November 19, 2017 Sermon

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, November 19, 2017, Lectionary A, Proper 28


The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr. Rector                                       Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13


“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:30


Use it or lose it.  


Let us pray.  Gracious, generous Father, send now the Holy Spirit to gives us the eyes to see and the will to do those good things you have set before us through Jesus Christ our Lord who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever.  Amen.


Surely, we know this parable of Jesus’ all too well by now. It stands out in our memories for no other reason than that it poses to us, “How many did I get?” One servant gets five talents, another two, and another only one.  A talent represented fifteen years’ worth of wages—no small amount.  Regardless, it is obviously an inequitable distribution, especially when we consider that the one handing out the talents is none other than God Himself.  God seemingly is treating people unfairly.  God is giving some more than others.  What? Does He belong to a particular political party? Regardless, we all know that life is unfair. Whether we can blame God may be a matter of debate or perhaps more accurately a matter of our limited understanding.  In the longer run what is good and what is bad?


Regardless of what the word, talent, meant during Jesus’ time on earth, we are more accustomed to thinking of talents as just that talents—something with which a person is innately born.  A person can sing, write, be athletic, good at business, an artist, a salesperson; the list goes on.  In our contemporary setting Jesus might be speaking of money alone, but probably not. Yes, He could be talking about those marketable talents that might indeed result in making money twice over or even more.  We all know, however, that Jesus had more in mind that growing bank accounts or someone coming in first on American Idol.


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In case Lennon’s and McCartney’s words were difficult to understand, let me read them to you. “He’s a real nowhere Man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land, Making all his nowhere plans for nobody. Doesn’t have a point of view, Knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me? Nowhere Man, please listen, you don’t know what you’re missing, Nowhere Man, the world is at your command. He’s as blind as he can be, just sees what he wants to see, Nowhere Man can you see me at all? Doesn’t have a point of view, Knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me? Nowhere Man, don’t worry, Take your time, don’t hurry, leave it all ’till somebody else lends you a hand.  He’s a real Nowhere Man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land, Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.”


What if the talents of which Jesus speaks have more to do with our character (something the nowhere man lacked), our appetites, or even our capacity to listen?   Is tenacity a talent?  What about patience?  There are so many ways in which a person, in which we may be gifted, and perhaps not know or even ignore.


For the past several months (599 pages long and a hick read) I have been reading a book by Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, entitled Theology of the Liturgy.  This past week the following passage caught my attention for his insight into the meaning of talent.  Here is what the Pope Emeritus wrote: “There are a good number of people who can sing better ‘with the heart’ than with the mouth; but their hearts are really stimulated to sing through the singing of those who have the gift of singing ‘with their mouths’.  It is as if they themselves actually sing in the others; their thankful listening is united with the voices of the singers in the one worship of God” (p. 440).  Listening, joining in is a talent, the former pope suggests.


Not unrelated to the former pope’s observation is this story.

The TV movie “A Christmas without Snow” tells the story of a church choir in rehearsal for a Christmas performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” One woman who came to sing had a professionally trained voice. She assumed that the soprano solo would be assigned to her, and when it was not, she became upset. This continued to eat at her, so that when the choir director later had to correct something about the way she was singing, the woman stormed out.


The choir director then told the choir that he considered all of them to be “amateurs.” He went on to explain that the word “amateur” comes from a Latin verb amare, which means “to love.” He continued, saying that he assumed the choir members were there not because they wanted to have their egos stroked, but because they loved to sing. Likewise, we can all serve Christ as amateurs — out of love for him.


If we were given the opportunity, regardless of our current age, to say what we wished we could have done or been what might that be?  Speaking for myself, there are several things.  I wish I could compose music.  To me there is no greater gift to be given that a beautiful composition of music. Some might have heard me say that whereas I played football when I was kid (2nd through 9th grade), you don’t see me playing football now. My brother instead took piano lessons and he can and still does play the piano. I also wish I had been given a more classical education, learning, German, Latin, and Greek.  I would have liked to have studied acting.


What do you wish you could do?  Are these talents we have failed to use?  Could this also be what Jesus is talking about in today’s parable when He speaks of talents?


At the recent diocesan convention in Valdosta, your delegates, Randy Green, Teresa Gorthy, and Sue Chapman and I saw a video presentation, featuring the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry.  Watch and listen to what he had to stay.  He is a good story teller which is not to say that I agree with him on everything theologically or morally.


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When we reflect upon the gospel and the many miracles that Jesus did as well as His teachings, what is it that we hear?  We hear Him liberating people to be what and who God made them to be, no less than Muffin had been liberated to be the cat she was made to be.  Jesus, quoting from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, says of Himself what He came to do, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18, 19).


