Nov 19, 2023
Having grown up in the military, packing up and moving every few years was part of my life as early as I could remember.
Our move to Illinois, though, the year I started third grade, wasn’t like the ones before it.
My mother didn’t stand in the rooms with the moving company ensuring that her china was wrapped just so, that the teak table and chairs remained unscratched, that her piano was moved gently.
And our things, she didn’t hear my stories about my stuffed animals and dolls, my books -- the explanations for why they most certainly needed to make the trip north.
Instead, without thought or selection, without narrative history, or biography, everything from my drawers, closet, and every surface in my room, was unceremoniously picked up and dumped into boxes, which, when filled up, were sealed closed, headed for burial in a moving truck.
One box left me deeply troubled. The woman from the moving company’s fleshy arms hurled more than held my treasures into the cold darkness of a box, and while popping a cigarette in her mouth and casting her eyes about the room for what must have been her lighter, sealed the box and got up with a harrumph.
She didn’t seem to like her job, I thought.
And then it hit me. Squee! Oh no! I dashed around the room looking for my favorite stuffed animal, Squee the mouse.
Squee had been my companion from an early age. And since my mother had died a few months before, he had come back into my life as a great comfort.
But he was not on my bed. He was not under it or anywhere to be found. I was in a panic!
Squee was in the box!
I was terrified for him.
You OK honey? The moving lady said when she came back in. But I couldn’t speak. And I sat down, with my back to the box, legs curled into the hug of my arms.
After dinner My dad helped me unseal the box and dig through it, until we found him, Squee. A book had been pressing into his snout and left a triangular imprint, so I gave him extra love there.
Many weeks later, after our long drive north in our convertible VW, the moving truck arrived at our new quarters, and we began unpacking.
In one of the boxes marked “girl’s room” I unearthed a jar with coins and a note in it . . . “I owe you” the note said. “On June 1, 1973. I owe Mary Carter Greene $2.35 and will pay one dime every day after June 10 if not paid by then. Signed, Alan Greene.”
Wait a minute! I had hit the jack pot! This was January and my brother never HAD paid this back. His debt was more than 200 days overdue. That buried promise had made me rich!
Joy and Woe are woven fine, William Blake wrote.
“It is right
it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
I couldn’t have been happier, but there was much weeping and gashing of teeth, when I brought the credit slip to my brother.
It wasn’t long before our dad had to get involved.
14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;
19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
Matthew’s parable is most often read one of two ways – each as contradictory to the other as the story of my young self – able to love so fiercely I would stop the world for a stuffed animal, and equally able to extort my only brother’s last penny, if I thought it were owed me.
Although sometimes read this way, Matthew’s story does not point to a Kingdom where some are denied because they fail to participate.
The story draws attention to an unjust system.
The parable would have been heard in its day as a description of the times– when peasants were extorted and their land was taken by those who held the concentrated wealth of powerful families and influence as city officials;
The parable reflects how the early followers of Jesus struggled in difficult times to know how to best wait for his return and how to live in the meantime.
Should they play into the social demands to do the dirty work of the system or live in a radically different way that might realize the Kingdom Jesus described earlier in Matthew?
An act of subversion and resistance, those who heard Matthew’s Gospel were then and are now invited to exercise the same.
Unjust social systems, accumulation of wealth by the few, and greed of the many, as described in the parable, persist to this day, of course.
Andy Knox at his reimaginingthefuture blog1 retells the parable for our global economy this way . . .
For it will be like the CEO of a big chocolate company, who went to the Ivory Coast to ensure a good flow of chocolate into the West and ever expand his chocolate empire.
He called three of his most entrusted leaders to himself and asked them to ensure more chocolate at a lower price. He set one of them, with the most experience over 5 factories, the next one over 3 factories and the last one over 1 factory.
The first two . . .knew if they did well, they would secure their own future in the company and good income for their families. . . they came up with a cunning plan. They decided the best way would be to get cheap or even free labor.
So, they enslaved children from the surrounding area . . . (from) families who were too poor to keep them. (They) . . . put them to work in the fields, picking the cocoa, or . . . at the grinding machines, under terrible . . . conditions, in which many of the children died or were abused by hard task masters.
The third manager saw what the other two were up to . . . He refused to enslave children and couldn’t understand the motivation of the CEO.
He chose to pay people a fair wage, keep their working conditions good and have strong morale amongst his team.
The CEO returned. He was . . . full of praise for the ‘business acumen’ of the first two. He paid them well, ensuring his ‘fair trade’ logo and set them up for even more . . .
The third guy was out . . . sacked from the company with no right of appeal. Confused and dismayed . . . (he) continued try to live a life that restored people’s humanity and hoped for “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible”.
Andy Knox’s retelling of the parable demonstrates how Woe and joy are woven fine.
It is hard to do the right thing in systems that demand and oppress at worst and enthrall and distract at best. But it is possible.
It can be hard to see into supply chains like the one described in parable of the chocolate magnate, but to act justly in a problematic system, we can consider our consumption in the first place and be intentional about how we spend our money.
As someone who loves shopping, I’ll be the first to admit that making changes can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, there is research to support next steps.
A Nature article, “Scientists’ warning on affluence,”2 for instance, lays out a strong correlation between affluence and the growing climate crisis.
The research doesn’t stop at gloom and doom; It offers steps to correct for our part in the system.
“For over half a century,” the article says, “worldwide growth in affluence has continuously increased resource use and pollutant emissions far more rapidly than these have been reduced through better technology.
“The affluent citizens of the world.” The article continues, “are responsible for most environmental impacts and are . . .” (here’s the parable at play) “central to any future prospect of retreating to safer environmental conditions.”
The research-based article lays out some clear, if not easy, behavioral changes we can make in the U.S. including avoiding . . . oversized, unnecessary and duplicate goods and services; shifting from animal to plant-based food sources; sharing and repairing before replacing goods; and pushing for regulation that reflects concerns for people and the planet.
These may be new habits, even counter cultural to the clarion call for the new, new thing in the days leading up to Black Friday and the biggest shopping season of the year.
But this is what our Gospel teaches us. The Kingdom of God will be brought by the courageous, even the radical. These sorts of changes are necessary, and they are possible.
This sort of faith brings us here today where our shared communion unites us with God and as the Grace Cathedral community.
Our shared commitment to stand up for God’s creation and all of humanity, and against systems that oppress, degrade, and injure, means we do not have to be the alone in metaphorically burying the talent.
In the radical presence of the church still standing, still growing, still thriving, we respond the crises of our time as a community.
We have not yet been a community to stand back and watch God’s people get boxed up and sealed away from hope, and I know we won’t allow God’s creation to suffer that either.
Have courage and meet our time – this is the message of our parable today. The third man in the parable does not sow despair by planting that talent, he seeds hope.
Woe and joy are knit together.
God is our source of this joy and the presence that will provide all we need to meet the times.
So, this week, which we mark as Ingathering Sunday, we give thanks for all who have pledged to support the cathedral financially,
and we nudge those who are waiting, to invest your gifts and treasures in this cathedral community.
With courage, together, we are 100% Grace.