Thanksgiving or Fear?

Matthew 25:14-30

Thanksgiving or Fear?

November 19, 2017      Maple Grove UMC

 

          This is Thanksgiving Sunday.  But the Parable of the Talents is just the assigned Gospel reading for the third Sunday of November.  It’s not a story about Thanksgiving. . .  Or is it?

          It is a story about stewardship.  And a steward is a person appointed to take care of someone else’s property—a “manager,” is the word we’d use today.  All three of the slaves in Jesus’ story are stewards.  The master went on a journey and “entrusted his property to them.” 

          And isn’t gratitude all about acknowledging that everything is gift?  As the offering prayer says, “all that we are and all that we have is a trust from you, O God.”  Almost by definition, giving thanks recognizes that we haven’t made or deserved what we have.  If we had made or deserved it, we wouldn’t need to give thanks for it.  Sure, I know, we work hard for what we have.  Some people really have built their own home or built a business from scratch.  But where did you get the ability to build or do business?  You might say, from going to school or from your parents.  Okay, but where did your ability to learn come from, or your family?  You can push it back as far as you like, but sooner or later you have to admit that ultimately, it’s all from God and everything is God’s.  Psalm 24 begins: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”  Some of what’s in the world is entrusted to us for a while.  And during that while, all we can do is be grateful.

          This is the central teaching of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  In chapter 8, before they enter the Promised Land, Moses warns the people: “Take care that you do not forget the Lord you God. . . When you have eaten your fill and built fine houses, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied—today we’d say, when you have cell phones and big screen TVs and cars and more books than you can count . . .  then do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’  But remember the Lord you God. . .

          In monasteries, the monks’ things were sometimes marked with their name under the Latin phrase, ad usus, meaning “for the use of” of that monk.  Each monk was reminded that things were given into his use, but didn’t actually belong to him.1  Even so, I sometimes invite people to meet in “my” office or to come to “my” house; but really both office and house are Maple Grove’s.  And Carolyn and I are truly grateful for their use.  But ultimately everything is ad usus.  Our cars, our money, our homes—all will eventually cease to exist or be someone else’s.  Our talents, our education, our good health—all are ad usus, all come from God.  We have the privilege of being “stewards” of all the amazing gifts of life.  Thanks be to the One who entrusts them, for a time, into our care.

         

          In the story, two of the slaves did well; they made good use of what the master entrusted to them.  But the third slave did not do well.  He made no use of what was entrusted to him.  And the story tells us why.  It wasn’t because he got less than the other two; it wasn’t because he didn’t know what to do.  Do you remember why he buried his talent in the ground?  He tells the master, “I was afraid.”  I was afraid, he says, and that’s why I buried what you gave me.  In the gospel, not only is fear the opposite of faith, as we learned during Lent; fear is also the opposite of thanksgiving.

          I want to show you a clip from the Disney film Finding Nemo.  You should know that Finding Nemo is the favorite movie of my now 22 year-old daughter, Emily.  It has been her favorite since it came out when she was 8.  She is happy to let you know that she has Nemo coloring books and Nemo stuffed animals and now, along with her sister, a Nemo tattoo.  Now, I’m not a big tattoo person, but listen to the story.  Emily graduated from college in May which, as often happens, precipitated a period of intense anxiety.  I asked Emily to put it in her own words.  There are reasons I won’t go into, but Emily wrote to me, “I was so scared that I was going to have to move back to Ohio, that I would lose my job, my friends, my independence and your trust.”  But she turned to her sister.  “Rachel,” Emily writes, “was there for me.  She reassured me that these fears were normal, but they didn’t have to control me.  This tattoo is my tie to her and my reminder that she is there for me.  I’m grateful for that.”  Well, tattoo and all, I’m grateful too.  Our lives . . . and our children . . . are not our own.  And the only way to enjoy them, the only way to live thankfully, is not in fear, but in gratitude. 

          Here’s the clip.  In case you haven’t seen the movie, two clownfish are attacked by barracuda.  Marlin is knocked unconscious, and when he wakes up his wife is gone, along with all but one of her eggs.  That egg becomes a son, Nemo.  Nemo’s dad is understandably overprotective, which causes Nemo to sneak away and get captured by people collecting fish for aquariums.  The rest of the movie follows the adventures of Nemo’s dad and his friend Dory, a good-hearted but goofy fish, on their quest of finding Nemo.  This scene takes place at one of the lowest points for Marlin, when he and Dory have been swallowed by a whale:

          Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.

          Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.

          Marlin: What?

          Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever    happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

 

         

          Like Nemo’s dad, because of his fear the third slave in Jesus’ story was determined that “nothing would ever happen” to what was entrusted to him.  And of course, that’s exactly what happened . . . nothing.  Fear is natural, even necessary.  But when fear becomes too much, when we allow fear to be in control, it casts a shadow over what we love; fear becomes the opposite of gratitude.  Here’s how Scott Bader-Saye puts it:  “We find ourselves unable to rejoice in the presence of what we love, because we are too afraid of losing  it.”2

 

 

          So it’s a story about Thanksgiving after all. . .  Our worship today recognizes that everything is ad usus, entrusted to us for a time.  That everything, ultimately, comes from God and is God’s.  Today, we take a moment to acknowledge where it all comes from.  We remember the Lord our God.  And we give thanks.

          And in our worship today we seek to hold what we have a little less tightly, to let go of the fear of losing and embrace the joy of having, if only for today. 

 

 

          After the hymn, I’ll invite you to share what has been entrusted to you for which you are grateful.  Let me begin, and don’t forget our “Yea, God” response:

  • For an office and a lovely home that are not mine, but for me to use and to share—we say, Yea, God!
  • For a church with people who are persistently and sometimes beautifully in disagreement—we say, Yea, God!
  • And for my daughters, who move away, and get tattoos, and whom despite all my fears I cannot protect—we say, Yea, God!

          Let’s sing the hymn, and then I’ll ask you what you want to say “Yea, God” about.

 

 

1 See Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Ad Usus: “For the Use Of,” Alive Now (September/October 2009), 13.

2 Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, The Christian Practice of Everyday Life Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 58. 

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