What do we do while we wait? This is a question raised by today’s scriptures. We pray over and over again, perhaps thousands of times in our lifetime and we will again today, “thy Kingdom come,” but we know all too well that the Kingdom has not come, at least not in its fullness. So what to do?
Each of us have been gifts to use, talents if you will, and the Gospel implores us to use these gifts not for self gratification, not holding on tight-fistedly out of fear, but freely and cheerfully offered for Kingdom use. By God’s grace, what is offered as we clothe ourselves with “the breastplate of faith and love” will be multiplied in God’s service so that we and all God’s people might flourish in the peace, unity and justice of God’s vision for the world. As has been said, God has a mission and God has a Church to carry out that mission. The mission is restoration to union with God and one another in Christ.
To be about this work we are reminded today to stay awake, be aware, pay attention. We cannot and must not cut ourselves off from the pain of the world. St. Paul tells the Church in Thessalonika that the danger for us is love will grow cold as we fall asleep while waiting. What is called forth is readiness by using our talents in God’s service. In today’s Gospel especially, Jesus is warning his people that clinging to a static, unchanging approach to faith is unacceptable. For Zephaniah, in some very challenging words, complacency is not an option for the faithful. Our temptation, then and now, is to cling to what is no longer life-giving and bury it in the ground for safe-keeping. Never in the Christian life, however, does Jesus call us to a safe, no-risk approach to Gospel life.
Our faith tradition tells us God is inaugurating a new age marked by a radical transformation of the world order. It is sometimes hard to see. Matthew is clear all through his Gospel that it often seems hidden starting out small like a mustard seed, but we catch glimpses. That is our hope as we long for a day when no more children die of starvation; no more mass shootings; no more genocide; no more racism; no more haves and have-nots; no more slave labor or sex trafficking; no more oppressive mortgages making millions for too-big-to-fail Wall Street bankers; no more spending more on cosmetics, face lifts and tummy tucks in the USA than is spent on feeding the hungry. Just like us, the people of Jesus’ time longed for the end of disaster and disappointment. They struggled with an oppressive Roman regime and escalation in violence and crumbling social structure. Even their religion was being threatened.
What of us now? How will we use what God has given us? As human beings we are always in search of security, things, structures or situations that will give us a new sense of groundedness and permanence. Yet when I am most honest with myself I can admit that I am not in control. I may labor mightily to be so, but ultimately I am as much an observer as a manager.
On one extreme, when I read of events like the horrific actions of Isis or a madman on a California highway, I know I am not in control. When I get the news of sickness of a friend hundreds of miles away, I know I am not in control. When I have to wait for courts to make decisions, I am reminded I am not in control. And yes, more sweetly, when I FaceTime with my three year-old grandson hundreds of miles away, I know I am not the one in control.
This isn’t a surprise to us. In the midst of it all, the Bible, at almost every turn, calls us to have faith, to be ready. What we discover is that every hero in the Bible, including Jesus, is a man or woman who gives up control, who leaves a seemingly safe and comfortable life for something unknown. The best we can do is be prepared. How do we act? What do we do with our “out-of-controlness,” even our frustration with the here and now? How do we act in anticipation of the end of all things and the coming of God’s yet-to-be fullness? What do we do while we wait?
Archbishop William Temple once said, “The world minus God equals zero. God minus the world equals God.” What he meant is that God is the only final reliability. Being prepared means holding on to things lightly. Acknowledge with gratitude the gifts you have been given. Use them well as an offering to God. Do not hoard for private treasure. In other words, do not grasp in fear and isolationism. The commitment of your baptism is an awakened and ready heart so that when the Kingdom does break in, and it does regularly in every moment of our existence, you will be able to notice when love shows up, when joy does break in, when justice prevails, when hope calls you forth, when grace happens as pure gift. For in those moments the Kingdom has come! Embrace all that is good and beautiful for even as we do not always know for sure how God will show up, come he does.
St. Paul bids us today to “encourage one another and build up each other.” What you do while we wait is keep searching, keep forgiving yourself and others, remain in relationship, do everything you know possible to align your life with God’s mission for justice and make his mission and desire for humanity your mission. God’s handiwork is fulfillment, for Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. He’s here right now! How are you doing with those talents?