Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In Faith, Take Risks – 16 November 2014 – Lectionary 33

Next Sunday celebrates Christ Jesus as the one who reigns over all. And the following Sunday begins the apocalyptic time of readings for Advent. From the Gospel and the prophetic word today, the message prepares the assembly for this movement through a period that sets us up for the momentous birth of Immanuel. Already, we are to keep alert, beware, shun fear, take risks, give ourselves away. The frightened and too-careful steward does nothing with what he has been given; the prophet speaks to people who hoard instead of attending to those in need; the epistle advises the church to share the burden of maintaining strength and conviction.

This word is relevant every day for all of us. Bounty surrounds us–even those of us who have fewer material possessions than others. Everyone has gifts to offer toward shaping a world that gives life rather than destruction.

God’s entreaty that we make something good of what we have been given comes to us here in the context of the promised “day of the Lord.” Although we might think this coming day is a triumphant moment, it is painted as a disaster because we haven’t lived up to the will of the holy one. Today is a warning that we perk up and listen to God’s word.

Matthew 25:14-30

Just prior to this parable, Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (of the Lord's departure and his return) (25:13). The question answered by this parable seems to be, “What to do while the Lord is gone and while the disciples wait for his return?” The listener is to take what has been given and use it for the master. The one who takes what has been entrusted to him and hides it for safekeeping is chastised for being a hoarder and a non–risk-taker.

– Eric T. Myers is the pastor of Frederick Presbyterian Church in Frederick, Maryland.

This parable is probably a good opportunity to teach a bit about parables in general. The tendency for the casual reader is to compare the powerful figure in each parable with God. But clearly, the master cannot be equated with God. God is not a slave owner, a harsh man, or one who engages in shady dealings. The meaning of the parable must be sought elsewhere.

Pastor Richard Jeske, some years ago, taught workshops in which he challenged his hearers to interpret parables by finding the Gospel in them. He said that you would find the Gospel at the point in the story where you found yourself offended. That is, when the story began to go against the values of our society, values we have all internalized, and things are turned upside down, that is where you will find good news. Those who worked boldly on behalf of the master, who took risks and trusted somehow in the mercy of this “harsh man,” were rewarded. The one who played it safe, who did not trust the master, lost out.

One is reminded of Martin Luther's famous “sin boldly, but trust God the more boldly still.” Taking chances on behalf of the Gospel is the way Jesus' followers participate in the kingdom. In our world today there is much going on that calls out for faithful followers of Jesus to take chances on behalf of the powerless and hopeless. The world says it is none of our business, let the authorities take care of it, do not get involved. The good news here is that we are free to be deeply involved in the world and we can trust God for the outcome.

­– Judith Simonson is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

The prophet puts an even finer point upon the command to be involved in the world’s business, creating rather than hiding. The central word is a warning to those who “say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will the LORD do harm.” In response to this lack of faith – a lack of allegiance to God – the prophet sets out a scenario of divine displeasure which will result in devastation for everyone and everything:  “. . . in the fire of the LORD’s passion the whole earth shall be consumed . . . “

Those who bring about this terrible destruction are those, Zephaniah says, “who rest complacently on their dregs . . . ” We are called to attend to the needs around us, demonstrating our trust in God. 

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Facing this catastrophe, the epistle reiterates God’s call to vigilance: “. . . the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Our challenge is to “encourage one another and build up each other” so that we do not “rest complacently” with the status quo. Perhaps these scripture readings amount to a call to deep change.

What, in our spheres of influence, might we alter for the good?

Homily Service 41, no. 4 (21 July 2008): 130-138.

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