Fear and Trustworthiness

23 Pentecost – November 16, 2014

Proper 28A: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 9-:1-8, 12; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

Well, I guess today is another episode in how to make a shorter service—by accident. We are infinitely creative—or at least I am, it seems to be, when it comes to omitting things from the service. This is my first Sunday, and I’ve done something strange every single week. So, I’m consistent. This is a good thing.

So, we have this parable. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven will be like this.” Really? Really? Is this what the kingdom of heaven is like? For years this parable has been used at this season of the year—pledge time—to batter people into giving more money—into putting more stuff on the table. We used to looking at parables as allegories, and in this one, we’ve seen the master as God—who gives us things then wants them back. And he gets really cranky if we don’t build it up. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is looking at it upside down, which is what Jesus generally tried to do—look at things upside down. If we think about the master as the Roman occupation, it puts a little bit different slant on this. And if this slave—the one who was given the one talent—decided he wasn’t going to play the game—wasn’t going to live according to the rules of the Roman occupation, that would be a scary thing for him to do, wouldn’t it? He would be afraid when he got it and afraid when he gave this big hunk of money back.

Fear comes around a lot when we talk about our money—when we talk about our stuff—when we talk about our resources. We’re always afraid there’s not going to be enough, and I’m right in there with everybody else. I have a room full of stuff, in fact, that I might need some day. My anatomy notes from junior college are beautiful, and I might need to look at them someday, so they’re still there, in a binder. We get fearful. We get fearful.

So Monday, I was sitting, looking at this parable and poking at it and poking at me, and I had kind of a déjà vu experience, which happens a lot to preachers. Particularly after you’ve been preaching for a while, because this is my fourth trip down this particular parable.   I was sitting there thinking about that, and I remembered when I preached it two times ago, in 2008. 2008 was rough times. You may remember. That was the year our 401K’s dropped by a half. It was a rough year. And I was going to preach on this, and I couldn’t figure out how to find the good news in it. So I kept poking at it and poking at me, and I thought I’d do this or I’d do this, and it didn’t happen. And I remembered that several years before I’d read about a church back east, where they’d given—the church had given–$50 to every single parishioner. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. They were each given $50—entrusted with $50—and told to go out and do something with it and to report back in six months. And I had always been in love with that. I thought wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to do? Wouldn’t that be so cool? And then I looked at St. Mark’s financial situation, and I thought maybe that was not a good idea for right now, because we didn’t have the money to give $50. We didn’t have the money to give $10. We were a little bit underwater at that point—particularly at that point in the year—and I was sitting there thinking and feeling really wistful, and I said, “Well, you know, I’ve got that much in my savings.” Whoa! Get back! Don’t go there, baby. No, no, no, no, no. And that had been about on a Monday, and all week long, the Holy Spirit and I fought over this. At least once a day, I would have this little niggling thing come to me, and I would say, “No. I’m not going there. I might need this money. I might need this money.”

So, I wrote another sermon, and on Saturday, a little after noon, I was comfortable, you know, I was doing just fine with my decision. I was driving to Trader Joe’s, and I was passing my bank, and this hymn that I had not heard in years was just with me, like they sometimes creep up on us sometimes. With me. And all I could hear was: Be not afraid. I go before you always. And I thought, all right—all right—I’ll do it—I’ll do it. So I pulled into the parking lot, just in time to see them close the doors, because it was Saturday and my bank closes at noon on Saturday. I got frantic. I was just crazed at that point. So I called Charlie, who is the senior warden. I said, “Charlie, I need a thousand dollars—ten dollar bills. A thousand dollars in ten dollar bills. Is your bank still open? And he said, “Yes.” This was his second go-round with me as senior warden, so we had a good relationship at that point. So I said, “Go get me money, and I’ll bring you a check, and it’ll be okay.” He said, “All right.” So I met him at his house, and he gave me this little package of a thousand—you know, ten dollar bills. A hundred ten dollar bills.   And one Sunday morning, I told this story that I’ve just told you, and I gave everybody there a ten dollar bill. I didn’t really give it to them. I entrusted it to them, because one of the things that was driving this is that we’re always asking people to entrust the leadership of the church with their resources, but we rarely put that entrustment back. So, I wasn’t really giving those ten dollar bills out. I was entrusting people with those ten dollar bills. And there were rules attached.

The first rule is that you can’t give it back. It’s entrusted; you’ve got to do something with it. The second is that you can’t give it to the church. You can’t use it as your plate or your pledge. No. I’m already giving my tithe. This is not my tithe; this is over that. You can use it for something you’re already planning to do, if it’s over and above what you were already planning to do. The third and most important rule is that it has to go outside the church: to people, to ministry, to service. And so, I’ve got to tell you, I had more fun that day than I’d ever had in church—and I have a pretty good time in church.   I was so filled with joy—I cannot tell you! And then people started telling me what they’d done with this money. One woman taught middle school in a low income area, and some of the kids in her class kept getting sent home from school after PE because they came in stinky to class—dirty—because they didn’t have gym clothes. They couldn’t afford gym clothes. What she did with the $10—she put $10 of her own with it and bought cheap white T-shirts that she could wash so that these kids would have something they could change into after PE. A family took their money and bought some fleece and they made those blankets where you put two pieces of fleece together and cut the edges and tie them together so you get a really warm, fluffy, cuddly thing—with all kinds of cute fleece—and they gave them to the family shelter. These things just kept happening—they just kept coming, and every time I got word—an email or a little note or somebody just walking past—the joy came back again.

So, Monday, I was sitting and remembering all that stuff and just kind of sitting there in the joy of it, and I thought, “Well, I ought to do that again.” Whoa! I’ve done that! I don’t need to do that again. I don’t need to do that again. But I heard that song again: Be not afraid. But I’m a retired person! Fixed income with just a little bit extra, you know. I’m—Be not afraid. So I thought, okay, I’ll sleep on it. And I woke up on Tuesday morning just filled with joy because I knew what I was going to do today. Hee-hee-hee-hee!

And so Wednesday I went to the bank and got 150 ten dollar bills, because I figured 150 ought to take care of us. I probably wouldn’t see 150 of you today, but over the next couple of weeks I’ll see 150, you know, so tell your friends. Come to church next week. So the rules are: the same. I’m already doing my tithe to ECA, so this is over and above that. You can’t give it back to me because it’s not a gift. I’m entrusting you. You can’t use it as your plate or your pledge. You need to put it somewhere out there—somewhere you can change somebody’s life just a little bit. Maybe a turkey—that’d be a good use of a ten dollar bill. Two of them—or whatever. Or you could put another ten dollar bill with it and buy a BIG turkey.

So. This is what $1290 looks like in ten dollar bills. (handing the bills to people) Isn’t this fun? It is an awesome responsibility. I’m entrusting you with my money. I want you to tell me stories. Wow–we’ve gone through $500—yay! (Did Mary have to get it for you?) No, I got it myself because I went on time. I’ve got to tell you, when you go into a bank and ask for $1500 in tens, they look at you kind of funny. You can get together in a group or it could be a family or a gang—who knows what you could do! And there’s no time limit. You know, wait until you find something that you really want to do. You know, when I got here, that first day, we talked about the commandments that Jesus gave us—Jesus gave the folks the commandments they already knew: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He only gave us one new commandment, and that is: do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.