November 13, 2011: XXII Pentecost (28a)
Nov. 13, 2011
One of the indisputable facts of church history is that the medieval church put too much emphasis on sinful humanity's need to appease a wrathful God.
We can have some sympathy for Martin Luther's spiritual dilemma. If ever a man could win God's favor by monk-ery... I was that man, he wrote. I didn't love God, I hated him, for there was no way to satisfy him!
Luther's correction of this abuse, of course, began the Protestant Reformation, and the tragic division of Western Christianity.
His Battle cry of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fidei...Scripture alone, Faith alone was like the abrupt snatching of the wheel... and as every driver's ed teacher will tell us, it is exactly the wrong thing to do. When we run off the road, we don't overcorrect, for doing so may avoid the ditch on the right, but it is sure to land us in the ditch on the left!
It was a very good thing that the Reformation reintroduced the importance of Scripture. But scripture cannot truly be understood if it is divorced from the Faith Community and Tradition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
It was a very good thing that the Reformation reintroduced St. Paul's emphasis on God as the initiator of Salvation by Grace through Faith...
But Faith without works, as St. James tells us, is dead.
And if this tendency is uncorrected, it produces a kind of Christian passivity.
A Let go and Let God mindset that encourages us gently to float along the Holy Spirit's lazy River... warm and cozy... safe and secure.
But God does not call us into a life of passivity. He does not save us, only to have us sit on a cloud (harp in hand) as we drift serenely through eternity.
On the contrary, we are called in to worship, but sent out to serve.
Simon Peter's request to build a Shrine around God's Transcendence was flatly denied on the mountain of Transfiguration... and so is ours.
For weeks, if not months, our Gospel readings have helped us to understand the great gift of God's grace that is unmerited and unconditional....
But now, as Holy Mother Church guides us towards Advent with the truth of Christ's coming into the world both to save it and to judge it...we are also reminded that we are expected to do good works... to thank Him who saved us by sharing His love, his truth, his mercy with the world.
The Parable that we have heard this morning is not about investment strategy. It is not even primarily about Christian Stewardship, although, there are elements of good stewardship in it.
But at its very foundation, this parable contrasts bold living in Christ with passive and fearful living.
Jesus uses the imagery of money because it gets our attention. For the record, a "Talent" represented about 15 years* wages, so we are talking about very large sums of money... but the large amounts of money are even more of a device to lure us in... to get our attention... and then to pop the very direct question... Are you willing to take risks for the Gospel? Even when the stakes are very, very high?
And then, of course, we have the parable itself... and we learn which behaviors evoke praise... and which behavior evokes a very stern rebuke.
Why is it that the third servant is so severely criticized?
First, because he acted in fear. And as St. John reminds us, Perfect love casts out fear. We make poor decisions when we are fearful. Emotions overwhelm our intellect when we are fearful. Reality is distorted when we are fearful. And in that pitiable state, we simply become paralyzed. And rather than taking initiative, we bury our talents in the ground.
But think about that image for a moment. The earth is where we make the grave. We have come from the dust and it is certain that we shall return to it... but to take refuge in the earth while we are still among the living is to act as if we were already dead.
St. Francis de Sales tells us that human heart (spiritually speaking) is like a semi-solid material. The Holy Spirit provides warmth, and that warmth causes the heart to melt... and thus liquefied... the heart flows out to the source of its love... which is God Himself.
But how can that warm Spirit reach the heart that is hid in the cold earth?
It is understandable, of course, that we are tempted to behave as did the third servant... especially if we have experienced deep hurts and wounds. One of the ways that we protect ourselves when our heart has been broken is to withdraw... to proclaim loudly, I shall never allow that to happen to me again! And then we get our shovel... and walk into the back yard...and start digging the hole in which we plan to crawl.
But the words of Jesus this morning remind us that if we are ever to love... if we are ever to serve in his name...if we are ever to know the Joy of the Resurrected Life... we must be willing to be bold... we must be willing to take risks... and we must be willing to be vulnerable.
...For that is exactly how he lived his life for us.
The master gathers where he did not sow. In other words, He expects something from everyone. But he has cast the good seed of His Harvest within the hearts of all the Baptized. To whom much is given, much is expected.
Every Christian soul is filled with potential.
You are the light of the world!
You are the Salt of the earth!
Don't hide that light under a bushel!
Don't allow the savory seasoning of your Christian faith to be compromised... to be adulterated by the distractions of this world. For if Salt has lost its flavor, it is good only to be thrown onto the ground.
Let your light so shine before others that they can see your good works... and give Glory to your Father in heaven.
This morning... we have the great joy and honor to be eye witnesses to God's bestowal of the richness of his grace...
For as little Wesley Adam Rubino comes to the Baptismal waters... he is not just given one Talent, or two... or even five. He is given the FULL MEASURE of God's Holy Spirit!
What potential! What a beautiful gift! However shall he use it? What shall he become? What lives will he change? Who will be blessed by his love.?
The opportunities are endless...
And the great joy we have at this baptism... and at every baptism... is that we, along with his parents and godparents and family and friends get to be a part of the story...
Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this child in his life in Christ.
We will! Indeed. We will!
*one gold talent would, in today's money be worth more than 1.5 million dollars.