Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 25:14-30’

We Are Looking At Now Now 11-19-17

now

This sermon is based on Matthew 25:14-30. This is the parable of the talents, as Jesus reminds us with one lesson (that’s part of a larger teaching) to live our lives today in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

Note that the overarching theme of this sermon is based on a scene from Spaceballs.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-looking-at-now-now-11-19-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As a person who tries pretty hard to avoid taking things too seriously, I appreciate a good joke…especially when the target is good natured enough to take it. On that note, it probably is no shock to hear that I’m a fan of movies that do this. In my younger years there was a popular movie genre known as spoofs…whole movies that were made to poke fun…to make jokes about existing…and typically quite popular movies.

Now in my opinion, there is no greater example of the spoof movie than Spaceballs…a Mel Brooks classic that pokes fun at the first few Star Wars movies. The whole movie is great, but there is one scene that never fails to make me laugh.

About half through, the bad guys are trying to track down the good guys…but they can’t find them on radar…and so they try searching the home video of the movie itself. Apparently a new technology allows the release of films before they’re even done making them…that’s the first joke.

So they pop in the VHS copy of the movie and pull it up on the monitor and one of the characters is surprised to see themselves projected. They are looking at themselves in that exact instant…and in his surprise we hear this back and forth banter…

What am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie? Now…you’re looking at now sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.  What happened to then? We passed it. When? Just now. We’re at now now. Go back to then. I can’t. Why? We missed it. When? Just now. When will then be now? …Soon.   (pause)

Maybe its silly…but as I think about the overarching setting of today’s gospel lesson, I’m reminded of this scene. If you were here last week, we talked about this…about how Jesus’ words today are part of a larger teaching through 2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel…a long batch of teaching that is a response to the disciples asking the question of when they can expect the end times….what will be the sign of your coming? They might as well be asking that same question…when will then…be now?

Jesus response could have been limited to the very simple statement…no one knows the day or the hour…but instead Jesus gives us A LOT to go on…several separate and yet connected teachings about the unexpected time of his Glorious Reappearing…that the End Times…the Last Days…whatever we want to call it…that’s its going to happen…but it will occur unexpectedly.

This long teaching includes today’s gospel…the parable of the talents. The master is going off on a journey…but before he leaves he calls in three slaves and hands off to each of them something of enormous worth. The parable calls them talents in various amounts…one gets 5…one gets 2…the last gets 1…each according to their ability. Keep in mind that a talent as Jesus is using it, refers to 15 years’ worth of wages for a regular worker. And so all three of these slaves are being handed something incredibly valuable. Interestingly enough the master gives no indication of what to do with it…no instruction…no warning that he’ll be back looking for anything…he simply hands them off and goes on his merry way.

Now you know the story…the first two slaves put their talents to work…we don’t know exactly how…but somehow, they both manage to double the money…the one with 5 makes 5 more, the one with 2, 2 more. Call it what you will…good business…wise investing, whatever…but it seems that they thought it was worth the risk of their master’s property…and through whatever events transpired through the unknown amount of time that the master was away, they each end up with more.

Funny enough…that part of the story, while seemingly positive…is really boring and repetitious…did you notice that? The only thing that changes in the language of that part of the story is the number of talents. Likewise with the master’s response to them in his return. Then the one with 5 talents came forward, bringing 5 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 faithful slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things I will put you in charge of many things; enter in the joy of your master.” And then we hear the EXACT same thing from 2-talent man. Its almost laughable…and its almost boring.

I can’t help but think that we’re really supposed to zero on in 1-talent man…you know 1-talent man. He’s the one who’s scared…the one who’s so paralyzed out of fear…he’s caught up in how he perceives the master…and so he goes out and digs a hole…he hides the talent so that when the master comes around again, he can present it back to him…nothing ventured…nothing gained…but nothing lost.

The back and forth between the slave and the master is telling though isn’t it? I know that you are a harsh man…taking what isn’t yours…helping yourself to that which you did not earn…and low and behold…his judgement of the master is pretty spot on to the judgement that he receives. You wicked and lazy slave.  Take it away from him and give it to the other…and cast him out into suffering. (pause)
That’s the story…and as per usual, we’re faced with the question of interpretation…we’re left trying to make heads or tails of the message that we’re supposed to receive. (pause)

Now admittedly, we could hear a lot things in this passage. Its stewardship time here in the church…and we hear the word “Talent.” So maybe we think about the gifts and talents that we’ve been given in our lives and how we are called to share them in the church and in the world. Ok.   Maybe we hear talents and think about it from a financial standpoint and think its about giving to the church, about making solid financial moves with what we’ve been given, so that when the master returns we’ve got something to show for it. Ok. I don’t think these are wrong…but I think there’s more going on here than what we might pick up at face value.

And on the flip side I fear that there’s interpretations that can get into trouble as well.  We hear that 5-talent guy and 2-talent guy doubled their money and that’s what got them into the good graces of the master…that they had to earn it…that they had to somehow “buy” their way into whatever he’s talking about when he says “enter in the joy of your master.” And since, on the other hand, 1-talent guy didn’t produce anything, he’s cast out.

Make no mistake…we cannot hear this story and think that Jesus is telling us we’ve got earn God’s favor…there is no checklist…there is no scoreboard…there is no money tally…let me be clear. THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS.  This parable is not about anything that we say or think or do or earn that somehow guarantees us a spot in the kingdom of heaven whenever it comes to fruition. (pause)

But saying that raises an important point…remember that Jesus is still teaching his followers that they SHOULD NOT be concerned with the end times…that they should not get all wrapped up in when it happen. We could even stick this into that Spaceballs scene….Jesus when will the end happen? When will then be now?   Soon. (long pause) BUT…NOT…YET.

