Ostriches and Starting at the End
Did you notice that the ostrich in this photo at the top of the post is looking right at you? Its head is not buried in the sand, although that is the sort of image for which I initially searched. As we explore the one slave who buried the talent the expression to “bury your head in the sand” came to mind. From there it went to ostriches and pretty soon I had stopped writing and was looking at ostrich photos….Interesting how the mind can work and the places the internet can take one. I didn’t know that it’s a myth that fear is what makes ostriches bury their heads in the sand. More on that myth at the end of this post.
So back on track, this week I want to invite you into some of your own “myth busting” about burying things, fear, God and the parable of the talents. We are going to do this by starting at the end of the parable. We often talk about the ways of Jesus and the kingdom of God as being upside down, so what about beginning at the end and beginning with the end in mind?
Over the years, I've gotten into the habit when reading a nonfiction book to start at the end of the book. I enjoy reading the footnotes, the index, the appendices, exploring the author’s research. It often helps create a context and then I can look for connections in the content when I read the book from the beginning.
This is the fifth teaching of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. It is an “end time” text in this context- followers of Jesus have grown weary in their waiting for Jesus’ return. At the end of Matthew 25:14-30 these words close out the parable,
”As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It’s always odd when we have a gospel reading like this in worship and then say, “The gospel of our Lord, Praise to you O, Christ”. Praise to you O Christ? For the slave being thrown into outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth? How is that gospel? How is that good news?
Soren Kierkegaard's quote, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” comes to mind. What if this time when reading the Parable of the Talents we start at the end verses to create some understanding that can help us live forward? Word of God, word of life- that is part of what we seek in our sacred Scriptures.
Expectations often determine what we experience. My beloved Dan tells the story, “Two people went to the same meeting. One came out saying it was the worst meeting he had ever attended. The other came out from the same meeting saying it was the best meeting she ever attended. Both got what they were looking for in that meeting.” This year preaching on the Parable of the Talents I want us to find fuel for the journey, hope and encouragement.
So let’s explore the slave who is to be thrown into the outer darkness. This is the one that was entrusted with the only one talent. He took the talent and hid it. He was afraid. He shares this understanding of the master:
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.’ Matthew 25:24
He was afraid. He expected the master to be harsh and the words spoken to him were harsh indeed. We read in the parable that it was “a long time” between entrusting the talents to the slaves and the master’s return. The one who buried the talent lived for a long time in fear. I wondered did he keep watch to make sure that this buried talent was safe in the ground? Did it limit where he would go and what he might do for fear that someone else might uncover it? Fear can cause one to flee, to fight, to freeze. A fear-filled life is one not yet fully formed in love. Will you take the invitation of this parable to consider how you understand God and what your expectations are of Jesus’ return?
The theology that has the return of Jesus as bad news is one that can be crippling to hope. The theology that Jesus has to die on the cross because God is wrathful needing a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world creates submission by fear not love. The fear filled belief that God causes the suffering in the world to punish us reinforces the notion of a harsh God. The love of God revealed in Jesus tells a different story.
Fear, fleeing, fighting, freezing- this is no way to live. Jesus comes and heals hearts and minds, bodies and spirits. Jesus walks alongside - this the message of the Incarnation. God with us. The message of the Cross is that in even the greatest suffering and death God is with us. Father Richard Rohr puts it is way, “The point fo the Christian life is… to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else. This is the full, final and intended effect of the incarnation symbolized by its finality in the cross, which is God’s great act of solidarity instead of judgment.”
We are people of the Cross and we know the end - we are people also of the resurrection. In Jesus God gives to us the good news that God has the last word. Death is not the end of the story. Love has the last word and it raises the dead to new life. In this we place our hope and trust.
When asked how he has hope with all of the major challenges we are facing right now- after taking a breath Fr. Richard made this reply;
“To be a Christian is to be hopeful. It’s to be a child of the resurrection. As a Christian, you know that, even if history is three steps forward and two steps backward, the final chapter of history is resurrection. I base my. Life on that. I believe that.” (Fr. Richard Rohr in the November 2020 letter from Center for Action and Contemplation)
So let’s go to the very beginning of the gospel reading. It was a risky investment. And it is today also to give to each of us our own life to live- with free will. One talent in Jesus’ time was a large sum. It is estimated that the value of a single talent (the largest measurement of the time) to be at between 10-20 years worth of wages. For the master to “entrust” this amount to a slave would appear absurd. To leave for a long time with what is of great value entrusted to those left to their own devices- this doesn’t make sense. You have been given a life and free will. God has entrusted to you and handed over to you the life you are now living.
