It seems like everywhere these days, I see or hear about some financial advisor who wants to give advice on medicare, retirement, or buying gold with an IRA. . .
Some are well known companies with lots of branches and employees. Others are individuals who say they have some expertise who want us to trust them with our assets.
Now I’m not certain that this explosion of financial advisors means that everyone has a lot of disposable income - or that the current generation is awash in money in ways previous generations weren’t.
But it most likely means the days of stashing money in shoe boxes in closets and in envelopes under mattresses or –
in very basic bank accounts that earn little or no interests – are all things of the past.
Rather it seems that people really don’t want their money just sitting there – they want their money to earn even more money – they want their money to grow and want a greater return on their hard work and investments.
So maybe I’m just imagining this is a bigger deal now than it once was – case in point – the parable we just heard Jesus tell.
It’s a long one – but one that can be summed up pretty simply:
2 servants who were entrusted with their master’s money used it to make even more money - pleasing their master.
The other servant, out of fear - did nothing with the money and simply returned the same amount to the master – and this left the master NOT happy at all.
He wanted a return on his investment – and from the one servant he got no such thing. . .
Most everyone wants good returns on their investments. Bosses want employees to be worth more to the company than the salary they are being paid.
Sports teams want their draftees to not simply tread water in the minors - but to excel - eventually making a great contribution to the team.
No one wants to sell a house for less than what they bought it - and people who invest hours at the gym want their bodies to show it.
Yes, most of us, probably all of us – want good returns on our investments.
But have we given God a good return on God’s investment in us??
That may sound crass, using that sort of expression to talk about God. It sounds beneath God.
But what if we simply replaced the word investment –with blessing?? Isn’t that what a blessing is –a kind of investment in you and me??
Doesn’t God shower good things upon us NOT simply so we can exclusively enjoy the fruits of those blessings – clinging to them as if they were our own personal possessions – but so we can turn around and BE A BLESSING to others? To turn what our loving God has given us into something even greater – something more than it was before??
It’s NOT always easy to believe that God has and is investing in us – to believe that God continually provides for us in ways we really don’t deserve - in abundant ways, in extravagant ways – trusting and hoping that we will respond in faith and become those very same things for those we come into contact with.
We may wonder: does God really love us this much? Believe in us this much? Trust us this much?? AND THE ANSWER IS YES!
Our God forgives us, and then expects us to become even more forgiving - multiplying God’s mercy to those in need.
God understands our faults and expects us to be more tolerant of the faults of others.
God dries our tears and understands our pain, and expects us to be a shoulder to cry on for those who are filled with sorrow and brokenness.
God picks us up when we have fallen, and expects us to do the same for others.
Put simply – God loves us unconditionally, and expects us to multiply that love and spread it throughout the earth in abundant and extravagant ways – for God’s grace can never run out.
And so it needs to be asked again: has God gotten a good return on God’s investment in us??
I would hate to think that I might be sort of just treading water when it comes to God’s blessings – sort of staying in the same place - barely afloat - somewhat aware of what God is doing in my life – but not doing anything about increasing those blessings to be able to touch other people’s lives with them. . . . But I am from time to time. . .
And I don’t think if is out of fear, like the third servant in the story that I don’t act on those gifts.
Rather, it’s most likely a kind of spiritual laziness or indifference - an “I’ll get to it tomorrow” kind of attitude. But then one day becomes two, then becomes a week, and all of a sudden God’s investment in me is buried safely in the ground. . .
Is God then angry with me? Disappointed in me? Sad for me?
Perhaps all three.
And so maybe today is a good day for all of us to reflect on our many blessings. Especially those we like to take all the credit for. And then ask ourselves honestly – what are we doing with the good things God showers upon us?
Are we hoarding them – or multiplying them?
And if the answer is hoarding them and hiding them away – then we’ve got some work to do. . .
Whenever I get invited to someone’s home – for a dinner or a party or just to visit – I always consider two things:
The first is the most obvious - deciding whether or not I will accept the invitation.
This is based on a number of things - such as the date and whether my schedule will allow it – the distance from my house – and how many other commitments I have already had that week, especially in the evening or at night.
And I must admit - covid and the shut down kind of did me in – now nothing makes me happier than to get home and know that I can just stay there - not having to go back out for anything.
So saying yes to an invitation – is not automatic for me – and probably not for you either. It’s a decision we make.
And if I say YES: there is another thing I have to consider. . . you see I never like to go to someone’s house empty-handed. I like to bring something - even though the host might say it’s not necessary. I bring a present, or something to snack on – if it’s a party. Or something to eat or drink, like a bottle of wine - if it’s a dinner.
Part of that, besides just wanting to be a good house guest – is I don’t want the hosts to think I am taking their generosity for granted - and that I want to make the event the best it can be.
Because the invitation may come from the hosts – but everyone plays a part in how the event will turn out.
A party or dinner is not just something someone else puts on – it’s something that everyone who comes – participates in. . .
We just heard a parable about a social gathering – a very important one – a wedding! But it may be one of those parables that might be hard to understand.
It seems to be rooted in the culture of the time - so that we might not know for sure exactly how it would have been received by those who heard Jesus tell it.
In this case, Jesus, knowing his audience, felt that a lot of explanation was not necessary, and so he sums it up in just a few words:
Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
So the parable has something to do with expectations, and preparation, and vigilance.
The foolish virgins in the story really messed up, for reasons we might not fully understand – and in doing so, missed both the bridegroom - and the wedding feast.
By seeing Jesus as the bridegroom and the wedding feast as heaven – or unity with God – or the new life won for us by Christ’s death and resurrection – the story comes more clearly into focus.
What’s not always clear is WHAT it means to be prepared, what it means to be ready, what it means to be awake. . .
