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Sermon: Eucharist - 16 November 2014

Sunday 16th November 2014
Cathedral Eucharist
1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11
Matthew 25: 14-30

You don't choose a life, dad. You live one.

These are words of a son as he embarks on a journey; a journey his father thinks is a luxury of leaving it all behind. The father is Tom a Californian ophthalmologist, played by Michael Sheen in the film The Way. His son has decided to walk the pilgrims' way to Santiago de Compostela. Tom finds himself walking that way. 

It is not a life he chooses: amidst grief, hospitality, loss, companionship, simplicity, provocation and the telling of stories he lives one.

The journey disrupts the inevitable chronological staging posts of life as we move from birthday to birthday with varying degrees of anticipation - from first tooth to first grey hair; from driving licence to retirement do.  We think, like Tom, that we've settled into the life we've chosen. We accept it.  And in accepting it we perhaps cease to live it.

The film doesn't explicitly articulate what it is that Tom learns as he walks the way.  He struggles to articulate it in the categories he's offered as he receives his last pilgrim stamp. Perhaps what we see through the cinematographer's lens is change: change wrought by generosity and trust where there might have been fear.

Those themes lie at the heart of our readings.  Today we are challenged to think about living life rooted in the abundance of God's grace; to respond to his call to live life for  God's Kingdom.  It's a call to live moment by moment; a call to live lightly, hopefully, fearlessly.  It's less about seizing the day as an experience; but experiencing each day anew as as we are seized by God.

Such a call upon our lives, which demands both response and responsibility, is set within a vision of God's Kingdom.  Matthew powerfully sets out Jesus' teaching to reveal the abundance of God's grace and love; for God seeks to draw all things to himself.   Matthew also reveals that God longs for us to make wise use of the good things entrusted to us.  Generosity and trust go hand in hand.

It is the very opposite of the material acquisitiveness of the Christmas adverts: of real love being expressed in magic and sparkle, in penguins and perfume.  God's gifts draw us into right relationship. We become not recipients or owners but friends and stewards, channels of God's generative grace.

In the parable, a man goes on a journey entrusting his property to his slaves. He gives to each according to their ability; he knows them and trusts them; he goes on his way. Two of them act with enthusiasm and good judgement. They are greeted with praise, friendship and joy.  Their response to generosity and trust bears much fruit. 

The third slave appears paralysed with fear.  His response to the trust placed in him entails no energy, imagination or risk.  The master judges him to be lazy; he is displeased that the slave's opinion of him led him to not even seek the most basic of returns that even bank interest would generate. 

This parable is not a justification of economic practices; it's not a mandate to work hard to make what we can; it's not an endorsement of the entrepreneurial spirit of The Apprentice!    Rather it inspires us to active stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us: the gift of life itself and the gift of love and forgiveness.  With every breath we take we are to share the gifts we're given.  We are to delight in the diversity of those gifts made manifest in our common life.  There is no place for envy or jealousy!

The third slave feared that the gift he'd been given could only be used up or lost;  he turned gift into possession. But sharing God given gifts is not a zero sum game: we are not impoverished by someone else flourishing. God's gifts expressed in human creativity, skill and care, are extended not diminished in giving.

As Katherine and Paul give of their time, energy, passion and ability they release the potential of others; as we delight in the achievements of Tom and Lizzie, all our choristers and lay clerks are affirmed.  We with them are inspired by the beauty of holiness; as Lizzie put it this morning, it's an act of sharing faith.  When we welcome speakers to share their vision of a Peaceable Kingdom, their knowledge is not lessened in sharing it with us; rather enriching conversations are ignited and we are drawn into deeper engagement with the challenges of building the Kingdom today.

To live in the light of Jesus' coming does not mean trying to predict the end of time; it means living in the light of eternity now.  It means taking risks in the work entrusted to us - in truth and love, in forgiveness in compassion.  That is the joy that our Lord and master calls us to share. 

That joy is always in anticipation.  We wait to celebrate the mystery of the incarnation; of God with us.  But we also live day by day in relation to that reality.  That enables us to live honestly in the face of our human mortality - living in love as if this day was our first, our last and our only; living in the hope of God's Kingdom.

That hope is not a personal possession; it is a gift to all humanity.  In creation, God poured out the abundance of his love.  He took the risk of blessing our creaturely freedom; when we rebelled, his love remained steadfast.  His love was made perfect in human weakness, sending his Son to redeem, forgive and restore us to communion with him and each other.  His love goes to very depths of our despair and failure:  Matthew describes that darkest place of weeping and gnashing of teeth knowing that God's Son goes there.  There is no longer any place God is not; hope is made real.  In the power of the Spirit, God continues to work within us, within creation.  We see signs of that liberation; the fullness of God's Kingdom.

We wait for it with patience; but we are also called to live for it with urgency.  The Spirit shapes our prayers, our longings and our actions.  As we entrusted with that generous gift, we are called to live lives of risky, faithful, imaginative and diligent service. All that we do is for the sake of God's Kingdom; God's rule here on earth, in anticipation of the vision of Revelation - a time when God is all in all. 

Meanwhile, we are called to nurture one another so that we can truly live life in the way God promises.  In creating a culture of encouragement, our lives can be devoted to honest and effective witness to God's love in word and deed.  In our families, voluntary service, employment, we are to be loving disciples.  As the Spirit directs and inspires us, we participate in the renewal of our world.

Today's parable teaches to wait by living out the generous gift entrusted to us.  We are to be courageous and fearless; we are to imaginative as we take the risk of loving.  The practice of acts of charity is dependent on a community being shaped by the holiness of God.  Here we gather to hear and respond to God's love; here we are made welcome receiving in bread and wine the gift of Christ himself. We encounter God in a sacrament of hospitality which is an extension of our human fellowship and an anticipation of God's heavenly banquet. 

And while we wait for the fulfilment of that hope, we are to be signs of that Kingdom: Christ makes forgiveness and transformation possible.  We are his Body here and now, called to live lives of hope and compassion. It is not a life we choose; it is a life we live.

In Thessalonians, we hear that same call to remain alert.  We are to live in faith and love; we are to hold onto the hope of salvation.  We are to be a community of encouragement.  We are to build one another up in faith and hope and love; to be a people of gift rather than possession. As Tom walked The Way, we are disciples on the way.  Like him, amidst grief, hospitality, loss, companionship, simplicity, provocation and the telling of stories we are to live with hope, purpose trust and generous love.

So we pray:

Heavenly Lord,
you long for the world's salvation:
stir us from apathy,
restrain us from excess
and revive in us new hope
that all creation will one day be healed
in Jesus Christ our Lord.