of 75 years of wages, a lifetime of wages, to another he gives 30 years of wages and to another he gives the equivalent of 15 years of wages. He is taking a risk, a big risk; they may lose all that he gives them.
Upon the landowner’s return the first two have doubled the initial amount given to them. Think about this. They have doubled the amount. This is no small accomplishment! Have you heard of the “Rule of 72”? I had not. Using this rule you can estimate how long it will take to double your investment. If the interest rate is 5% then 72 divided by 5 gives that it will take about 14 and a half years to double your investment. If you are investing in high risk ventures you have a one in five but more likely a one in ten chance of doubling your investment, but in the other nine cases you lose everything, everything. There are no guarantees. So for the first slave to double the five talents to ten and the second to double the two talents to four talents is no small feat. The third slave knows this and is afraid of the consequences if he loses the talent he has been given so he buries the money in the ground for safekeeping. This was a common approach in the first century. And the landowner asks why he didn’t at least put it in the bank so that he would have received interest. He is disgusted that the third slave was unwilling to take a risk and takes the talent from him and gives it to the one with ten talents and casts the third slave out of his employ.
Jesus is the landowner. He is giving his ministry to his disciples, to the members of the church. Jesus knows that he will be killed in Jerusalem and is expecting his followers to continue on with his ministry. Some will find his request, the risk to their personal safety unacceptable and fall away. Some will look for personal gain. Some are willing to risk all, even their lives, to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God, to teach what Jesus taught, to oppose the political and religious authorities, to leave home and family to travel to distant lands, to baptize, to care for the poor, the marginalized and the stranger and to heal the sick.
We have each been given certain skills and gifts of the spirit. Some of us are loving parents; some of us are great researchers searching for the cure for Alzheimer’s Dementia or Muscular Dystrophy or Cancer; some of us have a gift for music or teaching or organization or investing or cleaning or faith or carpentry or electrical wiring or cutting hair. Some of us have an eye for seeing injustice or a child or an animal in need or an environmental issue. We have all been given skills and gifts; the question is whether we recognize and accept them, using them for the betterment of society or whether we choose to use them for our own benefit or if we choose to ignore them. Our skills are different, but all come from the Holy Spirit as a gift. I pray that you see your career, your vocation, your work, your life as part of the building of the Kingdom of Heaven, for the Glory of God.
As we anticipate the Advent season and the celebration of Jesus’s birth, we also anticipate the return of Jesus Christ and the full implementation of the Kingdom of Heaven. In this in-between time, this time between Jesus’ birth, death and ascension and his glorious return, we, like the slaves in this morning’s gospel, have also been given different talents and gifts of the spirit to further the work of the Kingdom. Can you see the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit in your life and in our community? Do you recognize the gifts you have been given? Are you willing to take the risks required to multiply those gifts or are you burying your gifts?
There are risks associated with using our gifts. We can wonder what would have happened if any of the slaves in our gospel had lost all of their investments. Would the landowner have been disappointed, but satisfied that they had tried and failed or would they also have been cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?
Some think I was and am a fool for giving up my corporate job, my corporate salary and benefits to be a priest. Some think the young man and woman who marry and have children are fools for giving up their best years and the opportunity for making wealth. What have you given up for God, Family and Country? What risks are you willing to take for the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven? Amen.
Pentecost 23 Proper 27 November 12, 2017
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Eschatology: The Ten Bridesmaids – Being Prepared for the Wait
Who was part of a 4-H Club or Scouts or Girl Guides growing up? Do you remember being taught to be prepared? Do you remember what you were being prepared for? I belonged to 4-H Clubs. I remember one particular skit given by another club where they were being prepared for the call for a date. It is very sexist and dated, but I still remember it. It was on good grooming, always bathing, washing our hair, taking care of our nails, and shaving. One of the girls in the skit is asked out on a date, so she gets busy getting ready. The young man arrives, but she is not ready yet. Her sister, who is a good 4-H’er, asks the young man if he would like to take her on the date. When he says yes she whips off her housecoat all ready to go and out they go. The sister who was not prepared missed out on a chance for a date. Moral, be prepared for you never know when an opportunity may present itself.
