Sunday, November 15, 2020
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
"Use It or Lose It"
Pastor Scott Landis
Today we travel further in our exploration of Matthew 25 listening to the wisdom of Jesus as it is offered to us in the second of three distinct yet related parables. Remember, once again, a couple of the general guidelines for interpreting parables:
1. Isolating any parable (or any scriptural passage for that matter) runs the risk of taking it out of context and missing the original or intended meaning. We must take into account what was happening at the time. In this instance, folks were growing impatient in the delayed return of Jesus.
2. Parables are usually best interpreted figuratively, or metaphorically – much more in the spirit of a Zen koan. Its magic is in the riddle which forces us to think deeply – to really scratch our heads – rather than offer a specific message. So, making direct parallels to specific historical characters or references can sometimes be a red herring.
Last week’s parable (of the smart and silly bridesmaids) was one that offered words of wisdom on preparation – or how to live life “in the meantime” during the delayed return of the Master – in this case, Jesus. They were to be ready at all times for one never knows when the return might occur.
This week we look at another aspect of waiting. In this case, the focus has much more to do with the servant’s specific relationship to the Master. Once again, it may be misleading to make direct references, but the implications are fairly obvious – of a Master (which CAN be thought of as God) who gives practically everything away to his servants with the expectation that they will do something meaningful – if not extraordinary – with what has been entrusted to them.
This parable is often misused during “stewardship season” which many churches are in right now, as a means of “guilting” parishioners by reminding them to be exceedingly grateful for all they have been given and, in fact, ought to double their return (in the form of tithes) in order to demonstrate their gratitude and faithful response. I would never stoop so low … but don’t let that stop you from being generous in our “Annual Appeal.”
I, instead, think the emphasis ought NOT be the “return on investment” but rather the motivation which prompts the resulting action – motivation which springs from their relationship with the Master. I believe – if we start there –everything else simply falls into place.
Biblical scholars have been all over the map in their interpretation. Once again, it seems to have multiple meanings and will be heard differently depending on your circumstances.
Some have taken the story all the way back to Creation itself where our mythical figures Adam and Eve are given everything they could possibly want. Indeed, they thought they had it all until they realized they were missing ONE thing – they were not as wise as God. The only thing they didn’t have, became their “forbidden fruit,” and they couldn’t control their insatiable desire. Relating similarly to the Creator as did this third servant, they appear to be ashamed of their action, and respond in fear attempting to hide what they had done.
It’s certainly not the same story, but the dynamics are quite similar of humanity being given everything one could possibly want, and yet we still want more, followed by a distinct change in our relationship with the Creator – from working together as partners, to being estranged – hiding in fear.
Other scholars take a slightly different approach and contend the Master represents the God who gave humanity everything in the gift of Jesus. Many received that gift with great joy and spent the rest of their lives in extravagant praise and gratitude thereby doubling what they received by living an abundant life. While others tried to hide the gift by keeping it solely to themselves – unwilling to share - instead living in fear of a God they viewed as a cruel and punishing, rather than the God who loves and gives extravagantly.
I’d like us to stay with that line of thinking for a moment – and hold that notion of the God who “loves and gives extravagantly” in light of OUR current situation. I think it has a lot to offer – perhaps even challenging us to live our lives with the same generosity as the one who continues to bless us. [Pause]
For many of us faith is often reduced to a sense of personal security – which goes something like this. If I believe in God, and live my life abiding by Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor as much as self – then all will be well – AND, by doing so, I am assured of a spot reserved for me in heaven.
While there’s nothing wrong with that idea and way of living, it DOES feel a little like taking that manageable gift and hiding it – so nothing can possibly go wrong. [Pause] I think God wants more.
If we listen to Jesus sharing this parable with his disciples, I believe he is inviting them to live their lives as fully as possible – to be bold and brave NOT cautious and careful. I think Jesus’ words in this parable are a challenge to reach high and care deeply. So, the parable is an invitation to the high-risk adventure of just what it means to be a disciple.
You see, hiding the money is like putting one’s light under a bushel basket. Like a lantern, or candle – you would never do that. Neither should we with God’s gifts entrusted to us. In essence, this is a warning against acting timidly in response to God’s generosity. And that is something we fall prey to far too often. [Pause]
Somewhere along the way we seemed to have lost our voice in progressive Christian communities. I’m sure it has something to do with the rise of extremism expressed by the Evangelical Right who, for many of us, have become an embarrassment to Christianity. Furthermore, the scandals in the Roman Catholic church hasn’t help matters any.
People began leaving our churches much faster than they were enrolling them into membership and our voices have grown softer and softer almost as if we didn’t have the right, let alone the responsibility, to tell our story. “Oh, we wouldn’t want to impose. We don’t want to risk offending.” But, I tell you, while silence may be the best form of prayer – it is NOT helpful when it comes to sharing our story. Our story is one that needs to be told.
We believe in a God who loves ALL beings – regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability.
We believe in a God who wants all people to live in equality, justice, and peace.
We believe in a God who created this beautiful planet we call earth – and that same God has given us responsibility not only to be fruitful and multiply – but to care for all that has been entrusted to us.
We believe in a God who not only created but embraces and celebrates human diversity.
We believe in a God who understands the plight of the marginalized – who works tirelessly to bring those on the outside – to center stage – and insists their voices be heard.
Those are the beliefs that constitute our story – and if we try and bury that story because it might sound too radical, or controversial, or may offend those who cling to positions of privilege without regard to those in need then – shame on us! We, like the third servant, will eventually find ourselves relegated to living in utter darkness.
We stand at a challenging moment in our nation’s history. Many of us in progressive Christianity may be wildly excited about the possibilities that a Biden administration portends. But the divisions that we face in our nation are much deeper than any President can heal. A President can only set a tone. That’s certainly critical – BUT – it’s up to us – and, I think, particularly those of us who believe in a God who “welcomes all, loves all, accepts all” and I would add “affirms all” as children of God.
That’s our story and it is one our broken world is starving to receive.
In just a few moments we will close our worship today by singing a wonderful song – and one of my favorites, “I love to tell the story.” How will you tell our story – today, this week, in the coming months? Will you bury it in fear of judgment or possible ridicule? Or will you tell it by inviting others to “come and see” to “come and experience” this God who blesses with extravagance and loves without condition? How might you use the gifts that God has given you?