freed from fear…imagine

preaching, 1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 25.14-30, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 19, 2017

Jesus tells a parable about talents. In his day, monetary units of precious metal equal to fifteen years’ wages of a day laborer. For our day, the root of our notion of our capabilities, our talents that enable us to do something.

Viewed through the worldly lens of economics, this story is about our stewardship of our abilities and our money; using them fully, investing them wisely for which we, at life’s end, will give a reckoning through our legacies and bequests.

Hmmm, maybe.

From a heavenly perspective, this story is about our faithful use of divine gifts, as Paul delineates in First Corinthians,(1) among them, faith and discernment, knowledge and wisdom, bestowed by the Spirit, which we are to use for the sake of others and for which we must give an account at the end of time, the Day of the Lord, the second coming of Jesus of which Paul speaks.(2)

Hmmm, maybe.

Today, focusing on two of the four characters, I suggest that this parable is about an elemental aspect of our relationships, all of our relationships, with God and with all others. Not the first two servants, who invest and double their money, make the same speech to their master, who, with the same words, praises and rewards them. They function as literary foils like Romeo and Juliet’s Friar whose patience magnifies Romeo’s impatience or Mr. Hyde whose evil illumines the goodness of Dr. Jekyll or the malevolent Draco Malfoy to the benevolent Harry Potter. The first two servants, in their exacting similarity, highlight the utterly different relationship of the master and the third servant; who, suffering from a case of fiscal paralysis, buries and returns the money.

Parable of the Talents, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

There is the point of the parable, which, though it may seem, is not a judgment against laziness, but rather is about fear.

FEAR - Scrabble tiles

The third servant imagined that his master was unkind. “I knew you were harsh, so I was afraid.” And acting on his fear, “I hid your talent and here it is.” The master replies, “You knew, did you, that I am as you imagine? If so, then you should have done otherwise.”

The point. Whatever we imagine about God and anyone else will influence our behavior. Speaking for myself, if I imagine God or you to be judgmental, I will be afraid and, in my fear, remain guarded, reveal little, risk even less lest I fail and fall under your judgment. If I imagine God or you to be benevolent and fair, then I am free to take the risk of being open and vulnerable, indeed, to be as loving and just as I perceive God and you to be.

What we imagine, we reflect. What we reflect, we will be and do, think and feel, intend and act.

If this is true – and I believe it is! – then the moral of this parable is this: Resist and reject fear. Risk faith and trust in our interactions with God and others, for there is truest freedom.

 

Illustration: The Parable of the Talents, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

Footnotes:

(1) 1 Corinthians 12

(2) 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11 is the day’s appointed epistle reading.

I’m sorry…still, another thought

Apologizing is more than an act, more than the auditory human activity of uttering the words, “I’m sorry”, but rather, at its heart, is an art – like any work of art – requiring ingenuity, integrity, and initiative.

Ingenuity. For me to apologize, I must[1] exercise my imagination to dream my way into the worldview of another, so to comprehend a perspective other than my own. To apologize, I must be able not only to realize that another is hurt, so to be able to say, at minimum, “I understand that you’re hurt”, but also to recognize her/his manner of thinking and feeling, so to be able to say, at more than minimum, “I understand (see) you, thus, why and how you are hurt.”

Integrity. For me to apologize, I must examine myself, indeed, my self (my psyche, soul), so to claim honestly my role and responsibility, so to be able to say, “I understand (see) what I have done (or not done), said (or not said) that caused you hurt.”

Initiative. For me to apologize, I must extend myself, moving beyond my ability to apologize into that essential state of willingness to say, “I’m sorry.”

 

Footnote:

[1] I employ the word “must” (which, in league with “ought” and “should”, I consider to be a heavily-weighted-and-freighted moral term), for apology, given that the occasion of its necessity always originates in the realm of human relationships, bears an inherently ethical dimension.

is racism immortal?

I usually don’t comment on television. We watch so little of it, save for some favorite shows on the Food Network, HGTV, ESPN, and the news networks. Thus, we skipped tuning in to the recent 69th Primetime Emmy Awards as most (all?) of the nominated shows we hadn’t seen.

However, for reasons of historical and social realities that matter to me, I can’t pass on this…

This past Sunday, September 24, 2017, CBS[1] launched, figuratively and literally, Star Trek: Discovery; set as a prequel to the original 1960s series, situated in the 23rd century, of the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, science officer Spock, and others, as the now-famous introductory voiceover stated, in “Space, the final frontier…boldly go(ing) where no man (later changed to “no one”) has gone before.”

universe

One of the main stars, indeed, lead actor of Star Trek: Discovery is Sonequa Martin-Green, an African American woman.

