Lifetimes of Faith

Many thanks to Heather Lee for this week’s sermon

I hate scheduling dental appointments. Sometimes, I skip prayer before
bed and fall asleep with an episode of Star Trek Voyager instead.  I
have been known to cheat on my budget by using my credit cards.
What is it about knowing what we ought to do, then not actually doing
it? Do you have some things that you know you ought to do, things that
are even good for you, like exercising and eating more salad greens,
that you just can’t seem to actually do?

Sometimes, we know what we ought to do, but we don’t the resources or
the energy to do it. Often, however, it’s not a matter of resources at
all; it’s a matter of perception. Why is that? Why is it so hard to
overcome perception so we can do those things we do have the resources
and energy to do? Every one of those things I mentioned is something
that I would actually benefit from. So, why am I so afraid to do the
right thing? Because sometimes, the fear of the possibility of failure
is greater than the consequences of failure itself. Let me say that
again – The fear of the mere possibility of failure is greater than
the actual consequences of failure. And I’m only talking about salad
greens.

Still, did any of you hear this mornings readings in this fearful way?
Did you hear Zephaniah talking about days of wrath and the Psalmist
talking about being consumed by wrath and Paul with his sudden
destruction and Matthew’s weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer
darkness? I admit, that was what stood out for me when I first looked
at these lessons. Stuff like this makes it really hard to trust God –
makes it really hard not to worry too much about failure – makes it
hard to trust that actual failure isn’t as scary as the possibility of
failure.

All that doom and fear does makes the servant with one talent from
today’s gospel a lot more sympathetic. Believing his master to be “a
harsh man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not
scatter seed” he took his talent and hid it in the ground, rather than
use it. For this servant, the fear of the possibility of failure was
greater than anything else he could imagine.

I think that the difference between this slave, with his one talent,
and the other slaves with their two or five talents is an imagined
scarcity. One doesn’t sound like a lot. One doesn’t sound very
abundant. But I think that depends on what you have one of.
The parable talks about talents. It is a trans-literation rather than
a translation of the Greek word talanta. But where English uses the
word talent to mean those things we have natural aptitude for and can
enhance with skill and training, talanta is a monetary term for about
15 years worth of income for a day laborer. Life expectancy being what
it was, this was the equivalent of a lifetimes worth of skill and
talent and money.

Think about that for a minute, a lifetime of labor.

Jesus is using money as a metaphor in this parable but he’s talking
about faithfulness. That one talent is no small thing.  We receive
this parable at the very end of his earthly ministry, at is a time
when he is investing heavily in the faithful relationships he has
built with his disciples. If the in-breaking kingdom of God that his
life and ministry have begun is going to continue, it is going to be
in the context of human lifetimes, in the context of human
faithfulness.

A lifetime of faith. It’s all we can do sometimes to take things one
day at a time, but what might those days be if we considered our
faith, our labor, in the wonder of a whole lifetime? And in this
parable, some are given as many as 5 talents. What might that even
look like?

I think it looks like us. It looks like liturgy. Within the context of
our faith, we are handed from generation to generation, lifetimes
worth of faith. Not just our own lifetime and it’s potential, but the
work of the whole communion of saints. It’s in the Lord’s Prayer that
we have directly from Jesus, it’s in the Creeds that connect us to the
clarifying moments of the fourth century, it’s in the sacraments of
baptism and eucharist, where inward grace is made explicit for the
whole community.

Does it change the size of your faith to know that it is composed of
the investment of lifetimes of faithfulness? It changes mine.
The lessons today were full of this trust and faithfulness. Zephaniah
says we are consecrated guests of the Lord. The psalmist says God has
been our dwelling place since before the earth was even formed. Paul
says that we belong to the day, so awake or asleep we live in Christ.

Two servants in this parable have entered into joy.

So why is, then, that when I listen to Scripture, I hear so loudly the
fear of the saints who have gone before? This because I have stopped
listening to God and to Scripture in faithfulness and start listening
in fearfulness. Sometimes it seems easier to hear the bad things that
could happen than to hear the trust in the good things that do happen.

If we believe that all there is to God is a master who demands much
and offers little, who doesn’t have room for failure, then it’s not
surprising if we don’t notice these parts. If we believe that we have
only one talent, and don’t believe that talent is worth a whole
lifetime of faithfulness, then it’s not surprising we are afraid to
grow that faith.

But, I wonder, what might we be missing, because we are afraid of the
possibility of failure, afraid of letting God down?

Because our lives matter. And because there are consequences to how we
nurture and maintain the kingdom of God, there is a lot of fearful
talk in the Scriptures. As so many parables remind us – the harvest is
not complete, the kingdom is now and not yet, the first fruits have
been resurrected but not the last.

The full abundance of our faith is not the work of ourselves in
isolation. It is the heritage of the whole communion of saints. It is
the faithfulness of those who have come before to enrich us, and it is
our legacy to enrich those who come after. Our children and
grandchildren, our neighbors and friends, people on the other side of
the globe and people on the other side of the century.

In truth, none of us who have even a mustard seed of faith have only
one talent of faith. We have this abundant cornucopia of faith. And
even if it were one talent, a lifetime is so much bigger than we can
even imagine.

I look around this space, at all of you, and I see this abundant
faith. The results of New Consecration Sunday reinforced for all of us
that we have abundant faith, abundant grace. Our one lives are
bursting with the abundant talents that we bring, that we receive,
that we share. Listen to the faithfulness and know that it matters.

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