Investing
rightly.

“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

In case anyone might have missed it, the past two weeks have focused on getting ready and being prepared. Prepared for what? It is about preparing for wise investing, that is that carrying out of the obligations God has entrusted to us.

Given the time of year and the immanent celebration of Thanksgiving, we might take Jesus teaching on talents as a time to discuss investing in our church. We could turn this day into a discussion of money stewardship and emphasize generosity. While Jesus’ parable deals with stewardship, it is about a different kind of investing.

For the past few weeks we have heard Jesus talk about the end times. Jesus has been encouraging us to prepare for his Second Coming. Today, we do not hear a ‘Let’s get ready for Jesus’ coming parable, but are asked to look back – what have we accomplished after we had prepared.

St. Matthew’s is writing in the late first century when the church was struggling with Jesus’ delayed return. This retelling of Jesus’ parable reminded his people and us that we have been entrusted with great treasure, we have been prepared, and that we will now be held accountable for how we have invested.

In this parable, the man going on a journey represents Jesus. His going on a journey represents His ascension. The servants represent Christians who are awaiting Jesus’ Second Coming. The talents represent the blessings God has bestowed on us. The man’s return represents Jesus’ Second Coming. The master’s assessment of the faithfulness – the investment of the servants – represents Jesus’ assessment of us at the end of time.

Jesus has entrusted His property to us – His word and the building of His kingdom. He has treated us as individuals, allocating resources in accord with each of our abilities. He neither insults the most able servant among us with trivial responsibilities nor overwhelms the least able servant in the community with impossible tasks.

The parable indeed celebrates active, forward-leaning, risk-taking, involved-in-the-world, where-the-rubber-hits-the-road investment of our preparation.

The master does return, and will settle accounts with us. This will be the time for accountability. Jesus will ask us to show what we have done for Him, for the kingdom. If we have taken our church time, our prayer time, our scripture time, and our fellowship, all in preparation, and have invested it wisely, if we have taken risks, sweated the details, and have remained while others have hidden, we will be rewarded greatly.

As in the parable, the Lord rewards the servants who have invested in four ways: He gives each investing servant equal treatment even though each servant returns different amounts; He will pronounce us as ‘good and faithful.’ Nothing feels better than words of praise given by God; He will give us increased responsibility—a promotion; and He will say, “Enter into My joy.” This is what the faithful Christian can expect to hear when Christ comes again.

As John Shedd observed, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” So, we must not live in fear, prepare and bury what we have learned. We must invest rightly and build for His return.

Being
prepared.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”

As we worshiped last Sunday our brothers and sisters in Christ, men, women, and children, were being killed in Texas as they came together to worship God and declare their faith in Jesus. They held their lamps up brightly, filled with the oil of faith, ready to meet the Lord.

Many of us grew up in a time when coming to church was considered a light thing. Maybe our parents or grandparents had faced persecution as faithful National Church members, but not us so much. That was in the past. But, as is said, everything old is new again…

Today’s lesson from Jesus dispels the myth of faith as a casual endeavor. Jesus tells us, ‘always be at the ready,’ with our lamps prepared and with an extra stock of oil at hand. We do not know the day or the hour.

Prepared lamps and extra stocks of oil are not just about coming to church on a chilly Sunday morning. It is not about waiting for a moment to come someday. It is about actively preparing and living out our faith. If we are not watchful, if we are not making ourselves more and more ready, if we are not becoming more and more – like unto the Lord – what use is there to even having a lamp?

Violence, tragedy, and suffering are a raw truth. This truth is visited more and more upon Christians. From martyrs in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to homegrown terrorists right here, to media, hate groups, and government casting people of faith as silly, backward, and ignorant, we might be tempted to extinguish our lamps, pour out our oil, and sit in the dark. Ssssshhhhh, be careful, snuff out the lamps, someone might see us. Is that who we are?

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians: do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Wise words about how we are to face the challenges of our time. The followers of Jesus, the faithful, will not allow their lamps to even grow dim. Don’t tone it down! Rather, illuminate this dark time, cast a bright glow not just inside the walls of this church, neighborhood, or city – but across this world. Let our light not only glow outward, but also illumine us inwardly. Do not grieve, offer hope.

Let us picture our lamps at the ready, held up before us. Feel the warmth – it is the warmth of faith. See the glowing faces, they are the face of Jesus in the world. See the light before us, calling the people of our neighborhood, city, and the world to come to Jesus – the only way. The faithful: wise, prepared, ready.

