Saturday, November 15, 2008

We are his blessing

An Astonishing Secret

Jesus let us in on an astonishing secret: God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, ordinary and insignificant. This should give us all hope.
Changing the world through the ... insignificant has always been God's strategy. God chose a ragtag group of Semite slaves to be the insurgents of a new order. God sent a vast army to flight with three hundred men carrying lamps and blowing horns. God chose a shepherd boy with a slingshot to lead his chosen people. And who would have dreamed that God would choose a baby in a cow stall to turn the world right side up?

--Tom Sine, The New Conspirators (2008), p. 22.

There was a priest, named Henri Nouwen, who spoke of "downward mobility" - the way of the cross. He had some words to say about gifts, which Tara Ward has turned into a song. Here are those words:


we may be little, insignificant in the eyes of this world
but when we realize that God has sent us to the world as blessed
our lives will multiply and grow and fill the needs of others
our gift is not what we can do but who we are
our gift is not what we can do but who we are

who can we be for each other? who can we be, Lord, for the world?
who can we be for each other? who can we be?

how different would our life be if we believed every single gesture
every act of faith or love or joy or peace or word of forgiveness
will multiply as long as people will receive it...
our gift is not what we can do but who we are

who can we be for each other? who can we be, Lord, for the world?
who can we be for each other? who can we be?

We are given. We are given. We are given.
We are given. We are given. We are given.

our gift is not what we can do but who we are

our gift is not what we can do but who we are

(Words: Henri J. M. Nouwen. Music: Tara Ward, Church of the Beloved, 2008.)

Jesus told a story about a man who went on a journey. While he was away he trusted his servants with his property, each according to his ability. From each he received according to their need.

There was a servant with five talents, and keep in mind that a talent is the equivalent of an ordinary person's wages for many years, who'd made five talents more. His need was to be faithful with what he had been given, and to bear good fruit from it. Likewise the one with two talents - only two: but he made two more. And he bore good fruit, and was faithful.

Then there was the third servant, whose need seemed to be: safety. Avoiding risk. Avoiding failure. Perhaps even avoiding the risk of success - of an outcome beyond his control. He did take the talent he had been given but he did not take the responsibility that came with it. He buried it. He hid it in the ground. He turned inward, and nothing could grow. When his master returned, he had nothing - nothing to show for it, nothing - for all he'd been entrusted with.

And so even the responsibility he had been given, the one talent with which he'd been entrusted, was taken away from him and assigned to the fruitful and obedient servant who had made ten. The faithful and obedient servants, by contrast, had turned outward - trusting as they had been trusted - and bore much fruit.

Do you remember the tree Jesus told about, the one that had born no fruit for many years? His servant, the gardener, said, give me one more year, one year to prune the tree and dig around it and give it nourishment; then we'll see.

I knew a tree like that. It had not been cared for, or pruned, for many years. A friend who knew trees told me how to prune it, to eliminate cross branching, thin it out, and guide the tree, helping it along in the way it wanted to grow. And with permission from the landlord, I began to prune, and thin, and water. And the next spring: apples.

It is as if we have been asked to a dance. We can stay on the bench - oh, I have a headache; oh, I cannot be sure that I wouldn't look ridiculous, oh, I'm no good at that - or we can accept the hand that is stretched to ours, clasp it, rise from our place by the wall, and join in the dance. However freely, however clumsily, we begin - and our place in the dance, the great dance of the world, which otherwise would have been empty, is filled - and filled with joy.

There is a story in the gospels about a servant whose master demanded his accounting for ten thousand talents - that is an outrageous sum. That is the value equivalent to tens of thousands of years of labor under the sun. This story is about a smaller amount - about five talents, and two, and one. Still, it's plenty.

I have always been afraid of being the one with one talent. I thought I had to have five. But look at the guy in the middle: he only has two. But he grows with them, to two more.

We may feel we only have so many talents - so many gifts to work with, only so much treasure and worth and value and promise. But we have what our master has given us.

Look around and you will see many gifts, borne under many names, behind many faces.

At St Alban's we have several gifts, more than I will count, but here are some of them:

We are very good, we Episcopalians, at celebrating.

We are welcoming, hospitable.

We are willing to love people who are different from us.

We hang in there with each other. We work together for each other. We practice faithfulness. We keep at it. We persevere. We keep the faith.

We have, dare I say it, courage and hope. And what abides beyond all else, love.

We may seem small in the world's measures, as small as mustard seed.

From us, from our lives, from our faithful obedience in keeping to God's promise, we can realize something wonderful and very, very big: We are God's people. And we are blessed.

We are blessed when we are poor, not because we are poor: we are blessed because we will be God's heirs.

We are blessed when we are hungry, not because we are hungry, but because God will feed us.

We are blessed who are mourning, because God will comfort us.

We are blessed when we are meek, because we will inherit the earth.

If we desire justice so strongly it is like a hunger, we are blessed, because that hunger will be satisfied.

When we show mercy, we are among the blessed: God will show mercy to us.

The pure in heart among us are blessed, because they will see God.

Those who make peace are blessed; they will be called children of God.

Even if you are persecuted or slandered when you stand up for justice, you are blessed: yours is the land where justice comes from, where you belong, where your true value is known -the kingdom of heaven.

We are blessed - we are blessed with all we need, supplied by the hand of God like a shepherd feeding his sheep.

We are blessed - but not for ourselves. We are blessed, that we might bless: and those who need our blessing are the ones we are here for.

God put us here in this place in this time for a purpose: to celebrate and convey the gracious love of God, to welcome our neighbors into God's holy place and into the kingdom where our God reigns, where all are the beloved of God, and all share in his blessings, where love abides and faith perseveres and hope yields its increase in abundant harvests.

We are here to be the people of God - and our gift, the gift of each other in the presence of a loving God, is what we have to share with the world. We are blessed, and we are called, to be the people whom God has created us to be. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that who ever puts their life in his hands will receive life in abundance, for eternity.

We are his children. We are blessed; we are his blessing for the world. Here. And now.

Whether we have one talent or two or five - or ten thousand - the challenge is the same:

Our gift is not what we can do but who we are.

St Alban's, Edmonds.
November 16, 2008.


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