“No slave can have two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” — Luke 16:1-13
It was early fall – right around Labor Day. Everyone on Skidaway Island was tuned in to the Weather Channel to see where Hurricane Fran was going to land. As the weathermen busily charted her course the likelihood of a hit near Savannah rapidly increased. By late afternoon, all islands had been asked to evacuate by 4:00 p.m. Now I tried to stay calm, but that really goes against my nature. Randy sat quite comfortably in his chair watching the weathermen on television while I scurried around the house like crazy. First, I started grabbing up all the video tapes: videos of our ordinations, our wedding, our children, etc… Then I started grabbing photographs and scrapbooks. Randy would occasionally offer his assistance from his perched spot in the den by yelling down the hall at me: “Be sure to pack photos of some of my relatives!”
Next I moved on to packing clothes for the family and essentials like our locked box with our important documents, while Randy tried to find a place for us to stay- which was a difficult job in and of itself because most places nearby were already booked and not every hotel wants an 80 pound Black Lab as a guest. Fortunately for us, a parishioner had booked an extra room in Jacksonville and we took it. Well, we were destined to leave in one hour and I was still hustling. Randy continued to tease me as I got my wedding gown and the family christening gown from underneath the bed. He kept saying, “remember, we only have two cars, and the children can’t ride on top!” Well, an hour was just a little too much time for me to have. I started packing the flat silver, rolling up the rugs, and taking paintings off the wall. I was out of control. I was convinced beyond any doubt that I needed all of this “stuff”, and that I would be lost without it. I even took a video of the inside and outside of our house because a friend in the insurance business said it would be wise to do so- as if I needed that – the inside of our house was now neatly packed into two cars! There was hardly room for the children and the dog. As we took off across the Causeway, a vision of the Okies in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath came to mind.
By the time we all landed in Jacksonville ( sometime very late in the evening because of all the traffic on 95), I remember Randy looking at me slightly annoyed and saying, “now I have got to unload all of this “stuff”, because you can be darn sure I didn’t drive all the way to Jacksonville to escape a hurricane only to have everything we own stolen from the hotel parking lot!” (I think he said “darn”) Needless to say, we didn’t speak much during the unloading. To make matters worse, the family who had gotten the room for us, pulled up right next to us and unloaded their belongings. All they had were two suitcases. To say I was slightly embarrassed by my car full of possessions would be an understatement. We went to bed that night and woke up to find that Savannah had been spared, but the whole experience made me do a lot of soul searching.
I thought in some way that I could control my life and this situation by being prepared. And obviously for me, being prepared was more than bottled water and canned foods. Why was that? Didn’t I know what was essential? Hadn’t I been a priest for close to ten years? Shouldn’t I know better? Did my value as a human being, my identity, come from the silver chest or did it come from being a child of God ? Would my life be meaningless if everything had been lost? And if everything had been lost, wouldn’t God deliver me from my distress? In the end, I didn’t want to be without my things. I wanted all of my “stuff” with me. It was all irreplaceable in my eyes and it had been lifted to a level that bordered on being idolatrous.
So today when I read the last sentence of the gospel it makes me uncomfortable, it makes me squirm. As it should. “No one can serve two masters.” This one sentence has the potential to shake me to my very core. It is important that we take these words seriously. Jesus frequently warned of this very trap. Money can be a despot. When it becomes an idol, then it blocks our access to God; and it is as if we are relying on our wealth for security rather than on our God for our security. Jesus’ message is vividly clear- make no mistake about it- God is to be our only master.
Is He our only Master? Do we rely solely on Him for everything we need? Or do we try to provide for ourselves and control and manipulate our situations at all cost- like I did with the hurricane evacuation? Often times we look to our portfolios or our possessions or even our families or our jobs to give us a strong feeling of safety, and they do provide us with some sense of security, but they don’t give us ultimate security. There is only one true source for security and that is our faith in a loving and redeeming God. And He is to be the only Master.
And hasn’t this truth been brought to light during the horrific events of the past two weeks. There is so much in this world that is simply beyond our control and that is hard for most of us to accept. And if you are like me at all, then these events have brought that fact clearly to the forefront; and it makes me afraid. I am afraid of the future. I have fear as I watch the stock market free fall- as the local paper reported yesterday. I have fear for our military as they prepare to leave their families and loved ones for battle. I have fear for what plot might be executed next in our homeland. And these are very real feelings. So how do I rid myself of these fears so that I might rely completely on God? How do I rid myself of these fears so that I might see each day for what it is- a gift from God? I don’t have any easy answers on how to make the shift. And there is a reason why it is not easy. God does not give easy answers. He never said that we would never know evil. And He never said that following Him would be easy. But, He does call us – God calls us to rely on Him alone for everything. He is to be our only Master.
In closing, I would like to say that moments like our nation has just experienced force us to embrace our fears by embracing our faith in God. It forces us to rely on Him for support, for comfort, for provisions, for solace, for peace, for love, for literally everything we need. And it is during times such as these, when I feel that so much is beyond my control, beyond my grasp, that I am reminded of the verse in Luke’s gospel where Jesus tells the disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) And so when I feel afraid, vulnerable, sad – that is the good news that I hold fast to- because as we heard this morning in the gospel: there is but one Master -there should be no substitutions- and He loves his little flock very much. AMEN.