Welcome to worship for this 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 19, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. As always, in it you will find the order and words of worship, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. The words you need to know will be on your screen and the sermon can be found on this page under the actual video.
To enhance your online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle in your space, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. You are also welcome to participate in communion by having something small to eat and drink ready to consume at the appropriate time during the service. Further instruction will be given when the time is right.
May God’s generosity and blessing touch your lives, this day and always!
Open our hearts and minds, O God, to the power of your illuminated and living Word that empowers us to be your people living in this world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Any of you ever want to change your name? I totally have. Growing up, I hated my name, because it wasn’t exactly common or uncommon. Not really unusual but also not exactly usual. It’s a name that people have heard of, it’s in the bible after all, but for a lot of my friends I’d be the only Nathan they ever met.
Because of this, people often would mishear what my name is when we first meet. Many times when I first introduce myself, people would think my name is Ethan, Jason, or David even. I’ve had people call me Winston, Wilson, and Mason. Those ones hit a bit different because I think they’re less common than my actual name.
So I always wished that my name was something different. Something easier to hear, remember, and flows off your tongue better. Because names are important, aren’t they? It is how we’re identified, recognised, and remembered. It’s how people know us, how they understand what we’re like, how they perceive our being. This is why naming our kids was so hard for my wife and me. For each one we hummed and hawed for pretty much our whole 30-day window before we came up what we did. There is just a lot riding on names.
Like, names make you think of something. They evoke emotion in you. They draw on your memories, associations, and we react to them in some way. Maybe that is why so many celebrities change their name, along with some royalty and I think like all the popes. Some names just perk our ears, while others are forgotten as soon as we hear them. And when you have a powerful name, then it commands more respect. Like how the hyenas would react in fear and awe when they hear Mufasa’s name in Disney’s The Lion King. Or if your name is perhaps not as powerful, then maybe people might think they could walk all over you. Like Urkel, from Family Matters.
So all this talk about names and the reactions they evoke got me thinking about what the master’s name might have been in today’s parable. This is another difficult one that I never really liked because how it seems so unfair. But like with all the difficult parables that we got as of late, I wonder if we don’t like them because of the way we automatically look at them. But if we dig a bit deeper and find what is really going on, then maybe we can get a better idea of what the lesson being taught is.
And again, we know this story. This master is about to go away for a minute and calls in 3 of his employees. Much to their surprise, he gives them exorbitant amounts of money but doesn’t really explain why. Two of the three servants go and invest that money and make more, but the last one was a bit scared and buried the money to play it safe. And when the master returns, he commends those that played around with his money, and totally condemned the one that didn’t. So he praised those servants for acting irresponsible, selfish, and a bit presumptuous in thinking that they could do anything with that money that was given to them. But then the third guy was punished for being responsible, trustworthy, and considerate of the inexplicable loan that was given to him.
Doesn’t seem to make sense.
But then I think about why those servants did what they did. There was no explicit instruction on what to do with that money. No precedent from what we know. So where do they get the guts to go and do what they did?
Well, much like the very first and original Star Wars movie, it feels like we were dropped into the middle of the story. We don’t know anything about these characters other than what we’re told in the parable. We don’t know their history, their personalities, their names.
But we do know what they did, and how the master reacted. We know how proud the two were for making the extra money and how happy their boss was for them doing it. And we know how afraid the third servant was of his employer, so he acted accordingly, according to what he thought of his boss.
And that is where the boss took offense. Not at the action or inaction, not at the misunderstanding, not even at the lack of profit. But the boss got angry at the third guy when he said that he knows that he is a harsh man, reaping where he doesn’t sow and gathering where he doesn’t scatter seed. So in his eyes, playing it safe was the correct course of action.
Is he harsh? Well, now he seems like it but let’s not forget that he initially gave all this money to his subordinates. Does he reap where he doesn’t sow and gather where he doesn’t scatter seed? We don’t know this, but it wouldn’t seem like it since he didn’t tell his servants to make him more money, but just kind of gave it to them without any rhyme or reason other than that he just wanted to. So if the story ended with the master leaving, then really it would seem like he is generous, gracious, and loving. He is benevolent, trusting, and kind. And even if the story ended after the first two servants gave an account of the money, he’d seem the same. It isn’t until the third one explains and gives excuses and misreads the master’s intentions, does the boss actually lose it.
Because this servant just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that his master is actually not harsh, greedy, or mean. This third guy wasn’t punished because he didn’t play with someone else’s money, didn’t follow orders, or didn’t make a profit, but because he didn’t appreciate his master’s generosity, didn’t try to understand his master’s personality, didn’t know his master’s name.
The master’s name that should have brought comfort, brought this servant anguish. This name that offered peace, but instead was accepted in fear. The name above all names that empowers, enriches, and justifies was taken in vain. It was tarnished, dragged through the mud, and completely discredited who the boss is and what the boss is all about.
And so I think Jesus here is telling us to know the name of our God. How do we hear it? God has many too, such as Adonai, YHWH, Jehovah. Names like El Shaddai, Emmanuel, Elohim. Names like the King of Kings, Creator, Redeemer, Lord. Do these names evoke fear or comfort? Does God reach out to punish us or forgive us? Did God send Jesus to condemn or save?
See the problem with the third servant is that he didn’t get it, instead he perverted the name of the master and shoehorned it into his own emotions, his own paradigms and paranoias, his own narrow ways of thinking. And honestly, he wasn’t, isn’t, and won’t ever be the only one that does this.
Throughout our history both ancient and modern and even in our present times we have people taking the name of God to justify their horrific actions and agendas. We have people claiming the name of God to gain more power and militaristic might against those they hate. We have people changing the name of God to fit into their own name, thinking that they know better, rule better, and just are better than the living and everlasting God that created the universe.
So it’s clear that this name of God might be different for different people, depending on how we hear it, how we perceive it, and how we know it. The truth of the matter is, God continually empowers us and abundantly blesses us with forgiveness and love. It’s up to us what we do with it, how we understand it, and how we accept it this gracious and lavish generosity.
See, the name of God brings not war, but peace. The person of God brings not division, but unity. The salvation of God brings not authority to kick others out, exclude, or hate, but it allows us to see who we are as God’s beloved, welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom. This God truly is all powerful, but only because God is all love and all grace, drawing us into community, and inviting us to enter into the joy of our master.
So as we approach the end of the church year, a year in which we learned about the name, the person, the salvation of God in our lives and the grace, mercy, and love that it brings, may we always recognise this name in our hearts, empowering us to be God’s people in the world, reflecting God’s forgiveness, community, and welcome to all people for all time. Thanks be to God. Amen.