Homily for November 16, 2014 Festival of St Margaret of Scotland

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(stained glass window from St Margaret’s Chapel in Scotland)

We celebrate today the festival of St Margaret of Scotland, now an adopted patron saint here at St John’s, or maybe she adopted us (I’m not sure how the saints work out these arrangements).

We also honour two women today as the latest recipients of the Order of the Diocese of New Westminster:

Dorothy Saunier. Her journey began in Saskatchewan, so it’s kind of like she had a head start, Saskatchewan being the kind of place it is. She has been a faithful parishioner, warden, ACW member and wise elder for many years at St John’s. Despite personal tragedy and the loss of her sight, Dorothy persists in being a cheerful, lively and insightful person, who continues to learn and grow in her 90’s. We continue to learn from her example.

Teri Hazelton. Teri started her ministry by helping in the nursery, then went on to teach Sunday School. She has been a reader, intercessor, server and crucifer, lay administrator, as well as greeter and sidesperson. She has been a member of the Altar Guild and Women’s Fellowship Group. She has served as a member of Parish Council, as member at large, vestry clerk, Treasurer and served as People’s Warden twice. She did the parish bulletin for 10 years and assisted in the parish office when needed. She organized tea and coffee hospitality after services, and helped organize and cook parish dinners. She organized a 5th Sunday soup and sandwich gathering. She was on the committee that started Abbeyfield House and also served on the board. She has been instrumental in the merger process between St Margaret’s and St John the Apostle Port Moody and now serves on the Parish Council in the new St John’s. She also volunteers regularly at our Food Bank and Seniors’ Tea, and administers the Chalice during the Eucharist.

This week also celebrates two other women: St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, and St Elizabeth of Hungary, great saints of the Church, a reminder of the rich heritage of feminine leadership and spirituality in the Church — but our main focus today is St Margaret of Scotland.

Margaret was an English princess of the House of Wessex, but she was born in exile in Hungary, due to the level of conflict and danger in England. Margaret and her family returned to England in 1057, but then had to flee to Scotland following the Norman conquest of England of 1066. Around 1070 Margaret married Malcolm III of Scotland, becoming his queen consort.

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She was, by all accounts, a very devout woman with a deep belief in the compassion of God. The passage from Isaiah (58: 6–12) this morning virtually paints a portrait of Margaret and the work she was called to do. She distinguished herself in establishing and supporting religious communities like the Benedictine Abbey at Dunfermline, even providing boat transportation for pilgrims to making the crossings. She also initiated the restoration of the monastery at Iona – so thousands of modern pilgrims also have reason to be grateful for her.

She devoted herself not only to raising a family in the turbulent political environment that was 11th Century Scotland – she was also personally committed to serving orphans and the poor on a daily basis, even washing the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. She had a daily habit of rising at midnight to pray and receive the Eucharist.

Margaret’s personal devotion and compassion had a strong impact on her husband, her six sons and two daughters. In the behind-the-scenes, unofficial and subtle way that was available to her as a woman of that era, she exerted a powerful Christian influence on her husband – at a time of immense brutality and threat, that was a major accomplishment in itself and may make us wonder what kinds of voices the powerful of our day are hearing.

 

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One of the things we celebrate in St Margaret is her great generosity. St Margaret had a wonderful ability to look beyond the confines of her own well-being and genuinely care about what was going on around her. Most people, on having attained to life in a mansion or a castle, would be more focused on whether the moat was full and the security system was in good working order rather than in caring for the poorest of the poor.

She lived in turbulent and precarious times, and yet her life is characterized by being rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. She died at Edinburgh Castle on NOVEMBER 16 in 1093, at the age of 47, just days after receiving the news of her husband’s death in battle. Even in her last hours, she asked the local bishop to make sure her children continued to receive instruction in living the Christian life. Such was her trust in the importance of the Christian way.

Margaret was declared a saint in 1250, particularly for her work for religious reform and her charitable works, and she was further declared Patroness of Scotland in 1673. Her gracious and charitable life has inspired countless churches, hospitals, chapels, hospices, schools, and even a religious order, which is still operative.e exerted a ral — it out what they are

This is all very instructive, especially as we look at today’s Gospel, and Jesus’ parable of the Talents.

This parable is not a comment on First Century banking practices! It is a parable that conveys a metaphor of the kingdom. It is a lesson about faith and it is about choices; it is about the problems that arise when you have a complete misconception of what God is about.

The Master (an obvious reference to God) comes round looking for a return –– some sign that these servants were worthy of the trust placed in them – some evidence of their willingness to take risks and do something with the gifts they have been given. Jesus may have been suggesting that the amount entrusted to them was in the millions.

