Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Apocalyptic Farewell From Jesus - Sermon For The 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, 2014

Friends - My sermon this week avoids much of the difficult and possibly disturbing pieces of this text. This was a conscious decision on my part. Luckily, the future holds more opportunities for unpacking. Fortunately, we will have tons of time to revisit those parts of biblical eschatologies, as we move into the season of Advent. In the meanwhile, this reflection seeks to pull out some positive themes from the text.

A reading from St. Matthew, the 25th Chapter:
"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his
and entrusted his
to them;
to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.
In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.
But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.'
His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.'
His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;
so I was afraid,
and I went and hid your talent in the ground.
Here you have what is yours.'
But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?
Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  
So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
For to all those who have, more will be given,
and they will have an abundance;
but from those who have nothing,
even what they have will be taken away.
As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness,
where there will be
of teeth."

Jesus told this parable to his disciples a couple of days before he died.

In the days leading up to Jesus’ death,

since his entrance into Jerusalem on the donkeys in Chapter 21,

into the overturning of the tables

of the Temple money-changers and dove-sellers,

Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem has been consistently marked

by a sort of communal-tension,

a tension shared by all of the characters of the Gospel.

A tense mood.

That tension, woven throughout each chapter,

comes from at least three different, 

yet three interrelated sources.

First, and most obvious, Jesus is creating a lot of tension himself.

He’s agitational.

He’s confrontational.

He is both physically and verbally speaking to those his culture considered “entrusted”

with the gifts of God--the holy places, the holy things,

the means of reconciliation and forgiveness and holiness.

This is clear in his action at the temple, as well as in his use of such words and phrases

as the following:

[These are all said by Jesus here in Matthew’s Gospel, again, in the days leading up to his death.]

And. I quote:

“You hypocrites!”

“You fools!”

“You blind guides leading the blind!”

“You tie up heavy loads that you load on the people’s shoulders, but don’t lift a finger of your own to help with a thing!”

“You do not practice what you preach!”

“You get excited about titles: ‘teacher’ and ‘father.’”
“You like fancy seats at fancy banquets.”


“God is the Father," and 
"The truly great become servants!”

“You clean your dishes ‘til they sparkle,
but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence!”

“You are whitewashed tombs.”

“You are righteous on the outside, dead on the inside!”

“You build tombs for the prophets! You decorate the graces of the just!”

“You snakes!”

[and--this one he borrowed from John the Baptist--]

“You brood of vipers!”

There are actually more, but I think you get the point.

In word and in action, Jesus is critiquing harshly, directly, face-to-face (he's not posting this anonymously on an internet forum) those entrusted with God’s good gifts--the holy places, the holy things, the means of reconciliation and forgiveness and holiness,


meant to give life

and liberation to those who are oppressed,

to foster love of neighbor and care for those in need,

but instead used so often to

to de-press people,

to press people down,

to bind people,

to burry them like a talent...

So often used to make people even more narcissistic
or self absorbed,
and so often, consequently, dis-concerned about their neighbors in need.

Jesus critiques faith used to make people


or afraid.      

Second, Not only is Jesus criticizing those in power,

but those in power are criticizing him, back.


and increasingly,

the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the Law, the priests, and, no doubt, the money-changers and all of their friends are questioning Jesus’ authority,

trying to entrap Jesus in his words, accusing him of being demonic or a demon, sending inquisitors to question him, theologians to challenge his orthodoxy, bringing accusations about his doctrine--

doctrine being one topic Jesus hardly ever touched 
(except for when he was questioned) 
in his ministry…


Jesus may be confronting leadership, but those same leaders are set out to disprove Jesus’ rabbi-hood, to label him a rebel, a radical, a zealot, “a glutton and a drunkard,” a nut-job, a crucifiable criminal, someone who needs to be put in check, 


“taken care of!”

Tension is building, plots are thickening, and only one chapter from now in the Gospel,

Judas himself, Christ’s close friend, 

will be chosen as the one called to betray him.

Increasingly, in Jerusalem,

the disciples and the leaders and the crowds

and perhaps Christ himself,

are afraid.

Third, Jesus, more that once, has already predicted and foretold his own death. 

