Be led by love
A fearless reflection for these challenging times, by Revd Reija Vienola.
In Matthew 25:14-30 we read the Parable of the Talents. A man goes on a journey, entrusting his wealth to his servants to look after while he is away. Two of them take what they are given and “put his money to work” and double their returns. But one servant buries his master’s money out of fear: “I knew that you are a hard man … so I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”
When the master returns, he is delighted with the first two servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
But the third servant gives his master back exactly what he had been given, with no gain. The master is not pleased: “You should have at least put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.” He casts the servant out and gives his gold to the others. “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
When we stand before God, what will we say? “This is how I spent my life. I did the best I could with what I was given.” I’m sure there are many of you who are already trying to be the best version of yourself. But what does that mean?
There are obvious things: living modestly, not doing evil. But I think it means something deeper. What kinds of injustices are we blessing with our attitudes, by not caring, not listening, not doing anything and just accepting those injustices?
Recent times have been tough: the pandemic, wars in Ukraine and now Gaza, global warming. The world is yelling at us: “Change the way you live, people!” And we say, “Yes, we should change.” But we are unable to. In the face of such huge problems, it is easier to sleep and let the darkness fall over us. Better not to think about structural injustices and just get on with our lives.
In the Parable, one servant hid his talent in the ground. Why? He was afraid.
What happens when we are afraid? We turn inward. We freeze. We lose our creativity. We all know what it is like when an atmosphere is dominated by fear. When fear is mastering our actions, we try to do as little as possible. We are just concentrating on avoiding mistakes because we don’t want to be punished or noticed.
Being afraid is quite an egocentric feeling. It puts us in survival mode. And when we are afraid for our own sake, we forget all others. We stay silent when we should speak, because we are afraid of others’ reactions. We don’t stand for things we believe in, because we are afraid that others won’t support us. We don’t stand for justice, because we are afraid of the consequences.
What are you not doing because you are afraid? And what do you do when fear is leading you?
Admittedly, fear has its place. It helps us survive. Fear warns us to stay away from dangerous places. Sometimes it pays to listen to fear, but we shouldn’t let it be our leader.
Some people think that living the “right way” means we should be able to control our feelings and get rid of “wrong feelings” by trying to forget them, push them away or deny they even exist. But feelings have a message: when you are afraid, could it be that you are not feeling safe? Are you worried that others will reject you? Maybe you don’t want to get hurt.
You can listen to the message your feelings are telling you. However, it doesn’t mean you should act in the way they are telling you.
When I’m afraid, I tend to think of the worst-case scenario. But then I try to think how I would like to act. I think what kind of action would be consistent with my values in this situation. And then, bit by bit, other feelings take the place of fear. Fear is not here to stay. Love is.
Maybe the servant who hid his talent was thinking: “I don’t want to make a mistake, so if I don’t do anything, I won’t make any mistake either.”
But that’s not what life is about. Freezing and thinking only about our own survival is not the right way. Believing God is not living in fear. It is living in love. There is no fear in love. And if fear is driving your actions, you are not letting God lead you.
It is good for us all to remember this message in these globally difficult times. Don’t be led by fear. Be led by love. Let us use our gifts and talents to make the best of the world and trust that we are not alone in this work.
This is an edited version of the sermon delivered by Revd Reija Vienola at St George’s on Sunday 19th November 2023. Watch the full service below.
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