How exactly do we make sure we are ready to meet Jesus and accompany him into the wedding feast that never ends?
We want to experience the celebration – and certainly don’t want to show up empty-handed – or do we??
I think this is one time we DO want to do the opposite of what we would normally do. . . because the best way to prepare for this wedding invitation IS to show up empty-handed – to come to the party with NO attachments. To empty ourselves of everything that is getting in the way or holding us back.
The truth is, the things of this world will NOT be required to get in – will NOT help us on this particular journey. In fact, they almost certainly will hinder us. And theses things we are clinging to and refusing to let go of are different for each of us –
It may be possessions for one – power for someone else. Wealth for one - ego or the sense of importance for someone else. Control for one or self-sufficiency for someone else.
And so we need to look deeply and honestly as to what those weights, those burdens, those useless attachments might be – and let loose of them.
But there is something we do need to have filled – something that should not be empty - -something which God expects, wants, and longs for.
This is the OIL the foolish virgins forgot - or neglected to prioritize in their lives. And this thing that need to be full is each of our hearts.
We can’t get into the wedding feast - we can’t experience the celebration that begins in this life and continues into eternity – if we decide to show up— empty-HEARTED.
Jesus, the bridegroom, wants our hearts filled with every good thing. Hearts full of kindness and mercy and understanding. Hearts full of compassion and forgiveness.
Hearts open to grace – longing to be filled with the presence of our loving God who wants nothing more than to dwell within us for all eternity.
And so our hands need to be empty – but our hearts need to be full. Only then will we be properly prepared to accompany Jesus into the wedding feast beyond all wedding feasts – the celebration for which we were created and for which Jesus died to make possible.
We’ve been invited. And this is one party we should never say NO to. So let’s do the faithful thing, say yes, say Amen – and then do whatever we can to make our loving host happy – helping make the celebration the party— God so deeply desires for all of us.
“O priests. . . you have turned aside from God’s way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.”
OUCH! The Prophet Malachi does not mince words. We don’t get to hear from him often in our Sunday Scriptures – just twice in the three year cycle of readings.
Like most of the prophets, by God’s prompting – Malachi looked around and was not very happy with what he saw.
In our reading today, he is rebuking priests - the temple leadership of his day - who he felt were failing both in their behavior and in their teachings.
As a member of the clergy, each time I hear a passage such as this - one that includes something negative about priests – I can’t help but think of the many ways many of us have failed you - sometimes in small ways – and – as all of us know - sometimes in horrendous, even criminal ways.
I won’t use our time revisiting all that painful stuff – I just hope we are making progress toward being more faithful and more trustworthy.
Because – we expect a lot from our leaders – whether they are priests, or school teachers, or coaches or politicians – or bosses or people in any type of authority over others.
In a very real sense, we want them to be good examples to us – examples of what it means to be a good person, a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good friend, a good employee, —a good disciple.
I guess you could say that we expect our leaders to teach us something - to help us be better at whatever it is we are pursuing.
And when they don’t, it hurts. It’s disappointing. It’s deflating and defeating.
– And if their failure is great enough, it might even make us justifiably angry.
“O leaders. . . you have turned aside from God’s way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.”
We know the importance of having good teachers. And while we most often use this word to mean those standing in front of a classroom – we also know that teaching is not limited only to schools.
Parents hopefully know well that they have the primary responsibility of teaching their children – teaching them right from wrong – teaching them how to be polite and good people - teaching them things they will need to be healthy, happy, and HOLY adults. Important stuff.
And while parents have countless opportunities to tell their daughters and sons all about these things – do this / don’t do that – remember to be polite – be safe –
- be sure to take care of others – study hard -
–in the end the words won’t carry much weight - unless there is also a good example being set by the parents: acting and talking the same as the children are being asked to do.
And that’s not always easy. The saying, talk is cheap - always rings true. . .
And that’s what should lead parents to appreciate the many good teachers we have in our midst – because good teaching takes real skill. It takes passion. It takes creativity. It takes a lot of compassion, patience, and persistence.
And that’s why we should be grateful for those who do choose teaching as a profession – a life of service for the betterment of others. Thank goodness we ALL don’t have to be teachers. . .
Or do we?
Friends may hear us say unkind things about others, or make insensitive comments or jokes. What are we teaching them?
Children may see us grab a week’s worth of napkins, utensils or condiments from a fast food restaurant to take home. What are we teaching them?
We may tell a neighbor it’s okay to falsify information to pay fewer taxes. What are we teaching them?
People may never see us volunteering for anything – always coming up with some excuse why we can’t help. What are we teaching them?
Our co-workers hear us gossiping and mocking almost everyone and everything. What are we teaching them?
Whether we want to be or NOT – we are all teachers. We are all teachers because our words and actions and our lives - say something about who we are – or aren’t.
The way we talk. The things we do or don’t do. The attitudes we embrace. The way we see and talk about and treat others. – They all speak volumes and are absorbed by those around us.
And if we aren’t careful. If we are not aware of this reality. If we aren’t trying to be the best people we can be – we may be doing harm - not only to ourselves – but to everyone we encounter.
O people of God - you have turned aside from God’s way - and have caused many to falter by your instruction.
What do each of us do – or not do - to cause others to falter?
What do each of us say - or not say - to cause others to falter?
These are the heavy burdens we heard Jesus speak about in today’s Gospel passage - the things we expect from others but refuse to do ourselves - the double standard many of us sometimes adopt.
So let’s not be those people - the people who don’t practice what we teach.
Rather, let’s live in such a way that teaches others that we sincerely mean what we say - that our words aren’t empty - but rather expressions of the very same things we are striving to live out.
Moments in time...