Heritage of Faithfulness: 140 years 11-19-17

You may recall that we celebrated our 140th anniversary last year as well. The year to celebrate has been shifting a little bit on us. We used to celebrate the anniversary from the time of the dedication of the building in 1879. A few years ago, we decided to celebrate from the time the first group came together from Radnor Methodist Episcopal Church to found a church in Bryn Mawr. That may have been in 1876, the year of the centennial of the United States, but the papers that Carolyn found have a founding date of 1877, so we called last year the beginning of our 140th anniversary celebration and we have been having a low key celebration all this year, ending with today’s luncheon – the conclusion of our 140th anniversary.

God brings us together for a time such as this, to be a community of caring for each other in a time of uncertainty and anxiety. It has been a good year of witness in these difficult times. Today we have much to celebrate. Our assigned reading for today from Matthew continues a series of head-scratching readings that seem to contradict what we usually think of as Jesus message. I ask you to consider that this passage may be a description of an abusive landowner rather than a celebration of good business.

Matthew 25:14-30 Again, it’s like a wealthy landowner who was going on a journey and called in three workers, entrusting some funds to them. The first was given five talents, the second two talents, and the third one talent, according to each one’s ability.  Then the landowner went away. Immediately the worker who received the five talents went and invested it and made another five. In the same way, the worker who received the two talents doubled that figure. But the worker who received the one talent instead went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried the money. After a long absence, the traveler returned home and settled accounts with them The one who received five talents came forward bringing the additional five, saying, ‘You entrusted me with five talents; here are five talents more. The landowner said, ‘Well done!  You are a good and faithful worker.  Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs.  Come, share my joy!’ The one who had received the two talents then stepped forward with the additional two, saying, ‘You entrusted me with two talents, here are two talents more..’ The landowner said to this one, ‘Cleverly done!  You too are a good and faithful worker.  Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs.  Come, share my joy! Finally the one who had received the one talent stepped forward and said to the landowner, ‘Knowing your ruthlessness—you who reap where you did not sow ad gather where you did not scatter—

and fearing your wrath, I went off and buried your talent in the ground.  Here is your money back. The landowner exclaimed, ‘you worthless, lazy lout!  So you know that I reap where I don’t sow, and gather where I don’t scatter, do you? All the more reason to deposit my money with the bankers, so that on my return I could have had it back with interest! You, there!  Take the talent away from this bum and give it the one with the ten talents. Those who have will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not will lose even the little they have. Throw this worthless one outside into the darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth,’

Nobody here has been here for 140 years. Let’s take a moment of silent reflection on our history with God in this church.

November 19, 2017

Heritage of Faithfulness: 140 years 

Nobody here has been here for 140 years. Noni has been here about half of that time. That’s why I asked her to say a few words at our luncheon today about her memories and her experience at St. Luke. That’s why I have lunch with her every Tuesday that I can – because I want to respect the elder of this church and listen to them, because their history and their perspective is important in the world and in this place. As we celebrate our 140th anniversary today, I invite you to think back on the people of the church who have helped you to be who you are today.

Not just this church, but the church – remember today all the people who have shaped you and changed your life because of their dedication to the Living God through the community of the church – the Sunday school teachers, the youth group leaders, the camp counselors, the parents, the preachers, the singers, the Bible study leaders, the grandmothers, the pray-ers, even the complainers and the whiners. We give thanks today for God’s community through the ages that sustained and formed the institution through which God works in strange and mysterious ways.

Lives are changed, lives are moved and shaped through the work of those people that makes a place for the Spirit, and a way for the Spirit to live in us. Lives are changed because we have a place to explore our fears, and test our faith, a place where we can learn to sing and dare to speak, a place where we can meet other people and work together to do more than we could possibly do by ourselves.

We are the church, we do these things not because we are so great, but because a force beyond us is working in our midst and making things possible that we could not do by ourselves. We go to a church because we like what happens there – we like the music, the people are nice, somebody remembered our name, or we heard something that got us thinking. We come to appreciate and value a church where we meet God, where we are challenged in our faith, where we grow and stretch in the grace of Christ and the nudging of God’s Spirit.

 

Our assigned passage for today, for instance, once again, may seem just a little bit off, a little different than what we might expect from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The usual interpretation would work if we were a fire and brimstone kind of church where we constantly tell people they are going to hell unless they do everything right  or believe the right things. When we take seriously Jesus’ message of grace and the consistent refrain, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last,” this passage which seems to reward the best off and punish the worst off seems particularly out of place.