I am not a Star Trek aficionado; science-fiction as a literary and cinematographic genre never has hooked, perhaps paradoxically, my ever-vivid imagination. Still, I do respect Star Trek as an iconic, groundbreaking franchise. The original series featured one the most racially and ethnically diverse casts, then or perhaps now. Even more, a show, then and now, whose plot-points consistently focus on engagement of alien cultures is, for me, a not so subtle declaration of the embrace of inclusion and the celebration of “the other.”

Hence, I would have supposed that Star Trek fans would welcome Ms. Martin-Green with (dare I would hope) universal applause. Sadly, that hasn’t been true, for she and the show have faced criticism, some, blessedly, not all, couched in racial terms and, some of that, articulated in the language of white genocide or an anti-white bias.

As a follower of Jesus, I strive (yes, failing, yet striving again) to live each day doing, being the love and justice of unconditional benevolence and fairness toward all people. As such, racism, its existence and its experience by offenders and the offended, grieves me. Given my, again, ever-vivid imagination, from time to time I have fantasized that if I was immortal, thus, destined to live forever in this world (that is, if we humans don’t destroy it via nuclear or climatological holocaust), then I would live long enough to see the end of racism. Clearly, in 2017, even looking through the 23rd century lens of Star Trek: Discovery, we’re not there yet.

 

Footnote:

[1] Columbia Broadcasting System

presents of mind

Whenever I drive into town via Main Street, there he is sitting always on the same public bench. His wizened body swaddled in baggy trousers and a shirt as large as a tent, and long-sleeved, no matter the heat. By turns, he is calm, perfectly still, his arms folded across his chest, then agitated, flinching, fidgeting, running his hands through his silver mane. Oft I’ve wondered. Who are you? Why are you there? What are you doing?

He always catches my attention and, now, my imagination…

During last night’s waning moments (or was it in the small hours of this morning?), I dreamed about him, which really means, I think, that my unconscious had welcomed him, embraced him as a symbol of something both reflective and restless living (looming? lurking?) within me.

Having spent this day deep in reverie, I believe I know what that something is…

As of late, in the course of my nearly daily contemplation of aging and mortality, across my mind’s screen, I’ve beheld kaleidoscopic images of the faces of people I’ve known or, having lost touch (for a variety of reasons, uncontrollable circumstance and acts of commission and omission, some mutual, some not) people I used to know. Depending on the memory, when our last meeting and parting was pleasant, I am calmed by a spirit of serenity and when not, my soul is o’ershadowed by twin specters of discontent and lament that painfully afresh reveal, expose my flaws, my failings to have been the person I long wish I already was.

Either way, even, perhaps especially the latter, I accept these images as presents, gifts of my mind, which, when opened, compel me to remember, to reflect, and to repent. In this last, perhaps I, one day, before I die, will draw closer, will be closer to the image of God I’d like to see in me.

O God, Thy kingdom come?

O’er these past few days – provoked, perhaps in equal parts, by my slower-than-I’d-like recovery from surgery, the seasonally mood-affecting, melancholia-inducing dreary winter skies, and my quintessential and abiding inner psycho-shadow world of pessimism – I’ve been dwelling a lot on the pain and sorrow of this world.

Early this morning, I had a dream or perhaps a semi-conscious alternate-vision that, upon fully awakening, continued to speak to me in the following meditation on Luke 14.12-14.

I turn away from the world;

my eyes tired,

my vision teared

by the avarice,

malice

and all-too consequent sadness

I see.

 

Adrift on the rhythmic pulsing of my yet hopeful heart,

I fantasize,

visualize

a far off place…

 

There!

 

Where

the poor & bloated-bellied hungry,

who e’er are the last and least,

at banquet tables feast;

and this world’s finest and first

make haste

to offer service,

treating them

as royalty,

at their feet, genuflecting, calling them,

“Your majesties!”;

who, though alway too humble by half,

unwilling to suffer the obeisance of eternal equals,

bid their servants join them at table…

 

Where

the broken-bodied gambol through verdurous fields;

their disabilities

yielding to everlasting energies…

 

Where

the blind stare unblinking

admiring

their reflections

sans all imperfection;

their mirrored smiles confirmation

of their long-harbored, secret conviction

that they’d like the way they looked

if e’er they, as now without end, could see.

 

But here

in this world, there –

save for bright-hued visions

of imagination,

the hopeful phantasms of my soul’s desperation –

remains a far off (inaccessible?) destination;

perhaps no terminus at all, for one can’t get there

from here.

 

Then I think, no, I was, I am blessedly wrong,

for there

is ne’er

far off, but alway near,

and truly appears,

however partially,

here

whene’er

I or anyone acts,

however imperfectly,

on faith

in God that Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

on earth.