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Nothing to Lose – Br. Mark Brown

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Matthew 25: 14-30

We hear today another parable of the kingdom—it follows directly on the parable of the ten bridesmaids from last Sunday. A parable is, of course, open to interpretation. It’s often hard to know exactly what Jesus had in mind, but the effect of a parable is to draw the listener in, to engage the imagination and intellect and moral sensibilities. But the parables of Jesus often leave us scratching our heads a bit.

Those who have get more and those who have nothing lose even what they have?  We may find ourselves in a kind of wrestling match to sort it all out. Jesus being the consummate teacher, I suspect the wrestling match, even some indignation, is what he desires.  The personal engagement with the Living Word, even if it’s arguing, is better than spineless passivity.  So, as Jacob wrestled mightily with the angel of God, we often wrestle with the Living Word as he comes to us by means of texts, sometimes confusing or obscure texts.

This parable is worth a very close read (especially that part about those having nothing losing what they have—read that very closely sometime), but I’d like to focus on just one character in the story: the one entrusted with one talent. One talent was actually a lot of money: the equivalent of fifteen years’ pay for a laborer.  The one talent slave was actually entrusted with a great deal. But the man is afraid.  He’s so afraid he begins to imagine the master as a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow. And then he buries fifteen years’ worth of paychecks in the ground.

This is a parable about fear. Fear is, needless to say, very much part of the human experience, a powerful motivating force.  But in the Kingdom of God fear itself will be cast into outer darkness. “Perfect love casts out fear…” it says in 1 John 4: 18—to do a little cross-referencing.  In the Kingdom of God, fear is something to be cast into outer darkness; in the Kingdom of God, fear is an abomination.  The real villain in the parable is not the poor risk-aversive wretch with the overactive imagination; it is the fear that binds him.

In the Kingdom of God fear is cast into outer darkness.  It has no place in the Kingdom. If Jesus Christ is Love, Love himself, fear is his opposite.   Fear is the adversary of our nature, the adversary of our new life in Christ. Whether the adversary is an “it” or a “he” or both is a question I’ll leave for another day, another wrestling match. It’s enough to say that we human beings have an adversarial relationship with fear and the struggle with it is not only emotional but spiritual.

We are offered a new life in Christ, a new identity in Christ, a life of transformation. It takes courage to claim this new life. It takes courage to live into this new identity in Christ.  It takes courage to engage a life of transformation in Christ. It takes courage, and fear is our adversary.

There’s good fear and bad fear, of course.  It’s good to be afraid of rattlesnakes and large trucks coming down the road fast. But the poor soul in the parable is afraid of goblins and spooks raised by his own imagination.  Many of our fears are imaginary—or if not completely fabricated, gross distortions of what we might call “reasonable fears”. Fear of failure. Fear of loss of status or power or position.  Fear of rejection, or not being loved. Fear of loneliness. Fear of abandonment or separation. There is a component of reasonableness in these fears, but they become greatly magnified in our imaginations. Magnified to levels of terrible toxicity.

Fear is toxic when it when it withers the soul, or when the soul begins to feel buried in the ground like in the parable. Fear is toxic when it inhibits our giving ourselves up to our new identity in Christ.  As Christians we give ourselves over to love, to be animated by love, to embody love—to embody the grace and truth of Christ. Fear is toxic when it inhibits what love would do, when it inhibits what love would say, when in inhibits what love would embody in our lives.  Fear is toxic when it inhibits truth. And, so, the struggle with fear is a spiritual battle.

1 John 4: 16b-18 “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

In the Kingdom of God fear itself is cast out and love is perfected in us.  Jesus tells parables of the Kingdom not only to describe the future, but to invite us into that future, even now.  The parable isn’t really about financial investments, of course.  It’s about another kind of investment: it’s about investing ourselves in a new identity. Instead of burying ourselves in the ground, we invest our very selves in a new enterprise.  We are vested, invested, clothed in a new identity in Christ. The new being in us is fearless—at least in the fullness of time and eternity.

We have in our tradition a number of what we call spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines. Different kinds of prayer and meditation. Study. Journaling. Fasting. Corporate prayer and private devotion. Works of mercy and generosity. Examen of conscience. Sacramental confession and reconciliation.  Retreats and spiritual direction. And so on.

I’d like to propose another spiritual discipline: the spiritual discipline of spitting—spitting in the eye of the Adversary.  It’s a crude metaphor, I know, but appropriate. Fear is an abomination, fear is the adversary of our true nature. Fear, our Adversary and mortal enemy, is worthy of our deepest scorn and contempt.

