Monday, November 14, 2011

The "And Still, and Still" Campaign

We are closing in on the conclusion of another Church Year – just one more Sunday to go. On Friday, I sat at my desk looking out the window as gusty winds created a cascading blizzard of red and gold leaves. It evoked in me a feeling we sang about in this morning’s Processional Hymn:

Signs of endings all around us –
Darkness, death, and winter days –
Shroud our lives in fear and sadness,
Numbing mouths that long to praise.

For several weeks now I have felt it in my bones: a need to finish up things, especially outdoor projects. It is, I suspect, that ancient stirring to hunker down for a long, cold, dark, winter. I find myself thinking about what I still need to get done while there is still time to do it.

Today’s Gospel reading encourages us to explore this very question. As the Church year draws to a close, the reading invites us to take stock of all God has given to us and to make a reckoning of what we have done with it. It is a question you might ponder at length as you rake leaves or take a walk around the neighborhood. Think back to last Advent and recount all that has come your way. What has God given to you in the past year? What has life done to you? Where did the road take a surprising turn? Where did it take an unwanted detour? And through it all, how did you handle it, what have you done, and what have you accomplished?

The Parable of the Talents is one we know. Three people receive varying amounts of wealth to steward while the owner is away. Each is asked to give an accounting upon the owner’s return. Two have doubled what was entrusted to them. One did nothing and is subject to harsh judgment.

Jorge Luis Borges was one of the literary giants of the past century. One of his more ambitious works was to come up with a translation of the Gospel dealing not so much with the actual text, but more with its meaning. Let me read for you a part of what he crafted from today’s parable. He begins by saying an Infinite Voice spoke to him these words:

Stars, bread, libraries of East and West,
Playing cards, chessboards, galleries, skylights, cellars,
A human body to walk with on the earth,
Fingernails, growing at nighttime and in death,
Shadows forgetting, mirrors busily multiplying,
Cascades in music, gentlest of all shapes,
Borders of Brazil, Uruguay, horses and mornings,
A broze weight, a copy of Grettir Saga,
Algebra and fire, the charge of Junín in your blood,
Days more crowded than Balzac, scent of honeysuckle,
Love and the imminence of love and intolerable remembering,
Dreams like buried treasure, generous luck,
And memory itself, where a glance can make men dizzy –
All this was given to you and with it
The ancient nourishment of heroes –
Treachery, defeat, humiliation.
In Vain have oceans been squandered on you, in vain
The sun, wonderfully seen through Whitman’s eyes.
You have used up the years and they have used up you,
And still, and still, you have not written the poem.

You don’t have to be a poet to appreciate what Borges is getting at. I used to think that there were some people who were super talented and others who where very talented and then there were folk like me with one talent, but that is not how I see it anymore. Now I realize that each of us has some super talents – the things for which we are exceptional. Each of us has some good talents – the things in life we do pretty well. And each of us has buried talents – the things we can do, but don’t… for what ever reason. It is these buried talents that connect us to Borges’ “and still, and still, you have not written the poem.”

From where I stand in this pulpit I can see a very talented group of people; people who have put their talents to use. St. Paul’s membership has a lot of educators. Since last Advent, our teachers have graduated one group of students and taken on another. Our lawyers have adjudicated legal matters. Our administrators have handled diverse tasks. Our retirees have volunteered their time. At home we have made our meals, washed our clothes, and cared for the yard. Children have been wakened and driven and tucked into bed. Here at church we have sung and read and served in countless ways. From where I stand I can see your talents on full display. There is not a person here who has not earned a “well done, good and faithful servant.”

But I know life and I know myself and I know that I am pretty much like every one of you. And this is what I know about myself and thus suspect about you: I have buried some of my talents. Beyond the movement that is required for me to go from one day to the next, week in and week out, over the course of months, there are things that I could do – should do – might do – that I don’t. I’m not talking about mundane things, like dropping some change in the Salvation Army bucket (although that is important) nor am I talking about not losing as much weight over the summer as I had hoped (and that is important too). I am talking about buried talent; those gifts given to me, those opportunities at hand, those things that can change my life or enrich the lives of others “and still, and still” I do not do them.

Why do we bury our talents? It has always puzzled me that the servant in Jesus’ parable buried his out of fear. He was afraid of the master and did not want to lose what had been entrusted to him. Now, I suppose there are a few of us who might be so afraid of God that we would forgo using the gifts God has given to us rather than mess up things, but in my experience that is not what inhibits most of us.

The master calls the servant “wicked and lazy.” I bury some of my talents because I am too selfish to share them and others because I am too lazy to use them. Some talents stay buried because I am too busy to bring them out. But more than anything, I think my talents stay buried because of a failure of imagination. I just don’t see them as gifts nor do I recognize how they might bring life to me and to others. The routine of the daily round becomes all I know and anything beyond it remains buried in the ground.

As we come to the end of the Church Year, we are invited to consider what we sang:

Can it be that from our endings,
New beginnings you create?
Life from death, and from our rendings,
Realms of wholeness generate?
Take our fears, then, Lord,
And turn them into hopes for life anew.

Who here this morning doesn’t hope, doesn’t thirst, for life anew? The startling message of today’s Gospel reading is that the life for which you long has already been given to you, but you buried it in the ground.

St. Paul’s is wrapping up its yearly Pledge Drive (and I am very thankful for your generosity). A lot of work goes into making sure each one of you responds to our request. Now I am wondering if we shouldn’t have a “Buried Talent” Campaign where each member of the parish has to write on a slip of paper one thing that you have always wanted to try or to do, but have never launched out. Or maybe it would be something you used to do all the time, but some how lost or let go. Perhaps it would be just an inkling, a stirring in you, that suggests life would be very different if you just… just what?

Let’s call it “The ‘And still, and still…’ Campaign.” Spend some time in thought and prayer. Maybe something comes to you right away. Maybe it is something you need to ponder for a while. When your buried treasure comes to you, send me a note telling me what it is and pledging to get it out of the ground and get it going.