Sunday Sermon

24 Pentecost 2017

Year A; Proper 28; RCL

Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

The Collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

MINE WITH INTEREST

      These are some tough lessons today.  They always are as we draw to the end of Pentecost.  The first part of Pentecost is filled with lessons in discipleship, and the last is always filled with warnings to “make hay while the sun shines”.   I have made hay, so I understand the reference.  Storing damp hay causes it to become moldy, and moldy hay is nasty, not good for anything.  On my uncle’s farm we hung the fresh cut grass on ricks until it dried and then ran around like crazy bringing it in if it looked like rain. It was winter fodder for the cattle.  There were a few times when we had just driven the wagons into the barn before the rain started.  Same was true of the grain.  Moldy grain is inedible.      

     In the affairs of nations and people there is always a time to act.  If we allow too much time to pass, the opportunity is lost.  There are many times I feel the lessons are pointing out the obvious.  The point made about the One Talent Wonder in today’s gospel was that opportunity is limited.  When we allow it to lapse without acting upon it we are left out in the cold.  That is a statement of fact.  God does not have to punish us if we are asleep at the stick.  We are an accident waiting for a place to happen when we let our vigilance lapse.  When I am driving at 70 mph on the freeway I am on constant alert for deer this time of year.  I do not want to die for inattention. Dwelling in the light does not mean that we enjoy some sort of dispensation or protection from evil.  

     Now I want to explain “dwelling in the light” very carefully.  It means living a clean lifestyle.  That means that when others are out prowling around and partying, I am locked in my house quietly washing my dishes.  My lifestyle pretty much keeps me out of trouble.  I know that I take a chance every time I go out alone after dark.  I do not do any kind of shopping at night.  Ever. Not even on Black Friday. When I leave my house in the dark on a Sunday morning I check carefully all around before I turn around to lock my door and set my alarm.  I always check my back seat before getting in the car. I unlock my door going into my house and lock it immediately after me.  I cannot prevent disaster, but I can do everything in my power to stay out of trouble.  These are habits I developed living in a bad neighborhood in Houston, and they have always served me well.  I have no business prowling around at night, so I drive directly home when I have evening engagements in Huntington.  I can’t prevent fire or flood that strikes unexpectedly, but I can be ready and alert.  The whole point of remaining alert is to reduce the danger posed by persons with evil intent.           

     I am not sure why, but I always thought that living in the light meant God would protect me from harm.  As time has gone on in service I have learned that it means I must live carefully and alertly in the middle of a dangerous environment.  My neighborhood in St. Albans is just as dicey as this one, and I am very glad for my nearest neighbors’ big nosy dogs who bark when I return home.  Because I have no intention of cheating anyone of anything, I am safer by many degrees than cheats and liars.  Because I don’t steal and won’t do it, I don’t have to worry about angry retribution from those who have been cheated.  I have absolutely no intention of coveting anyone’s husband or wife, and so don’t have to worry about angry spouses either.  Living in the light means avoiding the sort of grist for the mill drama that drives the daytime soaps.  When all that stuff is going down I am not likely to be around.

     At the same time my life in the daylight is anything but dull.  I have plenty of friends and good relations with my family.  I get along well with almost anyone.  If my life lacks the drama of the daytime soaps, I can’t find it in my heart to regret it. I certainly can see enough drama going on around me to encourage me to continue my lifestyle.   I am just as careful with my health as I am with my safety, so there are no surprises there.  Because it is my will to treat others fairly I don’t have to deal with too much drama day to day.   My life is relatively peaceful.  I don’t dwell on the bad stuff, but have developed the habit of letting it go.  There is never anything eating away at me.  Even when I’m grieving I know that it will be over as soon as I work through my sorrow.  I don’t linger in grief.  Living in the light promotes health.  I do my utmost to avoid problems.

      I do not live in a continuous stew like people do in TV dramas.  I like my quiet life.  I spend plenty of time smelling my roses and loving my children.  I have a white rose around the side of my house, and it put out one perfect rose at the end of the growing season this year.  I watched it every day from bud to full flower.  Everything was nipped by the frost a few days ago, so the yard is done for this year.  Living in the light means preventing trouble with others by keeping your own affairs in order.  If something bad happens it is sad, and I will do what I must.  I know that I did all I could do to prevent it.  It keeps my soul quiet within me.  My energy goes to treating people well and courteously.  For me that is what living in the light is all about.   

      What I hope to argue successfully is that living in the light avoids trouble in every way possible through vigilance and care to treat others courteously and fairly.  When something bad happens, it would have to either be planned like the 9-11 strike on the World Trade Center, or a natural disaster.  Living in the light removes me from the paths of darkness, lowering the risk of a clash in it.  

