Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
What’s the Gospel worth to you?
Nearly twenty years I experienced a heart-wrenching loss. I was in the penultimate year of seminary formation for ordination as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church and stationed at a large suburban parish outside of Omaha, Nebraska. And I was in love.
Although it was difficult ministry at times, I enjoyed walking alongside and serving the people of that community. We were a diverse parish, with women and men from every imaginable background, including several hundred Latino immigrants, many of whom were caught in the limbo of the US immigration system. Over the course of the year, I preached, taught, visited the sick and dying in hospital, and sometimes made a fool of myself as I spoke Spanish.
All the while serving in that community, I had a lingering feeling that not all would be well. A year prior to going to that parish, I disclosed to my seminary formation team a secret I long kept secret. After several years of trying to hide and oppress my feelings, I knew I could continue no longer. I yearned to be honest. I wanted to be a good priest and knew the only way I could was by being fully transparent.
Initially, the priests of the seminary were supportive and surprisingly even encouraging. My bishop on the other hand — well, not so understanding and kind. Without going into much detail, I was forbidden from telling anyone else what I shared with the seminary team and warned I needed to change. If I did otherwise, the consequences would be dire.
Painful though that meeting was, I continued to discern and prepare for ordination as a priest. Yet deep down inside I wondered if the Church would ever accept me. Still, I pressed on as I couldn’t deny the overwhelming call.
Back in the parish I continued to serve and felt the call to ordained ministry even stronger. As I said, I was in love. I remember preaching on Ash Wednesday and in the middle of my sermon glancing over the congregation. As I looked across the assembly, I saw the faces of those I loved: the women, men, and children with whom I spent close to a year in ministry.
In a matter of weeks I was scheduled to be ordained a deacon in the Church, one of the final steps to priesthood ordination. The seminary leadership team enthusiastically recommended me as a candidate for holy orders to my bishop. As such, according to church law I was to spend a week in silent retreat at a monastery to prepare for the day of ordination.
Filled with joy and excited about what was to take place, I traveled to a Trappist monastery, a community of monks who lived an austere life of prayer, labour, and solitude. Something strange took place at that monastery. As I prayed in the early morning hours of the third day, I felt God say to me that I was not to be ordained at that time. At first I thought my own fears were coming out in my prayer. However, as I prayed and discussed with my spiritual director, it became clear something was about to change. I was deeply saddened. I mourned and cried. It did not make sense. Why would God lead me that far only to say no?
When I returned to the parish where I served at the time, a letter awaited me in the mail. It was from the archbishop’s office and it notified me in two sentences that I was to report to the director of formation and archbishop at the end of the week. After a few years of being in seminary, I knew the letter was not good.
And indeed it was not good. In few words I was told I couldn’t be ordained because of who I was. The words pierced my heart. Everything I knew, all I longed to be, was wiped away with those words. To make matters worse, I was to tell everyone I knew, including the parish I served, that I made the decision to leave, further compounding the pain and sadness in my heart.
Fortunately, by God’s grace I disclosed to a handful of friends the notice of the meeting and my suspicions of what would learn in that meeting. All of my friends assured me of their love and support. And for the first time in my life, I learned the value and the inestimable wealth of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I experienced the mercy and compassion of God in my pastor as I walked into his office. With open arms he embraced me and wept. I felt the lavish love of God as I drove up the long driveway of a friend’s farm only to see the wife standing at the end of the drive waiting to welcome me to their home. I felt the parental love of God in my parents, who, upon hearing the news, took time away from their jobs and drove nearly 1,000 km to be with me.
We are told, in the Gospel of Luke, that Jesus inaugurated his ministry by reading a passage from the Prophet Isaiah. In a few short words, Jesus announced the plan and propose of his Gospel:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
I discovered the abundant gift and treasure of the Gospel and felt Jesus’ words come alive for me in the love and compassion of my friends and family. To be sure, the journey of healing and renewal took many years, but every one of those persons remained by my side and witnessed, through word and action, the Gospel to me. They lived Jesus’ words and proclaimed release, recovery, freedom, and the favour of God.
What’s the Gospel worth to you?
While today’s lesson from the Gospel of Matthew might confuse and perplex you, or perhaps even make you wonder what sort of God would cast out a man who buried his master’s treasure, the parable’s meaning is so much richer than what we might first see upon reading it. This is a parable of the abundance of the Gospel, the treasure Jesus entrusted with those of us who are his disciples. This is a parable of the Gospel’s inestimable worth and value to those who long to hear its life-giving words. Let me explain.
