Here are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 27th Sunday after Pentecost. The scriptures for this Sunday are Judges 4: 1 – 7, 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11, and Matthew 25: 14 – 30.
As I pondered the Scriptures for this Sunday, I wondered what I would write. Each of the three passages has a distinct “flavor” and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find the common denominator. (It should be noted that I have always looked for the single factor in all three lectionary readings, even though many people have said that I should just choose one and go from there; I started writing my sermons before I took the class that said “pick one” and it is the style that I am used to following.) So, as I wondered what I would write (and perhaps say), I listened to what others were saying and writing.
It is interesting to hear what others are saying these days. Last week, in my “political” piece, I made the comment that one way to solve the illegal immigration problem in this country was to help other countries create jobs so that people wouldn’t come here and take the jobs that no one in this country wants to do anyway. I was told, in effect, that we should just ignore those countries and focus on creating jobs in this country. As long as there is an incentive to seek work in this country, people will come. If we do not see beyond the horizons of our own country, we will have a difficult time seeing this country at all.
I have also suggested that perhaps we might enforce the laws that say companies aren’t supposed to hire illegal immigrants. Of course, as long as we believe that the problem lies with the immigrants themselves, we will never punish those who do the hiring. We would rather remove those whom we call illegal than punish those who do illegal things.
I also suggested that perhaps we should begin discussing a creation of a “living wage”, a wage that will allow people to live without fear. This is not an extravagant wage; it is what a person needs in order to live. But I was summarily told that the implementation of such an idea would bankrupt this country and essentially destroy its economy. What have we done now, with the bailout of companies whose leaders have received enormous bonuses and whose salaries will enable them to live several lifetimes and still have change left over when they die?
The argument against the development of a living wage is the same argument that has been made against raising the minimum wage. Keep in mind that a wage of $8.00 per hour equates to approximately $16,000 a year. Please tell me how an individual is supposed to live on this income and then tell me why we should not have a living wage. An argument against an equitable wage for the working class is an argument to continue slavery in a somewhat legal form.
It bothers me when I read and hear people say they are Christians but whose actions, thoughts, words and deeds are antithetical to what Christ said and commanded us to do. Christ opened the door for all of us, not just a select few. Yet those who proclaim to be Christ’s representatives on this earth this day too often shut the door and they have shut their mind so as not to be exposed to the problems of the world.
I do not disagree when it is pointed out that when He began His mission, Jesus spoke only to the Jews and said that the Gentiles were excluded. But He never turned a way a Gentile who sought Him out; He never denied anyone a place at the table while others in the establishment would do so.
Unfortunately the rhetoric today seems to be the rhetoric of exclusion. And the rhetoric of exclusion that dominates our discussion so much today is the rhetoric of ignorance. Not so many years ago we excluded people from society because of their race. We were taught that God created a hierarchy of race and we lived with that idea in this country for over two hundred years. Unfortunately, despite the passage of time, there are still some today who preach and speak of this idea today.
But as our scientific knowledge has increased and our ability to see beyond the color of one’s skin has grown, we have slowly come to understand that race is not a divisor. But while the subject of race and inequality may have finally been put to rest, it seems to me that we are allowing our ignorance of human sexuality to become the next divisor of society. There are those who seek to abolish abortion but are unwilling to let children and young adults learn what is going on. There are those who would seek to prevent same-sex marriages for reasons that seem to come from ignorance more than knowledge. And as is the case with so many of the arguments that are claimed to have Biblical backing, the verses are limited and often taken out of context.
My point here is not to advocate either abortion or same-sex marriages; those are individual decisions and decisions between two people and I do not have the power or the authority to impose my beliefs on others. And I think that when our knowledge of a subject is limited, then our actions are also limited. And what will we do some one hundred years from now when we find out that our sexual identity is in our genes and not by our choice? How will explain to those whom have been excluded or have been expelled from society that we made a mistake and that we are sorry?
We are at a point in time where we must have a new vision. A new vision requires leaders and it requires people who help to implement the new vision. It requires that each of us get involved.
The Old Testament reading is about leadership. It was for leadership that the people of Israel chose Deborah to be their judge. The commentaries that I follow suggest that the choice of Deborah was not some form of ancient political correctness but rather because 1) she had the talent and the ability and 2) the Israelite leadership at that time was bankrupt. It was a rather pointed statement that many of the leaders that preceded Deborah were more interested in their own well-being than they were in God or their country.
Her selection, by the people, was a reflection of her abilities and her talents. Her abilities came from her being with God and understanding where God was in her life. What is also interesting about this story, for which we only have the beginning, is that Deborah was not the only woman in the narrative. In the light of the views of many today that would place women in secondary roles, the fact that it was two women who lead Israel to victory is an interesting counterpoint.
This passage from the Old Testament and its commentary also speaks of the cooperation between the people of Israel in order to achieve the goals of the country. If we are to achieve success in the coming years, years that go beyond the next four years, it will be because we, the people, worked together.
Each one of us has a unique collection of talents. We can use those talents together or we can hide those talents. We can say that what we do is for everyone or we can say that our talents, our time, and our service are only for a select few. But when we limit our talents we are like the individual in the Gospel reading who took his single talent and hid it for fear of losing it. In the end, that is exactly what happened.
We cannot face the problems before us by hiding our talents or limiting their use. To do so is to limit our vision; if our vision cannot extend beyond the horizon, then it will be very difficult to see what is in front of us.
It has been said that the beat of a butterfly’s wing somewhere in Asia sets in motion the winds that blow across this country. So how we feel about those we do not know or do not see will determine how we feel about those whom we do see and hear. And when we choose not to see or hear those nearby, we are blind to the problems of the world. If we are blind to the problems of the world, then how can we use the talents that we have been given?
Paul points out that Christ died for all of us, not just a few of us. And we should not be worried about the one day that we do not know but rather we should be focused on what we can do. Paul notes in the passage from Thessalonians for today that we are all in this together and if we build up the hope for one, we build up the hope for all. No one is to be left out and no one is to be left behind.
The decision is not about how to use our talents but rather when we shall use them. And with all the problems that this world faces, the decision about when to use the talents is now, not later. It may be that we do things closer to home but each thing that we do, no matter where it might be done, will show to others the power of the Holy Spirit and will enable them to begin action as well.
You are called to make a decision. Shall you follow Christ, wherever He may ask you to go, or shall you stay at home? The decision is yours.