I suggest staying out of the way of rattlesnakes and big trucks moving fast—unless a child’s life is in danger (in which case you may have to do something about that snake or truck).  Instead, consider the more insidious fears and inhibitions of our daily existence, the fears that wither the soul.  Each day, as a kind of inoculation against fear, spit in his eye.

One way to do that: speak up at that meeting. Speak the truth as you understand it, not just what you think others want to hear. Organizations become corrupt when people do not speak up for fear of whatever. Penn State, for example.

Another way to spit in fear’s eye today: Stand up to a bully. Bullies can corrupt organizations, too, by threatening to get very angry, or threatening to leave, or even threatening to be very hurt.  As Christians we are to embody the grace and truth of Christ—speaking the truth in love.

Another way: give a little more to that charity—or a lot more. We can be overly anxious about having enough for ourselves. But uninhibited generosity is a mark of the Kingdom (and the adversary hates generosity).

Or, begin that process of reconciliation that you’ve been putting off (the adversary loathes reconciliations). Or, have the courage to admit you were wrong about something (the adversary hates humility). Or, acknowledge your own vulnerability (the adversary hates honesty). Or, challenge a racist or ethnic joke (the adversary thrives on divisiveness). Or, tell someone you love them (the adversary hates tenderness). Stand up for the oppressed (the adversary hates justice). Do something that feels a little risky every day as a kind of inoculation against fear (the adversary shrinks in the face of courage).

Let the adversary know you are not his slave. Let the adversary know you are not burying your silver or yourself in the ground. Let the adversary know you are claiming your new life, your true life in Christ now, today.  Let the adversary know that the Kingdom of God is already here—that, as far as you are concerned, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Love, the Kingdom of courage and valiant deeds is already here.

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24 Comments

  1. Anneclaire Le Royer on August 2, 2016 at 17:55

    Thank you, Brother Mark! I found your sermon so helpful! I am battling life-long fears right now and I am going to take up spitting!

  2. Helen Roud on August 2, 2016 at 16:25

    Thank you Br. Mark. This is a superbly encouraging message. Fear is indeed our greatest adversary. Love is our supreme weapon.

  3. MAUREEN DOYLE on August 2, 2016 at 14:27

    Thank you, Br. Mark!
    Claudia, I’m so sorry you were so hurt. I’ve read about two women this week who stood out for one reason or another and were threatened with rape and murder. One had her home address posted on a website for haters.
    Sometimes I wonder if such groups are moving trucks. However, these women didn’t go into such sites, they simply caught the attention of the haters.
    My PTSD symptoms have returned with a vengeance since deep hatred filled the political process this season. Then I wonder if children’s lives are at stake by these haters. You didn’t change the mind of those who abused you, but perhaps shored some frightened being hovering in fear of the bullies. Can we be silent in the face of bullies.
    And then I remember I must love the bullies and pray for them.
    And pray for your healing.

  4. Laura on August 2, 2016 at 09:38

    This is so beneficial on a personal level, and illuminating on a Scriptural level! Fear of embarrassment has typically been my biggest stumbling block – but the image of spitting in the adversary’s eye and seizing Christ’s call to more boldness in love is a great image that hopefully will give me more courage and spontaneity. A very helpful message and much appreciated.

  5. Elizabeth Hardy on August 2, 2016 at 09:14

    Br. Mark: I wish I could have been present to hear this preached. I would have been so uplifted. As it is you have centred in to the core of the emotion that dominates my life. All unreasonable, of course, but blown up into terror that affects my eating, sleeping and quality of life. Thank you for this. It will really help. Blessings.

  6. Harriet on August 2, 2016 at 08:46

    I like the idea of spitting in the eye of fear! Fear has crippled me for many, many years and I am, in my retirement, finally learning to stand up to fear and “spit in its eye!”. Very good message. Thank you!

  7. Jaan Sass on August 2, 2016 at 01:24

    Fear has dominated my life for so long though I am much better I still find myself stuttering with heightened emotions driven by fear and self loathing. This was good for me to read especially the discipline of spitting at fear.

  8. Claudia Booth on October 19, 2015 at 23:07

    Yeah! Thank you for encouraging the prophet. Our age is in desperate need of courageous people willing to stick their necks out, to take a stand for what is good and honest and right.

  9. Marguerite on October 19, 2015 at 08:38

    Yesterday, I was asked to serve on our vestry. Lots of reasons not to do so and they all spring from fear. I prayed to discern God’s will in this decision. Guess I have my answer.

    Thank you Brother Mark.

