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23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 33, Year A

Don’t Stuff God Under Your Mattress

Readings: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

It is a human trait, I suspect, to worry about the future. Consider an elderly friend of mine who when she was well into her eighties told me that she couldn't spend money on herself because she was saving it for her old age. Investment companies tell us that we need vast sums of money to take care of our needs when we retire. Even in this time of economic downturn we would never think of stuffing what money we have into a mattress. We set up investment portfolios hoping to get a good return on our savings. We worry that private and public coffers may not yield enough to look after society's needs.

The readings today reflect our need to consider, not primarily our investment in our earthly future, but to invest wisely in other ways. Stuffing God into a mattress makes about as much sense as stuffing money into one.

The Thessalonians felt a sense of anxiety over the future. Their newfound faith made every moment significant. Paul warns them that God's calling to account of the human race would be sudden and without warning "as a thief in the night". That may sound pretty ominous to you. However, Paul is not trying to frighten them into obedience. He is simply saying that being a Christian gives one the awareness that all human existence is accountable, always and at any moment. It is not his intention to immobilize his listeners. Rather he wants to prepare them, to provide them with the tools for living in the light, for living in readiness. He is writing to an expectant people. They believe that the Lord's coming again is imminent. They want to be prepared in every way. Paul resists any temptation to offer them false security by giving them a definite time. His images talk of the end times sneaking up on us – like a thief in the night, like labour pains – and of our need to live our lives ‘as if’. As if the Lord might return at any time! They are to encourage one another, helping the community to grow in faith and love. They are to reach out to others in need. They are to live their lives in the real world, facing up to their societal responsibilities. They are to face the problems of society creatively and constructively, to live in hope and to express their faith with love. They are to choose the right values in their lives and to be instruments of God's peace.

The Gospel reiterates that same message in terms of responsible stewardship. The master leaves the servants with a great responsibility. He gives them no time line, no directions and no right way to proceed. There is no on-the-job training. Yet when he returns each of the servants is held accountable for their actions, no matter what talents they possess, no matter what resources they call upon. It is, in fact, the inaction of one of the servants that raises the anger of the master. He has had no less opportunity; he is just as accountable.

These are readings seem to cross the ages to speak to our own time. We live in an age of great anxiety about the future. There are many questions about how we have wasted the world's resources and what, if anything can be done to reverse the damage that has already been done. It is a time of economic upheaval. We live in a world that has awakened to the reality that terrorism can touch every life in our world. Who would have thought that Canada would have to deal with terrorism? Haven’t we always considered ourselves to be somehow beyond that? And yet we have discovered our how vulnerable we really are.

On a personal level we worry about job security. We wonder whether our pension plans will be adequate for our needs once we retire. We worry about the breakdown of societal values. We worry about marriage breakdown, about our children and teenagers as they grow up in a very different world, about our health, about aging. And there are deep moral issues that we face as no other generation before us – euthanasia, genetic altering, and cloning to name just a few.

As a Church we must give leadership to society in dealing with the issues of our age. The Church must be committed not only to sharing the Good News of the Gospel, but also to giving ethical leadership to a floundering society. We have experienced how issues such as the blessing of same-sex unions can so easily become divisive. How do we take on that kind of leadership when we are faced with dwindling resources and aging congregations? Is it possible that we, by our neglect to lovingly invest our talents and gifts in the needs of people, are contributing to the end of Christendom?

God has equipped us with all that is needed to make the church a powerful, effective instrument in a power-mad but powerless world. God would do the impossible. God's purpose is to bring order into chaos, peace into destruction, purpose into purposelessness, fullness into emptiness and healing into sickness. It is to restore aching, hungry hearts. But it will not happen if we become a church that hides God under a mattress through fear of offending the status quo.

If we are to bring about that kingdom of shalom then we need to walk in faith, to serve in joy and to praise God in all the circumstances of our lives. In other words, we are to be as ready for the coming of the kingdom as were the people of Thessalonica. How can we discover or recover all the missing talents? How can we inspire the people of God to be all that they are meant to be? How can we change the structures of the church to make it a more inviting and inclusive community? It takes a risk on our part as Christians. Are we willing to invest in the future of the Church by challenging oppression? Are we willing to invest in a just society?

What is the mission of this community as you move forward in faith? Do you have a clear idea of who you are as God’s people? Some communities of faith cannot move beyond their glorious past. They live on the talents and treasures of past members. Some church communities look after themselves and fail to reach out missionally.

It begins, no doubt, with finding meaning in our own lives. It begins with nurturing each other in the faith, by praying for one another, and by becoming so seeped in spirituality that people smell God on us and want what we have. It comes about through having a clear mission. It comes about by being the kind of church that reaches out to those in need. It comes about by our actively becoming instruments of God in the world. It comes about when we actively invest ourselves in the pursuit of God's reign.

As we allow God to work in and through us, our lives change. We open ourselves to God's kingdom. Our communities change. God has entrusted us with so much. Let us not be held back by fear. Let us act; let us risk. For it is risking that we will truly discover everything we are meant to be. So don’t stuff God under a mattress. Let us use all of our talents to further the work of God’s Kingdom of Shalom. Amen.
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