Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waddle or fly?....Sermon for Year A Proper 28

Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus said, "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then 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.' His 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.' And 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.' His 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.' Then 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But 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? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' "

Waddle or Fly?

Here we are.
Merrily reading or listening to this parable
..for the kingdom of heaven is as if...
and we’re thinking,
okay, another parable, another teaching story.
We get this.
Now we do feel a little uncomfortable with the talk about slaves,
but it’s not too bad we think,
because after all this sounds like a pretty good master,
trusting this slaves,
giving out little bags of his gold to them.
Hey! he’s not such a bad fellow is he?
Then off the master goes on his journey
and the slaves--at least the good and faithful ones--get to work.
Investing. Wheeling and dealing. Trading.
Multiplying the wealth.

And then the master returns
and he’s pleased as punch with the slaves
to whom he gave the five talents and the two talents.
They have invested well.
His trust in them was well-placed.

But then there’s that other slave--the one who got one talent.
He did not double his one into two.
He dug a hole and buried his talent--
and he had a few things to say to the master upon his return--
“I knew you were a hateful, mean and self-centered fellow
so I figured I was in trouble no matter what---
so I just didn’t do anything.
Here’s your lousy one talent back at you.”

The master is none too happy.
But we’re not prepared for the explosion that follows.
The next thing we know
the slave who was the poor money manager
is being tossed into the outer darkness
and then...
then we get the statement--
and it’s credited to Jesus, friends---
then we get the statement:

For 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.

To our ears
that sounds a lot like the rich will get richer
and the poor will get poorer.
Maybe that’s good news for the folks who are already rolling in money,
but what about the rest of us.

So how do we react to a gospel like this?
We can drop kick this gospel out into the back forty and ignore it, skip it.

Or we can say, “Well, I don’t believe Jesus really said that!”
Or we can go deeper, look more broadly, try to understand it,
both in parts and as a whole.

First let’s look at the parts.
First let’s talk about the money.

True, some people don’t think this parable is about the money at all.
They believe what the slaves are given are spiritual gifts.
But let’s look at it first on the straightforward level of cold, hard cash.

A talent was an extraordinary amount of money.
One commentary I read said one talent
would have been the equivalent of 15 years annual salary at the time!
So five talents would be like winning the lottery--
75 years worth of your annual salary!
Wow! Imagine!

This one slave who receives the five talents doubles his investment--
he has just super-sized what the master entrusted to him.

The second slave doubles his as well.
Not as much money as the first slave,
but still an amazing return on an investment.

Even the slave that got only one talent---
that’s still 15 years of the average annual wages!
Not bad, eh?
Most of us would welcome that!
Imagine if he had done something with that talent
instead of burying it in a hole.

So the bottom line in regards to the money is
that all the slaves received good and abundant gifts.

We do need to remember--
these really weren’t gifts--
they were loans.
It all belonged to the master.
The talents they were all given
were loans--investment capital.
Generous investment capital from a generous and trusting master.

Second, let’s talk about the words.Specifically, two of the words.
The word slave and the word master.
These are “loaded” words for us in this time and this culture.

The word slave makes us squirmingly uncomfortable.
So substitute the word disciple instead.

And substitute the word GOD or Jesus--you can pick-- for master.

So we have a story about God giving generously to three disciples.
The disciples do not receive equally--
but they all receive generously.

Let’s be upfront--we’re all a bit like the third disciple--
bothered when we don’t receive equally.
So why did he get more than I got?
What’s so special about her?
Some people get all the breaks!

And finally let’s look at the image of the master, of God, in this parable.
How do the slaves, the disciples, see their master?
How do they see the God?

This is probably the heart of this parable--
because how we see and envision God says a lot
about how we live our daily lives
and a lot about our current relationship with God.

The three slaves--the three disciples--
seem to have a very different image of God.

We don’t really know--at least not verbatim--
what the first two disciples think about God.

