Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 15, 2020
Proper 28 (Year A)
The Reverend Walter Brownridge, Associate
You Are a Child of God

May I speak in the name of the ever-living, ever-loving and ever-leading God. Amen.

When I was in high school, and I certainly remember from my college roommate, who was a sociologist ... sociology major rather ... that there was this Seminole figure from the early days of sociology, Max Weber, or we might anglicize it as Weber. He was German. I read about him a bit in high school, but my roommate in college used to get really excited about him. And Jim, my roommate, who was Irish Catholic, found it very interesting, Max Weber’s theories. His often used technique was to sit in his rocking chair for hours and think.

And Weber is most known for his book called The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. He was trying to figure out how capitalism emerged in Europe and in North America. And he saw a correlation, not a direct causation. He was careful, in fact, to make this point. But a contributing factor he saw as he looked at various religions in the world, particularly in his world, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, that he saw that there was a correlation between those who went into business and succeeded in business among Protestants, largely.

He wondered about this and he never said, “This is just the theory and I don’t think it’s totally right, but there is this interesting correlation.” And what he saw about Protestantism was a particular type of Protestantism, Calvinism. And I say, in fact, friends, when I say Calvinism, I’m not necessarily talking about John Calvin, although that’s where the name comes from. It is, of course, often like Christians may do things that don’t necessarily reflect Christ, at least in the fullness of Jesus’s teachings, those who claim to follow the teachings and theology of Christ as mediated through John Calvin might take it to an extreme. But Calvinism with its understanding of predestination, that from the beginning of time, God knows who is saved and who will be saved, became a big deal.

But the question was, the struggle was, well, how do we know who shall be saved? Who is going to be saved? And what Weber noticed is that among the Calvinists, they had developed this idea of hard work and thrift and industry and commerce and business, being a financial success would be a sign that you were saved. The more money you made, the you would in fact be seen to be one of the predestined. Of course, in correlation, in reverse, the poorer you were was a sign that you were not saved, that somehow your soul, your faith, your piety, your belief in God was somehow lacking.

That’s why Calvinism in this way began to bleed into other types of Christianities, Methodism, even Anglicanism to some degree. It was a natural outpouring of this idea that maybe these Calvinists have something to say. Of course, what happens is that as Calvinism would influence an economy in a way, after that, it no longer became necessary. If you were just a capitalist, you were a capitalist, whether you were Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, later, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever. It had its own life and power of its own. And in fact, capitalism would begin to influence religion, or at least those who sought to practice their faith. And it would become a priority.

How did it come to this? Well, I think in some ways, not a complete causation, but a correlation can be seen in the parable we just heard. This idea of the slaves, the servants who are industrious, who take their talents and go off and make twice as much, doubling the investment of their master, and also consequently, the one slave who is worthless and lazy and just buries his talent, his master’s money in the ground, is cast out into outer darkness and that one little talent is given to the one with the most.

Now, let me just say that when we talk about Jesus’s parables, I often like to say the most interesting thing in religion is God, but this parable is actually much more about us and our understanding of God. You see, Jesus was actually trying to say, God gives gifts, talents, even wealth to all, not all the same, not all equally, but as human beings, beloved children of God made in the image of God, we were all given, given gifts from a loving and gracious and generous God.

And the problem, the problem, if you will, with the one slave who only got the one talent, was that he thought that was all it was about. And as he says in the text, “I was afraid because I saw you as a harsh master, one where you would reap what you did not sow and gather where you did not scatter.” Now, we could actually debate that a bit on how harsh God is. That is not my understanding, but consequences for our own failures are a reality.

This one slave was afraid. Fear had gripped him. Fear would not allow him to take any risk, would not allow him to do what his master would need. I think that is the question for us to understand. No two people, even siblings, even twins are alike. Each has their own personality. Each of us has our own gifts, talents, whatever it might be, skills. I might’ve wished for the size and talent of LeBron James but that was not given to me.

Likewise, each of you, but God gives us something and what God simply wants is for us to use them and to use them not ... and this is the other point about the story and why the Max Weber notices this thing in Calvinism when not being a theologian, he could not comment on the fact that the Calvinists don’t quite get it right. This is not about us making money from our talent as a sign of our being saved. God merely wants us to use our talent for the glory of God. Yes, if the talent is to make in a certain way to take care of yourself and family, that’s fine. But ultimately, are you offering your gifts, your skills, your abilities to, as the Jesuits would say, all to the greater, all to the greater glory of God?

That’s the point. It is to be appreciative, as those of us who are reading The Book of Joy written by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It’s actually a conversation. The Archbishop talks about this gratitude that God says, “Desmond, I made you, you. Even with your sometimes funny-looking features like your nose or whatever, I made you that way because you are beautiful and your gifts and skills that you have, I want you to employ them in a particular way. And that is to my glory. And my glory will be reflected in how my people, all my people are treated and loved, including in your own beloved South Africa and in the world.”

That is the beauty, in fact, if we look deeper into this parable, that God is in fact showing us how to live in this way, not in fear, nor in a way of chasing after profits simply to chase after profits, but the show forth God’s glory, of God’s hope, God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love.

Into that context, we can be grateful and we can end with this poem that became part of a book by ... In this election season, you might remember there was a candidate known as Marianne Williamson. Years ago, she wrote a poem called Our Deepest Fear that then appeared in a book she wrote on prose, but she excerpted it. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond our measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us. It is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

That poem, that meditation was quoted in part from Nelson Mandela when he gave his inauguration speech as president of South Africa. It is often then misappropriated to him as his quote because he didn’t quite footnote it, but he gave, before he died, due accord to Marianne Williamson. The point is, we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And it is not just for some of us. It is in everyone. May God give you, may God give all of us the grace and courage to make that manifest. Amen.