Nov19SunNovember 19, 2017
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’d like to once again introduce myself as Pastor Sebastian Meadows-Hemer, esp. for our radio listeners. Hello out there, wherever you are! It’s a great honour to be invited into this pulpit in this most beautiful church of St. Matthews, Kitchener. There’s a lot of history and tradition here, from Pastors Hoffmann and Tappert, Schmieder, Brill, and many other pastoral leaders, most recently Pastors David, Katherine and Olavi, and now myself and Carey, my wife, as newly called pastors of this congregation.
We have felt warmly welcomed by so many people in the past few weeks, and even though this is only our second Sunday, it already seems like we’ve been here for a long time.
I want to start off with a few words of thanks. Thank you to all members of the Call Committee and esp. its Chairman Tim, for your dedication and hard work and for sensing the Spirit’s guidance in selecting us as candidates. A special word of thanks to Chair of the Board Jim and his wife Cathy for welcoming us when we had just barely moved in to our new home, to Sandy for the welcoming casserole, Corinne and Leanne who are continuing to help orient us, as well as the other Board members, and Committee Chairs with whom we’ve been in contact these busy first few days. Thank you to the many welcoming faces, some of whom I can identify by name, most of you, not yet. Thank you to all who participated in last Sundays’ wonderful installation service, including of course the choir and soloists! And thank you, most especially to you, the members of St. Matthews, for extending a call to us to be your pastors, way back in July. Now we are here, after 3-1/2 months of waiting. And as Pastor Olavi quipped last week, we are correctly installed, just like a light-bulb or a furnace, so we can now hopefully function properly.
A few leaders have told me how they felt that Carey and my gifts and talents were going to be a good fit for this church, and I have to agree. I’ve struggled a little to express how I feel about this call, besides saying that I’m excited and overjoyed to be here (which of course is true), and how at awe I am to be leading worship in this special, holy place. But maybe one other way I could put it, is that I can’t imagine another church in the Eastern Synod where I’d rather be pastor. (I wouldn’t be anywhere else, given the choice)
So I’m glad to be here, in this little piece of paradise, to see where God is leading us in the weeks, months and years ahead, and to participate with you, the people of St. Matthews, in God’s mission and work here in the heart of Kitchener.
(Just a small request: I know there are a lot of expectations you have, and many people want to talk with us about this or that, but please be patient, we’re gradually getting settled in (and working out child care!), and in this busy time of year we’re trying to prioritize our tasks. Thank you for your patience with us as we get settled, in these first few weeks and months of our ministry together).
So now, after these introductory remarks, we now turn to our Gospel Reading from Matthew, to the parable of the talents, or in other words “a story about investment and risk”.
In these last few weeks of the church year, a cold, grey time of the year, our Sunday readings are dealing with “end times’; we wonder: what happens at the end of life, of the world, at the end of time? What is the ultimate goal of Creation?, these texts ponder. And what are the signs of the times, how can you tell, “the end is near”?
According to Matthew: in these times of “the end” as Christians, we need to be watchful, we need to be smart, and we need to use God’s gifts wisely. (Christianity and faith are not to be otherworldly, following Jesus is not just an exercise in philosophy. We believe in God who was incarnate, enfleshed. Not just spiritual.) So in this day and age: keep awake. Use your brains. Seize the opportunities that are presented.
Today, Jesus tells us a story that illustrates the choices we have to make in these times. A rich man goes on a journey, and loans lots of money to his servants while he is gone. 5 talents to the first servant, and so on, (it’s a familiar story). Now a talent was a huge amount of money, they say 15 years wages of a day labourer, so let’s say, that’s about 2-1/2 million dollars, that the first servant gets. The second servant gets 1 million, and the third gets half a million dollars entrusted to him.
The first two get into business, double their investment. The third servant, decides to basically do nothing, he digs a hole and hides the money. It’s a safe, risk-free option, that probably many people would have considered in his day. There’s little risk (initially) in hiding your talent, your gift, doing nothing, and hoping for the best.
After a long time, the master returns, finds the first two servants trustworthy because they seized the opportunity and were good (and shrewd) businessmen, and rewards them even more. The third servant tries to justify himself for his inaction, but the master sees right through him, and criticizes him for not at least doing the very minimum, the no-brainer solution of putting the money in the bank. (At least you could have gotten interest, the master cries!). How could you live so cautiously? “If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?” (MSG) And the third servant is punished.
Like with most of Jesus’ parables, there are a few angles to the story, but I want to focus on one angle in particular:
how as Christians we need to take risks, because following Jesus means taking paths that are challenging and uncertain. The way of Jesus is risky, and we need to embrace that.
And I think that this message is relevant to myself personally, and also to St. Matthews right now as well.
Remember: the third servant, who is called wicked, and lazy by his master, wants to do nothing in the face of a challenge. He wants to preserve the status quo, bury his treasure, do nothing and hope for the best.
In life, often it is not enough to just maintain things the way they are. As followers of Christ, sometimes, preserving and maintaining is not enough. Because the status quo is not sustainable. The existing state of affairs cannot be maintained.
Let me tell you a little about my year. The church I was serving until October, Thornhill Lutheran, is a small, elderly congregation, made up mostly of German post-war immigrants and refugees. The financial situation there was deteriorating, because consecutive deficits had eaten up all the cash reserves. The writing was on the wall, that something drastic needed to be done. It was only a matter of time until the parsonage would have to be sold, to free up cash to pay the bills.
The past year or two, it was becoming clear that my family would be moving out soon, and we would have to find a new home somewhere. The status quo was no longer sustainable, change was inevitable. Sooner or later in 2018 at the latest, we would have to pack up and either move into a new, smaller parsonage or buy a new home if the congregation decided not to buy a new parsonage.
And let me tell you, I hate moving, so the prospect for the future was not comfortable, but, I understood that change needed to happen, somehow or another. I basically knew that I’d have to move. And with house prices the way they are in Toronto, as Carey and I later joked, we probably would have had to move to Kitchener anyway.
And so we did.
I hate moving, frankly. These past few months have been very difficult for me. It was a stressful time, and moving with two young kids is different than moving when you’re single or freshly married, as it was the last times I moved. But, at the end of the day, I’m starting to get settled, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, and the future looks great here for my work at St. Matthews.
So…this past year I learned that sometimes you can’t bury your head in the sand, you can’t always ride the status quo train, and you have to seize the opportunity, and risk it, bear the discomfort and the chaos, and I’m here in the pulpit today as proof of that.
The little I know about St. Matthews is that there are some similarities here to this year’s journey for me. Several years ago you realized that the status quo was not sustainable. You needed to develop a plan, a vision for the future, and so your Vision Committee has been working hard for more than 4 years to try to make the physical space you have work smarter and more efficiently, and to be more effective stewards of the gifts God (with our forebears’ help and talents) have given us, here at St. Matthews. You too are seizing the opportunity, risking it, ready to bear the discomfort and the chaos.
The time ahead won’t be easy, and there still is much work to be done, and then many changes and some moving, but I feel, with God’s help, you’re on the right track, and the fantastic leaders here have done great work to put you where you are right now. You are being trustworthy and faithful servants and stewards of God’s talents and gifts by embarking on this uncertain but exciting path of visioning and developing for the future.
Our Gospel text calls us to be good and engaged stewards of what God has entrusted to us. We are invited to take risks, because we don’t know what the future holds, only that God holds the future. And we are encouraged to use our brains, our emotions, our talents and gifts “to make our life an offering to God, that all may live.”