“Risk Taking Church”

Matthew 25:14-30

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and the West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 25:14-30 - The Parable of the Talents

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

 

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then 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.’ His 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.’ And 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.’ His 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.’ 

 

Then 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But 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? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So 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.’

 

Prayer.

 

Tuesday of Holy Week.

Jesus sees what his followers fail to see.

He knows what his disciples deny.

Time is short.

He will soon be gone

Leaving the rest of us behind

To wait.

To watch.

To anticipate his return.

 

Last Sunday,

We listened to his parable of ten bridesmaids;

Those who were prepared for the bridegroom’s return

And those where were not.

 

Next Sunday

We will experience the Son of Man

Returning to judge the nations,

Separating people as if sheep and goats.

 

Today,

We’re the lettuce, tomato, and bacon in a tasty BLT;

Stewards of the master’s talents,

Waiting for his return.

Waiting.

Anxious of the unknown.

Confident in our master’s resolve.

Fearful of falling asleep.

Hopeful we don’t disappoint.

Longing to be found prepared.

 

Parousia is the word.

Like waiting at the crossing for the night freight to appear,

Early disciples of Jesus expected an imminent return of the master.

Later disciples grew tired of waiting and sought new meaning,

As if scripture would re-write itself.

Parousia is

Christ has come;

Christ is here;

Christ will return.

It’s pretty simple, actually.

 

Hold on to this Parousia thought.

 

A good story is a memorable story.

Jesus was a great story teller.

Today’s story connected with his audience,

Hooked them in with real world events,

Such that they were retelling it for generations thereafter.

It was so memorable 1,500 years later

The word “talent” was adapted in Old English vocabulary

To become a synonym for

Abilities or natural God given gifts,

As we know it today.

But when Jesus referred to a talent

He was speaking about a large sum of money.

 

How large? You ask.

One talent was equivalent to

The wages of a day laborer

For 15 years.

15 years of work.

15 years of sweat,

back breaking,

dog barking

hard labor.

 

This isn’t the first time Jesus teaches about talents.

Think back with me.

Remember Jesus teaching in the Temple courtyard

The parable of the unforgiving servant?

The one who was forgiven 10,000 talents,

- A Bill Gates sized fortune -

But wouldn’t forgive his debtor

A much smaller amount,

100 days’ worth of labor,

Or 100 denarius.

 

Today’s parable is pure fiction.

Jesus made it up.

He relied upon his divine creativity

To chisel a larger truth

Out of the hard rock

Of real world circumstances.

On the surface,

The simplicity canard has led

Superficial interpreters through the ages to get it wrong.

Don’t be that guy;

Who encourages wealth and affluence

Or who advocates putting the poor in their place

Because Jesus said

“To all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

(Matthew 25:21 and 23)

 

Let us be swept back to the Tuesday of Holy Week.

Let the Spirit fill our lungs with a sense of Parousia,

- remember Parousia? -

A sense of expectantly waiting,

Actively, faithfully waiting

For Jesus to come again.

 

In today’s parable

Jesus shrinks yesterday’s Bill Gates fortune

Down to a size most of us can understand.

The story goes,

 

The master entrusted one with two and a half million dollars ($2,500,000),

To another one million dollars ($1,000,000),

And to a third a half of a million dollars ($500,000),

Each according to their ability.

Ability is an important characteristic of this story.

Everyone has ability,

Some more,

Some less.

The master’s wisdom

Compensates for every deficit.

The master doesn’t set his workers up to fail.

The master is cheering for everyone to succeed!

 

“Entrusted” is the most proper English equivalent of the original Greek.

Entrusted conveys a meaning that

The care and wellbeing of property

Is handed over from one person to another.

Stewardship is the responsibility,

With the understanding

That a future accounting is expected.

 

Pay careful attention:

The slaves entrusted with both 5 and 2 talents, respectively,

Took initiative,

Took risks with their master’s property.

 

They identified opportunity,

Deemed the risks manageable,

Within the bounds of responsible stewardship.

Then they boldly grabbed the opportunity when it presented itself.

Seize the day!

There was nothing passive about their approach.

They eagerly,

Actively,

Sought the opportunity to double their master’s money.

 

When it comes to Jesus Christ

Risk takers shoot and score.

 

What about the guy who played the safe card?

That guy was entrusted with just one talent.

Obviously the master didn’t think that guy

Was the sharpest knife in the drawer.

He took a different approach.

He made an assumption about his master that was wrong.

He assumed his master was a harsh man,

Harvesting what wasn’t his,

Reaping what he had not planted.

That guy could not have been more mistaken.

Based on wrong information,

His response was to bury the talent in the back yard and to wait it out.

His response was passive and motivated by fear.

His method was maintaining the status quo;

Doing just the bare minimum

With the hope of simply flying under the radar,

Just slipping by.

 

Don’t be that guy.

 

The master returns and demands an audit.

To the risk takers, praise is awarded.

The floodgates of generosity are opened.

Prosperous stewardship is the metric used for assessment.

 

To those who prospered

Are given more responsibility

Even as they are welcomed into the joy of their master.

 

If the third worker had any sense about him at his point

He was probably thinking to himself,

 “Wait a minute!”

“The master is harsh, not benevolent and generous.”

“How can this be?”

 

So when he is called forward and asked for an accounting,

The third worker begins with an excuse,

An attempt to justify his behavior.

Parents, when you ask your chocolate covered child,

“Who ate the candy bar?”

 And your baby begins with a justification,

An excuse,

You know you’re in for some entertainment!

