Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 18, 2014

2014.11.16 “Risky Business” – Matthew 25: 14 – 30

Central United Methodist Church
Risky Business
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 25: 14 – 30
November 16, 2014

Talents

Talents

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.’ – Matthew 25: 14 – 30

Have you reached the point in life where you wonder if you’ve accomplished anything?

Leonard Woolf, an English political theorist and civil servant and the husband of the English writer Virginia Woolf, wrote in the last of the five volumes of his autobiography:

“Looking back at the age of eighty-eight over the fifty-seven years of my political work in England, knowing what I aimed at and the    results, meditating on the history of Britain and the world since 1914, I see clearly that I achieved practically nothing.” “I must have in a long life ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.” (You would think if he could come up with five volumes of autobiography he must have accomplished something!)

Sometimes, when we look back upon our lives, Mr. Woolf’s description of “perfectly useless work” seems an apt description.  As a pastor, I’ve been in the ministry 40 years and had five churches.  Someday when I’ve got nothing else to do I’m going to calculate how many sermons that is (2,080), how many baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals I’ve done, how many meetings I’ve attended. When I do that, I hope I don’t come to the conclusion, like Mr. Woolf did, that it amounts to “perfectly useless work.”  Rather than events, I try to think of it in terms of the people I have known and served and hopefully influenced, a far better measure of a lifetime of service.

Do you wonder if Jesus’ ever asked such a question? In particular, at this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem, teaching in the Temple, and opposition is apparent and growing.  He’s around 30 years old, he’s been in ministry for three years, he’s got 12 guys signed up for sure and maybe another 90 followers, not enough to fill this room. Quite likely, because he couldn’t afford to stay in Jerusalem over the holidays, every night after teaching in the Temple he walked 5 miles or so down the Kidron Valley, up and over the Mt. of Olives, to stay with his friends Martha and Mary in Bethany. Every morning he walked back to do it over again. Do you think he ever woke up and wondered if it was worth it? Did he feel a sense of urgency, especially since opposition was intensifying, and he knew not only that his ministry but his life might soon be coming to an end?

Being human, as we are human, I believe Jesus may have wondered this. While I cannot reconstruct the roots of Jesus’ creativity, I wonder if Jesus didn’t conclude that risk and not caution was the way to go, to put it all on the line, and not to hold back.  I would go so far as to speculate that the story Jesus tells us today – which we know as the Parable of the Talents – reflects this sense of risk and urgency.

There was this boss, you see, going away on a journey.  He was not only quite rich, but willing to risk his assets.  He had three servants, whom he must have trusted tremendously, because he entrusted them with an incredible amount of his fortune: five talents, two talents, and one talent.

In Jesus’ time, a talent was an actual measure of money.  It was not a talent in the way we use that word, in the sense of a natural ability, such as playing the piano or public speaking, although this story is where we get that word.

A talent in Jesus’ time was equal to about 6,000 denarii.  Since one denarius would be a laborer’s daily wage, a talent would be roughly equivalent to 20 years wages for the average worker. So five talents, the amount entrusted to the first servant, would be comparable to one hundred years of labor, an astronomical amount of money. To another servant the master gave 40 years worth of wages; finally, to a third, one talent, twenty years worth of wages.  Did he do a background check on these guys?  Was this a test?  It sounds like the premise of a new reality TV show.  Shall we call it Risky Business?

And yet, most amazingly, the master’s willingness-to-risk paid off.  The servants – at least two out of three – stepped up.  It doesn’t say how, whether it was Wall Street, mob ties, or meth dealing with Walter Whyte – for the purposes of this story that’s not important – but somehow they did it. Both the first and second doubled their master’s money. The third servant was, shall we say, a fiscal conservative. He put his one talent in a Mason Jar (it was a very large Mason Jar) and buried it in the backyard.

Eventually, after a long absence, the master returned to review accounts receivable. The first servant, with a smile on his face said, “Here, Master, double your money!” And the master said: “Well done; good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.” The second servant, smile on his face, said: “Here, Master, double your money!” “Well done; good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.”

But the third servant had to go get a shovel, go out into the back yard, and dig up the Mason Jar.  With a frown on his face we imagine him sitting down before his Master, and – after looking both ways – saying: “Master, I know you are a hard man.  You harvest and reap where you haven’t sown.  So I was afraid. I hid my talent in the ground.  Here, here is what is yours, not a penny more, not a penny less.

You know what’s coming next.  His master exploded:  “You evil and lazy servant. You know I harvest and reap where I haven’t sown. So why didn’t you give my money to the bankers, so that when I returned, I would at least have some interest.  “Give me that talent; I will give it to someone who honors me.  For those who have will receive more; but for those who have nothing, even the little they have will be taken from them.  “Take him and throw him out in the darkness, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”

Surely Jesus is not here saying wealth all flows upward to the wealthiest 1%. Surely Jesus is saying, what he was experiencing himself: In life, risk is better than security, because the time  – our time – is short.  Jesus knew that; I think he wanted his disciples in every time – including us in our time – to know that too.

In Matthew’s time, they probably didn’t understand it in regard to money, but in regard to Good News of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. In times of controversy and persecution – as there times were – there would be the temptation to pull back, to be cautious, to be more concerned about security rather risking the bank for the Gospel.  “Go for it,” Matthew has Jesus saying. “Let your light shine for all to see, do not bury it under a basket.”

Today, all across America, you can be sure preachers are preaching to congregations about stewardship, using texts like this one. “Use what you have been given; use it our lose it.” Invest in God and God’s kingdom, invest in our church, as we serve God, that someday you might hear the words of the Master: ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

But I believe this parable of Jesus is about more than religion, about more than money; I believe is about how we live. Not cautiously or conservatively, but riskily, exuberantly: loving God, loving each other, loving life.  Because, if we don’t, I have this feeling – that like that third servant – the day will come when we will realize we spent too much of our lives living in fear, and will regret it.

Have you heard of the 2012 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, by Bronnie Ware? Top5Regretsof theDyingAfter many years of unfulfilling work, Bronnie Ware began searching for a job with heart.  Despite having no formal qualifications or experience, she found herself working in palliative care, with people who were dying.  Over the years, as she worked with people at the end of their lives, she found her own life transformed by the experience.  Eventually, she wrote an internet blog about the most common regrets expressed to her by those she had cared for. The article, called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” was read by more than three million people in its first year.  Finally, at the requests of many, she shared her own personal story in a book, this book. Ms. Ware believes that by applying the lessons of those nearing death to our lives, we can address these issues while we have the time.  And what were the top five regrets of the dying?

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself,  not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

(Source: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, by Bronnie Ware, 2012)

Marilynne Robinson, in her novel, Gilead, puts it this way:

“Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful. It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing.”          (Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, p. 246)

This, I believe, is the message of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents: Live riskily, not cautiously; not in fear but in complete trust.  So live, that when we die we come sliding sideways into heaven, to stand before the Master, who will ask, “Well, how do you feel?”

“Exhausted and exhilarated, Lord, totally spent.”

“Got any money left?”

“Not a dime, Lord. What I received I spent for myself and others, as best and wisely as I could, the rest I gave away.”

“Got anything left?”

“Not a thing, Lord, everything I learned, everything I did, I did with passion; I left it all there.”

And the Lord will smile and say those words we long to hear: “Well done; good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.”  Amen.

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