Sermon of the Week:
Love One Another–How to Plan for Tomorrow
Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Keywords: Purpose, Henri Nouwen, Talents, Stewardship, The Kirk. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
A few weeks ago, on All Saints Day,
we talked about everyday saints,
those people in our lives that have loved us and shaped us
and in some cases, continue to do so.
This week, I was thinking about some of those saints,
two of them, actually,
people who loved me by handing me books I should read.
Both of them, it turned out,
gave me books written by the same author: Henri Nouwen.
Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest
who explored in great detail what it means to live our faith honestly
given the challenges of modernity.
Nouwen’s work focused on the intersection
of psychology and social justice and community.
And he wrote with a style that encouraged his reader
to go deeper than what we ordinarily have going on the surface.
He encourages his reader to go beyond the superficial.
I was introduced to Nouwen when I was a grad student,
studying to become a pastor,
when the chaplain at my university
handed me her tattered copy of a little book Nouwen wrote
called The Wounded Healer.
Here. Read this. She said.
Then see if you can live it.
In The Wounded Healer, Nouwen explores
how all of us carry baggage, you know,
the hurt and the scars,
all that stuff we bear from a lifetime of things not going the way they should,
and how our natural inclination is to not deal with all that.
We find ways of covering over it, or burying it, ignoring it.
On the other hand, Nouwen explains,
when we don’t hide from those wounds,
when, on the other hand, we understand them, treat them, surrender them to God,
deal constructively with them,
not only can we become healthier ourselves, thanks be to God,
but we can also become healing people,
people who help other people heal,
by engaging with them in true and authentic ways
and encouraging them to do the same.[i]
In short: The honest healer, the effective healer, is the wounded healer.
That’s the sort of work that Nouwen did:
helping us engage with those parts of our lives
that are tricky, that sometimes we’d rather not expose, or deal with, right.
Nouwen believed, quite rightly,
that we only become stronger, healthier
when we are honest with ourselves and with each other.
Jump forward a decade, when my former colleague Jeff Clayton,
knocked on the door to my office
and dropped a little book on my desk.
Hey, read this. But I want it back.
(If Jeff’s name rings a bell, it might be because he was one of the people
who came to The Kirk on that rather chilly October afternoon last month
to sing bluegrass and folk music for our Music on the Lawn event)
I remember that detail, him saying that he wanted the book back
mainly because I still have that book on my bookshelf.
It ended up in my I-hope-someday-to-read-you-pile of books
and I forgot about it for a few years.
This book was called A Spirituality of Fundraising,
and it contains Nouwen’s reflections on stewardship.
Years ago, I think I put it into that read-ya-later pile
because fundraising isn’t quite how we think about stewardship, you know.
Stewardship isn’t just about raising funds.
It’s never just about that,
even though there are all these jokes,
about how all pastors ever do is talk about or ask for money,
which really goes to show you, I think
how we don’t really like to talk about or think about our money at all.
Some of how we feel about money
is a lot like how we feel about our wounds:
maybe better out of sight, out of mind.
Truth is, we don’t talk about money very much in church. Not here, at least.
We more frequently talk about talents, which is a funny little biblical word
that was an ancient unit of mass.
It varied depending on where in the ancient world you were.
A Greek talent was about 26 Kilograms; a Roman talent was about 32 Kilograms.
It was used to weigh out precious metals—
silver, or gold—
and so it was not just a unit of mass
but a reference to an amount of money.
Jesus told a few parables about talents:
people given some money,
and how they handled it.
We preachers like talents as a word,
because it sounds a lot like our English word talent, as in skills or abilities.
When my kids were in Elementary School
the school put on a Talent Show,
which wasn’t a fancy display
of large amounts of silver or gold (can you even imagine),
but wonderfully daring offerings
of dancing and gymnastics,
brave kids singing their favorite pop songs,
eager efforts at playing the piano
or telling jokes from index cards…
jokes that make any father proficient in telling dad jokes so proud.
Why did the can-crusher quit his job?
Because it was soda pressing.
I’m reading a book on the history of glue.
I just can’t seem to put it down.
This double meaning makes talents a word we love to use in stewardship,
because it reminds us that we’re not just talking about raising funds.
We always stress that stewardship
is about how we apply our faith to our lives,
all of our life,
and commit to using the gifts God gives us for God’s purposes.
Talents is a great double entendre to help us with that.
It means both our gifts and our financial resources,
and for those of us who seek to follow God on the way of Jesus the Christ,
we have to remember that almost 40 percent of Jesus’ parables
dealt with faith’s relationship with our money and our possessions.
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Sell everything and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.
Come follow me. (Luke 18).
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also
(That’s from our reading this morning).
You’ll often hear Christian theologians,
such as Mike Slaughter, who wrote a book called
The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
say things like this:
“There is no clearer indicator of our ultimate values
than our financial priorities and practices—how we spend,
how we live, how we save, and how we give reveal the true altar of our hearts.”[ii]
This is why we sometimes say that “budgets are moral documents,”
whether they’re our personal home budgets or our nation’s budgets.
“Put your money where your mouth is.”
Well, we do.
But more than that:
where we put our time and our energy and our passion,
those too reveal our truest priorities, our deepest concerns. [Read more…]