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All week long, I’ve been wrestling with the parable we just heard. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t much like a God that judges like that, a God who casts people out into utter darkness. It makes me think of a God who has a clipboard in his hand, watching, checking, marking down the times that I do right and the times that I do wrong. I flat out do not believe that God is in the business of casting people out into utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is not the God I know in Jesus and that is not the God I know from my own life experience.
So what is the deal with this utter darkness? What’s that weeping and gnashing of teeth all about?
When you stop and think about it, we live in a world full of utter darkness. We live in world where people do gnash their teeth. We live in a world where people weep. I see it all the time—people cast out into utter darkness, people who have lost their jobs, their marriages, their homes, and even their health. Veterans who return home to find no job available, women and children fleeing abusive families and having no place to turn, men unable to raise enough money to pay rent and child support. People like you and me cast out into utter darkness. People like you and me weeping and gnashing their teeth when they think about their future. The people I meet at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center—the day shelter where I work and worship on Sunday mornings.
But you don’t have to go that far to find folks cast out into utter darkness, folks weeping and gnashing their teeth. Most of us at one time or another in our lives find ourselves in utter darkness—the darkness of a loss, a grief, a hurt, a deep sadness. People whose church has said to them, “You don’t belong here.” People whose country has said you can serve but you can’t tell. But today, I find myself thinking about the children and their parents caught up in that whole Penn State mess. The utter darkness those kids have faced. Their parents weeping and gnashing their teeth.
Jesus says, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one….” The first two double his investments, the third buries it and hence opts out of the system. This is a parable told to a people who already lived in utter darkness; this is a parable told to people who daily gnashed their teeth as they tried to find enough bread to eat. This is a story told to people who had lost their land to greedy landlords. One talent was the equivalent of fifteen years of wages. That slave who buried his talent opted out of the system of his day. He chose not to go along and not to get along and not to play the game. No wonder the “Man” was furious. No wonder he cast that third slave out into utter darkness.
I wonder why that third slave did it. I wonder why he buried the wad of cash entrusted to him. Surely he must have known that the Man would be furious. Surely he must have suspected he’d be cast out. Had he taken leave of his senses? Or had he, like the Prodigal Son, come to his senses? What is Jesus saying with this parable? Where is he asking us to stand?
Though I don’t think God casts folks out in utter darkness, I do believe God cares deeply where we stand and that we stand up for others who cannot stand up or speak for themselves. Remember where this chapter of Matthew ends—it ends with the Son of Man coming in his glory and saying to those on his right hand: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36)
God doesn’t need to cast people out into utter darkness. We do a good enough job of that ourselves. But God does invite us into that utter darkness where we can stand with and support those already there. Isn’t that where Jesus goes? Isn’t that the way of the Cross? Isn’t that the way of discipleship?
Standing on the Shoulders of Saints:
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
What a night it is! Tonight we celebrate the great feast of All Saints, the commissioning of Rev. Kristin’s and my ministry with you, and, most important, the baptism of Joe Apodoca and Makaiya Chavez as we welcome them into the Communion of Saints. What a night!
Tonight Joe’s and Makaiya’s parents and godparents will make promises on their behalf and they will also make promises to them. And so will we.
Tonight Rev. Kristin and I will make promises to you and you to us.
Tonight we will all make promises to God and to one another.
I think that all together we will say “I will” or “we will” or “I do” over three hundred times if you count each of our “I will’s” or “we will’s” or “I do’s” separately.
It makes sense to ask, “What are we committing to?”
You might say we are committing to being part of the communion of saints.
Or you could say we are committing to help one another be part of the communion of saints for the promises we make to Makaiya and Joe are promises we make to one another as well.
Tonight I will ask you, “Will you do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”
When you answer “We will”, we all are promising to help them and, by extension, you and me live into our Baptismal Covenant.
This journey we commit to, this path we follow, is not a solitary journey. Following Jesus is something we do in community. It takes a village to raise a Christian.
Think back on your own journey. Remember the saints who showed you the way. The people who in one way or another taught you what it means to be a saint in the communion of saints. People who in the words of William Stringfellow, “relish life as a gift and realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.” People who roll up their sleeves and reach into the muck of life where needs are deep and the way often unclear. Beatitude people I call them—people who know how to weep and mourn and call for justice; people whose hearts are pure; people who find the ties that connect and the words that diffuse.
Remember, too, the saints who taught you what it means to be a beloved child of God—people who knew you, really knew you; people who had time for you; people who delighted in you and knew how to show it; people who loved you not in spite of but because of who you are—warts and all.
And remember those saints who stretched you and challenged you to live into your best self just by being who they were. When I think of those saints, I’m reminded of two people from this very congregation—a couple who really lived their baptismal vows—especially the one about respecting the dignity of every human being. Imagine—they didn’t even get short or curt or impatient with those sales calls that come at dinner time. They listened to the pitch; said “thank you”; and didn’t even make a face afterwards. That’s respecting the dignity of every human being!
African Americans often say we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. All of us here stand on the shoulders of saints. It’s our turn to provide those shoulders for Makaiya and Joe and one another as well. That’s what community—communion—is all about.
Shall we gather at the font where we will baptize Makaiya and Joe and welcome them into the Communion of Saints?