Proper 29A: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

You know I love the quote attributed to author Anne Lamott that, “you can be sure you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.”

Usually, when I call upon that quote, it is in the context of a reminder that everyone, whether we like them or not, agree with them or not, is a beloved child of God.  Treating them as though they are children of God can be a real challenge.


The parable from this morning’s Gospel brought this quote up for me again.

But the question it raised for me in the context of this parable is how many of us move through our lives of faith having created an image of God that leaves God hating us – the very ones who have created that image.  How many of us believe in an image of an angry, disappointed, disapproving God we have constructed ourselves, rather than trust in an image of a loving, forgiving, reconciling God that God has revealed to us?

What are the consequences for us when we, as Robert Capon puts it, “fearfully try to deal with God on the basis of what we think [God] is like rather than on the basis of what we trust him to be in Jesus.”

We tend to hear the parable proclaimed this morning as a rather harsh judgement on a servant whose only crime was not making the master more money, though he gave back everything the master had given him.

Why the harsh punishment?  Why the outer darkness with all its accompanying gnashing and weeping?

I have a very dear friend.  She is the kind of friend who, though we don’t see each other very often at all, when we are together it is as though no time has passed.  When I am with her, I know that I will laugh, I know that I will be known and I will be heard.  Most importantly, I know that I will be loved.  

But it wasn’t always like this.  Well, it was.  Until it wasn’t.  And then it was again.

We met when we were tweens (though we didn’t know that term then) at the summer camp where we spent most of our summers growing up. We were inseparable, with long talks under the starlit sky and shared dreams.

Eventually, she went off to college, and then I did.  After college she started her new life with her new husband and baby and I started mine.  

For reasons I’ll never fully understand, somewhere along the line I stopped calling.  I stopped longing for the long talks.  I didn’t want to share the dreams I was pursuing.

Chalk some of this up to the lifespan of a friendship, perhaps.  But I think along the way, I stopped trusting her to be who I knew her to have been in my life, and I started believing she was the voice of judgement that spoke from the recesses of my own fearful heart.

I stopped trusting who she was, and starting thinking who she might be.  I stopped loving and started fearing.

Eventually, through fits and starts and some hard conversations, we dipped our toes back into the waters of a friendship based in trust and love and today, she is the person in the world who knows me as well as anyone, and she loves me anyway.

This relationship is, for me, a real life experience of my struggles with God.  How often in life do I base my relationship with God on my fear of who it is I think God might be, rather than trusting in the love promised to me?

How often in my relationship with God have I not wanted to hear what I thought God might have to say, so I have stopped praying, stopped longing, stopped sharing the dreams of my heart, only to find myself in what can easily be described as an outer darkness of my own making.

When I find myself in the outer darkness; when I find myself weeping and gnashing my teeth; when I feel as though I am cast out of the party that everyone else seems to be enjoying, how often is it not that God has cast me there as punishment, but where I have cast myself out of fear?

Is the God with whom you are in relationship a God of your own making, based on what you think about God, rationalize about God, theorize, or theologize about God?  Or is it based on the truth that Jesus places before us – that God loves us, that God trusts us with what God has given us, and that God wants us to live our lives fully, without fear and in abundance.

That’s the mistake the third servant makes.  It isn’t about fiscal management, it is about taking a risk. It is about the abundance of God’s generosity.  It is about letting go of what we have heard about God as the angry master waiting for us to mess up and, instead, trusting in God as the generous giver who can’t wait to see what we do with what God has given us, whatever that is.

The outer darkness is a punishment of the third servant’s own making.  This servant can’t access the freedom the other two enjoy, can’t feel the joy the other two feel, doesn’t know the freedom that comes from knowing that a life lived out of abundance is a life that gives us even more of what it is we have been given to share.

Elise invited us last week to imagine that the mistake the five bridesmaids made was, perhaps, that they believed the other five that they didn’t have enough to deserve being at the party.

Perhaps that is the mistake the third servant made as well.  Whose image of the master did he choose to believe? While the other two trusted in an image of abundance and delight and celebration, the third let a fearful image he had been taught rule his life. And so they dug a whole, buried everything the master had given them and waited in fear for the master’s return.

Whose image of God do you believe?  Your own?  A wrathful judge who waits around the corner to catch and condemn?  

What image of God might you start choosing to trust instead?  Perhaps one of love?  One of delight?  

Like my relationship with my childhood friend, our relationships with God are not always smooth; they are not always linear; they are not always clear. Sometimes there are fits and starts.  Almost always there are hard conversations.

But if we can start to let go of the image of God we know, we might begin to see a new image of God we can trust – an image of a God who knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us anyway, loves us completely, loves us abundantly.

And all God asks in return is that we do the same.



© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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