Our Hidden Identity, Proper 28 (A) - 2002

November 17, 2002

[A special note to the reader or preacher: this sermon is built around a poem or kind of "rap" lyric that is designed for antiphonal call and response. The reader reads a line and the congregation repeats that line. Of course, the lyric can simply be read as a poem. But if it is done antiphonally, it may, for instance, be accompanied by a simple drumbeat -- a conga drum, djembe, bongo, etc. Or it may be accompanied by some kind of clapping or by a combination of foot stomp and clap-stomp-stomp clap, stomp-stomp clap. If you use some thought and creativity, and can work in collaboration with musicians, you and the congregation will be richly rewarded. The more the congregation can participate in reading the lines, the more each person present will internalize this exploration of the meaning of our church's corporate name: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.]

The Parable of the Talents that we hear in today's Gospel is one of our trickier parables. Trickier because we want to see it as justifying capitalism or some sort of commitment to self-improvement by better using the gifts and talents we are given. John Pilch, an important biblical scholar and author of The Cultural World of Jesus, assures us that the Mediterranean peasants listening to this story would not share the modern concern for capitalism or the culture of self-improvement. The story would, Pilch would say, reinforce their view that people like the master exist in their experience, and are dishonorable, shameless, and rapacious in reaping that which is not theirs to begin with.

In fact, there are other versions of this parable from the first century that conclude with the third slave being viewed as the only honorable person in the entire story, taking the safe and prudent course of action. That is, we ought not to jump to the conclusion that the master is demonstrating the behavior of God. Rather the story is illustrative of the kinds of oppressive ownership issues with which people in the world of Jesus struggled every day.

For Matthew's audience of early Christians, this might actually have been descriptive of what was happening in the persecutions of the early church as they touched the lives of church members. But what about those of us who are hearing the parable this morning? What might Jesus be saying to us here and now?

It is as strong theme in Matthew, notably in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are not to hide our light under a bushel. A city on a hill cannot be hid. As the old song says, we are to let our light shine, shine, shine, so that others might see our good works and give glory to God. That is exactly what he says in chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel. To hide our light, to hide the city of God, to hide the church, to hide our good works is to deny others the opportunity to give God the glory and praise our God so deeply desires and richly deserves. To do so is to keep our true identity as imago Dei, people created in the image of God, a secret from others, ourselves, and from all of creation. To hide one's true self, suggests Jesus over and over again as well as in this parable, has eternal consequences.

It might surprise many people to learn that the name of our church is hidden. Not of this parish, but in some respects, of the Episcopal Church itself. The corporate name of this body -- an institution of which many of us are rightly proud -- is very significant. By resolution of our General Convention in the last century, our corporate name became The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society -- or DFMS, for short. Like the third servant, we keep that face of our identity buried. It's too bad, because DFMS is a name that is wonderfully descriptive of who we are and what we are meant to be doing.

We are indeed a society of missionaries sent to do mission both locally and abroad. It might help if we knew that. It might help if, as a reminder, we put, on our Episcopal Church sign in front of our church building, for example, St. Peter's Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, if only to remind ourselves each time we come to church, who we are called to be.

To illustrate the richness of our corporate name, join in repeating each line of this "rap" poem, exploring the hidden and yet important meanings of that name: DFMS.

DFMS

DFMS

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

Serving people everywhere of ever variety

We work for Jesus, We work for God

Serving people everywhere

At home and abroad

Domestic means family

Domestic means home

Domestic means native

Domestic means servant

Ye servants of Jesus

Ye servants of God

Domestic and foreign missionary society

Serving people everywhere of every variety

We work for Jesus, We work for God

Serving people everywhere

At home and abroad

Foreign means from another country

Foreign means Alien

Foreign means Immigrant

Foreign means Different

Foreign means Unknown

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

Serving people everywhere of every variety

We work for Jesus, We work for God

Serving people everywhere

At home and abroad

Missionary means Messenger

Missionary means Teacher

Missionary means Apostle

Missionary means Herald

Hark, the Herald

Hark, the Herald

Missionary means Evangelist

Evangelist means good angel

Good angel

Good angel

We are all good angels

A society of angels

Society

Company

Fellowship

Communion

Society of variety

Company of variety

Fellowship of variety

Communion of variety

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

Serving people everywhere of every variety

We work for Jesus, We work for God

Serving people everywhere

At home and abroad

Let our lights shine

Put them high on a stand

To shine in every heart

Everywhere in every land

Don't hide them in the ground

Don't bury them in the sand

We are the light

The light of the world

A city on a hill cannot be hid

We are the light

The light of the world

Let your light shine

So others might see

See your good works

And give glory to God

Let your light shine

So others might see

We are the

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

Serving people everywhere of every variety

We work for Jesus, We work for God

Serving people everywhere

At home and abroad

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society

DFMS

DFMS

Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. That's our corporate name. We should take it out from underneath whatever bushel we hide it under so that all the world may see just who we are and what we are all about.

Amen.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Contact:
Christopher Sikkema