March 27, 2022
This morning’s scripture is part of Jesus’ teaching about his eventual but unpredictable return.
Matthew 24:36 “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.
He shares several parables to illustrate what this will mean, including the one that Paula read this morning, one that has troubled people throughout the ages.
As you heard, a man goes off for a long trip entrusting his servants with various amounts of money.
When he returns, he finds that two invested well but the third played it safe – for which he was harshly punished … the scripture says that the master had him thrown into utter darkness.
Great that he promoted the guy who got the best return on investment, but the punishment of the cautious one has left many wondering about the real nature of God’s love and fairness.
So, let’s get a little context here.
In Jesus’ time, a journey to a foreign land would be an extended undertaking, so trusted servants would be appointed to manage affairs while the man was away.
Travelers could be delayed for months by uncertain seas, unreliable transportation, bandits, and weather – so their return from even a well-planned trip would be unpredictable.
The unpredictability of end times is one of the themes of Jesus’ teaching, including this parable.
Unpredictable, just like our own lives.
For many years, Charlie Watts, who in 1963 became drummer of the band later known as the Rolling Stones, was the heartbeat of youthful energy.
I feel forty years younger every time I hear “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Satisfaction”, or “Paint It Black”.
Rock bands are notorious for the clashing of the stars’ ego.
One time Mick Jager publicly called Charlie “his drummer”, which Watts corrected by saying that Mick Jager was just “his singer”.
Sure, we’ve all seen this band age, but maybe you were still caught off guard last summer when we learned of Charlie Watts’ death – the drumbeat of youthful energy was gone.
We knew the time would come, but who could be ready for news like that?
He had it all: Money. Talent. International fame. Worldwide travel. And did I mention money? … his net worth when he died was $250-million.
Then in a blink of an eye, all that was gone.
Uncertainty of when the end will come is one of Jesus’ recurring themes.
The second is that when life is over, we will account for what we did with it.
Matthew 25:15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
Even the servant given a single bag of gold was being entrusted with a fortune, more than a lifetime of wages for the average worker.
Jesus wants to remind us that your gift of life, the talents, the money you and I have been given – even if you think you are not as fortunate, as gifted, or as wealthy as others – is way beyond measure.
Like the master in the parable, God expects that we will use the gifts He entrusted to us – not to squander them, for sure – but also not to just sit on them.
Charlie Watts was a rare talent, but if you have a talent for drumming, I think God is saying “use it” even if you never go on a world tour.
And, you don’t have to be CEO of a world hunger organization to make a world of difference to a family struggling to get by.
Matthew 25:18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
What we sometimes miss in this parable is that even the servant given the least was capable of managing the business.
Because of widespread poverty and the land-based economy of first century Palestine, there were few people in a position to lend money, so doubling an investment over the course of a few years was a reasonable expectation of the master.
The two moneymakers are rewarded – fair enough.
But what do we make of the master’s treatment of the cautious third servant?
He didn’t steal, right … he just buried the valuables.
Maybe he was timid, fearful or just overwhelmed by life.
But the master was furious.
Matthew 25:40 “And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.”
It is hardly surprising that through the ages there have been many attempts to soften Jesus’ message by justifying the master’s actions.
For example, rather than say the third servant buried the treasure, the non-canonical Gospel of the Nazarenes wrote that he squandered the money on wild parties and prostitutes, thereby giving a moral justification for his punishment.
Others painted the third servant as a con artist who buried the money in hopes he could claim it as his own if misfortune befell the master – for which he deserved his punishment.
But all those attempts to moralize the parable actually deflect from Jesus’ message – and since we also will face judgment for what we do with the treasures entrusted to us we would do well to understand what Jesus is teaching.
Whether the unfaithful servant was preoccupied, fearful, or even feeling that he wasn’t as talented as the other servants, security, rather than service, was his goal.
The Christian journey is about investing our life.
You have been given spiritual gifts, you have been given passions and talents, you have been given problems from which to grow, you have been given people who nurtured you, you have been given difficult people to teach you patience and forgiveness, and you have been given a community to love and care for.
You and I are accountable for what we do with all that.
Being from the Baby Boomer generation, I’ve had the mindset that what I do with my life has to be grand – but God is more interested in how we love, forgive, find patience in small but real ways.
Philip Yancey reminds us, “God doesn’t custom design Superman characters and plant them down here (to do His work). He deals with the talent pool available.”
For me, much of my love, forgiveness and patience has been learned right here – among you in this small church.
The church is not a place to go … it is a way to live.
The church is not a place, the church is not an institution, it is a way of life for people investing their lives for Christ.
Teresa of Avila wrote, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”
The church offers people something that cannot be found anywhere else – a place where love – love of God, love of members, love of our neighbors – is put front and center above all else.
When we look at the world as it is and always has been, the church emerges as one of the most unlikely things human beings have ever managed to sustain.
Regardless of denomination, or worship style church is a place where everything that happens is at least intended to reinforce people’s best hopes for themselves and the world.
Yes, we fall short all the time, but church is a place devoted to that intent, for anyone and everyone, all the time.
Where else in the world is that true?
The annual congregational meeting we are about to have is all about orienting our community so that Christ’s priorities become our priorities.
We seek to conduct the business itself in a worshipful way, because the business of the church should always be the business of the Lord Jesus.
So, in the coming meeting we together will review some of the church’s business, celebrate some accomplishments, and be part of anointing leaders who will steer us through our pastoral transition and whatever else COVID may throw our way.
And we will wrap up our meeting by singing praises to God.
May we love God so much that we love nothing else too much; may we fear God enough that we need fear nothing at all.