When reading or hearing the parables of Jesus, we often go to the end of the parable to find its meaning. In doing so, we often miss the point or meaning of the parable. Such is often the case with today’s parable. I’m suspect many of you are left wondering why the master was so cruel in the parable. And after last week’s parable of the ten maidens, you might be even wondering what sort of God Jesus is talking about. In fact, how does this parable even align with Jesus’ proclamation that he has come to proclaim freedom for the oppressed?
To get at the heart of the message, we need to pay careful attention to two details: the talents and the time.
First, the talents. While many Christians assume talents are simply another form of currency, a type of coin if you wish, that is not the case. Instead, the word talent refers to a great sum of money. The Greek word tálanton (τάλαντον) was a unit of mass measurement. For the ancient Greeks, one talent was 26kg of silver. The Romans considered a talent to be 100 libra or pounds, roughly the weight of a small person. Some persons would suggest that a typical talent was much lighter, weighing about 33kg. Even at that amount, the price of one talent of gold in our modern day prices would be extraordinary.
I looked up the price of gold as I wrote this sermon the other day. As of last Tuesday, 1kg of gold is worth $60,305.48. One talent of gold, in other words, would cost us $1,9990,133.64. To be sure, the value of gold would’ve been much different in Jesus’ day; even then, however, a talent would’ve been a significant amount. Now imagine if someone entrusted us with five talents of gold; what would you do with nearly ten million dollars? We don’t have to go that extreme to feel the weight of this story. Instead, we simply have to imagine ourselves as the one who was entrusted with one talent and ponder what we would do if asked to ensure such an amount prospers and thrives. In telling this parable, Jesus is making abundantly clear that the treasure entrusted with the master’s servants is more valuable than anything we can conceive of and it is a treasure that is to be abundantly shared. The talent is symbolic of the Good News, the estimable value of the Gospel.
While biblical scholars urge us to exercise caution in identify Jesus or God with the principle figure of most parables, most suggest that the master in this story is Jesus and we the servants whom Jesus entrusts the treasure, namely the Gospel. The reason scholars suggest this is because the master goes away for a very long time. (Mt. 25:19) The inclusion of time in this parable is important; the early listeners of Matthew’s Gospel longed for Jesus to return quickly, however several decades have passed and no sign of his immediate return appeared. The early Christian community had to reinterpret their understanding of Jesus and their mission in light of his delayed return. Clearly, they’ve been entrusted with a task: namely to share the abundant treasure — the Good News — Jesus proclaimed to them.
And the world needed some Good News. The world needed the Gospel.
In the years that this gospel took shape and form, the world was in tumultuous state and the world was bleak for a vast majority of people at the time. Rome had just experienced the year of the four emperors. Jerusalem had been devastated by a bloody and gruesome battle that destroyed the very heart of Judaism, the Temple. Uncertainty abounded. The people, particularly those of Palestine, suffered under an oppressive political regime and the dreadful pains of hunger, poverty, and hopelessness. Somebody needed to proclaim hope and liberation; somebody needed to proclaim Good News.
And here the Christians were sitting on an inestimable treasure: the Gospel. They’d witnessed the healing and loving power of God in Jesus Christ. They lived his transforming grace in their generosity with one another and with the stranger and foreigner in their midst. They had to, for they had no other choice: the master, Jesus, has left them with an abundant gift, that had to be shared by all. They had to make sure the Gospel (i.e. the treasure) prospered.
Sadly, from what we can tell in the text, some servants didn’t ensure the Gospel prospered, but rather hid and buried it in the ground. They’d forgotten the worth of the treasure Jesus entrusted to them.
Have we forgotten the inestimable value of the Gospel? Do we know the abundant worth of Jesus’ Good News to the poor, the oppressed, the mourning, and the suffering? Have we forgotten what Jesus was all about?
The world needs some Good News today. Our community of Bolton needs to hear the Good News, the hope, the freedom, the joy, and love promised and given to us by Jesus Christ. And we who’ve been entrusted with this Good News are called to share it with all we meet. We are to ensure the Gospel prospers.
Do you value the Gospel so much that you’re willing to share with all you meet?
