28th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 5:1-1 Matthew 25:14-30
Today’s Gospel Lesson is the parable of the talents. Let me ease your minds upfront; I’m not going to talk about money, our economic situation, Occupy Wall Street or our investment portfolios. But I am going to address the feelings we may have in this world at the moment. And I believe it is the root of what Jesus is asking us to sit up and pay attention to.
All of today’s readings contrast hope and fear, and abundance and scarcity, as spiritual issues that shape our personal and corporate behavior. Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
I returned home on Thursday from an intense 48-hour gathering of over 80 Episcopalians who came from all over the Episcopal Church. All orders were represented: lay folks, deacons, priests and bishops. A multitude of Episcopal networks were represented: camps and conference centers, youth ministers, Christian educators, policy makers, school administrators, seminary professors, musicians, and liturgists. We represented the diversity of region, economics, ethnicity and theology of our church. And it is one of the first gatherings I have attended in a long time that was filled with the equal participation of young adults – those between the ages of 18-30. And how life giving it was to have their voice along with those of us aging and graying folk. Besides our commonality of being Episcopalians, we all had a passion for Christian formation. We were invited to participate in a Faith Formation Summit entitled, “Building the Continuum.”
One of the goals of the gathering was to analyze the present realities and future uncertainties in the church and the world and envision potential futures for Episcopal faith formation in a diversity of settings over the next 5-10 years. Our focusing question was, “How might Christian lifelong faith formation over the next ten years affect the renewal and transformation of the Episcopal Church in a 21st century world?”
It was a timely question, because just as in our readings for today, we are concerned with the future – of our community, our families, and our church. Resources for children, youth and Christian education continue to be marginalized on the congregational, diocesan and church-wide level. We see it in how budgets are put together and how they are cut when income goes down. We see it in how much we invest in our teachers and their training. We see it in how we welcome the child in our midst in all that we do – not just Sunday School. How do we invest in these human resources?
So much of our conversation at this gathering was how our churches are living in fear. Recent demographic studies have shown the membership of mainline denominations is aging and decreasing. Young adults are not attending church. Families are so busy that going to church is low on the priority list – sports, school, vacations, and simply downtime now fill the Sunday morning time slot.
In such a reality, how are we helping all our church members engage with the world with Jesus eyes? How are we engaged in bringing about God’s kingdom to those who are crying to be healed in a hurting world? How can we look outward when we are worried about survival?
Today’s Gospel urges us to be risk-takers with our investments. And one of the greatest investments we have is our children. They offer possibilities that are beyond our imagination. They give us a glimpse of what God calls us to be and do. Their sense of awe and wonder of the world around us cause us (if we are paying attention) to stop, listen and hear their words of prophecy.
Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
One of the scenarios about the Episcopal Church of the future that was developed at the gathering was one we titled, “Episcopal Christian Country Club.” This church was focused on itself, its immediate neighborhood and membership, church activities, its building and identity. It is trying to maintain itself as to what it was 50 years ago and so has become insular, aging, using its resources (financial and human) to maintain itself. It is a church living in a world of scarcity, fear and isolation. This scenario is one in which the church will die. And in my travels around the United States, it is a growing reality. Those that choose to retain their identity in what once was instead of what could be. Living in a world of scarcity without wanting to take new risks. It’s the third servant who buried what was given to him.
Another scenario that was a polar opposite is a church that is totally engaged with the world, embracing technology for the building of community. This is the church that is open to the extravagance in our lives, one that is focused on God’s mission of abundance. It involves all sorts of possibilities. It moves us from seeing life only in terms of the bottom line or our current perception of our resources as barely adequate to support our needs. It involves children, youth and young adults as co-contributors to the church’s mission.
We can see this in the feeding of the five thousand: the disciples complain that they only had five loaves and two fish, which, of course, can’t feed five thousand. But Jesus believed in a deeper reality, which included God’s lively energy, the generosity of the crowd, and divine-human abundance hidden in apparent scarcity.
The spiritual gifts of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, trust, compassion and active care need to be invested and used in the service of others. And those who take the risk of investing those gifts do receive in abundance. More will be given to them. But for those who have not risked the investment of those gifts but have buried them in the ground, even the gifts they have will be lost.
One example is our children. How we invest in them in our churches will also determine our future as a church. If we invest ourselves in mentoring and accepting the children in our midst and helping them grow in knowledge and love of Jesus, they will continue to pass on their faith.
But it is not by sharing bible stories and coming to church. That is important, but investing in them by showing them what a life of following Jesus is really all about. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. The investment envisioned by Jesus is an investment in the priorities of the kingdom of God: giving to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison as in the parable that follows the one in today’s reading.
Noted preacher Fred Craddock writes about today’s parable: “Take account of the high risk activity of the first two servants. They doubled their money entrusted to them, hardly a possibility without running the risk of losing the original investment . . . the major themes of the Christian faith – caring, giving, witnessing, trusting, loving, hoping – cannot be understood or lived without risk.”
As we are liberated from our own fears our presence will automatically liberate others. Don’t worry about the future. Take risks. Live in abundance and hope. We are children of the day, called to walk in the light, trusting in God and one another. As part of the body of Christ, we are an interdependent community in which our joys and sorrows, successes and failures are woven together. We can choose what the future will be by how we choose to engage with it.
We have everything we need to be faithful to God and live abundantly. Share it with joy – from generation to generation.
© Sharon Ely Pearson, preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, New Canaan, Connecticut ~ November 13, 2011.
Watch this video to learn more about “Building the Continuum”: