Pentecost-23 ( Proper 28, Year A), November 16, 2014


A Reading from the Book of Judges (4:1-7)


The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”



Psalm 123


1 To you I lift up my eyes, *

    to you enthroned in the heavens.

2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *

    and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

3 So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *

   until he show us his mercy.

4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *

   for we have had more than enough of contempt,

5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *

    and of the derision of the proud.



A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians (5:1-11)


Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord  Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.



The Holy Gospel of Our  Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (25:14-30)


Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven will be as when a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property 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 weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”






by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer


Last weekend, our older daughter, Andrea, stopped by for a short visit.  Talking with her about her two children brought back memories of the time that she and our older son, Matt, were about the age that Mark and Micaela are now.  Some things have changed a lot since then, but many things are still the same.  Among the continuing characteristics of that age – especially, it seems, with girls — is the compulsion to group people into categories.  “These kids are the geeks (now sometimes a term of honor and acceptance); these are the members of one or another “fandom”; these are the popular girls, and on and on.”  And the group you are in determines whom you associate with, where you eat lunch, and even whom you talk with to any extent.


Thank God we eventually grow out of that impulse to put people in boxes – or at least partially out of it.  Even after we move beyond adolescence, we still have a tendency to group individuals into “us” and “them.”  That becomes evident when, for example, we look at the attitudes that particular groups of people have toward other groups of people.  And it’s not just differences based on race or income-level or politics either; you can find those distinctions being made even within certain groups that share many things in common.


I remember telling someone recently about an experience that we had when we traveled to the southwest several years ago.  Among many “learnings” that resulted from that journey, we found that the long-term, Spanish-heritage families in the area referred to themselves as “Hispanic,” not “Latino/a.”  Latinos were “those people” who had come north from Mexico or Central America.  “We, whose families have been here for generations, are not like them.  Our ancestry, our culture is Spanish, not Latin American.”


Sadly, even in churches such groupings of “us” and “them” exist, often with unintended, but real and negative connotations.  We’re all familiar with the terminology used in the Roman tradition, separating all people into “Catholics” and “non-Catholics.”  Once a month when I was attending a Roman Catholic seminary in Cincinnati, all students attended a service of Vespers, or Evening Prayer, presided over jointly by Catholic Archbishop Paul Leibold and Episcopal Bishop John Krumm.  In his reflections, Bishop Krumm could never resist throwing in some reference to the rest of those attending as “non-Episcopalians.”  His was a point well-taken.


St. Paul, in the passage that we heard as today’s second reading, does speak of Christian believers as “us,” in distinction to the rest of the world.  And he does speak of God’s intent for us: “not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  But, contrary, to what some fundamentalist Christians try to assert, he does not say that God is going to condemn all those who are not part of “us.”  Instead, in keeping with the many other sections of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, he describes our calling from God, not in terms or a place of special privilege above all others, but in terms of a special responsibility to all others.


That focus is very much in keeping with the approach of such teachers as the author of the second part of the book of Isaiah.  He or she speaks (49:6) to Israel about their identity and about the reason that God has called them: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  Israel had been called to be God’s people, not that they alone might share God’s life, but that through them God’s life might extend to all.


Jesus uses similar images for the role that his followers are to play in God’s great work of salvation.  Near the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, he tells his followers: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”  Our call from God is to be salt and light: salt and light for the world, not for ourselves, so that all might share God’s gift of life for all.


But our God-given role for the sake of the rest of the world carries with it a number of necessary implications.  One of them is the need to take risks.  That is what the third of the three slaves in today’s gospel parable was not willing to do, the one whom the master describes (Mt. 25:26) as “You wicked and lazy slave!”  He decided to take the money his master had entrusted to him and play it safe by burying it in the ground.  We sometimes try to let him off the hook – and to let ourselves off the hook as well – by noting that, “Well, he had only one talent.”  But a “talent” was not even remotely a pittance; for a day-laborer, a talent was the equivalent of 6000 days’ wages, or about what that worker could earn in 20 years.  As commentator Douglas Hare puts is; “to be entrusted with a mere quarter of a million dollars is nothing to be resentful over!”  Yet even with all that he had to work with, slave #3 was unwilling to take a risk, unwilling even to try to use what he had for the sake of the one who had entrusted it to him.


Most of the time, aren’t we more like slave #3 than we want to admit?  We, too, have been entrusted with a priceless gift: the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, the vision of the Kingdom of God: the world as God wants it to be, the world as God intends it to be.  But when we’re called upon to tell other people about it or to show them the kingdom-in-action by our service to others, we bury our talent in the ground, afraid that we might fail.  And the truth is: we probably will fail most of the time.  But that doesn’t free us of the responsibility to try and to try over and over again with all the gifts that God gives us.


When we fail – when, not if – when we fail, we are in the best of company.  When Paul was writing to the early church at Thessalonica, he was waiting for his companions to rejoin him, because he himself had been ridiculed and rejected and driven out of Philippi and Thessalonica and Beroea.  And Jesus, when he told the parable that we heard in today’s gospel reading, had preached to hundreds or even thousands of people; yet now, in his last week, he had only a relative handful of loyal supporters (or at least semi-loyal supporters) left with him.  If Paul and Jesus seem to have failed most of the time, how in the world can we expect to fare any better?


Each of us has been entrusted by God with gifts: more gifts than we like to admit.  And, in baptism, we have solemnly promised to God that we will “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”  But like the slave in the parable, we are afraid: afraid to use our gifts, afraid to fail.  Yet the risk of failure and the experience of failure is an inseparable part of doing the work of God.


As I have told people for years: “If you’re not ready to fail, you’re not ready to succeed.”  It is only by recognizing the special role that God has entrusted to “us” (the followers of Jesus) for the sake of “them” (the rest of the world) and being willing to risk our talents to reach that goal that we can hope to hear our master declare to us “Well done, good and trustworthy servant..  Enter into the joy of your master.”