But we do know that they feel blessed with what they have been given
and they go and try to expand and multiply and do God’s will.
They take what they are given
and they get to work.
They want to please God, to do right by God,
to live in to the trust they see that God has placed in them
with such generosity.

The third disciple is quite clear that he doesn’t feel blessed
and he doesn’t think highly of the master, of God.
He sees God as harsh.

More of the finger wagging, tongue lashing, you better watch out
sort of God.
He does not see God as a generous giver--
but more as an unfair task-maker who makes life miserable.
The third disciple sees himself as the one who does all the work.
He sees God as an unfair, harsh judge.
There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of love for God--
and certainly no trust--from the third disciple.

Perhaps this parable is not about money
and not about spiritual gifts either.
Perhaps this story
is about what we do with all that has been given us,
most especially with the gospel.
Jesus is telling this parable because he wants the disciples
to not be dependent upon his presence---
but to be committed to sharing the good news, the gospel.

Some of us have been at our annual Diocesan Convention
for the past 3 days.
The keynote speaker this year, the Rev. Dr. David Gortner,
focused on evangelism.

Evangelism means asking ourselves the question
“What are we doing with the gospel?”
What are we doing with what we hear and learn from Jesus?
What are we doing with what God has entrusted to us?

Do we go out and spread the good news
like the treasure it really is?
Or do we just tuck it into our pocket,
and keep it where it won’t offend, won’t challenge,
won’t excite, won’t upset.
A tidy little gospel.

Are we like the third disciple who keeps his treasure in the dark?
Hidden away? Buried?
Good news is not worth much
if it is not shared.

We heard a story during one of the meditations at Convention
about a church that was made up of geese.
That’s right---geese.
And every Sunday the geese waddled into church
and the pews were filled with fluffy, feathery, honking geese.

The the preacher--also a goose--
every week stood up in the pulpit and said,
“You are an amazing congregation!
Because of the generosity of God’s love,
we can do anything. Absolutely anything!
In fact, we can fly!!
Yes! It’s true!! Seriously, my friends,
God created us so that we can fly.
Thanks be to God--we can fly!!!!”

And the geese in the pews would get all excited
and start honking and flapping and shouting out,
“We can fly! We can fly!”

And then the service was over, the final hymn sung, the dismissal given
and the geese all waddled out the door
and walked--waddled-- all the way back home.

They forgot all about flying.
They waddled home, waddled through the week, and next Sunday,
they waddled back in the door and into the pews..
for more good news which they promptly forgot,
which they buried, week after week...
and so it went...on and on and on.

Do we really believe that all things are possible with God?
If we believe we can fly, then why are we still waddling?

The first two disciples believed in a God
that had blessed them with good
and they went out and did more good with what they had been given.

The third disciple saw God as harsh, life as difficult and unfair.
That third disciple did nothing--
except perhaps complain and blame.

We have to ask ourselves
how can God build a relationship with someone committed to misery,
to resigned to waddling through life?
If we see God and life, as the enemy,
they will stay the enemy.

If we reject the true riches of life,
the inexhaustible abundance of God’s love, the real treasure--
then we have cast ourselves
into the outer darkness.
into a life of exhausting and self-pitying waddling.

There is good news.
But we must receive it and we must live it
and we must give it away to others.

Jesus calls us to fall in love
with a good and generous God--
to receive with open arms what God offers
and to invest deeply in God’s love--
so that we too might become rich--
wealthy in love and mercy,
generosity and compassion,
justice and kindness.
God creates us to fly.

So maybe this parable we hear in Matthew’s gospel today
is a mathematics parable.
Divide that group of three disciples into thirds.
The bad news is
the world is filled with 1/3 complainers and hoarders.
The good news is
we can choose to be part of the other 2/3--
those disciples who see what they have been given
as pure blessing.
Those disciples who are already heavily investing
in flying lessons.

Fly or waddle?
Once again,
Jesus is teaching us about choices.

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