Monday, November 17, 2014

Bluebonnets

I have another story. Another moment of God smacking me in the face.
(Kind of like the rock story, which is here.)

I've lived in Houston a full four months now.
A whole season. A season in which the temperature has changed!
(Much to my neighbors' chagrin actually.)
Its been a huge change, one that I haven't been able to ignore at all.
As much as Texas is still part of the same country and many things are the same, living in Texas has been a huge transition for me.
And I cannot tell you how many times I have questioned this decision.
While I have never once said to myself, I want to leave, I have asked myself a lot of questions along a similar vein: Why Texas? How can I live here? How am I going to get my snow fix? Why did I move away from all the people I know and love?

In the midst of all my questioning and wondering, my church offered this Advent preparation morning retreat called Cup of Wonder. The gist is that you go for two hours, there is a speaker, you pick a mystery bag with a mug in it and a reflection book, you spend an hour or so in silence reflecting on the mug that you received and the stuff in the book, and then people share, the group prays, and you're done! Sadly, I joined the group halfway through, but they were still graciously willing to let me pick a mug and a book and share with them at the end.

There were mugs with snowmen on them, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas shouting from the sides, hearts, birds, songs, maps, patterns, weird 80's plaid, and so on. Everyone had a mug that spoke to them in some way, reminding them of something in their lives that needed standing out, needed to be shared.

My mystery mug has bluebonnets on it.
AKA: The Texas State Flower

The reflection is quite obvious:
When you ask God to put you in the right place
and you prayerfully make a decision and follow through,
despite all the questions...
you really just have to trust that it is right.

God saw bluebonnets, and God saw that it was good.


Options

16 November 2014
Proper 28

"God of our journey, you call us to an adventure, to venture with the treasures you have given us. When we fear, we refuse to risk, and our talents are buried and rotted. Free us from ourselves,
from our dread of life’s chances, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen." (Revised from Bob Elden, preachingtip.com)

I love the phrase from the collect this morning: "Grant us so to hear [the scriptures], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them." During my time in seminary, it was sort of a catch phrase. There was so much about the scriptures, church history, theology, ministry, that we needed to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest... Even though we thought we already knew the stories and the major points about being Episcopalian, there is always more to learn. One of the things emphasized by my teachers was that parables need some inward digesting before we can make any sense of them. We may think we know what they say on face value, but that isn't always the main point, sometimes it's even the opposite! The number one thing I learned about the scriptures though in seminary, was that context matters, context, context, context.

Now, I just read the parable of the Talents to you. Hands up, how many people already think they know what it means, what Jesus was telling his disciples, what Jesus is telling us in this passage?  Thank you.

 Again, hands up, how many people think they understand how important this parable is?

I would like to give you a little context. (In seminary, this statement was always followed by an audible groan.) This parable is between the parable of the bridesmaids, which we heard last week, and the parable of the goats and the sheep. It's part of a series of parables in Matthew which is how Jesus responds to the disciples asking about the second coming and the end of the age. The end times! Eschatology! For those of you who like big words. The series of parables that forms Jesus' answer includes stuff about false prophets, the visions of Daniel, the infamous parable that forms the basis of all the Rapture talk, and then the bridesmaids, the Talents, and the sheep and the goats. Boiled all down it comes to two main points: we will never be able to know when the end is coming and we should always be prepared.  

Both of these points are highlighted in the parable of the talents. And this parable breaks down what the options are in the situation. Let's go back to the part of the story just after the Master gives the servants money and goes away. The servants now have A LOT of money to keep, and we are talking on the order of $200,000 to $2 mil respectively, and they don't know when their master will be back. And they are given no instructions. Nothing. The master doesn't say, please double my money, please invest or build or anything. I venture to guess that if most of us were handed a large amount by our bosses and given no instructions, we would have a moment of shock. I know I would. 

In that position, they have a few options. We know they each must have had some capacity to make good decisions, they were given the money according to their Master's perceptions of their ability. They were each given a huge gift, an opportunity like none other. They can wait, holding onto the money, they can take the money for themselves - and with that kind of money, they could have all freed themselves from whatever was keeping them indentured to their Master, they can do good with it, or they can hide the money. Yet, the first two make the choice to invest, share, and grow the gift given to them. It's gratitude of being trusted that allows the first two servants to go do something with the money entrusted to them.

We have the same choices with our gifts. None of us can deny that we have been given some wondrous gifts in this life. And we are waiting, waiting for the son of man, waiting for the second coming of Jesus. "Waiting for the world to change," Waiting for Christmas, waiting, sometimes not even sure what we are waiting for. And we have options! Like the servants in the parable, We can show our gratitude, We can hide our gifts, or We can just wait.

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is Oh, the Places You'll Go. It shares what the journey ahead will look like, in general terms. It's very honest that sometimes you will be doing wonderfully, you'll be at the top, with everything looking grand, and sometimes you won't. Sometimes you'll be alone. “And when you're alone there's a very good chance you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants!” So true. And then other times, you'll have lots of great friends, who support you and love you. But the part that always gets to me the most is the Waiting Place, where people are just waiting and not doing anything. Waiting for Friday, waiting for a better break, just waiting. And some Christians are like that, they are just waiting, waiting for forgiveness, waiting for the end, waiting for Jesus to come again. Not using their gifts at all. I mean, we are, we are waiting, waiting for Jesus to come again, but we are encouraged, through the parables of the bridesmaids and the talents to be prepared for that time and we will not be prepared if we do nothing while waiting, be it something as simple as helping the panhandler, holding open the door for the mom with three screaming toddlers, or just smiling or saying "thank you."

The third servant, on the other hand, hides the money. He hides the gift he has been given. Matthew gives us some insight as to why he does this, because he doesn't trust, doesn't believe his Master is a good man. There are two children's songs that I have had stuck in my head these last two weeks as I have been mulling over this parable. I'm sure you are all familiar with This Little Light of Mine (I'm gonna let it shine...), but the verse that keeps coming up for me is the (hide it under a bushel, no! I'm gonna let it shine, hide it under a bushel, no! I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine). It seems self serving, to keep our gifts to ourselves, for any reason, fear, greed, anxiety, or simply the risk.


Now, the second children's song I've had bouncing around in my head is maybe one that not as many of you know. But the refrain goes like this: (Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away, love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.) The first two servants in the parable this morning experience this. They are given a huge gift, and at once, they go trade it, spend it, invest it, we don't actually know what they do with it, but they don't keep it to themselves and they end up with more, they end up doubling their gift. It's hard to argue with a children's song, but while we do all want more love in our lives, it's seems counter-intuitive, really risky, that giving it away gives you more. Yet, we know that we cannot share it unless we are willing to take the risk.

Unlike the servants in this story, whose Master could have been expecting a return on his gift, we have been given our gifts from God, who doesn't need any return. We have been freely gifted. That is grace. And after grace, knowing that we don't HAVE to do anything, we are opened up to all the possibilities of what we can do with our gifts. When "you don't have to do anything for God, you may find you want to do everything for Him." (Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love)


Amen.