May We Be Good and Trustworthy

New Life leaders at ELCA Newly-organized Congregations Meeting

photo: New Life leaders at ELCA Newly-Organized Congregations Gathering

Matt. 25:14 - 30 “For 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, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.

In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.

But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;

so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?

Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.

So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

One talent was not one coin. One talent was 15 years wages. A fortune. It probably weighed about 50 pounds.

We are not one church. We are part of a fortune - God’s treasury. A million worshiping communities across the world and across time.

Sometimes it feels like the church, this wealth of collective talent, is being buried. Like we are digging a hole and preserving the church for some scary future. But by burying it, but trying to preserve it just like it is, we are not multiplying it. We are not sharing the gospel - the good news that God loves us extravagantly, like the wealthy master in the parable.

I always felt a little sorry for this third guy in the story - the one who was afraid. But it took a lot of effort to bury the talent. A big whole for wheelbarrows of money. And how to do that in secret? Easier, really to invest it at a bank, as the master said. Why is he hiding it? Looking at the story now, I think that his mistake was to call the master greedy — “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed,” he says, and the master throws those words back at him: “Oh, you knew that, did you? Then the least you could do is open a secure savings account.” The master asks his servants to multiply his fortunes.

What would we do if we were given a fortune? Each servant was given an amount equal to his ability, the parable said. What are we equal to? How much wealth can we, with our abilities, double, like the first two servants, who were given the fortunes of a lifetime’s wages and more.

In preparing to go to Chicago this week to celebrate the newly organized congregations of the ELCA, including this one, I realized we have been entrusted with a fortune. In an age when many churches are closing, and mainstream denominations are shrinking in numbers, we are, literally, New Life. Around the country the story of this outdoor church is being printed in church bulletins, and shown at national events. Who knew? Our story has brought joy and hope to others.

That joy and hope is that new congregations can be planted in different places, and grow in unique ways, sharing the same old stories, while also making new ones. Carrying on the ancient traditions of worship, remembering the prayers and songs, while also singing new songs and making worship fit each context. Some of the new congregations we celebrated in Chicago sing songs and tell our stories in different languages. Some meet in different settings - like us. Many take church out of the walls of the building and serve and study out in their wider communities- like us.

Among that group of new Lutheran congregations, we are unique in incorporating nature in our worship and service. In fact, we’re unique in American Christianity today. And that, too, is bringing people hope. In a time and culture when many people are experiencing a spiritual desert, a dryness, in a time when people are looking for something, some sign of life, the idea that reconnecting with nature can be part of reconnecting with our faith and communities of faith has sparked the imagination of people who hear our story.

There is a group that has sprung up, of small experiments around North America, who meet monthly to discuss this idea of outdoor Christian worship. Last time I got on the call, I introduced myself and New Life, and some one said, “Carmen’s the veteran.” Because we started worshiping outside four years ago. New groups of all denominations - Presbyterian, Catholic, Mennonite, non-denominational, interfaith - are sharing ideas, and learning from each other, including New Life. Some visitors from our sister outdoor church, Church of the Woods in New Hampshire, an Episcopal congregation which started worshiping outdoors just after we did, will visit us December 17 to share stories in person.

So we are sharing our story, and what a joy to know it is bringing hope and inspiration to others. But our task, I think, is also to be faithful in our management of this treasure here, in this place. To share our story here, to invite others to visit and experience worship outside. To share our land, and invite people to come close to God in nature in our garden, on our trails. To share our service with the wider community, just to share, just to give what we have been given.

To invest in our own faith, to deepen, to grow roots here, to lean into this outdoor Christian worship experience and explore the connection to God we find here even more deeply. To find God in the prickly and windy and cold parts, too —to hear God’s word for us on those days and in that work. To know that this is a gift- even the fire ants. To grow deeper into our community, serving our neighbors even when it is awkward, even when the coffee shop is loud, or we have a lot of other things on our calendar. This gift is the gift of doing God’s work in this place. We have been given a treasure - and we are not to just worry about it, but do the work which comes with the trust. We are to tend this church, invest ourselves in it.

Because the treasure we’ve each been given is this one precious life. And a church community is one place we are given in which to invest ourselves. The extravagant trust of this one human life, packed with wonder and abundance, is ours to work - it is our job to make the abundance of the master multiply.

Because the thing that the servant was wrong about was that the master reaped where he didn’t sow, and gathered where he didn’t scatter seed. The master entrusted part of that work to each servant. Go. Take this abundance with which I’ve entrusted you, and make it grow. The seed is scattered by the servants, the master scatters his abundance in that way, to share the joy. “Enter into the joy of your master,” he says to the first two good and trustworthy servants. And they are given more work, more to invest. So that they can enter into the joy of seeing abundance overflow in this precious life.

God entrusts us with fortunes: our very lives, and the experiment of being part of this congregation. God gives us these fortunes and the task of doing the work that is needed to invest well, to be good and trustworthy stewards of this great wealth. So that we can enter into God’s joy. The joy comes with the work.

May we be good and worthy of God’s trust.

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