Two of the servants have been diligent and put their talents to good use. The other one, however, tells a different story. This servant has simply hidden the resources entrusted to him. So, the “Master” comes calling, and he finds one of them cowering and hiding. It’s reminiscent of the story of God seeking Adam in the Garden, and Adam making a pathetic and futile attempt to hide from God.

By way of excuse, the man says “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you . . . .? The reaction is so extreme that Jesus is making it clear the servant had every reason to know better.

 

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The Hidden Treasure, by James Tissot

This is in part about what happens when people make wrong assumptions about God and then act according to their assumptions – their actions end up being pathetic and inadequate. In a way, this man took no action at all – he was simply frozen into immobility and could not bring himself to participate as freely in life as his fellow servants.

There is something sad here. The man seems more to be pitied than condemned. Indeed, many servants and slaves had good reason to operate out of fear. But it’s like the Master says, “Well, here’s your reward for that kind of thinking!” St Paul teaches us that “the wages of sin is death” – that is, if we invest our energy and our talent in a life apart from or opposed to God, the payback is deadly. In this case, the payback from this way of investing in life is being cast into outer darkness, and in a sense the man is already there, and his punishment is self-inflicted. Fear, and a feeling of not counting for much, is a very dark “place.”

You can sit back in life and watch others going from strength to strength; you can convince yourself that your little actions are not meaningful; you can come to believe that you’re just a loser and this is your lot in life; you can convince yourself that your circumstances are so difficult you can’t be expected to do very much; but the Gospel is obviously and emphatically trying to convince you that there is another way.

You may not have grown up with confidence and affirmation. In fact, you may have grown up with nothing but abuse and criticism. But if you have faith – if you come to know the God of the universe in the familiar way that Jesus did — you will no longer be primarily motivated by fear. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Again, this is not about money or possessions, it is about faith. Faith is the gift that pays dividends in us – a gift that expands and pays dividends.

The other two servants exemplify an attitude of faith and a choice not to operate out of fear but out of a confidence bordering on boldness. The scared man whose life yields nothing operates on a scarcity model while the other two are those who trust in the goodness and abundance of the world around them. It suggests they perceived their Master in a different way than did the one who opted to bury his talent. As in so many things, your attitude is so important – what you see or perceive is what you get.

 

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It’s not enough just to preserve what we have been given – the challenge is to take it forward – to make something more of the heritage entrusted to us. We have seen the positive impact recently of the “pay it forward” approach. It seems to me that this is the kind of practice that should be characteristic and typical of Christians!

Despite the stupid bumper stickers that suggest that “the one who dies with the most toys wins,” our talents do not ultimately belong to us, they belong to God – and it is to God we too must account.

So often, the Church is more like the one who buries his talent in the ground rather than risking it like the others – many times the Church settles into an attitude which suggests preservation is more important than proclamation or growth or transformation. We have promised safety and security rather than an adventurous life of faith.

We live in an age which is fear and anxiety driven, so I am sure we can all identify with the servant who tried to safeguard and preserve. But I believe we need to hear God calling us out of hiding, out of isolation, out of attitudes like fear and hostility and suspicion, and be like St Margaret, not allowing ourselves to become trapped by walls and wealth and personal security.

What we celebrate today is the way some people choose to use their gifts and we see this same tendency in the two people we honour – Dorothy and Teri.

Today we contrast the gracious openness – the largesse — of someone like St Margaret with the poor and miserly spirit of the man who chose not to make his gifts available to the world. We all have gifts – we all have influence and power— and the Gospel suggests that if we are driven by faith and the love of God rather than anxiety and the fear of God, the benefits we can offer to the world will be much more powerful.

The Gospel calls us to move toward God – not away – to live in the light and the warmth of God’s love and not lurk about in the cold darkness, assuming we know what God is about when we don’t. St Margaret chose to live that way, placing herself at God’s disposal, saying “Here I am, Lord,” rather than hiding away in the safety of the tower and turret. Her amazing life created a huge impact on the future of Scotland, and is still impacting us today.

The saints encourage us – they give us examples of what life can look like when dedicated to Christ, and they demonstrate the impact individuals can have when they share their gifts instead of hoarding them. It is so important to have good examples in our lives. Today’s Gospel, and the lives of St Margaret and the saints, enable us to see the rewards of being one.

The Venerable Grant Rodgers+

Scripture readings for the day:

Isaiah 58: 6—12 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Matthew 25:14-30 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’