Year A; Proper 28; 11.15.2020
On Friday, Hugh Savage, who heads up Buildings and Grounds, asked me if I knew whether or not our landscaping guy had removed the leaves from the Memorial Garden. I knew, in fact, that he had because of the noise the leaf-blower had made AND because Wednesday afternoon, as I worked in my office, he drove the mowing machine rather joyfully and noisily right next to my office window and waved to me! I was pleased that the leaves had been removed in time for the small committal service Peg Smith and her daughter the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry observed Friday to place Cam’s ashes in their final resting place in the Memorial Garden.
Later on, Friday, as I was replacing the little table we used for the service, I saw Karen Rienert walking her dog. It’s ALWAYS a joy to see people in person! Karen is a member of the Wednesday afternoon bible study small group. She said that they are still meeting outdoors in the garden because it’s so much better to have deep conversations about Scripture in person, and that some members really don’t want to meet electronically. She told the story that on Wednesday, a few of the bible study group gathered and set up their chairs near the double doors.
Soon, the leaf blower began. The noise came closer and closer to the group and made conversation difficult. Undaunted by the noise though, the group moved their chairs to another place. Still, the leaf blower was too loud. Finally, they moved around the corner to the side of the building between the library and our building. Well into their discussion, another noise came from the other direction. It was the riding mower! Still, Karen tells me that they continued their discussion undaunted. They were invested!
I love this story because it is a faith story. Even under challenging circumstances the people of God invested their time and energy in learning more about God from Scripture. The master in today’s parable would certainly have praised them, “Well done, good and faithful servants; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Their faithfulness, like so many here at St. Paul’s was opposite of that third slave in the parable of the talents. I can’t imagine Karen and her bible study group saying something like, “We hid what you gave us because you are a bad master. We were afraid, and we went and hid your talent in the ground.”
Blame and fear ruled that third slave. He wasn’t a bad person. No, he just failed to live up to the great gift his master had given him. He lived opposite from the other slaves, who doubled their amount in investment. One scholar called his behavior one of the seven deadly sins; sloth, not caring enough to invest in the gift he was given. Not living up to the full potential of his humanity, concocting excuses in order to remove blame and responsibility from himself.
Scholars say that one talent was worth 15 years of a laborer’s earnings, so it wasn’t a small amount. And truly, he played it safe by burying it. Jesus was pointedly telling his followers right then, as he was about to enter into his last days, not to let any opportunity for God-given abundance die in a hole of their own making
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like…is like the hand of God outstretched entrusting to you a magnificent abundance to care for and nurture and grow.” God is saying to us here and now, “Here, take life. Take my gift. It’s for you. I trust you with it. Live fully into it. Don’t be afraid to risk life and love and joy and abundance. Don’t be afraid. Don’t bury my treasure as if you are God. Invest in life and live up to your full potential.”
I think of Jesus the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel, Chapter 10 verse 10. That beautiful verse after he promises to look after his sheep at all cost, he says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” He’s not saying you deserve riches. You deserve an abundant financial portfolio. He’s simply calling his followers to a fullness of life that transcends talent-burying fear.
What if we took a risk to embrace the abundant life God shares with us? What if we live life fully, love completely, care deeply for our neighbors and God’s beautiful creation and follow Jesus joyfully? What if we lived into the full potential of our humanity? Into the potential that is called the image of God? These questions are more than just dreaming. They are an invitation to life and love.
But I can already feel myself holding back and saying, “But the pandemic; the virus is surging. Now we truly are discouraged from gathering with loved ones for Holiday meals. Gathering for the Holidays, for some of us, is the only thing we have to look forward to all year, particularly THIS year.
And yet, health officials are preparing hospitals with increased essential staff and increased beds and equipment to handle the expected post-Thanksgiving spread. My nurse sister in California received a letter urging her at $15,000 per month, to come to Michigan as a Nursing Leader Needed for a Crisis. And I do not blame her for writing me, “It’s just the scariest situation!”
How is it that we are called to live and love abundantly as followers of Jesus, with all that God gives us, right now? The restrictions to our lives are starting to feel like we are burying so much in the ground. Is it possible to risk living and loving fully in a time of pandemic and in a time of national division?
Oh yes! Of course, it is! Even in a pandemic and such deep division in our nation, our lives are complete gift. And every good gift comes from God. That’s what Jesus wanted his followers to remember as he ended his ministry with this parable. As he headed to the cross to die, even then, he taught that it is possible to risk living and loving fully into the potential life God gives us.
What are we going to make of this giftedness? What kind of investment will we make in our lives to reach beyond fear, dread, playing it safe, failing to rejoice in the goodness that comes to us every day from God?
The late poet Mary Oliver, in one of her most famous poems, “The Summer Day” inspires me to choose abundant life. Hers is a call to us to make a delighted response to the life God has given us right here, right now. Observe how she describes the glorious grasshopper that gives her such joy! We can even hear how she invested in loving a grasshopper!
“Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean – –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up
and down – –
who is gazing around with her enormous and
“Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
God must be whispering that poem in our ear.
What if….we let go of our fears and invested deeply in God’s abundant life even now?