Getting
ready.

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Church dedicates the month of November to remembrance and prayer. This month, we recall our faithful departed and offer up prayer for their benefit on their journey to heaven. But what about us?

Unfortunately, in this day and age, we have forgotten or have lost the notion of humility. In the past, no one thought that a person who had died simply floated off into heaven. It’s a nice notion, but far from the truth. The Church rightly teaches that such thinking is false and destructive. Yet now, everyone, regardless of their life or their faith goes to heaven. This is a human invention, and not of God.

In the early Church, such notions were declared a heresy. It is the heresy of universalism – no matter what you do or believe, you get to heaven. God has no requirements, Jesus taught nothing, we are good enough no matter what we do. No faith in Jesus – no matter. Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to God’s revealed truth and universalism is a prime heresy, especially today.

Universalism teaches that we have no need to put our faith in Jesus or to be humble before God. We have no need of following Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus told us the He is the Way – He was either lying or kidding. Let’s be real – He is either the Way or what we do here is foolishness; Christianity is just a waste of energy.

We are here to call to mind and to integrate the fact that none of us is worthy of instant entrance into heaven. Our organizer, Bishop Hodur himself offered prayers and supplications for the departed. He spoke of “a life of torture, limitless pain, doubt, loneliness, and remorse” for those who have wasted the opportunities given, “who have trampled God’s gifts.” He noted that “Spiritual death is our own doing.” No universalism there.

This month we should especially focus on prayer to God for salvation from such a death – that we be sanctified and remain faithful.

We have something to rightly fear if we do not follow God’s way, if we let anything come between us and the praise, worship, and dedication rightly due God. If we fail to put faith in Jesus and set aside God’s Church and its teachings – we are in trouble. Time is short.

Jesus calls all to a spirit of humility. He calls us to recognize our unworthiness. He commands us to faith, servanthood, and humility. He destroys false notions, this one or that one will reach heaven because of what they are, not who they are. Let us recognize that it IS who we are that counts, our call to humility: Lord, I am not worthy… If we declare our faith and live those words, we will be exalted.

I will see
and hear.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

We have reflected on this gospel reading throughout Ordinary Time as it is read during Matins before Holy Mass. Who do we consider a neighbor? Really at the heart of the question, who matters? Jesus quickly answers the questioner: God matters and each and every person matters.

Doesn’t it make us happy and comforted to know that God thinks we all matter? So many try to draw circles around people, those inside, those outside. The good versus the bad, those like me and everyone else. Our lesson – once again, everyone matters.

Setting aside the view of others, and the labels they place, we also have to be careful about how we view ourselves. Sometimes, and likely all too frequently, we are our own worst enemy. We forget our inherent dignity – the goodness of our creation. The fact that God has his laser focus of care on us. We think ourselves less than worthy. Oh, I failed, I’m not good enough, I didn’t meet expectations, I don’t pray, read scripture, reflect on God enough, I sin too much, I fall over and over into habits that are harmful to myself and others. It’s easy to come up with a list of our own shortcomings because we forget God’s view.

God sees, hears and knows everything. Nothing is hidden from Him. Does He see where we fall short – sure. Yet, He doesn’t take his gaze from us. When we fully grasp and understand that His eyes are on us, His care is over us, His love and His Son’s sacrifice were for each of us, then we will allow Him to declare our value, and we will see that each and every person matters in the same way.

God does not operate like man. His thoughts and ways surpass that of man. They are way higher. Knowing how God is, we need to step up to see and hear as He does, to live valuing and counting ourselves and all people as those who matter.

We face challenges in this world, the naysayers, the put downers. We may even put ourselves down. As His people, we need to confront that head on with God’s truth, with the fact that He sees and hears and wants it different, “I will surely hear. I will hear; for I am compassionate.

Indeed, our compassionate God sees and hears. No division or label (even our self-labeling) can last before Him. We all matter. Let us take up God’s great commandment, let us live it loving Him and everyone. To live like He does, to be men and women with God’s vision.

How do you
say it.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

I was looking at a list of songs about love – I must have been in one of my romantic moods. From Stevie Wonders’ I Just Called To Say I Love You to Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, song writers and poets have crafted thousands of ways to say, ‘I love you.’ Hallmark makes money on helping people say, ‘I love you.’

