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As you may know, my time with you here at Good Samaritan is coming to an end. I am the Pathways to Vitality Minister and, as such, must move on to the next Pathways Congregation. As I have been thinking about the coming goodbye I will say to you all at the end of January, I have also been reflecting on our time together.
In the time I have been here you have shared with me, and with your fellow Good Samaritans, the stories of your lives and the stories of who you are. And as I think back on all the beauty I have heard and all the strength I have witnessed in those stories you have shared about who you are, I have noticed a theme in your stories.
Well, I have actually noticed many themes; themes of social justice and open-mindedness, a desire to explore, serve others, to learn and think for yourself.
But the theme that is on my mind when I hear this morn
ing’s Gospel is the theme of seeking wholeness. In listening to you all share your stories I have heard the theme of how you have made and are making the journey towards authenticity of self. You’ve all shared stories in one way or another that describe a journey of seeking authenticity, integrity and wholeness.
Those aren’t the words you have used when you have shared your stories. The words you have used are phrases like this:
“There was a time in my life when I felt I couldn’t be myself. I thought I would be punished for being myself.”
“I have been trying to find a place where my beliefs about God and my experiences of who I am match-up.”
“I have been searching for a way to be me and still have God at the center of my life.”
“I was looking for a community where I can be me. I didn’t want to hide who I am anymore.”
You have shared in various ways that you felt, at one time or another in your life, that you couldn’t be who it is you truly are. For some reason, whether it be your upbringing, or obstacles of one kind or another, you felt that you couldn’t be your true self or at least, weren’t living in a way that felt true to who you are.
And I’m reminded of your various stories when I hear the story of the talents from Matthew’s Gospel.
First, let me just say that this Gospel is NOT about justifying economic prosperity and economic endeavors. Nor is it a theological justification for Capitalism. So, if you’ve heard that interpretation before, please let that one go. It is true, however that this is a passage about stewardship. But we will get to that in a minute.
First let’s examine the passage: In the Gospel a wealthy landowner is about to head out on a long journey and has given talents to his servants. Talents in the context of this passage is a sum of money, of gold.
One talent was worth about 20 years of wages for a common laborer at that time….. this landowner is giving out huge gifts of money and he is asking his servants to invest it.
The first servant takes his share of talent
s and invests them, and doubles the talents. The second servant does the same, and also doubles the talents. The third servant takes his, and for fear of not being able to succeed at investing his talents, goes out and buries them in a field.
When the landowner returns he praises the first two servants for investing their talents and invites them to party.
The third servant, well he’s honest and explains to the landowner that he was afraid to invest the talents and so he buried them. He hid them away, where no one could get to them; perhaps to keep them safe or perhaps for fear he would lose this wealth he was given.
And the landowner, disappointed that the servant went and hid this gift of talents, casts this servant aside, into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This language is difficult to hear, this parable is tough. But when I hear this passage and I picture that servant going out, scared and alone, to bury those talents in a field, I am reminded of the stories you have shared.
We have been given this life and with it we have been given unique characteristics, personalities, and perspectives. We have been given talents, and now by talents I mean skills and gifts.
Our gifts, skills and talents are specific and unique to each one of us. It’s what makes us special as individuals and when we come together as a community, it is what creates this gorgeous rainbow of perspectives, offerings and resources.
And that third servant, out of fear and anxiety and confusion, felt he had to hide his talents. There’s a crime in this, in the hiding of our talents. If we, like the servant, take our gifts, skills, personalities and unique selves and go and bury them in a field far, far away, then we cannot become who it is we were created by God to be.
To deny these gifts, skills, unique personalities and perspectives that we have been given, that have literally been built into the DNA of our bodies and souls…to deny this is to deny a huge part of ourselves.
When we do this, we are denying this precious existence we have been given by our Creator.
I wonder if the servant was told to go and hide his talents. Maybe he was told he would never succeed in using the talents. Maybe he was told by his family or his friends, or his community, that he wasn’t worthy of the talents he had.
Maybe we’ve been told to hide who we are. Maybe we have been told to bury parts of ourselves because who we are is too shameful, or abnormal, that the way we are is not the right way for a person to act or think.
Maybe we were told that women don’t lead, they assist. That women don’t belong in the boardroom or the pulpit. Maybe we were told to bury that calling we have to lead as women.
Maybe we were told we can’t love the man or woman we love because there’s no way to be in love with someone of the same sex and still be Christian. Go, bury that part of yourself.
Maybe we were told that we don’t have much to offer the world because we’re too old or too young. Might as well go bury your ideas and perspectives.
Maybe we were told not to be so honest with our feelings because good men, strong men, don’t show their emotions. Go, bury those feelings.
As you’ve been hearing me preach a lot lately, this is yet another passage about stewardship. This morning, Jesus is calling us to be stewards of ourselves. We are being called to be who we truly are. We are being called to be who it is our loving and powerful God CREATED US TO BE.
All your stories of seeking wholeness are stewardship stories of a fundamental nature. We are stewards of our lives, which means it’s up to us to invest in ourselves and this precious, unique, life we have each been given.
To be a good steward of self is to take care of yourself, to love yourself as you are with all the quirks. Stewardship of self means we love ourselves as God loves us. To be good stewards of self means we are examining our lives and not taking anything for granted. It means we are exercising and sharing our perspectives, gifts and talents. It means we are on a journey towards authenticity, integrity, and wholeness of self.
As good stewards of our selves we also know we must help foster pathways for others in our community to make that journey towards wholeness of self.
If there is a Hell, it is a place where we cannot be our whole selves. It is a place where we are locked inside the cages created by society, the cages of “should’s”. It is a place where we are not free to be who we are and we are not willing to embrace every part of ourselves. Hell is that place where we cannot face the parts of ourselves we have buried and therefore walk around living some kind of half-life; where there is surely darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Heaven, then, is the place where we can be all we were created to be, unashamed and free. Heaven is a place where we are loved for who it is God made us to be. Heaven is where we are whole and are cultivating a path of wholeness for each other, for our neighbors.
We are caretakers of this life with which we have been given. We have been entrusted with the gift of life, of being a part of this world and all of creation. And we have been called, each of us, to follow God in this life and be who it is God called us to be.
At Good Samaritan we are doing this work as we share our stories with each other, as we seek to share our gifts and talents with this community, and as we share with the wider community God’s unconditional love. As good stewards of self, of journeying towards wholeness, integrity and authenticity, we are creating a place in the wider community for others to join in this work with us.
At Good Samaritan we are creating a culture where individuals are encouraged to explore who it is they are and who it is God is calling them to be. We are creating spaces and opportunities for people to go out and dig up those buried talents, and not only embrace them, but also invest them and share them in the work we do to serve this community.
May we continue in the stewardship of self, of discovering and becoming who it is God has made us to be. May we help each other on the journey towards wholeness, integrity and authenticity of self. And may we always follow Jesus by encouraging others to dig up those buried talents and share their unique and quirky, precious and beautiful selves with the world. Amen.