The God of Nightmares Pushing Us Beyond

Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.

YIKES!

Today’s gospel reading (Matthew 25: 14-30) has to be one of the scariest in the Bible! The image of God presented is not one that I care to ponder for too long: a “demanding” landlord who has a tendency for stealing–“harvesting where [he] did not plant and gathering where [he] did not scatter.” He not only treats all his workers differently from each other, but he goes ballistic when one of them, out of honest fear, decides to safely protect the money given rather than possibly lose it by trying to make it grow.

“The Parable of the Talents” by Andrei Mironov

That is not a warm, fuzzy god. That is a god of nightmares. Everything else in the Gospels tells us that God is forgiving, merciful, all-loving, protective of the smallest and most vulnerable creatures. But in today’s story, God is a tyrant who not only punishes the fearful servant by taking from the poor and giving to the rich, but justifies this exploitation by stating: “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Thanks a lot, God.

I think we can read this story in a way that we can take some positive lessons from it. The servant’s errors are not that he didn’t make money, but that he didn’t take a risk and was overly protective. The servant tried to keep the treasure just as it was, instead of looking for new ways to expand it. Both of these errors provide at least two lessons for those interested in the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the institutional church.

God frequently asks us to take risks. Our human nature often prevents us from doing so. Our instinct is for self-preservation, for maintaining the familiar, for avoiding discomfort. But as Anne Lamott, one of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers, likes to quote from a bumper sticker, “God loves you exactly the way you are, and She loves you too much to let you stay like this.”  God is always inviting us beyond, and God always provides us with the materials to go to the beyond. It’s up to us, though, to take the risk to do so.

LGBTQ people know a LOT about risks. Even in a contemporary society which is more accepting of LGBTQ people than it once was, it is still a risk to come out–to acknowledge, affirm, and announce your true identity. Doing so risks the possibilities of losing family, friends, respect, church membership and employment. Coming out risks physical threats, homelessness, abuse, and other tribulations, too. Risk has been a factor in the life of every single LGBTQ person that I have spoken to over the decades This awareness and experience of risk is one of the many gifts LGBTQ people bring to the church. How our church could grow if it would learn more about risk from LGBTQ people!

The second lesson we can take from this gospel story has to do with our human propensity for self-preservation and for the familiar. We experience this not only as individuals, but as community, and particularly as the institution of the church. Too often the church institution is more concerned with preserving things as they have been instead of spreading the treasure by applying it in new ways and new situations. My main interest is in LGBTQ issues, so I ask: Why is the church so reluctant to apply its social justice teachings on equality and human dignity to LGBTQ people? Why is the institutional church so afraid of dialoguing and engaging with the scientific community and the lived experience of people when discussing LGBTQ issues? Aren’t these hesitancies just like the servant who buries what has been given to him instead of taking the risk of putting this gift out into the world to see what kind of return the treasure might bring?

I think this parable of Jesus is designed not to scare us, but to motivate us. God is saying, “Get moving! Do something!”  It doesn’t matter if God has given us a lot to work with or just a little bit.  Whatever we are given, we can do some good, but only if we take a risk with it.  I am reminded of the joke of the man who goes to church daily to pray to win the lottery, but never does.  Exasperated, one day he cries out to God, “Why don’t you ever let me win the lottery?”  God speaks to him, saying “I’d love to, but you have to at least buy a ticket!”

God can’t do anything in the world through us, unless we take some step, no matter how small.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 15, 2020

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