Literally, he has told his disciples,

“[I] will be betrayed to the chief priests and the preachers of the law. They will condemn [me] to death, and turn [me] over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified!”

He added, in Chapter 20, “On the third day I will be raised to life!”

I imagine the thought of resurrection was not really at the forefront of anyone’s memory, as they were immersed in the tension of Jerusalem in Jesus’ last days.


Jesus knows. Jesus’ disciples know.

The people are starting to know.

Jesus is going to die.

And it’s gonna be soon.

Everybody’s vulnerable.

Everybody’s worried.

Everybody’s asking 

“What exactly did we get ourselves into here when we decided to follow this guy?”

Everybody is




In the chapters leading up to Jesus’ death,

things are tense.

Jesus’ message to those in power,

the attack on Jesus by those in power,

and Jesus’ looming death are becoming a bit too much to take.

And with each notch that that tension is turned up,

fear builds and increases,

lot’s of fear.

It creeps in. It infects the hearts of the disciples and the authorities--and maybe even of Jesus.

Tension and fear, tension and fear, tension and fear.... 


Everybody’s afraid.


Fear, in my experience, can be paralysing.


To add to that fear and that anxiety,

and the already-feeling of Jesus absence,
to add to the feeling that Jesus is almost already-gone,

Jesus responds with something...


As his end nears,

Jesus starts talking about the end-of-all-things.

And he speaks of the end-of-all-things in parable,

in poetic,

in story.  

He responds with our parable from last week--the one about staying awake, 
and being prepared to stay awake, 
about keeping our lamps burning and our oil filled,

followed by our parable from this week,

about the talents, the money, 

the great treasures and gifts with which those who were given the treasure were entrusted,
and how those gifts should be increased and distributed…  

Finally, next week, Jesus will respond with another parable about sheep and goats being separated,

and in the same parable respond with a message about how to treat other humans as more than animals, as more than disposable sheep and goats--that is, a message about how to treat each person who is hungry, thirsty, alone, alienated, unloved, unclothed, sick or in prison, as if they are Jesus himself--Jesus, who is present, but who is leaving...


As Jesus nears the end of his life,

as the disciples already begin to feel his absence,

as the disciples begin to question their own call to follow him,

as the disciples begin to feel the paralyzation of fear,

Unexpectedly, Jesus decides to go apocalyptic.


Jesus gives them hope.

Jesus tells them:

left without their previous authorities, and role models, and priests and “expert” theologians,

and, soon, left without him,

how they are to use their time and their gifts and their activities to live into the promises of the Reign of God, even as they wait patiently for their final fulfillment.  

First, in the parable of the lamps:

Keep awake! Keep watch! Don’t let your flame flicker out! Keep your lamp lit. 

Keep your hope alive! 

Don’t fall asleep. 

Don’t let fear creep in.

Second in the parable of the talents: 

Those gifts of the faith, which you thought were entrusted only to your leaders, or even to Jesus alone:
they are yours.

Do not be paralyzed by fear. 

Do not be afraid. 

Do not let fear creep in.

Do not bury the Gifts of God--the holy places, the holy things, the means of reconciliation and forgiveness and holiness. They are meant to share with all people, with all of creation. 

They are meant not to be buried, 

not to bury others, 

but to resurrect, to lift up, to bring new life.

Share them freely.

Resurrect the world as you await the Resurrection.

Last, In the parable of Sheeps and Goats,

Jesus tells them how to Resurrect:

You do Resurrection even as you wait for Resurrection by: 

treating each person who is hungry, thirsty, alone, alienated, unloved, unclothed, sick or in prison, as if they are Jesus, himself.

In fact, 

they are Jesus, 

the Crucified, 

the One for whom we wait.

Each person fed, welcomed, reconciled, restored, set free, resurrected, is a sign of the Resurrection and the Resurrection himself.

Jesus’ words as he prepares to depart


Stay awake.

Do not be afraid.

Share your gifts.


as you await the Resurrection,
be the Resurrection,
for all the world, for your neighbors in need.

I am with you always,

in you, 

and in your neighbors,

now, and to the end of the age.


No comments:

Post a Comment