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October 2nd, 2022

Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse

Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I always knew what was expected of me – which was basically whatever my dad needed at the time. My own boys have lived that same life for much of their childhood, and for the most part, I know it has been a gift to help grow them into responsible adults. They were used to being asked to set up tables in the hall, or fill a last-minute empty spot as worship assistant, or play whatever role they are given in the pageant. Even older now, they’re still doing it – cleaning up the church property during the convoy. They are my dumpster boys, my heavy lifters. For the most part, they don’t complain. In fact, they complain a lot less than I used to. But I know it is sometimes a hassle, when they would rather be doing other stuff. We have all been there – doing duties which we quietly resent, or for which we would like just a little more credit. Maybe it’s the extra time you gave at work that no one seemed to notice, or all the cleaning at home, or running to get groceries alone at 5 pm on a Friday. When we train Gus, our dog, it’s entirely about positive reinforcement – he does something great, he gets a reward, even if it is just being told he was a good dog. That version of works righteousness has proven highly effective. And when I have tried to explain to him Article IV of the Augsburg Confession, he has been fairly unimpressed. The fact is we are all conditioned just like Gus: when we do something great, we want to be recognized for it. When it comes to my boys, I hope I am a much better boss than that manager in the our gospel this morning. Because that guy sure is a taskmaster. In the gospel, the question is posed: “If your servant has worked all day long, do you invite him to take a load off and sit at your table?” Heck yes, I am thinking! After a long day of work, that would be the decent thing to do. But if you are the boss in the story, Jesus says, you would be more likely to ask your servant to put on an apron, get cooking and get your dinner on the table. And after all that – do you thank your servant? I don’t think so. Because that’s his job. All I can say, is thank goodness I don’t work for anyone like that! Except, hold on: I do. Jesus is telling one of his parables again, and in that parable it’s pretty clear who the master is, and who we are meant to be. It turns out God is pretty demanding. There is no “one good deed for the day” kind of counting in the gospel. Yet, isn’t that the bargaining we do with ourselves and with each other. If you’re good, we tell our kids, you can get that toy, or do that activity, you want. I ate healthy all day, I tell myself, I deserve that chocolate bar. If I can just save this much money, all will be well. We are constantly living in this bargaining game of “I deserve.” Of course, this is an unhappy state, because what’s the flip side: “I don’t deserve this.” I don’t deserve this nice meal. I don’t deserve my good fortune. And that’s just as toxic. God wants us to avoid both. In the parable told by Jesus, we are directed to say “we are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” But of course, God means just the opposite: because we are worthy, we are called do what we should, and not worry about our standing, or who deserves what. It is a wonderfully freeing thing to stop counting good deeds, and to see our lives as a journey of doing good things, from beginning to end, with no tally kept. So God says don’t seek a reward when you have done well on behalf of the gospel; and neither should you inflict judgement when you fail. For a person who sees themselves as powerful and valued can accomplish countless good deeds. And as our example, we have this touching letter from the apostle Paul to his mentor Timothy. Now as for the origin of the letter, many scholars now take the view that it was written long after Paul’s death, by a Christian writer – but that is a subject of debate left to another time. They are powerful words, and it is their ability to transport us, to make us consider our own place, that is their true value. Paul’s letter reads like a last letter from a son to a father. It feels like a letter a soldier might write to his family on the eve of battle, knowing he will likely die. Certainly Paul, as we read the letter, is clear that he is passing on his charge to another. It is very personal: he takes time to recall Timothy’s mother and grandmother. He recalls Timothy’s faithfulness with love. “Recalling your tears,” Paul writes, “I long to see you that I may be filled with joy.” This is not a lament, but a charge to Timothy to carry on. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” In that sense, we are not to say: we have done all we can because our strength is spent. We are to say, we can do much more, because we are strong and determined. “Join me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,” Paul says. The term “suffering” is a little off-putting; I think we can all agree that we prefer to avoid suffering not join it. But Paul is saying that the gospel has a cost, it requires energy – that we step outside ourselves, and stop keeping score. This is no small thing. I meet people every day who are trapped in a negative image of themselves. This goes in two directions, usually: people who worry so much about their judgement of others, that they stumble through life. And those so concerned with how others judge them, that spend life always trying to prove their value. Someone once gave me a great piece of advice: people don’t think about you as much as you think they do. And it’s true: all of us have our own worries, our own preoccupations, our own standards. And much of that we impose upon ourselves, trying to manage what other people think. But once we accept that almost everyone else is doing the same – trying to get by, trying to do better – well, isn’t that a relief. The only one to whom must answer, in the end, is God. A God who seeks not to make us slaves, currying favour. But servants, valued and trusted. Paul writes: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” What is that treasure truly for us? It is a new posture. One in which we no longer regret what we ought to have done. But we look ahead, to what we have yet to do. Amen

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