Discipline to Disciple

Homily 344 – 35th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 27, 2019
Epistle: (258) – Colossians 3:12-16 and (318) – Hebrews 7:26-8:2 (St John Chrysostom)
Gospel: (105) – Matthew 25:14-30 and (36) – John 10:9-16 (St John Chrysostom)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Sometimes, we wonder why we don’t see much in the way of spiritual growth in Christ. Today, Christ tells us the answer.

It is because we don’t work. We bury our talent in the ground. That talent which isn’t ours – doesn’t belong to us – but is rather entrusted to our stewardship. We don’t own it – but we are a Trustee, in our modern parlance.

Our task – our obligation – is to generate some kind of return on those resources for the owner of them.

So, we should ask – what kind of returns is the owner looking for? What will the owner accept as an acceptable return?

We can start by looking at what doesn’t matter. Apparently the absolute quantity doesn’t matter.

One slave generates five additional talents, one generates two. Both receive the same reward – Well done! Enter into the joy of your Lord!

So quantity is out. But we have to do something – as the one who simply protected it and preserved his trust discovered.

The slave called “wicked and lazy” took no risk with the resources he was given. He simply held it – buried it – where people didn’t even know it existed.

We might say that this slave was one who had faith – and apparently an accurate faith – but chose not to act on it. Out of fear. A fear of punishment.

We all can identify individuals that we observe who say they believe, yet do not manifest the behaviors that Christ manifested.

Christ never had wealth. He never had a home. He never even had a second set of clothes. He was a homeless wanderer, who had nothing, and didn’t know where His next meal would come from.

Of course, His faith was that He didn’t know where that meal might come from, but He knew it would come.

But I don’t want to chase that particular rabbit today. The question that this parable asks us is what am I to do to be faithful?

The Church, the body of Christ, answers that question by giving us ascetical disciplines. These are sacrificial disciplines that take what God has given us, and invest those things on God’s behalf.

We sacrifice our time in prayer. We allow our prayer rule to dictate our time, rather than burying our gift by making it take a back seat to the other things we choose.

I tell myself frequently I don’t have time to pray. And yet, that says that I’ve buried something. I have agency – I have the ability to choose.

It is never that I don’t have time to pray, it is always that I choose to prioritize something else over prayer.

The thing that made a significant impression on me in the monastic settings I’ve been blessed to observe is that when the time for prayer comes, everything else stops.

It is clear what takes priority. And, in my case, it is also clear what takes priority. Sleep, surfing the internet, watching sports or home improvement shows.

Fasting is another discipline that we like to bury. I’m horrible at fasting. Thankfully my wife helps me, so my fast can be just to eat what she prepares for us.

Finally, perhaps the most applicable discipline to today’s parable, we come to almsgiving.

It is interesting to me that surveys of very wealthy people indicate that the top way they use the vast resources they have is through philanthropy.

We have that same opportunity. Perhaps, though, we bury that resource as well, thinking we need to keep it for a rainy day, or for retirement, or as insurance against an unknown future.

Unknown future – but is it? Without a doubt we do not know what trials and tribulations and blessings we will experience in the future.

But what we can know – what we do know – is that our God loves us and cares for us and will provide for our needs.

If we only learn how to be thankful for what we have. And recognize what we have as belonging to God and we are but trustees.

We do know the future – because God has promised us. We can give with abandon. We can give without regard to having it return!

That is perhaps the greatest return we can provide to our Master – that we have given to others, either individually, or through the Church, or through sharing of what God has given us.

Those are the expectations, and those are clearly laid out in the Gospels. St. Paul and St. James and St. Peter and the other epistle writers go on at length on how to accomplish these things.

And to be clear, we have to choose to do these things. We can choose not to do these things – but our ultimate report to our Master will be not one that we will want to give.

Practice the disciplines of the faith, invest the resources God has given you responsibility for.

Because it is in and through discipline that we come to be disciples.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.