Today, St. Paul in writing to the Church at Thessalonica, opens with a lovely introduction full of thankfulness for the people of the Church. He commends the Thessalonians prayerfulness, their work for the faith which is a labor of love, and their endurance in the face of persecutions. He calls the people of the Thessalonian Church the ‘loved of God.’ He remembers how the gospel, God’s word, came to them. It wasn’t merely by hearing, but in a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

When did we ‘receive the word?’ When was the Holy spirit poured out on us? This question has lots of opportunities for good storytelling: I remember that day at Kurs Youth Camp, at our Biennial Youth Convocation, at a Mission and Evangelism conference, at Synod, on a quiet hillside, at a time of crisis, during an unexpected encounter, or one Sunday in church. In that moment, we joined the loved of God.

In joining the loved of God, we accept the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that He clothes us as He clothed the Thessalonians. We too are clothed with His gifts. He looks to us to be the new prayerful, the new workers for the faith, new laborers of love, the strong and enduring for the sake of the kingdom.

We often think that the Epistles of the first century marked something extraordinary – and we would be right in thinking that. We would however be wrong in thinking that the people, the loved of God of the first century were the last of the line. Indeed, they were the first.

Now we stand in their place, and hopefully we are not just standing. We, from Schenectady, Albany, Troy, Saratoga like the Thessalonians have been chosen to live out the gifts of the Spirit. Our receiving of the word is made evident by our work of faith and labor of love. The word in us is shown in the way we say, ‘I love you’ and help others to do so. We may do it in music, we may do it in poetry, but most of all we must do it in prayer, word, and power.

Let’s get
dressed.

But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’

John Wooden was a basketball player and later head basketball coach at the University of California at Los Angeles. He won ten national championships His teams won a record 88 consecutive games. He had his choice of players. The players UCLA recruited were the best of the best, having been part of winning successful teams. When these star players showed up for the first day of practice, Coach Wooden sat them down and very patiently taught them how to put on their socks and shoes. He got down to basics, telling them that if they get their socks on wrong, with a crease or fold in the wrong place, it would harm the team. He taught them to double tie their shoes so that they could play on, not leaving their team without their presence.

As Christians, we need to get down to basics, and Jesus reminds us of that today. We have to take time to remind ourselves of basic Christian responsibilities, to prepare ourselves so we show up well presented at the King’s feast. Let’s cover a few of the ways we should prepare ourselves.

In the early Church, some believers thought that one of the gifts of the Spirit, the ability to speak in tongues, was particularly special. They often flaunted that ability and saw it as a point of pride. St. Paul was quick to correct them. He criticized them because their everyday words were ruining the unity that Christians ought to have. He said: “Some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you. Your meetings do more harm than good.” It came down to this – they couldn’t control their own tongues. They used the words they knew from birth to gossip, slander, and to create disunity. What did the Spirit gift of speaking in tongues matter if they could not control their own tongue? No Spirit gift is more important than the Christian love and the respect they were to show for each other. We all are tempted especially when there are stresses, and we try to figure it all out. We continue to face the challenges the early Church faced. Getting ready, preparing for the King’s feast, includes our dressing our thoughts and words in love.

Several years ago, someone close to me contracted cancer. He ended up losing one of his lungs. It reminds me of the end of 2011, we were on our last lung in this parish. We had little to nothing to sustain this parish but for a few months to a year. I had asked one thing only – that we make a great act of faith and put our trust and belief in God, that He would provide. We did, and we did it together. It happened, God moved many hearts and caused miracles to happen. We did no extra fundraisers. Yet our coffers were filled and we invested in many things – spending more than we had in years we ended up with more in the jar. The oil did not run out, the jar of flour was filled. The man who ended up losing a lung met that challenge with perseverance, joy, and faith. So too we who are preparing for the King’s feast. We are called to act with faith above all else, to wear and show trust in God and His provision. A grain of faith dresses us for the King’s sumptuous feast.

Like the Acts Church, we are all learning to dress. We are all in the process of getting ready so that we may be welcomed at the King’s feast. Those members of the Acts Church did not always agree. Like those at the feast, they were rich and poor, people of every background and color, yet they overcame by sacrifice, in communal worship, fellowship, joy even in challenges. Setting aside all we arrive ready for the King.

It is about
understanding.

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. 

Gaining understanding, seeing what God is doing and what our relationship is toward Him are the things Jesus fought for His entire life. He wanted us to see family as more than a functional organization that does stuff together, but as the model of the kingdom. Family is designed to be a peek into what the eternal kingdom will look like.

