Vicar's Message

Sermon preached by the Rev'd Fr. Donald L. Turner, Vicar, St. Peter's-at-the-Light Episcopal Church, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, November 19, 2017 (Proper 28 - Year A).

St. Matthew 25: 14-30

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if anyone here this morning has any sympathy with the third man in the parable today? I am going to hazard a guess: not one of us! And empathy? Forget that! And why do you suppose that is? Because he doesn't fit our stereotype of a human success story. His master calls him "lazy." I think we would add to that: "irresponsible." What do you think?

I wonder how those listeners felt when Jesus first told this story? I wonder if they didn't identify with the third man? You ask, "Why they would possibly do that?" I remind you that for the most part these are poor peasants to whom Jesus is speaking. They have a very low self image. Not just because of their social status, but because they feel they are on this very low rung of the social ladder because they have fallen out of favor with God. If they identify with the third man I conjecture that they are not well disposed toward Jesus at this moment. They hear these words from a life context that is so different than ours.

The Rev'd Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and a gifted writer, shares this conversation she once overheard in a homeless shelter. It makes me think of the listeners who were gathered around Jesus. I think they could identify with the man in Taylor's story. The conversation was between a homeless man and the person who was most responsible for his rehabilitation. Taylor reports that the man was getting a good dose of Christian advice about getting back on his feet again. After being given information about how to handle his addiction, how to apply for jobs, how to manage his finances, and how to apply for low-income housing, he said, "Why you want to fix me up and feed me back into the same machine that grind me up in the first place?"

We make hasty judgments, don't we, about the people who don't fit our image of what is responsible and right behavior. The parable condemns the third man, and he's really done nothing wrong. It's just that he doesn't live up the expectations of his master.

I'm going to give you some brief information about my oldest son. I want you to think, as I am telling you this story, what I might be saying about myself. And maybe you will identify with this.

My oldest son only has a GED. He didn't go to college. When he quit school at age 16, before he got his GED, he went to work at a small Amish cabinet making shop where he learned the trade. Later, in his 20's he took a job about three miles up the road from where the cabinet shop was located at a pattern making shop. He learned to be a pattern maker. Those were the days when patterns were made out of wood, and some of the patterns he made are exquisite works of art.

A decade later, still at the same pattern making shop, he was manually programming machines that made the patterns, now mostly out of alloys. During the next decade he was programming CD's in the same shop, CD's which made pattern making free of human hands. In that same decade he became Plant Manager. And in the last few years he was made the liaison between his plant and the huge Quality Castings Corporation that occupies the acreage next to his plant.

So what am I saying about myself? You say, "You're very proud of your son." Of course I am. You would expect me to be. His is a "success story" that fits the mold perfectly of how we measure a man. (Please excuse my gender exclusive language!) And this is all well and good, but there might be another side of me that stands out in this story, isn't there? Is it possible that I am making an apology for my son for not fulfilling my expectations for the plan I would have established for his life? Maybe I would have wished that he become an Episcopal priest! You might have good reason for me to say that I had hoped that he would go to college and enter one of the professions.

I am aware that Jesus manipulates this parable to teach a positive message to the earliest Christians and us. As we await the Lord's return we are to invest our human and physical resources wisely to advance the kingdom of God. It's about the growth of the Christian community. And we are also challenged in this parable to be willing to take risks for the growth of God's kingdom.

That's probably the track I should have taken in illuminating this parable for you. But that's the track preachers always take, and for some reason as I began preparation for this sermon I felt the impulse to depart from the obvious and focus upon the man who did nothing wrong, but simply incited the ire of his master because he didn't live up to his master's expectations. I think my observation is a good lesson for life! It has ramifications not only for the people of God gathered in a church community, but also our personal lives.

Maybe I did worry about the direction my oldest son's life was taking. I certainly worried about where he was headed when I had to bail him out of a detention center, having been arrested for possession of marijuana! But I've learned a lot through the years. In some few family relationships, and many more parish relationships, I have learned "to let go and let God." This is a conclusion I draw from this parable today, perceiving our tendency to manipulate the lives of others. I don't think this interpretations would pass the test in a seminary class on the parables of Jesus, but I also know that a lot of what I've learned about parish ministry and relationships through the years I didn't learn in seminary!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Copies of Fr. Turner's sermons are available each Sunday on the table in the rear of the Nave. He advises that it is not especially helpful to follow the text as printed since he preaches from memory of the manuscript and therefore departs from it with extemporaneous remarks - especially if he thinks of a good joke! The sermons are not lengthy. The Vicar had a professor of homiletics who often said, "If you can't strike oil in ten minutes, quit boring!"