November 19, 2023

"Buried Treasure”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 25:14-30

I believe I have spoken, in a previous sermon, about a wonderful gift I was given from my daughter last Christmas. It’s a program called Story Worth. Each week I receive a question by email from the creators of Story Worth regarding various aspects of my life – questions I may or may not have discussed with anyone before. The questions force me to think about my life and respond with stories that reveal thoughts and feelings and incidents in my life that I have likely never disclosed. So, I’ve responded to questions like: Who was your best friend in elementary school? Did you have a favorite pet? Tell us about a time when you were lost. What did you do?  Is there any significance to the names of your children? And, Which musicians or bands have you most enjoyed seeing live? Each Monday a new question arrives in my inbox – and each week I respond and add to my growing memoire. 

In the end, all these stories – to which I have included relevant pictures – will be compiled into a book that my kids will have as a keepsake of sorts. I’ve joked, at least it will give them good fodder for my funeral. 

As someone who writes for a living, I have LOVED this program. It’s brought me great joy as I participate in a generative activity where I am encouraged to reveal my innermost thoughts that may not be read until long after I am gone. I’ve ALSO noticed how the question of the week often has substantial relevance for my life here and now. This week’s question is a case in point. 

It asked: When you were a child, did you have a special hiding place? At first my memories went to actual hiding places in the back of drawers and in the basement of our house or under my bed where I could conceal all my secrets from my parents and my sister. Silly now – but so important then. But I then I remembered playing “Hide and Go Seek” on summer evenings with kids from my neighborhood and I remembered my favorite spot where no one could ever find me. It was a place where I could hide myself as long as it took till the game was over – sometimes never coming out until everyone had given up and gone home – thus preserving my special spot. It was a great hiding spot as I recall, but then it was not much fun never being found. 

Hiding – may be important at times. We may even think it essential on specific occasions – but it can also be costly to ourselves and others.

Jesus’ parable of the talents demonstrates an interesting spin on this notion. In it he highlights the importance of using the talents given (in this case represented by money) to invest in some way to gain the highest possible yield – as did the ones who were given 5 and 2 thousand talents respectively. But to the servant he gave only one thousand – who lived his life in fear vis a vis his relationship to the master – hiding or burying his talent seemed his best option – an option that ended up as disastrous. 

Like I said, hiding can be important at times, but unless we’re talking about Christmas presents or life-giving surprises it usually robs the giver AND the receiver of something very important, and the consequences may be costly. 

The man who buried the treasure entrusted to him is a perfect example. In fact, I’m convinced Jesus was referring to much more than money in this story.

What if we expanded this image a bit to think of the treasure each one was given as the inherent gift or gifts with which they were blessed – gifts that could either be used and celebrated as they grew or go unnoticed when buried in fear – remaining hidden and unknown. [Pause]

I’m finished reading a very interesting and important book this past week by the Rev. Mel White entitled “Storming the Gate.” It is a follow-up to his autobiography “Stranger at the Gate,” written nearly 30 years ago – a book that was instrumental to many of us encouraging us to come out from our own well-disguised hiding places.

Mel White is an ordained minister, former Dean of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, and a community activist – founder of Soul Force which advocates for the rights and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. The book provides documentation of the many direct non-violent actions taken under his leadership to confront Fundamentalist Preachers like Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty Baptist University, Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 Club – a television program viewed by millions around the world each day, and James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family Ministries – a multi-billion-dollar enterprise in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Each of these men and the organizations they’ve led spread lies about homosexuality in general and LGBT individuals in specific. Lies that tormented many who sat under their leadership, worked for them, some who even committed suicide as a result of the guilt they experienced as they hid their gift — the gift of who they were as a child of God.

Mel’s message is simple: I am gay, and I am loved by God, but it took more than 35 years for him to accept his own sexual orientation and to embrace it rather than hide it – bury it – conceal it so that no one would ever find out or find him. Hiding in a straight life and working within the fundamentalist world gave him a great deal of privilege but it tore him apart resulting in long bouts of depression and the fear that God hated him and would one day condemn him to hell – a message propagated by the fundamentalist preachers I just mentioned. 

When he finally came out from his hiding place, he realized there was a beautiful soul waiting to emerge. Much like the butterfly emerging from his chrysalis, he was now free, beautiful, and fully himself. I know this story all too well – maybe you do too. 

It may not be an issue of sexual orientation. It may not be one of gender identity. It may not have the consequences of life and death – but hiding – burying – is almost always costly for the one who has been given the gift and the many who are robbed of its blessing because the treasure has been hidden – buried out of the fear of rejection. [Pause]

Benedictine Monk Thomas Merton observed in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, “a tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” I recite that phrase often – a mantra of sorts – when I fear who I am may not been good enough or thought of as less than in another’s eyes. A reality sometimes expressed in disappointment – at other times in outright hatred. The mantra reminds me it is essential to be my authentic self (a concept Fr. Merton developed in many of his writings). Honesty and authenticity is my responsibility and is the primary way I can demonstrate my love for God. When I love and embrace and reveal who I am God is delighted as God is given opportunity to celebrate God’s creation. And when I realize that and live that truth – I have the joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!

If I bury that treasure everyone loses. 

It’s why the master – who gave out the gifts in our story was so disappointed in the man who buried his. In so doing he missed the opportunity to delight his master – AND missed the opportunity to celebrate joy in his own life. 

Each one of us has talents – gifts with which we have been blessed. Our very being – our authentic self – is our most precious gift — and needs to be celebrated. But there are others as well. Some can sing, others can preach, some are skilled in electronics and computers, others understand spreadsheets, some are good at holding the hand of the sick and dying, others are astute administrators and are detail oriented. To each a measure has been given. Gifts to be celebrated and used not buried. If we bury our treasure, we all lose in the end. 

A tree gives glory to God only by being a tree – how about you? 


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