The Rev. David Minnick
Sunday, 16 November 2014
Text: Matthew 25:14-30

Sermon Text

Sermon    11-16-14                                               Matthew 25: 14-30

As Election Day grew closer earlier this month, all of us were flooded with a variety of appeals for our votes from those running for elected office.  Every day, there were pieces of mail from the candidates, along with the endless commercials on radio and television.   Large ads filled the pages of the daily newspapers.  And as we all remember, the tension increased, the personal attacks escalated, and the tone of those appeals changed the closer we got to Election Day.

            Something like that was going on with Jesus and the disciples when he told the parable of the talents, which we’ve just heard.  Today’s lesson comes from that section of Matthew’s gospel that tells of Jesus’ final teachings and warnings to the disciples and all who heard him speak.  And just like for us in those days preceding Election Day, there is a certain intensity rising.  As Jesus senses the completion of his journey in this life, as he spends his final days in the holy city Jerusalem, his words become stronger, his illustrations more vivid, his warnings more pronounced.  The 25th chapter of Matthew records Jesus telling three eye-opening parables as part of his final teachings about the kingdom to come.  The parable of the ten bridesmaids, where half the bridesmaids are prepared and other half are left scrambling to get ready,  today’s lesson, the parable of the talents and the parable of the final judgment, which comes next in the Gospel.   In these parables, at this time in Jesus’ life and preaching, there is no time for warm fuzzy stories of shepherds herding sheep, or fathers welcoming prodigal sons home.  Now, the parables teach of the differences between those who have heard and responded to God’s words, figured out what’s going on and who to follow, and those who are indifferent or undecided or chosen to go in different directions.

            In his own way, Jesus is saying, “It’s time to decide.  Put up or shut up.  The consequences are high and you may only get one shot at getting this right.”  And at times like that, people tend to pay attention and so Jesus tells them these haunting parables, one of which we hear today.

            It is a story rich with meaning.  A master is going on a long journey.  While he is away, he entrusts three slaves with varying degrees of money.  Two of them invested it well and doubled their money, while the third played it safe and buried the money in the ground.  Those who were wise investors are rewarded and affirmed, while the cautious slave is punished, having what little he has taken from him, given to others and cast out into the darkness.

            So much for the kind and caring Jesus, gathering children up in his arms and watching out for the poor and neglected.  The words we hear today seem to come from the lips of a tired and anxious man, and at an increasingly intense time.   A man who has risked much to get his message across and who senses that he will be asked to risk even more in the days to come.

            And so the parables that Jesus tells at this time are told with a certain passion.  This is not a parable celebrating the capitalist economic system, but instead is a parable calling us to live life fully, to take the leap of faith, to risk fallomg so that we can know the wonders of God’s grace, to die to that which would tear us down in life so that we may rise again by the power of God’s love.  That is the wonder and the wisdom of parables. 

            As with any parable, sooner or later, we must look to see what we fit in.  What part of our lives do these words speak to?  What does this parable say about how we are to live our lives?

            Earlier in this section of Matthew, in the beginning of chapter 24, Jesus prefaces the telling of these parables with words that instruct us that these are kingdom parables, different from the discipleship or teaching parables he told earlier in his ministry.  These parables tell about what life in the kingdom of God, life in the world to come, is like.  And implied in these words is the message of Jesus’ life, “Why wait?  Why not start living like that right now?” 

            We are reminded here of Jesus’ call to live our lives faithfully.  For in this parable, the servants who risked much got much.  The one who refused to risk lost what little he had to begin with.

This parable drives home one of the hard earned lessons of life.  Living the faithful life means doing things that sometimes don’t make sense or seem practical.  It means taking risks, with the confidence that God will protect and defend and restore if need be.   It’s a core part of our sense of stewardship; making sacrifices so that others can know the blessings of life when the primitive, fearful parts of our hearts say, “No, keep what you have.   You’ll need it some day.”

