Sermon on a Pretty Terrible Parable

Matthew 25:14-30

14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”21His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s an ancient legend about one of the Desert Fathers from early, early Christianity. These desert fathers were driven by faith into the wilderness to live with very little material comfort but with intense spiritual practices and riches. One day a young monk came to Abba Joseph and asked him what more he could do, since he was already doing some fasting, and some praying, and some work, mostly weaving baskets. The story goes that the holy man responded by raising his hands, and fire shot out from his fingers as he responded to the young man with this great challenge:  “Why not become totally fire?” Abba Joseph tries to get the young monk to think outside of the box in how we live our lives in devotion to God. I think that’s the same objective Jesus has in the parable he tells in today’s gospel.

In the parable today, Jesus is preaching to a world that’s about to turn. This is the 25th chapter of Matthew. Things are starting to get urgent for Jesus. In chapter 26, we get the betrayal, the arrest and all that comes after. Jesus wants to get a little more teaching in. In this parable, a master gives his slaves an unequal amount of talents. A talent in that day was equal to 6,000 denarii. Essentially, 1 talent was about 20 years worth of working wages. It’s a lot of money. To the first slave, the master gives 5 talents – 100 years worth of wages, to the second slave, he gives two and the final slave gets one. Then the master leaves without announcing when he will return. It says that “after a long time”, the master came back to check up on them. The first slave comes forward and says he has doubled what the master has given him. He has passed the test, so to speak. Then the slave who was given two talents shows that he has also doubled what the master gave him and is equally praised by the master. Then we get to the slave who was given one talent. Out of fear, he did nothing with what was given to him. He hid it in the ground and went about his life. He refused to use what was given to him by the master because he feared the master.

Notice the abrupt turn in the parable here: “You wicked and lazy slave! Take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew has this obsession with weeping and gnashing of teeth. We get the sense that the end is near and those who have will be given an abundance and those who do not have will be cast out.

I have a professor at seminary who calls these types of parables the “you better watch out, you better not cry” parables of Jesus. It’s very hard for us to come at this parable with the same kind of urgency that Jesus would have had with his followers. People who predict the end of the world in our modern culture are laughed out of the public arena. Look no further than Harold Camping, the Family Radio president who has made a sport of predicting the end. But even though we may have a hard time replicating the urgency with which Jesus spoke, the intensity of this poignant story does still resonate. We know these moments of challenge and opportunity well – opportunity to speak truthfully, to act faithfully, to venture into possibilities both promising and frightening.

If we’re not careful, this passage can be woefully abused as an excuse to ignore people who don’t have as many possessions as others. That’s a terrible abuse of the words of Jesus in this parable. More is given to people who act on the gifts they’ve been given. The third slave buried his gift in the ground and ignored it. He sat on his hands out of fear of God and refused to do the work of bringing about the kingdom of God in the world. Martin Luther once said that even if he knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, he would still plant an apple tree. He knew, much like the first two slaves, that the gift itself wasn’t the indicator of devotion, but what each person does with the gift is what is truly important. Jesus is dealing with a world that’s about to end, cast out on a cross, and he’s warning us against becoming complacent and sitting on our hands, ignoring the gifts that God has given us.

Jesus reminds us that these gifts are given to us to bridge the gap from the world that is over to the world that is meant to be; to change the world to bring about a more peaceful and just society. We have countless examples of this in people like Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King. All of these people used the gifts that were given them to bring about tremendous change in their surrounding communities and, indeed, throughout the world. But most of us may not have the same particular gifts that these great people do.

But most of us could probably be like Rosa Parks, whose quiet determination simply refused to put up with the unjust
ways of the world as it is, so she quietly stayed seated and lived into the world as it is meant to be. It had to have taken gifts of incredible determination and will to step up to the unjust powers of the day and say, “No more!” We could all do worse than pay close attention to the quiet whisper inside our soul that says something isn’t right. And we know what we can do to change it.

What are your gifts?

What has God given us in this community to help us live into God’s kingdom?

Are we using them to their fullest extent?

How can we unbury our gifts – as surely we are all guilty of burying them at some point?

Why did God give us our gifts, our passions, our determination, our will?

For what greater purpose?

I’ve only been here for a few months now, but I know for certain that this community is full of gifts. Many are being used on a daily basis. But even though we can all be like the wicked and lazy slave from time to time – we’ve all been there with him in the outer darkness at one time or another – there’s another world that operates as though things exist in a different way. God’s promise of new creation is the promise that every living creature will be brought into the world as it is meant to be, not only as it is. All of our imaginations are so often tied to the world as it already is. That limits the possibilities that we are capable of seeing. We are like the monk in the beginning who asks his master if there is more fasting or prayer that he can do. He’s looking for solutions that come from this world. But what if we stepped outside the box of our story and looked for connections to God’s story of redemption and reconciliation with all of creation? Then we are no longer people of what is actual. We become a people of possibility. We become a people who see things not as they are, but how they can be. We experience what it truly means to live into the kingdom of God.

May God help us, guide us and renew us for the use of the gifts that have been entrusted to us to help bring about the world as it is meant to be: a creation of equality and justice for all. Amen.

Cheers,
Eric

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