November 19, 2017       Doug Norris    Matthew 25:14-30

click to hear audio recording

So here’s the question on the docket for today – in fact maybe the only fundamental question we ever have in front of us – what will it look like on the day that we finally get it right and arrive at a way of goodness, harmony, the dream of God?  Everything we do, everything we say, sing, pray is part of this construction – and  faith is holding this picture in place even when it seems remote or unlikely.   What will it look like on what the Scriptures call the ‘Day of God’?  And is it near?

I think this is the hunger that draws us to spiritual practices – this possibility of  glimpsing what that will be like.  So we come here and we experience a companionship that foretells the day when people will live in peace, and we come here and we experience profound music that draws us as close as we can get to the beauty of holiness, and we come here and we engage in acts of compassion and generosity and this is a glimpse for us of the day when we will be unguarded with our wealth, unafraid of equality.

We often read Isaiah : On that day – peace, feast, safety… Can you see it ?

Less often Great Big Sea   :

They said they’d stop the fighting And they said they would bring peace

And they said they’d find a serum that can cure all our disease

And they said they’d house the homeless And put black and white in tune

And they said they’d feed a hungry child  And I hope it’s someday soon

So the setting for the parable today is this question – what will the kingdom of God be like?  When that great day comes?  In the later chapters of Matthew the followers of Jesus are pressing him for some clues – paint the picture for us!    And he gives a most ridiculous answer.  The parable we just heard.  The harsh master, the servants and their investments, an honest servant cast out.  It makes no sense.   No grace in it.  Nothing lovely.

As you may know, these readings are set out, we don’t choose them.  We operate with an assumption – if we turn to the things Jesus said we will find words of wisdom and hope.  I would never choose this one.    I want to have a little chat with Jesus about this one.

Let me recap the story, Jesus, tell me if I’ve missed something :

A powerful but corrupt man leaves some investing for his servants while he is away, and two of them are congratulated when they make a killing on the market, and the one who is fearful but honest gets thrown under the bus.  Have I got it right so far?   He will be sent to where there is darkness and weeping and gnashing of the teeth.   (next Republican convention).  This is what the kingdom of God looks like.   I don’t like it, Jesus.

And the moral you tell is that those who have a lot will get more and the one who has nothing will have what he has taken away.  Not only does this sound a lot like an economy that has lost  its heart but you’ve been skipping math class again!   He has nothing, and you take it away from him?  That’s not even a thing…

Biblical scholars have a couple of tools for such a situation.   When we read a passage that doesn’t line up with what we think we know of Jesus.  Maybe he didn’t say it.  Or maybe he didn’t say it that way.  Because everything written down was written down later, in other situations, by editors with other needs that shaped how they wrote.

I think know where I can go with this, and maybe even find something beautiful in it,  but let me take just a minute and try to to set some context, some Bible study.

We read this in Matthew,  so we know it was written at a time of great upheaval, around the year 80 – the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in the way that Assad is destroying Damascus right now, and tens of thousands were fleeing –  the Jewish people had tried to rebel against Rome, maybe even egged on by the kind of resistance movement Jesus was with, and they had been viciously crushed.

Everything was now at stake – survival as a people – it seemed that now would be the good time for Jesus to return and set the New Day in place, the coming Kingdom of God.  So as they are writing down this record, of his life, they are recalling, or even perhaps creating a very strident voice.  There is a judgment to make.  The voice of Jesus now has to be a firm voice.  There is no room now for nice reflections about the birds and the lilies of the field.

Urgency brings clarity.  Which can’t help but look like judgement.  There is an urgency, now, as perhaps there always is and this is why this urgent passage is always fitting.  It matters whether we choose this path, and bring others to it.  If you have had a glimpse of a new future, a new life possible inside of you or a new way for us to be in community that is life-giving  – to not seize on it and not build it, to just bury it, is to deny it.

Joy has again today presented an investment cheque, to the Red Door Shelter, as we have done with the Land Trust, with Winona’s Place, with Habitat…  The Social Ministries Council held, and will again hold some of the master’s money, with this conviction – we cannot allow it to sit.  To create, to be part of the great vision, capital must remain in motion, not sitting around in the Caymans eating bonbons…   It is urgent that we keep this money moving in the direction of the people who share the picture we hold, of the day that is to come and may be very close.  A day when women and their children will not have to live in fear.  Thank you from our hearts for your work!

Malcolm Muggeridge – British writer 1950’s  – I have looked far and wide, inside and outside of my own head and heart, and I have found nothing other than this man and his words to bring answers to the troubled and tragic questions of our time.  If his light has gone out there is no light…

To  join a congregation is to choose a side in an epic struggle.  Which is not to say we choose against others, so much as that we choose for a picture of a possible future and we spend ourselves in the direction of that picture.

If too many people just let go of the flapping edges of decency and goodness it will fly off and we may never grasp it again.  Will you come and follow me?   Jesus asks insistently and perennially : will you pardon my bluntness and join in with a people who hold a picture of the Day to come, and which maybe is already here because it lives in you?   Will you come and follow me?