Jesus and his parents had been at the festival for at least seven days. They spent their time growing in relationship to their community (the model of church), to each other (the domestic church) and most of all, toward God (their eternal Father source of family). They were living out church.

We know how it is when we get caught up in something great. We don’t want to leave. So it was for Jesus. In the Temple precincts, Jesus had it all. He has the fullness of family all in one place. He didn’t want to leave. He was having an excellent time. He wants us to feel and live this way too – right now.

Jesus wants to share the fullness of family relationship with us. He wants us to gain insight, to understand and see beyond the ordinary and look to the extraordinary greatness of life that is the Christian family – the family centered on and living in Him. He wants us to revel in the family of God and to never want to leave.

God is all about family. He designed us and the world around us to mirror family life in heaven. “Let us make man in our image.” He wants us to be moved to such an extent that we want family. He wants us to stay, not just with Him, but with each other in family. He ministered to and built family to provide a life example – this is how it is supposed to be.

Jesus taught His disciples to refer to His Father as their Father. He asked the crowds – who is my mother, brothers, and sisters? It is those who understand and live in family relationship with Him and His Father. He wants us to remain, to stay in family love.

God’s family is built upon all the things Jesus taught – the example He gave us – one of dedication, worship, sacrifice, and love. God wants us to understand His great desire – that we are family and are to live that way.

As we once again renew and take up life as the kingdom family, let us remember the example of the Acts Church – people living as one – living, sacrificing, praying, and worshiping – really getting it, never wanting to leave.

Investing it
all.

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied himself

Pretty much everyone knows who Warren Buffet is. He is the billionaire investor with the golden touch. He has been quoted many times, and certainly people seek his advice. Mr. Buffet, how do I succeed? One of his oft quoted rules is: “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No.1.” Another of his rules is to focus on achieving high returns (making a lot of money) with very little risk. Avoid risk to get rich.

We have also heard anecdotes about that person who invested his or her last few dollars and because of making a good choice, or by being incredibly lucky, they became rich.

That is two ends of the spectrum. In one case, the rich get richer by conservatism, being very careful, minimizing risk. In the other case, we have those with little to nothing putting it all in and finding success.

St. Paul presents us with something completely different today. In the revelation He received, Paul was overcome by the awesomeness of what God did. God, who had it all, all power, all eternity, Who wants for nothing, invested it all. He gave it all away – for us.

Paul asks us to be of the same mind as Jesus. He asks us to put our whole selves in. To invest ourselves in the life of Christ – community and worship.

Paul goes on to give us the greatest Christological hymn ever written. He illustrates for us: This is who Jesus is, This is what Jesus is all about. Paul shows us, in this hymn, that Jesus literally stripped Himself down to nothingness in order to take on our humanity. He ended up stripped, on a cross, in abject poverty, having lost everything and to the point of despair feeling utterly abandoned by His Father. He dies this way to save us and because of this sacrifice, His name is to be adored.

Indeed, God invested it all, His whole being, for us. Paul then says: Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

This is the essence of the Christian life. It calls us to invest fully. Like Jesus’ discussion today, it is not where we are, what we have done, where we have come from – but whether we believe, whether we put our all on the line.

When we invest it all in God – offering Him our faith, our daily lives, our dedication to His way, and our worship and dedication to the communal life, we grow truly rich. we preserve our lives for everlasting joy and really live.

Let Me tell you
about My Father.

When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.

All of Jesus’ coming, His life, His worship and prayer, His healings, His poverty, His message, and His life, death, and resurrection are about one thing – Jesus showing us the Father. Jesus plainly told us: Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. After hearing Jesus’ words today, how do we better get the Father?

The late workers were amazed by generosity. The early workers felt ‘cheated,’ as if something due them was taken away. But it really wasn’t specifically about any of that. Rather, Jesus uses all His parables and allusions to more fully describe His Father. He walks about the cities and countryside living a very particular way – to show us the life of the Father. He calls us to understand, to comprehend, to allow our hearts to be touched by the reality of the Father. He says – let Me show you My Dad. Get to know Him. He is amazing.

Again, this parable is not specifically about workers feeling cheated, nor a generous landowner with no business sense. It isn’t really about getting more than we deserve for our work. It is not, in any special way, about people who come to the faith in their youth versus those who come late in life, or toward the end of time.

This parable is about revelation. It is a look into the life of God – something formerly beyond understanding, and now revealed. In every word of this parable, Jesus is saying – let Me show you My Dad. I love him so much. I want you to know what He is like because He is so amazing.

