Proper 28a 2014: Fear not

We start with the book of Judges: “The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” … and finish with Matthew, and “being thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Uplifting, huh?

Thanks be to God for a letter to the Thessalonians: “9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. [Look this up in the BCP.]

Think about where we are in the life of Jesus and in the gospel of Matthew: we are hearing a series of parables about what the kingdom of God will be like; Jesus is about a week away from his crucifixion. The atmosphere, therefore, is tense, full of uncertainty and unknowing. And this people who expected Jesus to come back within their lifetime – indeed, perhaps within a few weeks – have been waiting for decades. Writers are letting us know that we do not know the time nor the hour that Jesus will return. We remember through the gospels Jesus’ stories about how to wait, what to do, and what happens if we are caught unawares. We hear about bridesmaids and midnight, about talents and fear.

Fear. Are you afraid? I am. I’m afraid it will snow, I’m afraid that I won’t get my paper done in time, I’m afraid that my nightmares are real, I’m afraid that the chicken is overcooked. I’m afraid … you get the point. What are you afraid of?

We are afraid that our God is a mean master, and we do strange things in the face of fear. We might be so afraid that we take an enormous basketful of money and bury it in the ground for safe-keeping. It won’t get lost that way. One talent is 6000 times a day’s wage, so we would be burying about 16 years’ worth of wages … that’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of burying. That’s a lot of fear.

Well, what if the parable of the talents is not about money?

If the parable IS about money, and on one level it is, because Jesus was talking about …. Money. Talents. Going out and trading in the market of the day – “double or nothing,” in fact. The Roman Empire’s market of the day was usury and questionable, even corrupt, business practices. The devout Jewish person’s market of the day was to bury what was valuable that it might not be lost. Not losing money is a good thing. We are probably pretty sensitive to that piece.

However … this parable is not about money. It is not about money.

What if the parable is about faith? What are we supposed to be doing while we are waiting for our Lord to return?
Are we called to take our share of faith, large or small, and
multiply it?
or bury it?

What if the parable is about the faith of the community? What, then, are we to do about our faith?
multiply it?
or bury it?

1 Thessalonians
2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

We know that the Lord is coming. And yet we live in a world that is afraid.

The world is afraid. We are afraid that we’ll have snow tomorrow, we are afraid that the stock market will crash, we are afraid that we’ll run out of milk, we are afraid. Of so very many things.

But we know that our Lord is coming! Don’t we?

When we live in fear, we are right in the parable with the third man, thinking only of God as one of wrath, and we help ourselves fall right into the hole that we have dug, into an outer place of fear and weeping and gnashing of teeth. We (sometimes) forget about Jesus:

9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

If we are to wait, and we are waiting still, how are we supposed to wait so that we might truly be with Jesus?

Thomas Long writes that “We are asked what to do with the gospel as we wait for the coming of the kingdom of heaven. It is not a gentle tale. [Long (Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion)] Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would be as concerned about increasing the spread of the gospel — God’s grace — as we are about increasing the return on our financial investments?”

This is how we wait: Fear says:

What will happen? Will we have enough money? Will people still like us? What will we do? What will we do?

Faith says: I’ll build the ark. I’ll take your people into the desert. I will bear the child of God. I will not persecute Christians, I will build up my Lord, be a servant and prisoner of Christ. (Examples are from Rick Morley.)

Fear not. Do not be afraid. “Build one another up, as you are in fact doing.”

On many days we concentrate on the “love your neighbor as yourself” part of the gospel. Today is a day that we concentrate on the “love the Lord your God part.” We do that in faith, not fear. We do that in the sure and certain hope that God is with us and that Jesus will come again. Fear not.
I encourage us, this community of St. Peter’s to spread with joy the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the “love the Lord your God part.” Bring a friend to church. And then another one. Why would we bury the wonderful, faith-filled, Spirit-filled witness that we have right here? Bring a friend to community coffee hour. Show them where the food pantry is in Henrietta. Make the product of full tummys real, in a place where food is given and shared. Invite them to eat. Come to an evening study group. Go out for tea. Start walking in preparation for next year’s 5k. Tithe. Pull some weeds. Shovel the sidewalk. Clean the pantry. Give financially just a little bit more. Change a lightbulb. Together. With a friend. Call someone you haven’t seen in a while. Connect, connect, connect … “just as, in fact, you are doing.”

Pray. Every day. For yourself, for one another, for St. Peter’s, for the church universal, for the church and the light of Jesus Christ to break through in a broken world. Pray that we might be transformed in faith, not fear.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. Fear not. Thanks be to God!

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