Sermon for Proper 28, Year A, November 15, 2020

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18        Psalm 90:1-8, 12       1 Thessalonians 5:1-11             Matthew 25:14-30

                In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, he writes, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  Just what is “the day of the Lord?” For many, it means “judgement day,” the day in which we will be judged and admitted – or not, into heaven.  Some read the Revelation to John and envision an apocalyptic end of the world.  Many believe “the judgement day” comes to us individually on the day of our death.  Is this day, a day to be feared? 

          Paul’s letter also speaks of the members of the church being “children of the light and children of the day.”  He tells them to “put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation,” for they have received salvation through Christ.  As members of the Christ’s body, the church, he is speaking to us as well. 

The most significant verse from Paul’s letter for me is the instruction he gives to us, “Therefore,” he says, “encourage one another and build up each other.”  On October 27th, like a thief in the night that stole my heart, I received the call that no parent wants to receive.  It was a call from a Little Rock detective to tell me our son had died. 

Early the next morning, knowing that Scott McSpadden gets up early, I called our Senior Warden as I was walking Jack.  He was at my home before I finished my walk and told me who he had called and planned to call.  The stream of visitors and calls began immediately and was overwhelming – not unwelcomed, just overwhelming. 

One person said to me, “you’ve down a wonderful job taking care of us, now it is time for us to take care of you.”  You have done what St. Paul said to do, you have been encouraging Cathy and I and building us up in what has been the worst time of our lives. The support I have shared with many of you during difficult time pales by comparison to what we have just experienced.  Reflecting on this, I realize that is because we have been supported by our faith community.  Each call, each text, each card, each visit, each post, each message, each meal has been an expression of your love and concern – and it has helped immensely. 

          Our son’s story and his battle with depression and alcohol is not one that I kept secret, but it was his story – so I did not speak of it openly in public.  I prayed daily that he would get the help he needed to be healed of his depression and his addiction to alcohol.  Our family did everything we knew to do – but in the end his disease took his life.  Our family struggled to help him for several years.  It is not a struggle unfamiliar to many in this church.  Virtually even family has a member afflicted with a mental illness or an addiction.  These are diseases that affect the entire family, often in secret.  These are diseases, not weaknesses or sins, and they need to be understood in this light. 

From the stories people have shared with us of Andrew’s influence on their lives, we know that his life was not defined by how it ended.  Story after story reminded us of the person he was before his disease took his life.  Even as the demons of depression and addiction took control of him, he continued to care more about others than himself. 

          One story I heard was of a day when he came upon a child shivering from the cold.  He literally gave her the coat off his back.  It was his only heavy coat. When he lost all his possessions in a house fire, he told me what he cared about most was that he had managed to awaken his roommate and get him out of the house alive. 

These stories remind me of the person who helped shape the lives of others – including myself.  Watching how he responded to others, hearing him talk about what he believed to be important, challenged me to be more considerate and giving.  He was quick to help others, even if it meant doing without. This may not have always been healthy or best for him, but it spoke to me of his character.  He was and gave his love to others, just not himself. 

          The Episcopal Burial Office is an Easter service, for we live “in the everlasting hope of the resurrection.”  Last Sunday a priest who had attended Andrew’s funeral, spoke of him referencing this part of our liturgy and noting that the key word here is hope.  He said that we may not know what form our resurrection may take, but our faith includes a belief that “in death life is changed, not ended.”  These past couple of weeks have help me understand this in new ways. 

          Today and in the days to come I may wallow in my grief – I probably will, but I will also give thanks for the gift of his life and the lessons he taught me.  I am very familiar with the grief of others who have lost a child, now I am experiencing it personally.

          Grief, like mental illness and depression, can be overwhelming.  It can be isolating and interfere with our ability to love and be a part of our family’s lives.  It affects the whole family and can even challenge our faith in God.  It cannot; however, separate us from the love of God. Nothing, not even death itself can do that. 

          In the parable we heard this morning, the slave who did not use his master’s talent wisely is thrown out into the outer darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  This is in line with some people’s understanding of a judgement day.  The master returns and calls his slaves to come before him and account for what he had entrusted to them.  He has given to each of them according to their ability, and two of them use their master’s money wisely and return to him more than he had given them.  The one who buried his talent is the one who suffered the master’s wrath. 

          The belief that we must use what we have been given wisely or we will be judged unfit to enter into God’s kingdom is in stark contrast to our understanding of a God who would send his only Son to be tortured and executed in order to redeem us.  God’s love will ultimately win the battle over the evil that has us believe we are not worthy of God’s love. 

          I read this parable not as an indictment against those who neglect to do God’s will, but as reminder that turning our backs against God leads to suffering.  We need to be children of the light; we need to turn our focus toward God so that we can experience God’s love in abundance. 

          Grief has a way of turning our hearts toward the darkness, but the light of Christ you have shared with us keeps us from losing sight of the light.  This is why we give thanks to you for encouraging us and building us up.  Last week, I received a thank you from a member for opening the church for personal prayers.  In it she said, “It helped me a lot because I strongly realized that an empty church isn’t a church, it’s a building.”  Cathy and I have experienced the church this past couple of weeks and we are grateful.  Thank you.

Let us pray.

          We give thanks to you, Lord, for the gift of our church family.  You fill our hearts with love and enable us to encourage and build up one another so that together we might serve as a witness to you to others in need of comfort and hope.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.