Jesus healed all matter of illnesses.  Think of how limiting an illness can be to us.  We don’t feel like ourselves and we are unable to do, exercise those talents God has given us.   Jesus liberated people from demonic, unclean spirits.  Though not necessarily the result of demonic influence, think how limiting being depressed, anxious, or addicted can make a person.  When we are depressed we are not ourselves; our energy level is diminished; and we may not feel like doing much at all.  How can we increase our talents when we feel like that?           


Ultimately, Jesus liberated us from what?  He liberated us from sin and death.  Sure, we don’t like the word, sin, but surely all of us would love nothing more than to be liberated from that seemingly terminal limitation, called death. Frankly, when we think about it, Christianity really has gotten a bum rap.  Sure there have been abuses—abuses in respect to moral rigidity and moral licentiousness.  Where else, though, are liberation, love, acceptance, and authentic personal growth to be found other than in the love that God has for us in Jesus?


Granted, circumstances may prevent us from using our talent or talents.  Are we to be held accountable for not using talents if that is the case?  Isn’t this different from burying our talent in the ground, as Jesus spoke of in today’s gospel?  On the other hand, perhaps, our talents are other than what we might normally believe. When we think of the fruit of the Spirit, might that be a quiver of talents. St. Paul tells us that: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23a).


Now tell me that anyone of these characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit would not be a welcome talent in our society, our country today.  Whereas our witness to our fellow humans is an imperative, our witness before God is why we were individually created by Him. When we use the talent or talents God has given us, not only do we live into who He made us to be, we also glorify Him, even if that talent would seem to be less than even one talent. The following story is a case in point.


“Michael felt like an outsider. Maybe it was because he was an adopted kid, or because his Hollywood parents never had time for him. When his folks divorced, he was devastated. After his actor dad married Nancy, things got worse. His new stepmom tolerated no competition for her husband’s heart. Eventually, Nancy froze Michael out of the family circle. The lonely boy longed for two things from his father: a hug and the three words “I love you.” He got neither.     Michael watched from a distance as his dad went from being president of the Screen Actors Guild, to governor of California, and finally to president of the United States. The only time he was useful to his father was when he was trotted out at some political event to bolster the family image. Michael would stand there with a plastic smile hiding the pain of never cracking the circle of love shared only by Ronnie and Nancy.


Then Michael turned to Jesus. By grasping how much his heavenly father loved him, he got over his bitterness toward a distant earthly dad. But he still ached for his father to embrace him and say, “I love you.” He was devastated when he heard that his dad was in the first stages of Alzheimer’s. The clock was ticking. Would Michael ever hear those three words?


One day he saw his dad in a crowded room. His old wounds throbbed again. What would Jesus do? Michael knew the answer. He walked across the room and embraced his startled father. “Dad, I love you.” For a moment, the old man was confused. Then he replied softly, “I love you, too.” Michael says that every time he saw his father after that, he would hug him and say, “Dad, I love you.” After a while, the old president no longer recognized who he was. But he still knew that Michael was the one who always hugged him. Whenever his son came into the room, President Reagan’s face would light up as he opened his arms wide for his hug.


Michael saw his dad for the last time a few days before he slipped into a coma. As Michael pulled out of the driveway, his wife tugged at his arm and pointed to the house. His father was standing on the porch, a frail ninety-three-year-old; arms spread wide, waiting for the hug that his son forgot to give him.


At the funeral service for President Reagan, Michael was still shuffled to the outer edges. Nancy never acknowledged his presence. But he had the look of a man at peace. A few days later, he wrote in a news column, “The best gift that my father left me was the knowledge that he had a personal relationship with Jesus, and is waiting for me in heaven.”


Three words, “I love you,” and a hug are talents we all share.  In today’s gospel from St. Matthew, we might wonder whether the man with one talent was even capable of saying those three words and giving a hug.  Is it any wonder that Jesus said to him,cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


The principle, use it or lose it applied to the one talent man.  He lost it.  Those who regularly exercise will readily testify to this principle.  Miss a week of your aerobic, biking or running, and your stamina will begin to weaken.  Miss two weeks of lifting weights, and you can bet that your pecs will hurt the day after you resume.  This, of course, applies to our bodies, but what of our hearts, minds, spirits, or talents, as Jesus so clearly brings to our attention this morning.  God has given all of us talents and purpose.  We are not “nowhere men or women.”


In a few moments James Malcolm McIlvaine will be baptized.  We do not know, though his parents might suspect, what God-given talents he might possess.  Little James is full of potential and we celebrate that.  Likewise you and I, regardless of our age or health, are full of potential.  St. Elizabeth’s is full of potential, many times over.  Let’s not forget that.  Let’s make sure that we increase our talents no matter how small or large. Let’s be bold about it.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.