My friends, as we launch our annual campaign, I want us to seriously pray and consider this. As I’ve said countless times before, our world needs you and I to proclaim the hope, love, and freedom of the Gospel. We live in a tumultuous and painful time in human history. The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought such destruction and tremendous pain that countless women, men, and children live in fear and anxiety each and every day, uncertain of what may come tomorrow.
Refugees and immigrants experience dread as their applications stand in limbo. Parents trying to support their families struggle to make every dollar of their low-income salary provide food for their children. Homeless people live in tents in bitterly cold and dark nights, terrified of having to be forced into shelters in a time of pandemic. Vulnerable persons sit at home isolated and alone for days with not a call or visit. And I hear, in countless pastoral visits and calls, persons afraid and anxious, longing for some words of comfort and assurance.
And you know what? All of us can do something to help bring the Good News, the Gospel of hope, freedom, and love to all who are in need. We’ve been entrusted with a treasure beyond earthly value, abundant with God’s grace. Will we share it and make it prosper, or will we bury it?
Prior to arriving to this parish, I read with interest the parish profile and listened to the parish search community articulate the church’s needs and challenges, hopes and dreams. Among the things I read and heard was your desire to see more people engaged in ministry. Many of you noted that we have a few, but dedicated group of volunteers. Over the course of the past two years I’ve been amazed by the commitment some of you make to ministry, but also worried by the difficulty we have in trying to get everyone involved in ministry. There are many people who long for our ministry. We experience today what Jesus told his disciples so long ago: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” (Mt. 9.37)
My hope and dream is that we can change that trajectory. I know many of you have incredible gifts and talents that could easily be shared in ministry. I challenge all of you to not bury your talents, the abundant treasure of the Gospel, but to let your talents prosper. And let not age, ability, nor pandemic prevent you from sharing your treasure. We need everyone to share the hope and freedom of the Good News.
There are countless ways you can minister in our community. You can help plant and weed the vegetables at our community garden, knowing full well that the fruit of your labour will provide a healthy alternative to the generic boxed goods so many hungry receive. You could join our lay pastoral team and reach out and call those who are in need and perhaps offer that one voice of hope in a dark night. Or you can share your wisdom on our finance committee and help the wardens and I discern how best to address the financial treasures and ensure the long-term sustainability of our ministry. You only need to offer an hour once a month. Or you might extend that generous welcome and hospitality of which the Christ Church community is known for as a greeter or sides person and brighten another person’s day. You could even share with others the good news of what is going on at Christ Church and invite others to participate in the life of our community.
My dream is that rather than have 15% of the parish volunteering in parish ministries, we have 80% of the parish involved in some form of parish ministry in the next two years. And to be honest, I personally hope you accept this challenge, for I need companions in ministry; I can only do so much. And Ruth can only do so much. But it all depends on how much you value the inestimable treasure and abundant life of the Gospel. Will you bury the treasure or invest in it and make it prosper?
Finally, I pray you will consider either contributing to our ministry or increasing your financial offerings to further support and ensure the long-term sustainability of this parish in the years to come. While I wish there was no cost to ministry, I know we still minister in a world where financial support enables us to do basic ministry such as Noah’s Ark or the Community Garden. Although we have been blessed by the diocesan leadership’s announcement of a jubilee this year, we have a long ways to go before we achieve financial health. Your financial support and invitation to others to share in our ministry will ensure the viability of Christ Church for many more years.
My friends, I leave you with a memory of four saints who have gone before us and whose lives and ministry transformed the hearts of many: Ann Walton, Mildred Norris, Doris Porter, and Dorothy Stewart. As we celebrate the month of all saints, let us recall their life and witness and let them be an example to us of those who believed and invested in the treasure of the Gospel. Ann, who served as an adopted mother to many and cornerstone of our choir. Mildred Norris, a humble woman whose steady hand and even temperament not only gave generously to the wellbeing of this church in her lifetime, but surprised us with a legacy gift of nearly $150,000 and helped save us at a time when we needed it most. Or Doris Porter, who served as a wise matriarch and listened to us in good times and bad and served as a rock and foundation even when she could no longer walk with ease. And finally, Dorothy Stewart, whose unbounded dedication to this church kept her making things for the Circle of Friends and kept me, your pastor, on his toes each and every time she called to suggest an idea or two (well, not really suggestions). These woman, and the countless other saints who have gone before us, exemplify what it means to live the gospel and ensure it prospers so that all may have life and have it to the full.
What’s the worth of the Gospel to you? Will you bury it in the sand or invest in it and let it prosper?