 

The response was off the charts!

 

The master reared back and raged,

“‘You wicked and lazy slave!’”

You made assumptions about me, that I was harsh and a thief?

I’ll show you what a thief I am,

“’Take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents.’”

I’ll show you how harsh I am,

“’As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Darkness.

Tears.

Monsters.

 

Jesus leaves us with standing

 

With the left foot in one canoe

And the right foot in another.

We are forced into a dilemma

And will have to make a snap decision.

Are we to believe the master is generous, as he was to the first two slaves?

Or are to believe the master is harsh and judgmental, as he was to the third slave?

The answer, of course, is both-and.

The master is both benevolent and a judge,

Gracious as well as being rooted in the Law,

Giving beyond the imagination,

Yet willing to cut off one of his own

And throw them into the outer darkness.

 

The sword of Christ cuts in both directions.

 Judgment is balanced with grace.

Death is offset by resurrection.

The grave is replaced by eternal life.

 

But as I mentioned in the outset,

This parable isn’t about the master.

We know who the master is.

We know the master is Jesus himself.

We know about the master’s character and experience.

This parable is about the master’s servants

and how his servants prepare for his return.

 

Remember Parusia?

 

We are the servants of Christ,

Waiting for, looking for, our master’s return.

He may simply come again, as a baby born on Christmas.

Or he may come again in the next moment

When this heart fails to beat and I take my final breath.

What then are we to learn about preparing for our master’s return?

 

First, this parable is telling us that

 

Well-meaning but wrong assumptions lead to wrong answers.

You’ve heard the old saying about what happens when you assume something.

It makes an ass-of-u-and-me.

Assumptions are based on incomplete information.

Decisions based on incomplete information,

Sometimes can work out ok,

But more often end up leading to disaster.

The intent can be well meaning from start to finish.

But decisions based on assumptions lead to undesired outcomes.

 

Does this parable not beg us to re-evaluate our assumptions about God?

We should feel encouraged to dig deeper,

Explore Christ more thoroughly,

Live more completely in God’s presence.

Instead of making assumptions about God

How about listening to the whisper of his voice?

 

Secondly,

 

Fear is a lousy motivator, and it leads to unfaithful stewardship.

Just as the unfaithful slave acted out of fear for his master,

So too is fear a lousy motivator today.

We will not lead one person to a relationship with Jesus Christ by scaring them to hell.

Damnation doesn’t work.

There are those who will use fear to oppress others.

Organized religion has mastered this skill in spades.

Long is the history of religion using fear as a motivating factor for behavior change.

Fear becomes polarizing, driving people away.

Fear becomes paralyzing, leading to inaction.

Fear becomes a cancer that spreads death throughout the body.

Fear enables the wicked.

Fear accommodates the lazy.

 

Third.

 

Maintaining the status quo is unacceptable.

As it is said, “He who does not increase decreases.”

We can either grow in depth of spirituality,

Or wither and fade on the vine.

We can either grow by invitation, friendship, and outreach,

Or we will become overwhelmed by inflation and economies beyond our control.

Burying our treasures in a hole in the ground,

Is like burying out head in just another hole.

Save it for a rainy day,

Iron turns to rust,

And gifts go to seed;

All signs of unfaithful stewardship.

Jesus wasn’t happy with keeping the status quo.

Neither should we.

 

Fourthly, I believe Jesus is telling his disciples,

- and us gathered here today –

 

That faithful waiting requires

Taking the initiative and making calculated risks.

A vital church is a risk-taking church.

We must take our faith to others,

Not wait for others to come to us.

We must go where we are not invited,

Invest our time and effort without being asked,

And be willing to risk it all if necessary,

All for the double fold gain in the Kingdom of God.

Everything we have, we must be prepared to loose.

Everything we’ve obtained, we must be ready to place at risk,

So that we might return double God’s investment.

 

What does risk taking ministry look like?

It means taking the risk to leave yesterday behind.

A risk taking church seeks out the last, the least, the lost, the broken, the cast out

- not for what we can do for them, but for how they can change us.

A risk taking church seeks new friends, not more members.

A risk taking church places the focus on Jesus, not on money,

But is confident that God provides all we need.   

 

Risk taking churches seeks the need, and meets it.

Instead of looking at the world as a place full of problems,

Risk taking disciples of Jesus see the world as a place full of opportunity!

Where can we share Christ?

Where can we lend our Christ-like example?

How can we transform this problem into a means for God’s greater glory?

Opportunities to stretch the fabric of God’s Kingdom are all around us.

Take the initiative.

Seize the high ground.

That’s what risk taking discipleship is all about.

 

Lastly, the most obvious truth Jesus is telling us today

 

Is that faithful waiting means using the gifts and resources we are given.

Every one of us is give according to our ability.

Use your talents for God’s glory,

Less, like the unfaithful slave, you will lose what talents you have.

Use your money for the advancement of God’s will and mission.

Use your God given abilities to build up the Church, the body of Christ.

Use the time God has given you on this revolving planet to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ,

To share his grace, and fulfill God’s Kingdom.

Use every breath that God has given you to whisper a prayer.

Use every parcel of food God has blessed your table with, for His greater glory.

Open every relationship you have with others,

Relationships God has given you,

To include opportunities for faith to grow.

 

Be sure our master doesn’t find us wicked or just plain lazy.

The worst thing we can do is sit back and do nothing.

 

When Parousia comes,

Make certain the master finds us trustworthy,

So that, on that day, we will be greeted with

“Well done, good and trustworthy servant…”

Amen.