     When the Old Testament lesson blames Israel for bad dealings and has God punish the people, I am inclined to believe that God didn’t need to move a muscle.  The people dealt badly with their neighbors, and they are getting their reward.  They stopped living in the light, and their deeds are catching up with them.  Flirting with darkness is a dangerous game like Russian roulette.  

     Notice that even though the lesson has God punishing the people, God sends a solution, a way to defeat their enemies, to Deborah.  She has continued to live in the light as a Judge and Prophetess.  It is up to the people to act on this plan.  If they fail to act they will suffer for it.  They will be defeated by their enemies.  Again, God really doesn’t have to lift a finger to punish.  They will choose their fate.  Sometimes living in the light causes lightning to strike.  Jesus’ life brought him into conflict with people in power, and he died for it.  That could not be prevented.  He stood up for all of us.  We still try to follow him by standing up when God calls us to make that stand.  Those who die while living in the light enjoy the comfort of God as Jesus did.  

     I believe that it is important not to mistake a story device for theology, a lesson about the nature of God.  God does not need to punish.  We do an effective job of it when we flirt with darkness.  Living in the light is a commitment, and is not approached casually. I choose it day by day. Flirting with darkness shows lack of commitment, and that is never rewarded in Scripture.  Look at that gospel lesson for today.  The one talent wonder clearly tells us that he was afraid and hid his talent in the ground until the Master returned.   Have you ever thought how goofy it is to be paralyzed by fear while one is serving the God of the universe? The guy never left faith square one.  That one talent wonder was flirting with the light while living in darkness.  That doesn’t work either because he is fooling himself if he thinks he is serving the light.  His lack of commitment will prove dangerous to him.  Straddling, living now in darkness, giving a nod to the light, means that outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth will catch him eventually.  Violence easily claims its own, the weak and the unwary.   

     Scripture tells us that God hears the just who cry out to him.  I would lay money that Deborah and Barak cried out to God for a solution, and God offered them one.  Selling it to those who were not committed to the light was a problem they might or might not have been able to solve.  This time they did as we learn later in the story, apparently the people repented of their crime and did what it took to restore the community. Deborah and Barak both risked their lives for it, not knowing whether the people they served would cooperate.  It is what we do when we serve as leaders and walk in the light.  We offer what solutions we have and hope the people will hear us.  Jesus showed us that the God he served chooses not to dominate, chooses to persuade and to warn.  Jesus exercised the power of God, and it always created a path to healing.  He could not take the course of conquering Messiah because that is not the way he understood God.  The gospels and letters do their utmost to tell us that the way of Jesus is the way of the light. 

     I am not a pacifist.  I will fight to defend.  I heard the argument of Martin Luther, and I have accepted that neighbor love may require us to defend our neighbor.  My family were Quakers born and bred, and they went to fight Hitler and his legions. There is a broad difference between defending our neighbor and forcing everyone to follow the one correct way that we have chosen for them, as extremists do.  Emotions were running very high among the zealots of Jesus’ time.  They intended to reap the whirlwind.  Jesus’ life and death should at least cause us to question anyone who takes that course because he did not choose it for himself.  He persuaded and fought by wielding the power of God to heal, restore and raise to life again.  He warned us of the darkness that overtakes the foolish who are ultimately left out in the cold.  He cursed the tree that refused to bear fruit.  He did not cut it down. There was no need to take that action; it was already rotted through. There were enough left in Deborah and Barak’s time to respond to God’s call and win the day.  In Jesus’ time there were not.  The resurrection showed us very importantly that Jesus did not lose the battle with darkness.  God raised him up again.  As a result, we always know there is life ahead for us, no matter what.  When we choose the light, we choose life and when we live in darkness, it does overwhelm us.  That is one lesson of the cross.

     I want to talk about the three-talent wonder.   It is no crime to be modestly talented and to use those as well as we are able. He was rewarded according to his work.  We also are fulfilling our service.  That is what, I believe, the Thessalonians lesson is all about.  We know we don’t have the gifts of Ss. Peter and Paul.  We can use our time to grow in our commitment to the light and in our ministry.  That is what St. Paul urges them to do.  There is no need to be impatient for the Day of the Lord.  It is coming like a thief in 

the night.  Our job is to be awake and prepared for it.  Once we decide “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord”, we do all we can to live in the light.  The Lord will care for us as he did for Jesus.  The resurrection is a lighthouse for us who live in the light.       

        The lessons for the last Sundays of Pentecost are filled with warnings to prepare ourselves by living in the light.  Darkness will challenge but not win. God holds it back in the way that Jesus showed us by healing and restoring.  Beware falling backwards into darkness by foolishly living so that we are not fully prepared to resist the darkness.   The five wise girls carried extra oil.  Go and do likewise.  

Sermon for 24 Pentecost by the Rev. Deborah T. Rankin