Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bags of God (I mean Gold!)

We have been studying the the Parable of the Talents around Nativity lately. I like that the New International Version calls it "the parable of the bags of gold": the description is so evocative of wealth. And I also decided to leave my typo - "Bags of GOD" in the post title above, because, well, that typo says absolutely everything. I'll say more about that at the end.

You remember the parable (find it here if you need a refresher!): the master of the house goes on a long journey and entrusts to his three servants bags of gold. The one entrusted with five bags "put his money to work" and gained five more...the one with two the same, and the one with one bag, well, he dug a hole in the ground and buried his money.

You know the punchline.. when the master returned and asked for his gold back, the first two servants were complimented and rewarded with "a share in their master's happiness." But the third, upon digging up his bag and giving it back to the master, was called "a wicked and lazy servant" and sent into the outer darkness for his failure to ....

What?  This is where the discussion and bible study gets interesting. I have carefully, and I thought, convincingly, explained to several groups at church that this is a story about fear, about what God desires from us regarding abundance. For me, the failure of  "wicked and lazy servant" (I like saying that loudly, it's fun!) is a failure of courage, a failure of extravagant action leading to abundance. Which to me is what God is like, when we find ways to act out of freedom and courage, rather than fear.

Some people agree, to be sure. But others, they aren't buying it. They just as convincingly argue that the one who saved, who maintained the wealth he was given to safeguard, was the prudent one, the careful one, the good steward. And the question of the banker and interest, well, let's not even go there.

This morning was the third time I have studied this parable this week, and the outcome was the same...some agreed with me, some supported the burier of the one bag of gold. As a matter of interest, I also participated in a fascinating program this week where the presenter led us in an exercise about how to get at different views about a this case, money! The responses were are varied as my parishioners', not a consensus by a long shot. The people described their relationship with money as happy, dangerous, frightening, abundant, scarce, powerful, shaming,  a wide range of words. And all of those descriptions were understandable and absolutely right.

So back to Bags of God, I mean Bags of Gold. How might we begin to understand our relationship to God more deeply? To God more deeply? In our fear and in our courage, in our understanding of abundance and of scarcity. In our need to conserve and our need to give away freely. It is all well and good for Stacey to speak about courage and abundance. It is also well and good for others to speak of other understandings. It is in these holy conversations that we finally put the Bags in the middle of the table, untie them and look inside. And find Gold and God together.

The Golden Rock, Fallen Leaf Lake

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