Believe me, I would not have chosen it as a passage for our anniversary celebration. I take it as a challenge to hear what God is saying to us today. So here is what I hear. The story tells of a wealthy landowner who takes off for a while, and while he is gone entrusts him workers with part of his wealth as a kind of test of their loyalty, ingenuity and faithfulness. This story is not an allegory. The landowner is not God. It’s a story and it doesn’t work to make the landowner into God, because the landlord is nasty.

The first thing you need to know to understand this story is that a talent is huge amount of money. A talent is worth 10-15 years worth of wages. When the landowner gives a talent to the workers – or 5 or 10 talents, it is a symbolic amount of money. An eye-opening amount to make people pay attention to this story. The first two servants invest the talents and end up with twice as money to give back to the homeowner when he returns.

The point of the story, of course, comes when we see what the third worker does. The more common interpretation is that the third worker has timidly buried the talent in the ground and gives the talent back cowardly without interest, and gets thrown into outer darkness for his lack of imagination and drive.

This may be a fair interpretation, but the truth is that burying money was an accepted way of doing things in those days, and this passage may not be moralistic, but descriptive of the exploitation of the people. It describes a landowner who is harsh and punitive and a worker who was resisting that exploitation by not abiding by the landowner’s scheme.

That changes our perspective on the passage quite a lot and may be a bit of a reach. It makes sense to me though, as being more in line with what Jesus teaches. Either way the passage is promoting courage, commitment and ingenuity. With the second interpretation, it adds a value of non-cooperation with injustice, no matter our economic status.

At our luncheon today, several people are going to speak about how their lives have been changed through God’s grace in their ministry and work at St. Luke. I may be putting that more strongly than they were thinking about it- but I would argue that all of us are here not because we can’t think of anything better to do on a Sunday morning, but because God has grabbed our lives and put us to work, put us to ministry. We know that we need to be part of what God is doing and this is a place we have found to remind us of who we are and what we need to be about – a reminder of the courage, commitment and ingenuity that God brings out in God’s faithful people.

My life has been changed by God through the ministry in this place and I am deeply grateful for the grace and encouragement all of you have shown to me as I keep stumbling forward in my attempts to be faithful. St. Luke is a place that has been given it’s share of talents and has risked putting those talents to work for the children of this community, for the exuberant worship of the Living God, and for care for all of God’s people.

You will receive a few examples at our lunch today. I just want to give you one example that happened this week. I invited a POWER Metro people to come together Monday before last to talk about racism and how we as POWER Metro would use all of our talents to combat racism wherever we see it.

About 25 to 30 people came to the meeting including Rev. Greg Holston, UM minister and director of POWER, Rev. Robin Hynicka, pastor of Arch St. UM church, a couple rabbis, pastors, and a bunch of laypeople, especially from St. Luke. Pastor Robin described the work that POWER Philly has been doing to challenge racism in the Philadelphia context and the training that white people have been doing over the last couple of years to deepen their commitment and courage.

Toward the end of the meeting Rev Holston challenged the group to take it on themselves. He said we can’t go out of here this evening without signing up for our next steps together. At that point, I realized I hadn’t even put out a sign in sheet for people, so I started one and sent it around the room. As people began signing the paper, Pastor Robin began to talk about how the work against racism is a life-long commitment that people have to be prepared to take on. The person who was getting to sign the sheet at that point stopped and said, “I don’t know what I’m signing up for here.” and she passed the paper on.

As the paper went around, some signed and others didn’t and people continued to discuss what it would mean and what kind of commitment it would take. As we reached the end of our time, with that question still hanging in the air, brother Keith Nunnelee raised his hand to have the last word, and I will never forget what he said.

He said, “I grew up in Mississippi. I spent the first 19 years of my life learning racism every single day. I figure I owe at least the next 19 years to the process of fighting that racism.” It was a moment of the Spirit. One guy on the other side of the room asked that the paper be passed back over to him so he could sign in, giving his life to God’s work in the world.

God works through this church to make life-changing moments like that happen. God has been working through this church for 140 years, in all kinds of different ways to make life-changing moments like that happen, moments of courage, commitment and ingenuity, moments of grace, love, and of fighting injustice, moments of faithfulness, inspiration, and goosebumps. moments of tears, and joy, and love.

I thank God for the chance to be part of this ministry. I thank God for every single person who has shared that journey with us, whether for a few weeks or for 70 years. This is God’s good news.

Responsive hymn  62 All Creatures of Our God and King