This morning’s gospel story is also about being prepared, being prepared to wait for the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus is providing a familiar example of what the kingdom of heaven is like, it is like a wedding. In a first century wedding it would be traditional for the groom’s family and friends to be gathered and waiting at his father’s home. The bride’s family and friends would be gathered at the bride’s father’s home waiting for the arrival of the groom to come and take his bride home with him. The bridesmaids could have been waiting for the groom to complete making dowry arrangements with the bride’s father so they could lead the way back to the groom’s home or they could have been waiting at the groom’s home and waiting for his arrival so they could enter the groom’s home for the prepared wedding banquet. The celebration could go on for several days.
We are told five of the girls are foolish and five are wise. They have all come with lit lamps. They all grow weary with the wait for the groom and fall asleep. All their lamps burn down after the long wait and they all have to prepare them when the shout comes that the groom is on his way. The difference is that five of the bridesmaids were prepared for the wait with an extra flask of oil. Five of the bridesmaids did not plan for a delay and did not have sufficient oil when the groom finally arrives.
Matthew and Paul are probably telling their stories in response to the delay in the return of Jesus Christ. The early Christians were expecting Jesus to return within their lifetimes, but people have started to die with no return of Jesus. What does this mean? Do those who have died miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life? Paul says no, that those who have died in expectation of the Messiah’s return will be called forth at his coming so they can share in his return.
In the gospels Jesus tells many stories of being prepared and of giving examples of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. The story of the ten virgins or ten bridesmaids is unique to Matthew. The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. The ten bridesmaids are the listeners, you and me. Has the Kingdom of Heaven come or is it yet to come? When is Jesus returning? Has he already returned, will he return in our lifetime, will he return at our death or will he return in some distant future? I do not know the answer. Even Jesus did not know the answer and tells his disciples that this is known only to God, but we are to be prepared for their arrival like a thief in the night. We are to live as though the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. We are to do acts of kindness and love for the poor and the marginalized. We are to show mercy and grace and forgiveness as we go about our lives. We are to be the light for the Kingdom of Heaven now, not some distant time in the future.
We could say, “I will live for another 30 years so I will do this ‘Love your neighbor’ thing some other time, but not now.” These stories are saying, “No, you need to love God and love your neighbor as yourself NOW”. We do not know when we will die. Life is unpredictable. We do not know when Jesus Christ will return like the delayed bridegroom. We cannot stay awake and alert our whole lives, but we believe Jesus will return and our lamp needs to be full of the light of mercy when that time comes.
In the church calendar November is the end of the church year. In November we hear stories of the Eschatology, the end times, the end of the age, we are waiting for Advent; we are waiting for the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem, for the incarnation of God’s own son as one of us. Isn’t this the most joyous time of the year when we pray for peace on earth and goodwill among all people! Wishing it could be this way all year round.
We are waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later we are not so concerned about the imminent return of Jesus Christ, but we still hear stories such as the “Left Behind” stories. But we also wait for a third manifestation of God’s self by the Holy Spirit in our brothers and sisters and in God’s creation. Where have you seen the presence of God today? Have you seen God in the laughter of your child? Have you seen God in a beautiful sunrise? Have you seen God in the dying of a loved one?
In this time of waiting for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, we are also waiting for the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God and watching for the in-breaking of the Kingdom and God in our lives today. God is active in history. God acts outside of time and space. How God does this is a mystery. God loves his creation. God loves his creatures. God loves humanity. God loves you and me and desires to be present in our lives. Expect God to show up in your life today. Expect God to show up at the most unlikely times in the most unlikely places. There is no place that you can go or hide where God will not already be there waiting for you. So like the 4H girls, be prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Be prepared for the wait for the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven filling your flask with the light of acts of kindness towards your neighbor, with generosity to the poor, so that you can be a light to the world in the procession to the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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