Thursday, 13 August 2015

Loyalty; a dusty antique?

Scriptures for Sunday Aug. 16 worship at FMC. Gal. 5:22, 1 Sam 20, Matt. 25:14-30, Lam. 3:22-24
Theme: Faithfulness

What does faithfulness look like? In a society where the individual is at the center of decisions, where the possibility of litigation is a first thought before a church program can begin, where people change careers like clothing, and serial monogamy is perhaps becoming normative, what is the value of faithfulness? Is loyalty important or an antique to admire, but leave on the shelf?

Galatians lists faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit, and the Samuel and Matthew stories present stories of faithfulness, from two very different perspectives.

Samuel 20 is a dramatic account of faithfulness between friends, a faithfulness that comes at great cost to Jonathan, who makes a difficult and daring choice to side with David instead of King Saul, his father. From our vantage point, relying on a Biblical account biased toward David, it is easy for us to choose the young, brave, and charismatic David over the jealous, deranged, and delusional Saul. Jonathan, however, had to make his choice from the midst of chaos, divided loyalties, and  political ambition. He loves David, believes him innocent of treason, and is sworn to friendship with him. On the other hand, he is also loyal to the king and is expected to sit the throne himself someday. He probably loves his father, too. His decision to stand by David, and to try to reason with Saul is a choice he knows will likely cost him the throne. He knows it will incur Saul's anger. (Saul gets so angry he even throws a spear at him.) Jonathan still chooses to be faithful to David. He also chooses to be faithful to Saul, remaining in the court and continuing to fight where Saul sends him. It must have been a difficult place to stay. His only consolation is that in all of this, he believes he and David have acted faithfully in the sight of God. "the Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever." (v. 42) In chapter 31, Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are killed in battle. Jonathan's faithfulness to both David and Saul was a brutal choice. It did not lead to an easy life, but it is clear that Jonathan made his choices and faithfully stuck with them, not for himself, but for love of his friend, his God, and his family. His loyalty did not "pay off" for him directly, but years later, it paid off for his descendants, when David honoured his part of their pact.

The story of the talents in Matthew is also a story of faithfulness. The master trusts his 3 servants with his fortune while he is away. This is a significant amount. A "talent" was worth 15-20 years wages for the average labourer! So even the servant who was given one talent, was given a massive trust! (Each servant was given; "according to his ability". This means the master knew that they could handle the responsibility-it was not beyond their skills.) Two of the servants handle the money the way they knew the master would want it handled. When the master gets back, he calls them trustworthy, because they acted according to their skills and their knowledge of him. The third makes excuses. He even insults the master by calling him harsh.This is how he justifies his fear, yet, it doesn't make sense and the master calls him on it. He could have, with minimal effort and no risk, put the money in the bank instead of burying it. That would have made more sense if he truly believed the master was harsh.

(An aside: We might think burying the money was strange, but it was a common practice. It was easy and often make sense for people to do this. In the servants case, it was plain lazy and may have also been self-serving. He couldn't be bothered to act out the part of the faithful servant, even to simply gather interest on the money. I think this hiding of money is still common. Many people have a "mattress stash" or a wallet of cash, or money stuffed under the rug like we found in our home when we pulled up the original carpet. People like to have an emergency fund, a bit of money for a 'rainy day' that only they know about. I wonder if the 3rd servant was thinking of his masters hidden money in this fashion---he'd return it if all went well, but take off with it if he ran into a personal emergency? In any case, he was putting himself first, and the master's possessions and desires were a distant second.)

The third servant wasn't faced with hard decisions like Jonathan was. He lived in security. He was complacent instead of faithful. He put his own convenience ahead of his responsibilities.

Sometimes being faithful is hard, it might mean choosing between God and family expectations. It might mean making people angry. It might mean losing a job or losing face. On the other hand, sometimes being faithful is easy, simply doing something you already have the resources to do. In all cases, faithfulness isn't about doing what is best for "me", but what is the best in God's eyes, what is the best in the long run for God's people.

I don't want to have loyalty and faithfulness as dusty antiques on the shelf. Our time, skills, and resources need to be employed in the difficult and the easy times for the long term good of the whole people. I want to live in a community and world where the majority of people can be depended on to do what is best for the whole, instead of being mainly consumed by their immediate desires.When the master returns, I long to hear those words; "well done, good and trustworthy slave...enter into the joy of your master!"

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