The parables that Jesus told in the final days of his earthly ministry make it clear.  There will be a time when the length and breadth of every life will be measured and judged.  We will all one day account, even if only to ourselves, and we are often a far more severe judge than God will be, for the stewardship of our lives—what we have done with that which God has entrusted us with.

Whenever I think of taking a measure of my own life, I am so mindful of the closing scenes of the movie “Schindler’s List.”  Oskar Schindler risked and sacrificed so much over the course of his life, as an insider, to save the lives of Jews destined for death.   At the movie’s end, we learned his actions saved the lives of 1100 Jews, who now have produced 6000 survivors and descendants.  And in one of the final scene, he is haunted by what more he could have done.   His heart is broken by the thought that he could have done more, arguing he never needed such a big car, and selling the car would have saved ten more lives, selling the gold pin on his lapel might have saved two more lives.

            Another question that this parable raises in our minds is this.  What were the images of God in the minds of these servants?   It is clear that the reference to the master going away and coming back is a reference to Jesus’ pending death and resurrection, but beneath the illustration lies the question, “How did these servants picture God?”

            I believe the third servant, the cautious servant believed God to be a rigid book-keeper of morality.  Wearing an eyeshade, this God rigorously keeps a tight record of sins and service.  Never missing the times when people fail or sin.  And so the third servant was determined not to lose what little he had.

            My guess is that many hold images of God like that in our hearts.  They live their lives convinced that God marks and records the actions of our lives like a precise bookkeeper and that our hope for the future lay in our behavior in this life.  It is a widely held image of God and an image of a judgmental and graceless God, an image Jesus comes to challenge and correct.

            Contrast that with the image of God that I believe the first two servants had.  Here God applauds their taking risks, going out into the world, using what God has blessed them with and reaping the rewards of both their risks and God’s favor.  Their God is more like an encouraging coach, slapping backs and offering a word of hope, even after the field goal is missed.  “You were out there and you tried.  I hope you learned something from the experience.”

            God showers us with the gift of grace, calls us to live our lives with some risk and fail from time to time, for in failing, we will grow in our dependence of God’s goodness, worth more to the quality of our lives than a hundred talents.  God calls on us to use the gifts of our lives and the resources of our faith; to use them throughout the world to do God’s work and proclaim the news of God’s redemptive love.  God blesses the wise investors in this story, who used what they had been given and doubled their blessings.

            Jesus warns us here, that in the judgment that will one day come, our lives will be measured.  We will be held, by God or ourselves, to an accounting of how good an investor each of us has been.  Not in making money or timing the market, not in gaining power or status, but in using the gifts of God to the glory of God.  Sowing seeds, proclaiming good news, building the kingdom through acts of love, kindness, charity, hope, peace and joy.  Seeking the ways to turn swords into plowshares, daring to believe that someday the lion will lay down with the lamb and living according to that belief in faith,

            Throughout the centuries, many who have heard this parable, are likely to have identified themselves with the third servant.  Afraid to lose what God has given them, anxious about disappointing God, they live less than the lives that God has created them to know.  If that applies to you today, and there are certainly times in my life when it aptly described me, take heart.  In this parable and throughout his life, Jesus teaches and models the wonders of God’s transforming and redemptive love.   It’s only in our brokenness that our hearts are truly open to God’s goodness and grace.

Advent begins in two weeks and it’s time again to prepare for the Master to return home.  Let us all start by looking at the stewardship of our lives and the talents God has showered us with.  Are we on track to multiply them or are we just waiting for the signal to dig them up out of the ground where we’ve hidden them? 

            Are we living our lives in ways that will lead us to fewer regrets?   Are we living lives that boldly witness to God’s grace and love?    Are we living risky enough lives to witness to the world our faith that God is alive and with us, that God’s grace and love triumphs and redeems us?     Thanks be to God for the good news of this day, that when we are open to it’s promise, can lead us to know life and faith more fully.   Amen.