Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Well, my friends, here we are mid November.
45 more days until 2020 is over.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I think we are still in summer (it’s been warm) and some days I feel like we should be in 2022. Then I look out the window and see some fall colors and the early sunsets and I am reminded, nope, we are well into November.
Earlier this week, my husband Rob reminded me that this week the Masters Tournament is being played.
Having lived and worked in Augusta, GA for 4 years, I was excited and then also confused… that’s an April thing….. J
One of the many reasons “that’s an April thing” is because of the flowers that appear throughout the course in the SPRING event. AND it always occurs after daily saving time has sprung forward. Giving the players bonus hours of playing time if the day goes long.
The Masters tournament in their delay of scheduling has also seen the effect of darkness.
Their game has been effected by the literal availability of sunlight to play! We, here in the northern hemisphere, are feeling the acuteness of the shorter days too. Darkness by 6:30pm.
And we carry on, we figure out how to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
We pause, readjust and continue to seek light and God in our midst.
So many things could blind us to the light of God.
Our Lives right now have been at the same time simplified and complicated.
Families continue to discern what are the safest things for our children’s educational experience, employers continue to have to make hard choices after 8 months of living into lean times and discerning a path forward as businesses.
We have had an election season (not just day) and we have a country that is clearly divided in half. And we must lean into relationship with each other to move forward. Each side seeking to be in conversation and, rather than seeing sides, we need to be community together.
You will notice in our lectionary, our readings are shifting.
Beginning 2 weeks ago with All Saints’ Sunday, you have heard themes of darkness and light, gnashing of teeth, judgement.
Often our readings make me wish we could just drink more peppermint mocha holiday beverages and spend less time talking about the darkness.
And yet, we only know true joy and light because of struggling through the darkness. Wishing things away does not bring more light into the darkness.
Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians has shifted from his chipper peppermint mocha pep talk to the people about rejoicing and thanksgiving to today’s reading. Paul is grounding them in the reality that there will be darkness, there will be times where you feel isolated, alone, polarized and you might feel like everything you are doing is futile. You might want to shrug your shoulders and say “why bother?”
Paul is saying to the faithful “Do anyway.”
Paul reminds them, You are beloved, you can survive even the darkest night, You have to be the light.
Encourage each other. Be there for each other, so that together you can weather these hard times. It reminds me of a relay race.
In relay races we are charged to do a leg of the race and then right when we can go no further, we pass the baton off to the next person, catch our breath and then cheer like hell to get that final person in…… we build up each other, work with each other, realize that we are on this team together.
Now you may be wondering – is she going to avoid the gospel reading???
Hee hee, it’s one of our favorites.
The really fun parables always include wickedness, gnashing of teeth and outer darkness. These parables make us uncomfortable. They don’t give us a warm and fuzzy feeling and they are jarring……
Today’s parable follows directly after last week’s and next week you get more judgement… it’s no wonder that in Chapter 26 of Matthew it begins with “the authorities started to plot to Jesus”- each of the parables in Chapter 25 are turning the then systems upside down on their head.
Today’s parables of the master and three servants is not unpacked later “aside for the disciples” we don’t get an explanation, from Jesus himself.
But it is clear the master is not happy with the final servant.
Look at the parable….
Where do you see yourself in the story? Where do you see God?
We can reflect on the “man with slaves” and then referred to as Master “who went away” (we don’t know why, for how long, and btw he didn’t give a single instruction to the servants) and apparently he knows the ability of each of his servants.
We can reflect on the first servant- wow, what great investments
We can reflect on the second servant- also WOW great investments, given less (Why? We don’t know) also doubled what he was given.
We then look at the third servant who does not increase the amount given to him, but he also did NOT lose it either…..(gotta see some positive there too)
The third servant also speaks truth about the system.
Pause for a second.
How did the servants double their talents given to them? The Servants were not playing the stock market to increase their gains. They did not become stock traders. Rather they went and gleaned profits off their fellow community members to make the profit for their master. They continued the system that the master used with them. He didn’t give them the talents so they could have them, rather he wanted more for himself.
The third servant saw the system, saw the fear that the master put into each person and says out of my fear of you, I kept your money safe rather than risking it, finding more wrath and exploiting my neighbors to win your gains.
If you pause for a moment and realize-
What if Jesus in the midst of the final weeks of his life was speaking about the system needing to change, the Roman empire needed to stop its taxation and exploitation of the poor, this third servant becomes a whole different person. (see more of this perspective from Debbie Thomas- here
Jesus becomes the third servant, refusing to be used by the system, he stands in opposition to the system, he doesn’t act in opposition like the disciples thought he would, rather, he- with his life- shows how one can serve, sacrifice on behalf of others without exploitation even if that means suffering and ultimate death.
It is one way to look at the parable.
These parables end with outer darkness, they are heavy and hard. Parables that end this way are easy to read quickly and keep moving….. and yet, we can see ourselves in the parable if we pause.
Are we the first or second servant trusted with much and seeking approval, know the system and working towards pleasing those who demand of us regardless of the means of the task?
Are we the masters demanding of those around us to do things when the system needs to change and we refuse to acknowledge the suffering going on?
Are we the third servant using our voice and being cast out?
Are we all of them depending on the moment of the day and task?
Looking at the parable this way gives you pause and a little more empathy for each person doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing about the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth- while it sounds mighty unpleasant and somewhere I don’t want to be…..
At the end of these parables there is never an ending of “and they were struck dead”- being cast out, weeping and gnashing your teeth always leaves room for coming back into the fold.
Being Cast out: Remember for a second, who is it that Jesus always makes time for, invites to the table? Jesus is always inviting those who were cast out into the conversation. He commands reform but never excludes those who need to change.
Weeping to me expresses sorrow, remorse, broken heartedness and a desire to be restored. Weeping to me speaks to crying at the brokenness of the world and desire for change and restoration.
Gnashing of teeth reminds of gritting your teeth, wanting to have done better and knowing that you fell short.
All three of these things we want to avoid. We are trained to avoid. Think about it though, the bible tells of so many who wanted to avoid these dark moments and they usually failed in their efforts. Think of Jonah who ran the other way, Moses who ran to the wilderness, Zecharaiah who couldn’t believe that his wife was going to be pregnant with John the Baptist. What happens next? God meets them where they are and restores them to wholeness.
Believe it or not, today’s parable gives me hope.
In these times we have been given great treasure, life has been both simplified and complicated.
How have we used this time?
How have we used the systems we existed in before COVID to make things “normal”?
How have we changed and looked at our lives were pre-covid and realized what was good and what indeed was not good for us…changing what we do and how do it?
Simplicity and yet complex.
As our days are shorter, more filled with darkness, it is easy to let the isolation convince us that we are left behind, not effective and yet I challenge you to be reminded by Paul that you are beloved and NOT in darkness because of the love that you have received.
Jesus reminds us today that there will be opposition, he knows what that is and he will walk with you through those struggles.
And no matter how cast out, weepy, or teeth gnashing we feel- we are always being called to be in a fully restored community.