Seventh Sunday of Easter
A little over a year ago graphic designer Mike Bennett, signed on to the Just Water Challenge. The challenge began in the Nazarene Church as a creative way to impress upon people the dire issue of water quality throughout the world.
Bennett accepted the challenge to drink nothing but water for 365 days. He saw in the challenge an emphasis on small intentional choices making a vast difference. Accepting the challenge allowed him to simplify his life and focus on things that needed attention. A bit into his journey, reflecting on his small drop of involvement with others taking the challenge, and looking for ways to express himself in worship art, Bennett began to “paint by beat” as he calls it. Others just think he paints with big drumsticks.
Using long sticks, like drumsticks, with what looks like tennis balls attached to the ends, Bennett cranks up the music in his studio and jams out while he creates images on canvas. As he sees it, each mark has a purpose and is intentional. Each mark comes together to create a larger complete image. Like single drops of water filling a bucket, each beat stroke fills the canvas. Each canvas then is rich in creativity and symbolism as they reflect on Bennett’s water challenge.
Almost a billion people in the world are living without access to clean water. As a result, the leading cause of death worldwide is illness due to waterborne disease, lack of sanitation and poor hygiene practices. In fact, every 15 seconds, a child dies due to water-related causes. Lack of water affects children’s education and families well-being because children and women walk hours each day to gather water, time that could be spent in school, or on other productive actives.
Groups such as Rotary and Churches send teams to build bridges or filtration pumps, dig wells and teach hygiene and safe water practices. But not everyone can travel to far off places to dig or build. The Just Water Initiative is education, a challenge, an event and a celebration of hope in the midst of a global water crisis. It’s an opportunity, wherever we are, and whatever our abilities, to engage the injustice, learn how it affects people’s lives, and actively contribute to changing the stories of children and families who live without access to safe water.
Bennett says of his water-only challenge and his art: “I know I’m not alone in this. There are many others around the world who are on this journey too. Each person on the Just Water journey, and all others advocating for a social justice cause, are like dots on God’s canvas. God is creating a beautiful, creative, redemptive painting and using us and our intentionality to be the dots. While it is sometimes hard to see how each dot will be part of the overall painting, in the end every mark plays an integral role in the overall creation.”
In Matthew’s version of the Parable of the Talents, each servant is given an amount according to their abilities, their gifts, their talents, if you will. And these amounts are vast, a single talent was equal to about 15 years of a laborer’s annual wage. So these vast sums are given wisely, no servant is given more than he or she is capable of handling. Even the one with the least ability is given a significant responsibility, an honor for which he should be grateful. Frankly to be entrusted with over a quarter of a million dollars is not something to be resentful over!
There are no instructions, they are simply given their amounts and the master leaves. What happens to the money is left to each servant, to their own initiative and creativity. The first goes off immediately and worked to double his amount. Sorry investors, there’s no telling exactly how he doubled it. Given Matthew’s approach, it is almost certain it was some form of service to the community of the faithful.
The first and second servants are rewarded for their creative efforts. The master welcomes them into his household. Something that would have astonished Jesus’ original listeners. Servants were just that, servants, full welcome into a master’s household would have been unimaginable.
However, the rewards of the creative are not the point of this parable. It is a parable of judgment and far more attention is given to the negative example and disastrous fate of the third servant. The servant rationalizes his failure to do anything with the talent entrusted to him by blaming his master! He calls him a harsh businessman, a “sharp dealer” who extracts more from a deal than he should. In this servant’s mind, the assignment from the master was not a privilege or honor, but a terrifying responsibility. He envisions the possibility of failure and the fear that would entail punishment. By burying the treasure he preserved the master’s capital.
This fellow probably expected to be commended for showing prudence and returning the capital intact. On the contrary, the master lashes back using essentially the same language as the servant. Then calls him lazy, at the very least he should have invested with a banker, even at 1.3% there would have been some growth!
We don’t know why the servant was lazy. It is evident from his conversation, however, that he has no love for his master. He is interested only in his own security, not in service. His goal is self-preservation, not the work of the master. There is no trace of gratitude that his master entrusted him with so great a sum. And respect for the master is limited to a grudging acknowledgment of power. For all this, he is doomed.
This parable challenges listeners, us, to make full use of the gifts God has entrusted to us. To serve God and God’s world with creativity.
You know, when called to serve, it’s pretty common for us to demure and excuse ourselves by protesting that our gifts are too modest to be significant. That we can’t possibly squeeze into our busy schedules and personal lifestyles, one more thing. The parable insists that the gifts we have been given are precious and are to be exploited to the fullest. As the guy’s explored at breakfast this week, Peter says it this way: As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (I Peter 4:10)
You too can be creative in service, like Don and his portfolio, Warren and his computer bag, Bev and her notepad at Grace Café, the cook and serve teams, the tutors who shepherded 15 sometimes squirrely Curtis students, DT and his list, the one he inherited from Frank who still prowls to meet the needs of the building, the PaperClip patrol that volunteers in the office, our CE teachers and mentors, the dozens who serve on committees of the church, the secret photo poster who creates faces at CPC bulletin board, Pam, Cliff and Dorinda who add so much to our worship space, the session and deacons members who guide and care, the choirs who give time and commitment to lead in worship, Jane and Nancy and their food pantry crews, Bob keeping a sharp eye on our 2020 Strategic plan, Richard strolling the memorial garden for weeds, ushers and greeters who welcome us, and folks who set chairs and tables after the last Saturday event so we can be comfortable at AWE, Sandra who watches over the security of our financial income and Don who makes sure the bills will be paid, and Jude and Sharon who look at a space and say, “hmmmm, how could this better be serve…” Monte who opens up on Sundays, and the liturgists who every Sunday remind us we are a priesthood of all believers.
In the words of Sondheim, and as Mike Bennett paints to call attention to water issues, these faithful and the dozens I missed, are called, bit by bit, dot by dot, to put it together. That’s to work creatively with what God has given each of us, every day, and with our last breath, to share God’s abundant grace all around this corner.