Proper 28, A
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Maybe this is just a thing in my family. I remember the scene in my family of origin. I’ve changed roles and relived it in my current nuclear family. I think it must be pretty universal, but you can tell me. Child is displeased by treatment of said child. A bedtime enforced, perhaps, or a playdate denied, maybe a sibling afforded some measure of consideration denied to the child in question. Passionate diatribe ensues: you always give everything to her, you never want to do anything for me; you never let me do anything; you say you love me, but you don’t, you hate me!!! Is this sounding familiar to anyone? The parental response varies, of course, but a Crossley favorite seems to be the look, the Mumma look. And then “Really? Is that what you see?”
The landowner echoes this scene with the 3rd servant in today’s lesson. “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid”. “You knew, did you?” The first and second servants seemed to suffer no such fear.
“Your image of God creates you,” wrote Fr. Richard Rohr, “Your image of God creates you—or defeats you. There is an absolute connection between how you see God and how you see yourself and the whole universe.”
So long as Gods’ image stands as one of disciplinarian in chief, capricious, unpredictable, withdrawing and awarding love and acceptance on a whim – we create our selves, our lives around preserving ourselves, playing it safe. Perhaps worse, we protect God. Like the family of an angry abuser protects the abuser against anything that might break a delicate temporary peace, we protect God against all manner of upset.
Murdoch University professor William Loader suggests “The tragedy is that many people are afraid of losing or endangering God and so seek to protect God from adventures, to resist attempts at radical inclusion that might, they fear, compromise God’s purity and holiness. Protecting God is a variant of not trusting God.” (William Loader)
The traditional reading of this parable places God in the role of absentee slaveowner: spiteful, malevolent and mercurial. Consider for a moment the possibility that Jesus did not mean to imply that Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, Ground of our Being is in reality a genuine scuzzball. “Really,” says God? “After the Gospels, the saints, the mystics, the martyrs, is that what you see?” Perhaps Jesus meant instead to place emphasis on what God means to have happen with the abundance God offers.
The English word talent meaning natural aptitude or skill, derives from this biblical story. Talent within the context of the story, however, refers to money. Lots of money. One talent represented gold the value of approximately 15 years labor. Since 1st century Palestine saw few 40 y/o and precious few 50 y/o the servant with 2 talents held within his control more money than most would see in their entire lifespans. The servant with 5 talents held unimaginable abundance.
Composer Gian Carlo Menotti said, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.” That is where we find the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth, the weeping.
In 1876, 10 y/o Annie’s abusive father deserted her after her mother died. Wild and ungovernable, as well as nearly blind from a childhood eye infection Annie went to an almshouse where she learned lessons in self-sufficiency but little else. She had little to hope for.
One day a hunchbacked, orphaned, devout young woman named Maggie came. Maggie “moved in the blackness of the almshouse like sunlight.” (Kim Nielson, Beyond the Miracle worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Boston: Beacon Press, c. 2009, 22)
Maggie grew flowers in her room. She took an interest in Annie, protecting her and other vulnerable girls as best she could. “You can’t help being poor” Maggie told Annie, “but you can help poverty from eating the heart out of you.” She explained to Annie that her misery was not her responsibility, but the state of her spirit most certainly was. Annie attended Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. After a rough start, she graduated in 1886 as valedictorian of her class. After graduation, the director of Perkins School recommended Annie for her first job.
“She was sent to Tuscumbia, Alabama to be teacher and governess to a seven-year-old blind and deaf girl named Helen Keller. This newly certified teacher, Anne Sullivan, knew about blindness, anger, and fear through the hardships of her life. But she also knew about grace and redemption and the responsibility to live faithfully because of the love of Maggie Hogan who made the grim reality of an almshouse life bearable and even hopeful for children.” (Rev. Dr. Casey Baggott; story from Kim Nielson, Beyond the Miracle worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Boston: Beacon Press, c. 2009)
You know the remarkable story of Helen Keller. You probably know the story of her devoted friend and teacher, Annie Sullivan. Did you know about Maggie Hogan? It seems as if she really didn’t have much to invest. Her faithful, selfless, devotion invested in nurturing and protecting a wild, blind, hopeless child cascaded into benefit beyond any she might have imagined.
Again Professor Loader, “”God’s mercy never ends” is a way of saying grace has capital, love is rich. We need to…stop putting God under the mattress. As we begin to trust allowing God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change.
Author Henry R. Rust visited a Christian congregation in a village in Kenya. At the offertory people handed a basket along the rows of seats. People filled the basket with coins and small bills as they were able. When the basket made its way to a young woman with two small children, she looked at it for a while. Finally she placed it on the dirt floor in front of her. Barefoot, she picked up her children. Holding one child on each hip, she stepped into the offering basket. She stood, head bowed, praying for several minutes, then stepped out of the basket and passed it on.
When the basket comes to us, do we play it safe and offer back only what was given, our offering covered still in the anxiety and fear we kept it buried safely within? Or do we step boldly into the middle of the Holy mystery, offering our own transformed Spirit-charged lives to the Creator? (with thanks to Rev. Delmer Chilton, Living Lutheran, for the story and basket concept)