Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sermon: November 13

Success with Honor – It is the motto of the Penn State Football team & until this past week, we all thought it was true. It was tarnished as we watched the unfolding scandal there; it makes you wonder what success meant and what honor meant with the cover-up and the poor judgment that so many people engaged in over many years there.

What is success & honor?

I think of the students who in their grief and shock tried to come to terms with what happened, gathering in groups, some who felt wronged and a few who lost control, & things got out of control. I think of the riots in England. One injustice became a way for some to vent the worst of our nature upon innocent people in their own neighborhoods. Neither was a success. Neither had honor. Neither was about the injustice that had really occurred.

And then there was Tahrir Square in Egypt, where the protest stayed peaceful, it brought together different groups in a fight for justice. The Tahrir Square crowd included supporters from Cairo’s leading soccer teams, The two groups have a longstanding post-match tradition of fighting one another. Yet in the Square they stood together in solidarity and to defend against Mubarak’s thugs. And they did achieve success as the government finally fell…

What might Jesus say to us about success & honor today?

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the Parable of the Talents as a stark reminder that we each have been entrusted with gifts, talents, charismas. God does not want us to sit on those gifts, does not want us to hide our faith under a bushel basket in fear but God wants us to use the gifts, to show our faith, for the good of others, to build up the Body of Christ, to help restore those who have fallen away & those in need. Success and honor is tied to how we use those gifts.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” 
These words from T.S. Eliot remind me that our call to live out our faith & use our gifts, to take that first step and the next, and the next after that, is a risk, a risk that will lead us to where God calls us to go, further than we can imagine. For that is the point of the parable in the gospel…the servants are rewarded not because of the results of the talents they earned (God is not a bookkeeper checking on results) but because they were faithful servants who used the talents given them; the faithless servant refused to use the talent given him and buried it away…that is not enough says the master…that is not enough says God. We can’t live in fear for our faith calls us to risk, for without faith, we are lost…

“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” How true it is that when we have talent, a gift, if we do not exercise it, if we don’t use it, we tend to lose it, as if it had been taken away from us. In college, I learned sign language and become somewhat proficient at it, but after college, I have used it less and less and now I barely can remember much of it, same could be said of my Spanish… I suspect we all have gifts, talents that remain unexplored, unused; but it is never too late to use them…

This is a story from the Boston globe:

They had a lived a good life together, these 39 years. But it would soon send. The doctors said his esophageal cancer was inoperable - nine months, maybe a year. So what would he like to do with the time that's left? "I'd like to have a garden."

"That would be nice," she said vaguely, surprised, since he had never shown the slightest interest in growing anything. Maybe a few tomato plants in a bucket on the deck, she assumed.

But she came home a few days later to find their yard filled with workers, boards, dirt and a Bobcat - and a 20-by-30-foot raised garden. He was sitting in a chair, watching, talking, laughing. He had told some friends what he wanted to do and they happily signed on to make it happen. He tried paying for the materials, but the guys wouldn't hear of it. She kept thanking them and telling them they were amazing. When they left, she turned to him and said, "Have we met? You don't garden. I don't garden. This thing is gigantic - what are we going to do with it?"

"I think it will bring people together," he said. Soon he was too weak to sit by his garden - nine months was now optimistic, doctors said. Their friends, who didn't want to tire him or ask how he was doing, came and worked in the garden instead. They planted and hoed and watered and weeded.

He died a few weeks later, but his garden had already yielded strawberries and lettuce. The first fruits of his garden were shared at the luncheon after his funeral.

All summer the garden became the focus of everyone who knew and loved him. It produced more vegetables than anyone knew what to do with. People came to remember him, share stories and memories, cry together - and weed. The garden couldn't cure anything or heal the loss or loneliness, but it gave everyone something to do. His wish for his garden was realized: it brought people together. He had said to his wife just before she died, "I don't want this to become a memorial garden after I'm gone. Just enjoy it. Have an eggplant on me." [Adapted from "Life in the garden" by Joan Wickersham, The Boston Globe, September 23, 2011.]

Success in the kingdom of God is not defined by the talents and resources we possess but by what we are able to accomplish with what we have been given. Every one of us has some measure of talent, ability or skill — "talents" that have been entrusted to us by the "Master." Jesus teaches in today's Gospel that our place in the Kingdom of God, is through our faith and the stewardship of those talents: whether we "bury" them in fear or selfishness or use them readily, honorably to reveal the presence of God in our midst.

Let us use our gifts, taking steps, taking risks, using our talents so that God’s glory may be made manifest through what we do today. So then at the last may we may hear what true success and honor is, with those words: “Well done, good and faithful servant of God; enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

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