Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 19, 2017
The 24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
God's Gift and Our Responsibility

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I suspect you’re all relieved by today’s Gospel – it’s such an old and familiar text that the sermon is likely to be short and to the point!  And even if the sermon’s not short, you already know the message . . . God gives each of us talents to use: wealth, intelligence, strength and skills, time and passions, so use them well and faithfully lest you face God’s judgement.  So, knowing the message in advance, you can go ahead and make your “honey-do list” while I drone on and on and on.

Ah the blessings of a familiar Gospel lesson.

So, I’m sorry if I disappoint you this morning by not repeating what we already know.  That may not be enough to draw you away from your list making, but it’s a start!

So, here’s the thing, I don’t think this passage is only about using our talents, at least not in the way that I was raised to think about this passage or its corollary in Luke’s account of the Gospel.  For one, the traditional exploration of this passage presents a rather perverted, that is, unjust, God.

Consider this for a moment:  if God loves us all, without preference, and yet gives to us such disproportionate gifts, what kind of God is that?  Are we to believe that God has truly given me the gift of physical health, but withheld that gift others?  And why, therefore has God given to some the gift of a brilliant mind and to others mental incapacity? 

Of course not!  Of course, God has not stricken some with physical or mental disability while blessing others with good health, any more that God has blessed some in this world with incalculable wealth while inflicting unbearable poverty on others.  Our health is a complex result of where we live, the genetic makeup of our parents, the economic conditions of our life, and choices, good and bad, that we have made throughout our life.  Much the same may be said of our wealth.  It, too, is a result of a complex range of factors:  the economic status of our parents, the education that was provided to us, the place of our birth, the color of our skin, and, yes, the decisions we have made throughout our life. 

To place either of these in the simple hands of God is to do two dangerous things.  For one, this underlying message that these are the gifts that God gives (to some and not to others) presents us with an arbitrary and, therefore, unjust and even unloving God.  No parent would subject one child to ill-health or poverty, how could God? . . . and any such god would be a monstrous god and no god I would follow.

Secondly, it distorts our real responsibility.  The fact that there is such immense disparities of wealth, health, education, and opportunity in this world is principally a result of real human choices – choices that you and I are responsible for making in our world and our community.  The fact that there is such poverty and ill-health in Detroit, let alone beyond our shores, is not God’s doing but ours, and we need to take ownership and change our ways.

No, that traditional lesson with which I was raised falls miserably short of anything I would deem faithful. 

So, where do we go?  What can this parable possible be about?

Well, let me say, it’s still about God’s gift and our responsibility. 

For weeks now, at least throughout much of this fall, we have heard lesson upon lesson from Matthew’s Gospel about God’s gift – and it’s not money, it’s not health, it’s not physical capacity.  Consistently, we have been reminded through Matthew’s telling of Jesus life and teaching that God’s gift is this:  mercy and forgiveness.  These are the new foundation of God’s kingdom, they are the substance of Jesus teaching and the source of Jesus ministry, and, ultimately what draw Jesus to the cross, the final and summative image of God’s love.

Of all the things that Jesus does and teaches, mercy and forgiveness are at the center, they are the core of his message.  If you want to know God’s love, look to Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness – as Jesus, himself says, it is easy to love our friends, even our enemies do that . . . we are called to love our enemies, and so Jesus loves them, too, with mercy and forgiveness.  Look no further than is final exchanges with Judas, first he feeds him in spite of what is to come . . . and then, soldiers approach him with swords outdrawn, Jesus extends instead his healing hand. 

This alone is the gift that God gives.  Yes, some of us may have more need of it than others do – and, therefore, will receive more of it than others – but that is a matter between each of us and God.  Ultimately, however, to each of this same gift is given, and like the servants in today’s parable, we are responsible for using it, and not just using it, but multiplying it. 

Notice, too, that it is the servant who are called to action. We mustn’t simply wait patiently for others to come in humility seeking our mercy.  Rather, we are called to take what we receive, and offer it out to the world.  Were responsible for taking that same mercy and forgiveness which we have received and extending it to the world; offering our own forgiveness of others in order to multiply the forgiveness we first received from God.  That is our responsibility.

The one things we mustn’t do, is bury it, hide it away from ourselves and from others.  Now, there are two ways that we bury God’s gift of mercy.  We might think first of those who can’t bear to forgive others, those who seem to hoard God’s gift for themselves.  But these are a rarity in my experience.

Far more common among us are those of us who, for whatever reason, act as if we have no need of God’s mercy or forgiveness.  There are those who go about thinking mercy and forgiveness are fine things, and much needed even in our world – for others.  Burying God’s gift in this way is, by far, the more costly of the two.  For one, when we deny our own need for God’s mercy, we inevitably fail to fail to receive and experience the great joy that God offers, or when we do, it is of little significance because we have so little need of it.  Worse yet, failing to see our own need for God’s mercy, we inevitably view the world, and other men and women within it, with self-righteous contempt, we are little different that the Pharisee praying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.”  Blinded by our self-righteousness, we fail not only to see the gift offered to us, but the gift and goodness in others as well.  And so, the remarkable gift that is offered to us is neither received nor extended. 

So, friends, there is perhaps only two questions to ask:  are you aware of God’s gift to you?  Are you aware of God’s mercy for you?

And the second is this:  who is in need of your forgiveness today?  To whom are you called to proclaim God’s mercy today?  Now, go ahead and see to it, multiply the gift you first received.