You may have noticed the serious tone of the gospels we have been reading for about a month. We had the unfaithful stewards, who neglected their duties and tried to get the master’s vineyard for their own. And there was a day of judgment in that story. And we had the story of the wedding feast, which all the society guests ignored and some of the newly invited did not take seriously. And there was a day of judgment in that story. We had the story of the Roman coin – a warning that what is important in this world is not what is really important on the day of judgment. We were given a summary of the whole law and prophets – love God with all that we have, and love our neighbor, for that is the standard on the day of judgment. We heard a warning to the religious leaders that what they practice rather than what they preach will be how they will be judged on the day of judgment. We heard last week that those who wait expectantly will spend their time preparing for the return of the Bridegroom, which is the day of judgment. And today, we have the parable of the talents, which ends with a day of judgment.
In late November, as the world turns its eyes to the Malls of America in the Christmas Shopping Season, the Christian church turns its eyes to the bitter truth that one day we are all going to die and each and every one of us will face a day of judgment. In next week’s readings, we will get a sense of what the day of judgment will be like, but today we are focusing on what we should do with our lives so we will be judged by God as one of his children on the day of judgment.
What should our lives be? Our lives of faith should be active rather than passive. We are the Church Militant, which means we are working together for something and we are under attack. Like the people in the parable, we have been given gifts. God wants us to use them to glorify him.
Those of us who live secular lives – me as a permanent deacon and you as the laity – are the principal messengers of the Gospel. You and I are the servants in the Gospel story today. Some of us were given many talents – wealth, energy, perseverance – and some not so many. Whatever God gave us, we must share. We must take the risk involved in the Christian life: to love your God with all that you have, to love your neighbor, to give of yourself to the point of sacrifice. This story is not about producing a return on God’s investment; it is about daring to use the gifts we have been given.
Like the people in this parable, we are asked to take risk as disciples of Christ. Risk means accepting consequences – some we expect and some unforeseen. If we stand for God, if we fight for Christ as the Church Militant, we can expect opposition. We don’t know the details of how we might be opposed, but discipleship is costly. We need to have the courage to withstand the opposition and remain true to the Christian faith. This can entail suffering. Suffering is not pain. Pain is pain. Suffering is what makes the pain an offering to God. It gives purpose to pain. It ennobles pain.
But we want to run from pain. We want to inoculate ourselves against pain. We want to anesthetize ourselves when we encounter pain. Jesus wants us to put on the garment of Christ and find joy in our pain. Joy, not happiness. Joy is the constant assurance that there is purpose to our lives and our existence, that we can choose good over evil, and that good ultimately triumphs over evil.
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lists eight blessings, which we know as the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes involve risk taking, so let’s look at how they demand we take risk as disciples of Christ.
Blessed are the meek. Being meek involves the risk of people thinking you are weak. Meekness is humility, and that is the willingness to let others be praised, to let others be consulted, to allow yourself to be ridiculed or wronged. It is the willingness to let others increase so that we may decrease.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Being a peacemaker involves the risk of not having the last word. It is embracing the truth that the three little words “I love you” are better than the three little words “I am right.” It is trusting in God’s providence even when your group or your manager is making a poor decision. It is trusting in Divine providence when someone is spreading lies about you, and the Devil is tempting you to respond in kind.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Being poor in spirit involves the risk of looking like a loser in the eyes of the world. I have a very affluent friend who a few years ago traded in his big Audi sedan and bought a Volkswagen because he liked the idea of a clean diesel that had plenty of turbo power. One of his clients asked if his business was okay because he assumed that if you’re not driving an $80,000 car, your business is probably failing. I’m happy to say my friend has a strong enough sense of himself that he laughed it off, but you can see that the willingness to be unattached to the money you make is often misunderstood by many of your neighbors.
Even being willing to hear the truth is a risk. We want to hear that whatever it is we are doing is great and we should keep it up. But that’s not usually the case. Christ meets us where he finds us, but he offers something better than more of the same. Christians stumble their way to Heaven. Stumbling is falling and getting back up. There is risk in choosing to get back up knowing you’ll probably fall again.
If we will risk getting up when we stumble, if we will risk living as sojourners in a strange land, if we will risk taking the Gospel seriously, we won’t risk our eternal souls. The day of judgment approaches. Let’s be prepared for it.