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Image of God

REV. CHRISTIAN BARON – November 16, 2014 – Proper 28, Pentecost, Year A: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

imageJesus said, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, `Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, `Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, `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, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, `You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

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.

in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit… amen.

Open your bulletins to the back until you find the page with a picture frame on it.

When you think about God, what do you think of?  If you were to take a picture of God, what would it look like?  Grab a pencil or pen and consider drawing God during the sermon.  It may be the only thing to keep you awake.

Really, think about this for a minute… Are your thoughts of God abstract?  all powerful? omniscient? omnipresent? Loving? Angry? Maybe you think about God as a metaphor… perhaps a mother hen, or a shepherd, or a Rock.  Maybe you think about your biological father. Maybe those thoughts are comforting… but maybe they are dark and painful.

I worked for a summer in a hospital in Austin as a chaplain.  It was a difficult summer but I learned what i know about being a pastor. My job was to walk into the room of a total stranger and introduce myself as the chaplain and find out if I could be helpful. Several times I would introduce myself and I would see the panicked look on the face of the patient or family. I could tell they were thinking, “Oh my God, are things really so bad that they sent for the chaplain?”  A few times they were indeed that bad. Sometimes, when i had a patient that was dying or that had received terrible news they would confide in me their deepest sins and explain that God was punishing them. Like all of us,our deepest theology is revealed when we are in crisis. Like the submerged portion of an iceberg, our deepest thoughts about our creator lay under the surface. These thoughts… this theology… isn’t something we have much control over. It is steered by things like, gender, race, culture, socio-economics, and sexual orientation. This way of thinking about God kind of happens to us. For some it is difficult, if not impossible,  to change. It affects how we think, how we act and how we view the world. For some, this is a blessing, and for others it is a curse.

Kind of scary isn’t it?  This concept is kind of dark. How much control do we really have about how we view God? I’m not talking about the 39 articles in the back of the prayer book.  I’m not wondering if you believe in the virgin birth or if you think that god gives us good parking spots at Wal-Mart. Those things are theologies that we have agencies over. We choose whether to believe those things. I’m talking about things that we have no control over.  Did my father snuggle with me enough. Did your mother wrestle with you? Was the savior of the world the same color and gender as you? These things matter. these things affect the ways in which we experience the creator of the world.

How is your drawing coming?  Is God smiling? Is God angry? I’m going to send the ushers around in a minute to make sure you are working hard on them.

This seems like a dark gospel for me. Maybe it is for you too.

If we avoid the obvious pitfalls, I think we can see that these core theologies are on display in today’s gospel. Some of the pitfalls are key words or phrases or concepts that trip us up. Words like “slave” and “master.” Thoughts about the financial crisis of 2008.  About “bankers.” Thoughts about what seems to be an angry and reactionary master. These things have a different context for us, the readers and we can’t ignore that it affects how we read the gospel.

Maybe you have other pitfalls that you need to avoid in order to hear the good news today.  Maybe write those pitfalls on your paper….

The first two slaves, for whatever reason, feel free to take the money of the master and to boldly invest it.  The commentary I read says that a talent is about a 15 year salary for a day laborer. That’s 75 years of wages for the man with 5 talents!  The first two feel free to gamble with the master’s money and it pays off.  The master entrusts the first two slaves with a fortune and somehow, the slaves… the ones who would not have had any experience in handling an estate or such a large portion of money are able to double their investment.

Am I the only one?  When i read this story i think  of Bernie Madoff or Enron.  I know the reality is that if somebody has doubled their investment, that means that somebody else, lost theirs.

When i think about 2008 and the housing bubble bursting and the recession…. and friends and family members who were out of work, I struggle. That was hard on us… am I right?  Some of us may have some baggage that we lug around with us as we read this passage.

Suddenly, when we think about our context, burying and protecting the master’s money seems pretty wise. What if the first two slaves gambled and lost it all?  Then the master has nothing left… nothing except the buried talent.

This cannot be what the gospel is about right?  The rest of Matthew contradicts this kind of Kingdom. The sermon on the Mount explains that God’s Kingdom flips the current human understanding of a competitive Kingdom. It turns the tables and flips the paradigm of power and authority.  It raises up weakness and topples the strong.

So, this story cannot be about financial responsibility… And I don’t think it’s about whether or not the master is wicked. On one hand he gives his slaves the chance of a lifetime… He gives them great responsibility and great wealth.  On the other hand, he gives them no expectations for the money and then punishes the 1 talent slave when he doesn’t invest it correctly. Harsh master or not?  Can’t tell… which makes me think the point of the parable must be about something different.

How are your pictures coming along?  Hold them up?

The 1 talent slave says this about his master… “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, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

And now we’re back to that core theology.  The one talent slave rightly or wrongly felt that his master was harsh and didn’t want to risk losing everything and disappointing him. His fear not only kept him from capitalizing on what had been entrusted to him, but he missed out on the blessing of experiencing the gift of the master. He missed out on all the things that come with a gift of that magnitude.

What the one talent slave thinks about his master affects him… deeply.  What the first two slaves think about their master frees them.

I’m sympathetic to the one talent slave because I know what it is like to dislike God and to be angry with God. I know what it is like to not trust God. I know the effect that, that has on a person and how difficult it is to change patterns of thinking.

What we think about the creator is a big deal. It affects how we see those made in the image of God. How do I see my fellow humans. Do I see the image of God in them? What image is that? How do I see my children? Am I hopeful for their future? Do I watch the news and fear that all is spiraling into a dystopian state?  How should I view race and justice? All of these questions and feelings are guided by our core beliefs about the creator.

This could really sound like terrible news… especially if you feel like a slave who has buried her talent.   But last week we had the sermon about the 10 bridesmaids. Do you remember.  For those of us who at times have a darker core theology, remember that we, Grace Church, have enough oil for you. This is why we walk together. This is why we stay close to one another. This is why we hold hands. We are not alone. You are not alone. When you experience tragedy or crisis, when you are angry or afraid of God, remember that there is enough light for all of us.

I’ll hold the light for you when you are in a dark space if you’ll hold it for me when I am.  I’ll gnash my teeth with you and I’ll weep with you… I’ll pick up the shovel to help you bury your talent if you need me to. because we know what happens when something gets buried… it is resurrected  and made new by a God that is good and that loves us.

Take your image of God out of the bulletin. No matter what that image looks like, whether it is a smiling God or an angry master…  put it in the offering plate and give it back to God. Because all things come of thee o Lord…

Amen