Sunday, November 13, 2005

November 13 Sermon: "Buried Talents"

Sermon text: Matthew 25: 14-30

Preacher enters the church dressed like a farmhand with shovel.
"A few days ago the master came to the three of us. He announced that he was going away on some kind of business trip, and he was going to be away for awhile, and he wanted us to be responsible for his fortune. I was kind of taken aback by this suggestion. Now I could understand him making this arrangement with his slave who happened to be his manager. That guy handled his money anyway—it was a little odd that he told us he was going to be gone for so long, after all, with that information we all knew that we could take his money and be a long way away before he returned! But to his manager he gave the bulk of his fortune—5 talents! 75 years of wages for a day laborer—that is like 3 whole lifetimes of money! To his house slave, also an educated man, he gave 2 talents. I was beginning to wonder why he had even summoned me to the room—did he just want me to be a witness for what he had given the two? But then he turned to me? With a smile on his face he handed me a talent. A talent! 15 years of wages! It was more money than I had ever handled in my whole life! My stomach dropped down into my feet. Why in the world would he entrust me, an uneducated slaves, with his fortune? I am simply a farmhand--What is he hoping to achieve with this odd investment? I was shocked and afraid. I knew my master was a pretty harsh guy. He had me reap where he didn’t sow and gather where he didn’t spread any seed. He was always pushing a little beyond where I thought we should go. Doing things a little outside the lines of what I consider to be fair! What was he expecting of me now! What if I lose it or accidentally use some of it while he’s gone? What will he do with me when he returns? The whole thing weighed on my back like a bag of rocks, jagged little edges poking into my back. Then the idea was dawning in my mind like the sun comes up in the east. I could just settle this whole thing by doing what farmhands do best. I took this shovel here, chose a good unsuspecting place under a tree, and dug a hole. I’d just put the talent in the ground, that would solve my problem! When the master comes back, I’ll just get the shovel out, dig it up, and bring it back to him! No commitments, no risk, no worries….no problem! As I covered the talent back up with that cool soil, the weight of the situation lifted off my shoulders. I had completed my task, and now I wouldn’t have to worry about it and could go on with my life, which to me seemed pretty wide open since the master was going to be gone and I could make my own schedule!
What does happen to this slave? Let’s read the scripture and find out………….Read Matthew 25: 14-30
I wanted to start with the first hand account of the slave first instead of the scripture because I want us to identify with him for a little while. How are we like him? He seems to have the master pegged as a harsh man doesn’t he? Throwing him out into the darkness? He gets his money back, right? Would the master have been as happy with his other two slaves if they had come back with less money after unsuccessful business ventures? Was the master rewarding the risk or the results?
What is the difference in these three? Why are the first two rewarded and the third one “thrown out into the outer darkness?” Not to do with the product as much as it has to do with the attitude about the investment. They take ownership over what the master has entrusted in them. The first two slaves invest their money and use it to grow more money. To do this, they had to claim that money and have some ownership over it. They had to accept that the master had given it to them. The third does not take any ownership over his sum of money. He still speaks of it as “your money” in the passage. The first two by contrast spoke of “what I did with your money.”
How might we refuse to claim our talents in this church? There may be those who have heard that voice saying, you can help with this…the church really needs this! But for fear of sticking your neck out, you may instead decide to keep quiet. Why do we refuse to use the gifts, the talents that are given? The steward in the passage cites fear as the main reason he doesn’t want to lose the talents. When we bury our talents, we bury it in the dirt, the soil of fear of rejection, also we bury it in the fear of what it may claim for us—more responsibility. With our encounter with the slave who buried his talent, what did you sense motivated his idea of putting it in the ground? He wanted to avoid the responsibility! He never claimed the talent that he had been given!
Jesus ends the parable by saying “to those who have, much more will be given, and given in abundance, but to those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Let me just warn you that there are preachers out there who like to use this text to justify something called the “prosperity gospel.” This is an “American Gospel” that is born out of our deep rooted need to justify to ourselves the wealth that we heap upon ourselves. In it, God has especially blessed our country, and that is why America is so rich. This movement of Christianity is intended to help those who have a lot of things feel okay about what they have, as long as they give a bunch of money to the church as well. This movement of Christianity is not the kind of Christianity that John Wesley believed in. It’s not the Gospel that this church was founded on. It is a distortion and a corruption of the Gospel. Now don’t get me wrong--I’m not interested in making you feel bad about what you have---but I am interested about what this parable has to say about claiming and using the fortune that has been entrusted to us! There are pastors who stand up in front of their congregations in $3000 suits and promise their people that giving is some kind of magical ATM machine. All you have to do is “make a deposit” and your investment will be rewarded 10 fold! They have members get up and tell stories about how they gave money to the church and the next week their business pulled in 4 times what they usually do in a week. Now, perhaps with our apportionment looming, this isn’t the best time to be refuting this kind of approach to stewardship, but in my opinion that kind of approach isn’t honest and isn’t stewardship at all—it’s playing the lottery with God! Giving isn’t, or shouldn’t be about, getting back. The abundance that is spoken of in the Gospel associated with giving has more to do with an abundance of the heart. Now I won’t refute that some who give generously are then generously rewarded. God can do what God wishes, and some deserve to be rewarded for their faithful stewardship. But when we approach giving with expectations of what we might get in return, this destroys the whole nature of giving.
Perhaps the master in the parable is rewarding the risk more than the results. Perhaps those who have much and those who have nothing is more about our “perception” of what we have rather than our W2. IF we recognize the abundance of what we’ve been given, we will come to understand its inwardly and outwardly multiplying nature. After the slaves who have taken a risk with the master’s money report success, some versions of the Bible have the Master exclaiming, enter into your master’s joy! If we dwell on what we don’t have, we’ll never be able to glorify God, we’ll never be happy. This story is not about results—it’s about our attitude toward receiving the message of grace!
We are entrusted with gifts—the gifts are a part of God’s grace. To utilize our gift, we first must accept it. Accepting grace is not just about saying “okay God, I believe you love me.” That is the first step—that is like holding out our hand and receiving the talent. If we put that belief to use through the gifts we are given, then that is like acting on the responsibility with which we’ve been entrusted. How can we multiply our talents? The two slaves who did obviously believed in themselves and what they could do, so perhaps this is a good place to start!
At our charge conference this past week, we shared with our district superintendent many great things this church is doing. We also shared with him our challenges that lie ahead. In this system of accountability, we are truly owning and lifting up our identity as a church. We are celebrating and accepting who we are as a church. In doing so, we are utilizing the talents we have been entrusted with.
Are you doing all you can to contribute to the church’s identity? Are you claiming and utilizing the talents the Master has entrusted in your hands? Or are you more content to bury your talent and avoid the responsibilities? Does the idea of working for the kingdom just sound like too much?
When we receive the offering, I do something symbolic that is a ritualized expression of our claiming what we’ve been given. When the plates are collected, I bring them to the altar, and I lift them up. In doing so, I say for us “This is what we’ve been given. Master, look what we’ve done with what you have given us! We claim it, we celebrate it, and we give it back to you. (Keep in mind you are invited not only to put money in the offering plate, but also prayers, ways that you can assist the church, etc. In lifting the offering up to God, it is blessed. It multiplies in its use in our community and in the larger context. In returning our gifts, we claim God’s ultimate ownership over our whole lives—God is our master and we are joyful slaves. If we offer ourselves in hope and possibility, if we utilize our talents and take the risk of rejection or failure—God makes us his partners. He entrusts us with more. Do we want God to give us more? Do we understand what “more” is? I hope we are prepared to say “yes, Lord!”


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