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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blessing Investment

Note: Today was our Semi-Annual "Celebration of Youth" in our church. It was a rockin' good time. We were blessed to have wonderful musicians, spirited singing and two absolutely incredible testimonies by two young men who were on this summer's mission trip to Parson's, KS. The children did EVERYTHING - read the lessons, led the prayers, and picked the hymns. I didn't preach at the 10 o'clock. Instead, I gave this little homily for the faithful 8 o'clockers.

“The parable of the Talents" - Matthew 25:14-30
Pentecost XXVII – November 16, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

When I was in seminary, one of my preaching professors said, “If you don’t have anything to say in your sermon by Thursday night, then face it, you really don’t have anything to say. So call up the choir and tell them they are singing an extra hymn.”

I almost called the choir on Thursday night and said, “You’re singing at the 8 o’clock on Sunday morning.” Then I realized that they aren’t even singing at the 10 o’clock this morning. We have Youth Sunday and the Youth Choir is singing.

So. . . Looks like you’re stuck with me. So. . . . Looks like we’re stuck with Matthew. Again with the gospel curmudgeon, Matthew. Again with one of Matthew’s images of the Realm of God. Again with the ‘casting into the outer darkness.’

Makes me want to ring my hands again and moan, “Matthew, Matthew, Matthew.” Then again, Zephaniah doesn’t seem to be in a much better mood, either.

So, let me tell you a little story about a woman who loved figs.

She had two fig trees in her yard which bore rich harvests of luscious fruit – enough for her and anyone who came to visit her. She was very generous in sharing her fruit. As the word of her delicious fruit got out, more and more people came by to see her and eat her fruit. So much so that she began to fear that she might not have enough figs for everyone who visited her. So, she began to dry some of the seeds of the figs and started planting fig trees.

The old woman planted fig trees in her yard, but she didn’t stop there. She began to plant fig trees on the side of the road leading up to her house. She planted them in open fields nearby. She also planted them in her neighbor’s yards.

One day as she was busy planting, someone called to her, “Old woman, why are you working so hard? If people want figs, let them plant their own trees.” She called back, “I have been richly blessed by those who planted the fig trees in my yard. I am simply investing their blessing so that others might be also blessed, that they may plant seeds to bless future generations.”

Investing blessings. What a great concept! Hmmmm . . . don’t anyone tell the Wall Street types. They’ll see a whole new Hedge Fund opportunity in figs – the newest commodity. Might as well, I suppose. I know my stocks aren’t worth 1/2 of what they used to. That was an attempt at humor but there isn’t much that’s funny these days about the stock market, is there?

I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about the stock market investing blessings anytime too soon, but I think it’s a great image of the Realm of God as a place where we get the returns on our investments. The more you plant, the greater your return – not only for you but for generations to come.

I know that in Matthew’s gospel, the one who buried his one talent was thrown into the ‘outer darkness’. I’m not suggesting you bury your talent – the things you get from God, the blessings you have received. I’m suggesting your plant it deep in the soil of your soul. Invest your blessings for yourself and future generations.

What are your talents? What are your blessings? What are the fig trees of your life? What part of God’s bounty have you enjoyed so much that you want to make certain others enjoy it too?

I think the heart of this gospel message is this: Don’t play it safe with God’s blessings. God wants you to risk everything and invest it. God would rather you invest your blessings and come back empty-handed than to be safe and return God what you’ve been given without ever having derived an ounce of enjoyment and pleasure from it.

Look, even I was ‘blessed’ with this wretched piece of gospel from Matthew and I planted it deep in my soul and, voila! This sermon! I didn’t even have to call the choir!

So, live boldly. You’re never too old to dream big dreams or have great, big, hairy, audacious gospel goals. Take a risk and invest a blessing. God did with you. God invested in you.

God made a very costly and risky business transaction when God invested God’s son in you. God did not place Jesus into the ground or shut Him up in a tomb. God raised Jesus up on the cross and then raised him up to new life on the third day so we could be raised up with Him to Life Eternal.

The best investment you can make is the investment of love. Love is a very risky commodity. Many a great person has been made a fool for love. Many people stay away from it – or bury it deep in their heart, afraid to share it with anyone, even themselves.

And, with good reason: Love can break your heart. But you know, sometimes it takes a broken heart to make you a whole human being – a whole, healthy person.

So, love boldly. Love lavishly and extravagantly. Take a risk. Invest a blessing. Oh, people will think you are foolish – just like that old lady planting fig trees just because she loved them and she knew others loved them. And, perhaps you are, too. Foolish, that is.

I’m remembering something Martin Luther King once said in the mid-60s, “This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed non-conformists. The saving of our world from pending doom will come not from the actions of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a dedicated minority.”

I think this hour, and perhaps, every hour in history, needs a dedicated circle of transformed non-conformists. I think investing blessings is ‘creative maladjustment of a dedicated minority’ – and, I think, it is that investment, over time, that just might help to save the world – or, at least, keep us from completely destroying ourselves..

And, that’s as good a place as any to end a sermon I didn’t want to write because I didn’t think I had anything to say and didn’t have the choir to call in and rescue me.

It may have been a foolish investment of my time and yours. Perhaps I should have buried the words of the gospel and returned them to God whole and intact. We’ll never really know until Jesus comes back or we enter the Realm of God. But, either way, I’m betting solid money than neither of us will be cast out into Matthew’s ‘outer darkness’ for investing the last 10 minutes of our time this way.

And, I trust, when we all get to heaven, Jesus will say to you and to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your master.”

At least, that’s my prayer – the investment of my blessing. Amen.


Unknown said...

I like it that you somehow worked the gratitude of the woman with figs into the subject of Maladjusted NonConformists.

As a Maladjusted NonConformist, you give me hope.

No really.

June Butler said...

For starting with nothing, you came up with something very special, Elizabeth, something quite beautiful.

Bill said...

Matthew and Zephaniah compliment each other so well it's almost like a class in Comparative Pessimism.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Comparative Pessimism - I like that, Bill. Just may show up in a sermon three years from now.

Well, Mimi, that's what happens when you invest your blessings.

Thanks SEC. Hope is not an inexpensive commodity. What I have been given abundantly, I give to you freely.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this inspirational piece. It is a great start for my week ahead.

Anonymous said...

I blogged on this parable and my inability to understand it. I was thinking of money and found it backward. You untangled it in a way that is both eloquent and informative, ever so much better than I did. Thanks for a lovely reflection that really hits the mark.

Sara said...

You do well when you have nothing to say!

I agree with SEC, Maladjusted Nonconformist fits me. I just need to work on the "creative" part.

Thanks again for words of hope to start the week.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are all very, very welcome!

I think this was my Seinfeld sermon - the pulpit version of the sermon about absolutely nothing.