  10. Jane on October 19, 2015 at 08:15

    Wonderful homily! Lift the veil of hate and there lies fear.

  11. Doug Rose on October 27, 2014 at 12:52

    Br. Mark: I’m am grateful to read your words about fear today. My magic magnifying mind has been generating fear to levels of toxicity over certain areas of my life. As I was reading, I realized that this toxicity blocks me from seeing God in other people, for I am no longer cultivating the God in me (the solution to fear) but the rather the problem (the fear). The problems my imagination chews on are luxury in nature, and I’m grateful that today my problems are my problems. I’ve had problems in the past not luxury in nature. I’ll walk away from my computer with a renewed perspective. It reminds me of a saying: “No God, no peace; Know God, know peace.”

  12. john fritschner on October 27, 2014 at 11:14

    Mark, this is one of the best homilies you have ever given. Thanks be to God.

    • Dee Dee on October 19, 2015 at 07:41

      Agreed.
      Amen.

  13. Ruth West on October 26, 2014 at 22:12

    Br. Mark, this is an excellent sermon. Fear is indeed one of our worst enemies. No doubt, the devil laughs if we allow fear to cause us to back off from doing something good, but perhaps a little scarey. I am guilty of sometimes hesitating to pray with someone who has poured out their own fears and frustrations. I need to love more!
    May God bless you today and always.

  14. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas on October 26, 2014 at 21:24

    What an inspiring and encouraging sermon! I can practically feel my hair blowing back from the wind of the Spirit! I started musing on a sequel to this sermon, for there is even more to explore. For instance, are there times when we need to befriend our fear, to put a gentle arm around our fear-filled self? Sometimes that imagery may be a helpful complement to the imagery of spitting at fear. We need our warrior assertiveness and confidence, and we need our tenderness, too. Thanks for preaching the Word, Br. Mark!

  15. Evelyn Berggren on October 26, 2014 at 20:24

    Thank you, Br. Mark Brown. I must tell you that I read the daily “Give Us a Word” messages. Whenever I am particularly moved by a commentary on the message of the day, I find that Br. Mark Brown has written the commentary! You are truly a blessing to us.

  16. Claudia Booth on October 26, 2014 at 18:50

    When I spoke up, I was annihilated! I am too old to put up with abuse.

  17. Christopher Engle Barnhart on October 26, 2014 at 09:49

    FDR said it best during a major economic crisis when he said, ” We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

  18. Margaret Dungan on July 9, 2014 at 13:55

    Dear Br. Mark,

    You have opened up a new door for me on this parable and on fear and I identfy with Polly’s comments as well.
    A double blessing for me today.

    Margaret.

  19. Polly Chatfield on February 14, 2014 at 10:41

    Dear Mark, as a person born timid – too many older siblings maybe – I hear your call to take a stand against fear almost like a battle cry of encouragement. Reading your words does indeed ‘put courage in’ me. Thank you.

  20. Br. Ron Jyleen on February 12, 2014 at 10:03

    This is an excellent summary of the conflicts we encounter in our daily lives. Good people get wrapped in fear and lose touch with the heart of the message that Christ gave us.

  21. Mike Grigsby-Lane on February 12, 2014 at 09:40

    What an absolutely lovely sermon. I really needed to hear this, I started a new job just a few months ago and while I’m doing a really good job there (I know this from my own confidence in how I treat our customers and in the comments my peers and supervisors make to me), I still hold on to the fear I have from a previous toxic job I had years ago where my bosses started the majority of days by harassing and intimidating me…..and to begin to forgive them for that behavior, understanding that their failure to love me and other workers was motivated by…..our adversary and his main tool, fear. Thank you thank you thank you, you brothers add so much to my life, I’m loving learning what it means to live life by a rule and hope some day to visit for a retreat. Blessings!

  22. Margo on February 12, 2014 at 08:27

    Dear Br. Mark, I think this is one of your very best! It certainly speaks to me who wades around in a lot of fear a lot of the time. The bit about the one talent being a great deal I have preached but did not realize it had a bases in reality. Thank you for that particular bit of education. There is a question that I would love to ask you very beloved guys but FEAR of hurt caused and reprisals stops me for the moment, but thank you for these brave words. Margo

  23. Clark on February 12, 2014 at 07:35

    Thank you Br. Mark!- to realize that the parable’s smallest talent is a huge amount. Fourscore plus years- “and the scars to prove it”- does not entitle me to self-righteous mellowness, which is simply veiled fear. But it is time to collect the clichés: “to suck it up” and “move it on out”… to dig up buried gift is mini-resurrection.

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