Sermon: “We Give Thee but Thine Own” (Oct. 16, 2011)

            The next few Sundays, we’ll be looking at some of Jesus’ parables.  Last week we looked at a dramatic or acted-out parable—the time when Jesus turned the water to wine as a sign of the abundance of God’s love and grace.

            This week, we get a more traditional narrative parable, the story of the talents.  This parable—like most of Jesus’ parables—is about the kin-dom of God.  That means it reveals something about God’s dreams for how the world will be when all God’s children wake up and get to work helping God’s kin-dom come on earth as it is in heaven.                                

In this story, the kin-dom is like a man going on a journey who called together his servants and gave each of them a certain number of talents.  A talent in those days was a sum of money equal to about 15 years of a day laborer’s wages.   So, this man who’s going away on a journey gives 5, 2, and 1 talents, respectively, to three of his servants, then leaves.  The first two servants double their boss’s investment, yielding a total of 14 talents on an initial investment of 7.  When the boss returns from his journey, he’s pleased with their results.  ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave,’ he says to each of them.

The third servant…well, the third servant is scared of his boss.  Afraid he’ll lose his boss’s investment, he hides the 1 talent, buries it in the ground.  When the boss returns and the third servant comes back with the same single talent, the boss is not pleased.  ‘You wicked and lazy slave!’ he says…then he says something about casting the servant into outer darkness where there’ll be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  No Christmas bonus for him!

So, what was Jesus trying to say with this parable?  Some churches have read this story literally…they give everybody in the church $100 and ask them to give a good return on the money after a certain period of time.  Now that I think about it, I don’t recall ever having read a follow-up story about how they did.  Interesting…

Reading the parable literally like that is one way to interpret it.  But if we look at it  more closely, I think we’ll see there’s more to it.  The first thing you notice when you take a closer look is that this parable comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry…in fact, it’s the next to the last parable he tells before his arrest and crucifixion.  By this point in the story, Jesus knows his time with his disciples is very short.  Like a professor does when she realizes the term’s about to end, Jesus is trying to cram everything he can into his final lessons.

So, what’s he trying to say?  What might this parable have meant to his disciples?  First off, the “man going on a journey” is most likely Jesus.  He’s arrested in the very next chapter and crucified in the chapter after that.  Yes, Jesus definitely was a man going on a journey.  But having roamed the countryside without a salary to speak of for three years, it’s doubtful he had any money to give his disciples.  So, if Jesus wasn’t giving the disciples money on his departure, what was he giving them?  What had he been giving them?

Remember, now, this is a parable of the kin-dom, a story that reveals something about God’s dreams for how the world will be when we all wake up and get to work.  So, what was it Jesus had given the disciples that he would want them to double?  What investment had Jesus made in the disciples whose return would help to prosper the kin-dom of God? 

The things that Jesus had been investing in his disciples all this time were…his ideas, his stories, his radical notion that God loves all people, perhaps especially, the poor…his idea that the outer trappings of religion don’t mean nearly so much as what’s going on in the hearts of believers….his idea that loving our enemies is part and parcel of the kin-dom…his idea that eye for an eye theology isn’t God’s theology…

Jesus is a man going on a journey, a professor at the end of the semester…he knows his time on earth is short and getting shorter fast…so, through this parable, he’s trying to tell his disciples that if God’s kin-dom is ever to come, they’re going to have to multiply everything he’s given them— every idea, every story, every prayer, every sign… If they take his gifts–these radical ideas about God’s kin-dom–if the disciples were to take Jesus’ gifts and hide them, if they were to bury the good news he’s given them, what would happen to God’s dreams for the world?  They’d die.  If the disciples didn’t take Jesus ideas and, as the parable says, “trade” with them, all God’s hopes for the world would die.

That’s why Jesus told this parable at the end of his ministry.  It’s what Clarence Jordan called a “kick-in-the-pants” parable…a story that’s meant to get people up off their comfortable chairs and working hard for the kin-dom.  In his three years with them, Jesus had given his disciples everything they needed to know to get working on God’s kin-dom…he’d given them grade A starter seed…but if they buried those seed in the ground without any nurture, without any support, without any tending, those seeds were going to die in the ground.  Jesus was desperate for those first century disciples to get what he was saying and multiply his teaching…because that was the only way, the only way God’s kin-dom was going to get off the ground.

Nice parable.  Nice story, isn’t it…for those first century disciples?  Whoo-ee, Jesus really laid it on them.  And, if you read the rest of the New Testament, they seemed to get the message, didn’t they?  Take a look sometime at the book of Acts.  It’ll make you tired reading how fast the church grew in the next few decades after Jesus’ departure from the scene.  Oh, there might have been a few of those first century disciples who took Jesus’ lessons, put them in a notebook, and shoved the notebook to the back of the closet…but enough of the other disciples took those radical kin-dom ideas out and traded with them, exercised them, nurtured them, and grew them, that God’s kin-dom grew, too. 

What a great first century parable.  I sure am glad those disciples way back then were able to “crack” that parable.  Based on the evidence, they cracked it good.  They got its meaning and lived it out.  Good for them!

What about us?  What does this parable mean to us, 2,000 years later?  What does this parable mean to us in the 21st century?  It means the same exact thing it meant in the first century.  Just look around the world, friends.  Do you think God’s dreams for the world have been fulfilled?  With all the war, all the crime, all the poverty and hunger and thirst and disease and hatred and eye-for-an-eye justice seeking that goes on?  Not even Pollyanna on her very best day could say that God’s dreams for the world have been fulfilled.  God’s kin-dom is not yet come on earth as it is in heaven.

And why not?  It’s been 2,000 years, right?  Why hasn’t God’s kin-dom come on earth as it is in heaven?  God’s kin-dom hasn’t yet come on earth as it is in heaven because somebody somewhere along the way buried the treasure Jesus gave us.  God’s kin-dom hasn’t yet come on earth as it is in heaven because somebody somewhere along the way hid Jesus’ radical ideas about living our religion authentically and loving our enemies and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.  God’s kin-dom hasn’t yet come on earth as it is in heaven because somebody somewhere chose to take the amazing gifts of his words and his life and bury them in the ground.

Was it you?

 In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©   2011

 

Matthew 25:14-30

“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.’

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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