Sermon November 16: Investment Income

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 16, 2014

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30

Prayer of Illumination:        

Mighty God, shine upon us with your wisdom and truth, that we might truly see all that you have given to us. Enlighten our muddled minds, that we might truly understand your call and purpose for our lives. Amen.

Sermon:  Investment Income         

There once lived a man who was grumpy. He was grumpy from birth. He was a grumpy child, a grumpy father and a grumpy husband. His wife had the patience of a saint. She saw all his gifts, but he couldn’t see them. He had everything and saw nothing. He died grumpy.

When he arrived in heaven he was shown to a room filled with beautifully wrapped boxes. The boxes were covered in tapestried paper and ribbons with bows and little trinkets on the outside to suggest what might be wrapped inside the packages. “What are these boxes?” asked the man grumpily. The reply was: “These are all the gifts we sent to you while you were alive on earth and you never opened.”

This little story was shared by my friend Bob on his blog, Stories from a Priestly Life. He credits it, in part, to Joshua Chasan, Rabbi at Burlington’s Ohavi Zedek.   And it made me think of today’s parable.

Matthew 25:14-30 is about a grumpy man with a bad attitude. A man unwilling to take risks, a man who hid his treasure ~ his gifts ~ for safekeeping. Like last week’s parable, this parable can be difficult to understand. The outcome of the parable seems harsh and we feel sympathy for the grumpy man in the story as he is cast into the outer darkness. Yet Jesus tells us that this parable is about the kingdom of heaven.

The problem ~ for me ~ with this parable is that I can be grumpy, too. Sometimes I have a bad attitude. And I’m not much of a risk-taker, either. I like to play it safe, be cautious, so I identify with this guy all too much. This parable cuts a little too close for comfort.

Just to recap: A master, about to go on a journey, called his servants together and gave them each a sum of money (known as a talent) to keep in their care during his absence. A talent was worth 15 years of average wages, so this was no small change. To one servant he gave five talents. To another servant he gave two talents. And to the last servant (our guy) he gave one talent. This was the servants’ chance to impress their master and prove themselves trustworthy, resourceful and responsible caretakers.

By the time the master returned, two of the servants had doubled their money ~ their talents. They got pats on the back and promotions from the master. The other servant, however, had simply preserved the talent he had. In fact, he buried it in a hole like a dog with a bone. Instead of investing the wealth, he held it tight out of fear of what might happen had he lost it.   He explained to the master, “Master, I knew that you are a hard man… So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.” As it turned out, the master was not pleased. He was looking for some investment income. “You wicked, lazy servant!” he exclaimed. Then he snatched the money away and threw him outside into the darkness.

As I said earlier, I have sympathy for the guy. If I had been given the talent ~ the valuable coin ~ I wouldn’t have known what to do with it, either. Gary and I are careful with our money. We budget and save. We contribute to our retirement accounts.   I don’t hide my money under the mattress, but neither do I really know how to make it work for me ~ as they say. Burying his talent in the ground ~ which was not an uncommon practice in the 1st century ~ seems like a pretty reasonable action to me.

But then I got to wondering, would the master have been upset if the servant had lost the talent? Would the master have thrown him into the outer darkness if he took a risk with his talent and it came out bad? Perhaps the servant’s sin wasn’t in the outcome, but in his inaction. Maybe the master just wanted to see the servant do something. As our Seasons of the Spirit put it, “Christian waiting is an active responsibility of initiative and risk.”

So let’s think back to my friend Bob’s story about the grumpy man who arrived in heaven to find all the unopened boxes. The boxes were filled with gifts just for him to use during his life. So why didn’t he open them? Maybe it was because if he opened them he knew he would have to put them to use. And if he used them he might be forced out of his comfortable, if grumpy, existence. The story tells us that his wife could see his gifts. She probably even encouraged him to open them. But he thought he knew better. What good could come from it?

As Kate Huey quoted Richard Bauckham in her Sermon Seeds, “What God has given us – our selves, our lives, our faith, our abilities, our gifts, our possessions – is given in order to be spent and put into circulation…” Both the grumpy man in the story and the servant in the parable were unwilling to risk what they had, to put their gifts into circulation. Both found that their careful way of living brought few rewards. As John Buchanan suggests, “The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything….”

So what does it mean to put out gifts into circulation? Our Seasons of the Spirit asks us, “Dare we allow God’s love to push us into adventures beyond our imaginations, investing the gifts we receive for the sake of God’s reign?” Our investment income may not be in dollars and cents, but in lives touched, loved shared, and service offered to those in need.

This parable is about the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus the kingdom of heaven isn’t just the place where we will go when we die, but it is breaking forth right here, right now. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So this tells me that Jesus wants us to risk it all, right here, right now. To invest ourselves in God’s kingdom. It’s human nature to want to be cautious, to hold on to what we have, to not risk too much, but that isn’t what Jesus wants us to do. Let us shake off the grumpiness, the timidity, the fear of risk. Are we willing to open our gifts and use them? Are we willing to let the Gospel ~ the Good News ~ loose in the world?

As the saying goes, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” A life spent only staying safe is no life at all. The cautious servant discovered the tragedy of acting timidly in the face of his master’s generosity. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a high-risk venture. So unwrap the gifts! Dig up the treasure! Put your gifts into circulation! Be a risk-taker for Jesus! Amen.