Even Now

It was a talent show night at our youth retreat.  And Tina brought the house down with this haunting song:  

I’d like to sing it for you this morning: 

Listen children to a story
That was written long ago
About a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley folk below
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath a stone
And the valley people swore
They'd have it for their very own

Go ahead and hate your neighbour
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
Justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away

So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill
Asking for the buried treasure
Tons of gold for which they'd kill
Came an answer from the kingdom
"With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain
All the riches buried there"

Now the valley cried with anger
"Mount your horses, draw your sword"
And they killed the mountain people
So they won their just reward
Now they stood beside the treasure
On the mountain darkened red
Turned the stone and looked beneath it
"Peace on earth" was all it said

Go ahead and hate your neighbour
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
You can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgement day
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away

That night the new priest in charge of our youth program sought me out.  I am really concerned about the song Tina sang —it is not appropriate for church whatsoever! 

I see it differently I told her.    She quoted the lyrics back to me:  Go ahead and hate your neighbor?   Go ahead and cheat a friend?   How is this the Gospel?!  This song will NEVER be sung again at this program!   I could tell that our priest was agitated and anxious.  

“It’s a bit tongue in cheek, I told the priest.  

“But these middle school kids don’t get that!” That’s pretty sophisticated thinking.”    Wait a minute I thought—are we talking about the same group of kids?  Young teens who don’t understand sarcasm?!  Are we even living on the same planet?  

If anyone in the world gets pain and sarcasm, its teenagers!  They see it with fresh eyes.  It burns in their souls the way it burned in Jesus’ soul.  

Jesus could have told this story from this song.  As a matter of fact, he just did in our parable this morning.   Jesus is reminding us today of the pain we live with when we chase after worthless things like anxiety and greed and we, as scripture reminds us, become worthless ourselves.   

Jesus is painting a picture of this crooked manager who is trapped into a system of shame and oppression.  He must find a way to protect himself, to cover his tracks.   Jesus is winding us up, being provocative—making us ask challenging questions. 

Look I said to Catherine the priest in charge of our youth retreat, “Why don’t we talk with our teens tomorrow?  Ask them about the song—see how they respond?”   She agreed. 

I wonder if the creators of our lectionary were being a bit tongue in cheek when they put together our readings for today.   We are first invited to not to be anxious about earthly things even now.  Even now as the dishonest manager is clearly anxious. Even now… 

Even now in the midst of divisive times as we head into midterm elections and the mudslinging has already started and we barely can talk with our neighbors who have different opinions.  Even now as we bounce back from Covid and see that our church has grown smaller and we come around to another cycle of stewardship.  Even now, as we bid adieu to our amazing Nancy Whipkey and her 50 years of ministry leadership beauty and music and are uncertain about our future musician. 

 Even now… we are called to not be anxious.  

Anxiety is a primal emotion.  It buzzes in our being like an aggressive hornet at the end of summer.  Can we befriend our anxiety?  Can we notice when it buzzes in our bodies and haunts us into fear?  Fear that we don’t have enough, fear that we aren’t enough, fear that there isn’t enough.   That’s what’s behind the anxiety of our dishonest manager today as he finds himself trapped by a system that threatens to eat him alive.  

Beloved, the most important question for us as Christ followers is what master will we serve?   

Is our God money?   Do we live and die by the creed of he who has the most toys in the end wins?  Fear and anxiety win when we love money more than we love our neighbor.   When we give into the anxious whisper of our society, “there is not enough, there is not enough, there is not enough.”   The juxtaposition we have this morning of our collect inviting us to not be anxious about earthly things and Jesus then painting a picture of deep fear and anxiety makes it clear— we can’t serve two masters. 

God invites us into abundance. God invites us to serve others, God invites us into fearless love.   It’s not what we have, beloved it’s how we choose to use it, to give of what we have.  For all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God.  And we beloved have more than enough.   

To truly be a Christ follower means that we will give away our work, wisdom and wealth for the glory of God.  And the glory of God is compassion, love and mercy.   That is the painful juxtaposition in our readings today. 

So , who are we going to serve?  Fear and the constant anxious murmur of there’s not enough or will we give ourselves away to Christ?  

The next morning when the priest sat down with our teens, she was overwhelmed by their insight.  They did in fact get it.  They saw it quite clearly the pain of our world—it burned within them: and they were called to fearless love. 

And so are we!