Like the workers, we face a bit of a problem. Our understanding is often blocked because we let our minds get in the way of falling into the love of God. We let minor parts of parables become the reason for the parable, and we miss the revelation. We should ask ourselves, ‘What do I know about the Father that I didn’t know before?’

What we now know is that the Father’s love is so all encompassing, so magnificent, that in complete trust we can fall into Him no matter where we are in our lives, no matter what happened the day before, or a few minutes ago. We may have run head on into the Father’s love in our life and were changed by it. We may be experiencing it today for the first time, or the first time in a long time. We may still be waiting for that revelation. No matter, Jesus opened the opportunity for us – to know the Father and to fall into His love.

You
BELONG!

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Everyone needs a place to belong. A place that fits you like a favorite pair of jeans or that comfortable sweater. A place where you feel welcome. A place that makes you strong, that supports you, that stirs you up. That’s the way we’re made – to be together — experiencing life with others. And yet, Vance Packard calls America “a nation of strangers” and studies show that 4 out of 10 people experience feeling of intense loneliness. Peek behind the curtain and you’ll find people hungering for fellowship, community, and family.

The Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe the Church, but the most persistent is that of belonging to a family. In the New Testament, believers call each other brothers and sisters and, in his letter to the Church at Ephesus, Paul writes: “Now you…are not foreigners or strangers any longer, but are citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family.

Maybe there’s a pew here that fits you just right. Maybe you’re as comfortable here as you are in your favorite pajamas. On the other hand, maybe you’re here for the first time or for the first time in a long time. Maybe you never felt like you really belong somewhere. Maybe you’ve never known the blessing of being a part of something as big as the family of God! Either way, I’d like to share with you something that Solomon wrote about the benefits of belonging:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lay down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. In his unparalleled wisdom, King Solomon says, “Two people are better than one…” He then goes on to describe three benefits of belonging: strength, support, and warmth.

Strength – Solomon saw a principle that holds — none of us can do alone what all of us can do together. There is strength in numbers. You know how it is when church has events. There never seems to be volunteers to go around, but when a few people join together, miracles start happening. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. We are strong together.

The Jerusalem church was a hodgepodge of believers from a lot of backgrounds, with different personalities, and sometimes conflicting opinions, yet they found a way to work together. They understood there is strength in numbers. And because they did, lives were changed — history was changed. Our belonging here, our joining ourselves to Christ, makes the same miracles happen today.

Support – belonging to a church family provides support. Solomon anticipated the “I’ve fallen and I cannot get up” commercial. “Two are better off than one, because… If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him.

Jesus is all about helping people up, isn’t He? He helped the dead to rise, He helped Peter when he was sinking. He helped the woman caught in adultery and publically humiliated to stand again. Jesus set the example and asked us to live it. That’s what we’re supposed to do for one another. Belonging to God’s family provides us with the strength to get more done and the support we need to get through troubled times.

Warmth – Belonging to a church family provides spiritual warmth. “Two people are better off than one, for… two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone?” While this is practical advice for a nomadic people living in the desert, it also serves as spiritual metaphor. You don’t have to live in a tent in the tundra to feel cold and alone. When someone is separated, alone, apart from family, our fire starts to go out and our spirits grow cold.

A pastor went to visit a man who had been absent from church for some time. When the pastor arrived at the house, his parishioner was sitting by a fire of glowing coals. The man fully expected his pastor lecture him about church. But instead the pastor drew up a chair alongside the fireplace where the man was sitting just peering into the fire. With the tongs the pastor reached into the fire and took one of the red hot glowing coals and placed it by itself out on the hearth. In no time at all the coal began to lose its glow and in a few minutes it was cold and black. The man looked up into the face of his pastor who hadn’t said a word and he said “I’ll be there next Sunday.”

That warmth you feel as we worship together here today — that’s your coals being stirred. That’s your passion for Jesus, your love for God and for people being rekindled. Belonging to a church family that you worship with and fellowship with fans the flames and keeps you spiritually warm and truly alive.

Everyone needs a place where they belong, where people smile when you arrive and say, “See you soon!” when you leave. Maybe your family is far away, maybe you’re feeling alone, or maybe you could just use a new friend or two. God doesn’t just call us to believe; he calls us to belong.

The entire Bible is the story of God building a family that will support, strengthen, and stir one another up to love — and he created you to belong to it. Belonging, we can say together Bless the LORD, O my soul!