Accountable: A Sermon for Proper 33

May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

……………….

It is that time of year

When our eyes begin to be drawn

To the holiday season.

For most of the world,

It’s a time of cheer –

A time of rejoicing,

As we prepare for the coming of the Christ child,

We celebrate his long-expected nativity

With good food, family, and friends,

Warmly gathered around the hearth

In a picture-perfect scene.

And then we come to church.

Church, which we might expect to support our cozy festivities,

But which for Advent

And almost-Advent

Has appointed readings that are ……

Apocalyptic.

Because Advent is the season

In which we prepare not only for the First Coming of Jesus

As a baby in Bethlehem,

But also the time when we prepare for Christ our King

To return to be our Judge,

The lectionary writers,

In their infinite wisdom,

Pack November and December

With stories like this one,

Stories of a cruel master

Who returns to demand an accounting

Of those who serve him.

It’s a rough season for preachers,

So have a little pity, ok?

We’d like to dive right in to holiday cheer just as much as anyone else!

But we can’t just push away those Scriptures we dislike.

Those Scriptures that are inconvenient or messy.

As much as I would like to, this morning.

I have never liked this parable.

It just seems so …… un-Jesus.

I mean really.

The same man who last week told the rich young ruler

To sell all he has and give it to the poor

Is now saying “To all those who have,

More will be given,

But from those who have nothing,

Even what they have will be taken away”?

Really?

So I was tempted to ignore the Gospel this morning.

I was further tempted

To accept an interpretation I saw in one of my commentaries

Claiming that this parable,

Sandwiched between two parables that explicitly describe

The kingdom of heaven,

Doesn’t actually refer to that kingdom.

That it refers to the world as it is,

Not as it should be.

That the story of the bridesmaids waiting with their lamps,

Trimmed and burning,

And the story of the sheep and the goats,

Those describe the kingdom,

And this is a contrast Jesus offers,

Showing the world at its cruelest

And least forgiving.

As much as I would love to accept that interpretation,

I find it wanting.

Jesus begins this parable

Right on the heels of the one before it

As a continuation of it.

He tells it in Luke’s gospel too!

Right between meeting with Zaccheus

And triumphantly entering Jerusalem as its king,

Jesus makes sure they hear this story.

So clearly it’s important,

Clearly it matters.

But what is Jesus trying to get at?

This is one of the final things he says,

In both Matthew and Luke’s gospels,

Right before he enters Jerusalem

And begins his final week on earth.

It matters to Jesus.

But what is he trying to tell us?

As I struggled and wrestled with this passage this week,

I reached out to a friend of mine,

Named Emmy.

Emmy is a Lutheran pastor in Minneapolis,

And the founder of Queer Grace,

An organization that seeks to build an encyclopedia

Of information and support

For LGBTQ Christians and their families.

She loves this parable.

I asked her how,

How could she possibly love this parable,

That casts God in the role of a harsh master,

Whose servant was so petrified of his wrath,

That he hid his talent away,

Rather than risk its loss?

She pointed out

That Jesus, again,

For we have seen this tactic before,

Is using comically hyperbolic sums of money

To make his point.

If you remember, back in September,

We learned that 10,000 talents was 15 years’ wages

For King Solomon,

Unfathomable wealth

For a slave,

Something like seven billion dollars.

If we do the math,

Then each talent would be worth about $700,000.

These are enormous sums of money

With which the master is entrusting his slaves.

Why?

What could be worth so much?

Could these talents represent something other than money?

After all, the bridesmaids with their lamps

And the sheep and the goats aren’t literal,

Why should we expect the money to be?

 

As Emmy and I talked, we realized that the only thing

We could think of

With such immense value, almost to be priceless

Was children

Human life.

Human dignity.

What if, in this story,

The master who judges so harshly

Is not jealous for money,

But protecting children

That he has given into his servants’ care?

In the United States,

The news is full of stories

Of not just women,

But of girls,

Of children,

Harassed,

Used,

And shoved aside

By men in power who sought to abuse

These precious beings of incalculable worth

Who trusted these men,

At least enough to be alone with them.

And people knew about it!

People knew about this betrayal of trust.

Roy Moore was banned from a mall in Alabama,

Because we he was well known

For trying to pick up girls there.

Harvey Weinstein was an open secret in Hollywood.

Even now – rapper R. Kelly is still the subject of jokes

For his pursuit and abuse of teen girls

Rather than under investigation,

Because no one cares enough about his victims

Black women and girls

To bring him to account.

As Emmy and I talked,

She wondered if the reason this parable

So often gets ignored

Or reinterpreted

Is that we are afraid of being called to account

For these precious ones

With whom we have been entrusted.

That we are afraid of all that we have tried to bury

Being dug up

And brought into the light.

That we are afraid

That we who have not been worthy of God’s trust

Will have everything stripped away from us.

Because it’s not just these abusers

Who fear that what has been done in the dark

Will be brought to the light.

We all are afraid.

We all are afraid of the consequences

Of having to take seriously

Our care of the vulnerable.

What if it wasn’t just the abusers who were called to account?

Not just the fairy tale monsters,

So horrific

That their evil is just as unfathomable to us,

As that seven billion dollars we discussed earlier.

What if it were the whole system that fostered and enabled such abuse?

What if all the police officers who failed to take rape victims’ statements seriously

Were held to account?

What if all the politicians who prioritized other projects

And compromised their values

To be willing to work with these ogres

Because they were in the same party as them

Because they had money

Because they were useful in a way that God’s precious children were not useful

Were held to account?

What if everyone who took part in the residential schools

That wrested children from their families

And punished them for behaving according to their own culture,

Were held to account?

What if the Church were held to account

For the way that we have used and abused the Scriptures

To serve as a millstone around the neck

Of God’s precious beloved children,

Who never got to grow up and be like my friend Emmy

Because the bullying they faced for being

Lesbian

Gay

Bisexual

Transgender

Or otherwise nonconforming

At school,

At home,

And yes, at church,

Was so fierce that they felt they had no choice but to kill themselves?

What if we were held to account

For our complicity

And our silence

For our helping to bury this very bad news away

Instead of at the very minimum protecting God’s precious beloved ones

At least with the bankers,

At least as much as we do our money?

Maybe we ought to wonder.

Maybe we ought to tremble.

As we head into the season of Advent,

And prepare to welcome the Christ child,

We must not forget that every child

Is as precious in God’s eyes as that Christ child.

And we must not forget that God himself knows

What it is like to be a vulnerable child,

At the mercy of the hands entrusted to care for him.

And so when he returns to be our Judge,

We cannot forget that to those who have mercy,

Who have understanding,

And kindness,

And care

And protection

For God’s beloveds,

More will be given.

And to those who have none,

No mercy,

No kindness,

Not even one thought for anyone not useful to themselves

Even what they have will be taken away.

Amen.

 

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