Take a deep breath right now. This is the investment God has made in you. This moment, this breath God has entrusted to you- what will you do with it? What is your life like when you live fully? God has entrusted you with your one beautiful life. How will you invest your life?
This past week was one for me to remember the value of each day. Fifteen years ago when my first husband, Steve, died I was struck by how much can change in just twenty four hours. He was alive one day and dead the next. The value of a day became so apparent to me.
We are often tempted to value what we own or possess- stuff and money more than time. Steve’s death provided a pivot point on that one. It didn’t matter what house we lived in or what we owned, there was no way to buy back time. The time we had together had come to an end. Forever changed by that day and those moments, I became more committed to being awake and aware of how I spend my time. There is no way to get it back. Money is a renewable resource. Time is not. This parable speaks of investments, spending and value.
So let’s go to another end- we all have some sense that our days are numbered and that we don’t know the number of days we have. These are “end time” texts in Matthew 24-25. as Jesus is headed to his own death. Talking about death can create fear, a desire to bury your head in the sand, or a fatalism that nothing really matters. so you can just flitter away the days you have instead of valuing them. Instead hear this- you matter. Your life matters. God has invested in you. How is your life different when you live today as a gift of 24 hours that God has given to you? Maybe this video of the Song I lived by OneRepublic will serve as an inspiration.
Even my deepest heartbreak held a gift. Today matters. I have been fortunate to know people who choose to live each day to it's fullest. I recently got to go on a plane ride with a couple of them. They live valuing each day and it's moment. I keep working, one day at a time, to live like that. I find motivation in stories like this My Last Days on Soul Pancake .
A worthless life-- it is one not lived - a treasure buried, hidden, hoarded, time spent sticking your head in the sand. So today- choose life. Take the risk to live a resurrection life on this side of death. Live a hope-filled life, using the treasures and the time you have been so generously given. And if you don’t know what those treasures are or you find yourself in a spot where you can’t seem to get unstuck - remember you don’t need to do any of this alone. Ask God to help you connect with others who will help you to live with less fear, deeper faith, and clearer purpose. Invest in exploring your own understanding of who God is and how God works in this world. Be not afraid. It was in Matthew’s first teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus instructed his disciples;
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. Matthew 7:7.
The weeping and gnashing of teeth and being thrown into the outer darkness. There are some who might describe 2020 in just this way, especially what it has been like in the election season. We have something to say about that and a way to show up in 2020. To live as followers of Jesus is not to deny the difficulties. It is- to not let them have the last word. So when you are tempted by one of those “I am just going to stick head in the sand moments” maybe this song Forever- by Chris Tomlin will lift your spirits. Seek what reminds you of who you trust God to be.
To live as followers of Jesus is not to pretend that the challenges we face; the illness, death, brokenness, division, fear, frustrations aren’t real. It is to know that in all of challenges, the pain, the heartache and heart break, the divisions and divides, the hurts and the harms that we have both received and perpetrated there is a force, a power that is strong and that is with us. We are living one breath at a time in the love of God invested in us in Jesus.
You have freely received this life of yours, this is your talent, this is your treasure, this is your life. God has invested in you. You have the spark and light of Christ in you. Let it shine. Ask for the help you need to live the life you have been given. And if similar to that fear-filled, burying treasure in the sand slave, you are living out of scarcity, judgment and a theology that is filled with the weeping and gnashing of teeth - pause. Take a breath and take a breather.
Let’s face it- you only have this one beautiful precious life to live. Live it today. Love it with both it’s joys and sorrows, the miraculous and the mundane. We are resurrection people. We get to be hopeful because we know how the story ends. Seek God’s help to live your life ~less afraid of losing it. Live your life knowing and trusting you are a child of the resurrection. Choose trusting God who has entrusted to you- your one incredibly valuable life.
So back to the beginning where we started with the myth about ostriches burying their heads in the sand out of fear. It’s not true. It’s an optical illusion of sorts. When ostrich are tending to their eggs, which they do bury in the sand, several times a day they put their beaks in the sand to turn the eggs. They also dig in the sand for sustenance; bugs and water. It just looks like they are burying their heads. They are actually living their lives.
From a distance, with those long necks, it can look like their heads are buried in the sand, but they aren’t. And all of that tending to their eggs or seeking food and water, has nothing to do with fear. The ostrich are nurturing life that is yet to come. They are finding sustenance for the lives they are living. Using the long necks that God has given them, they live. So with what God has given you, how will you live?