We hear over and over again, Jesus tells us to be prepared…live right now in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom…and remember that we have this sense that the kingdom is both now and not yet. That the promises of God are given to us now, even if they haven’t come to completion yet. That we are called to live out the reality of God’s love right here right now…and not only that but that we are called to share that same love with everyone around us…That we are called to risk it…we are called to do something. Not because we have to earn the master’s favor but because the master has already given it to us and we show our gratitude by sharing it with others.

God’s love and God’s favor and God’s grace are for everyone…period. That’s why Jesus said to love God and love your neighbor…and he tells us to do it now.  This theme is all over Jesus’ teachings here in Matthew’s gospel.

You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.  So be salty…be light…now…not just when we you think that someone’s watching and it gets you somewhere. Jesus also tells us don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough cares of its own.  What do you think he’s saying there? Maybe he’s saying that if you’re wondering when is the right time to follow that little nudge in the back of your mind that tells you “I know what I’m supposed to do or say or offer to this other person.” That if you’re wondering when to do that…today…now.

Because God is going to show up unexpectedly…2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel tell us this over and over again…and maybe just maybe we need to stop looking for Jesus shining in the clouds and huge booming trumpets and angels singing all over the place and realize that God shows up in the face of the hungry…of the sick…of the lonely…that the king that we’re all waiting for and that we’ll celebrate next Sunday on Christ the King…he shows up as we face the reality that I was hungry and you gave me some food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me…for just as you have done to the least of these you have done to me.

God shows up unexpectedly…every…single…day. So are you going to live your lives stuck in the future expectation, wondering how you can be ready…essentially living in the fear that you’ll be turned away? Or are you going to live in the reality that its now….live in the now…and live your life in a way that reflects the glory of the gospel…that God has already claimed you…that the promise is already yours…and that you are a beloved child of God? (pause)
That’s the gospel…and its WAY too good to sit on…or to throw in a hole.  If we learn nothing else let it be this…1-talent guy sat on it…this thing of immeasurable value…because he was too scared to run any risk. (pause)
What are you willing to risk? You’ve been given the best news in the world…that you are loved by the one who made you…are you willing to share that same love with another…are you willing to risk loving the one that’s different…the one who thinks different, or talks different, or looks different…or even the one who we might think isn’t deserving of that same love of God? Are you going to sit on it, or are you going to do something with it? (pause) We don’t act to earn ourselves anything, because we’ve already been given everything by the one who made us and loves us…and not only that, but the one who has invited us to share this same gift with the world…that is why we act…that is why we risk…because at some point the end times are coming…When will then be now? Soon…but not yet. Not until we all do our part to make it happen…not until we live out this moment in a way that reflects the realty of the kingdom…and maybe just maybe when we do that, then ALL the world will experience the joy of our master who loves and adores and treasures every single one of us. Amen.

Go All In 11-16-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the rich landowner giving talents to his servants. Through the example of Texas Hold ‘Em style poker, I explore how we go “all in” with the gospel, and when we do, we are not risking the lose of the gospel itself…for the gospel does not decrease, it can only increase.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/go-all-in-11-16-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

About a week ago I was playing the late evening channel surfing game…sacked out on the couch, not ready to go to bed, and just hoping to find something on tv…I ended up watching coverage of the final table of a World Series of Poker championship. Now I’ve never been a huge poker player, but occasionally would play a game with my friends…and in particular the style Texas Hold ‘Em that gained popularity in the past decade or so.

This particular version of poker involves two cards given to each player face down, while 5 more cards are periodically laid out on the table. You use your two cards along with the available cards to make the best hand you can, and there’s a series of betting along the way. If you’re struggling to make a good hand, you can always fold, giving up any bets that you’ve already put into the pot…or on the flip side, if you’ve made a great hand and think you’ve got everyone beat, you can bet everything you’ve got…commonly called going All In. (pause)

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve played this from time to time before…and as I was sitting there watching it the other night, it wasn’t long before I picked up my tablet and started searching for an online poker app. I found one pretty quickly and so for the last few days I’ve been playing Texas Hold ‘Em against people all around the world…theoretical stakes mind you…but it’s a lot of fun.

In the midst of a game the other day, I had one really great hand that landed me a really strong payout…and suddenly my stack…or my pile of chips…was way bigger than everyone else’s at the table…and from that point on, I found myself way more willing to bet big…to let my chips do the work…even when other players tried to go All In, I was pretty willing to call them, because I knew I could handle it…and that I didn’t have to risk everything I had.

But on the flip side, I’ve been on the other side of the coin…working with a short stack as they call it…which means being the person without very many chips…knowing that any big bet could empty me out…and knock me out of the game…and in those instances, I get pretty tight…and I hesitate to take much risk…I guard my stack…because what little I have could be gone in an instant. That’s the risk when you go All In…either you double up…or you lose everything. (pause)

Today’s gospel story shares a similar type of situation…although I’m guessing high stakes poker probably wasn’t involved. Today’s story involves yet another parable…yet another story intended to point out how we should respond to certain situations.

A man was leaving on a journey…and obviously he must be a wealthy man, because he calls his 3 servants together…and dolls out a huge sum to them. To the first, 5 talents…to the second, 2…and the third, 1…each according to their ability. Not long ago we heard another story about talents…and in that sermon I talked about the value…a talent was worth 15 years of wages for a day laborer…15 years worth of work…I don’t know about you, but I’d say that would make a pretty great bonus if the boss just walked up and handed it to you…and regardless of how we look at it…in today’s monetary figures or the wages of Jesus’ day the simple fact that this is a sum equal to one and half decades worth of work should put it into perspective…what he is handing out…is something of immense value.

Now we hear that the three men received different amounts…each according to his ability…and that’s an interesting point…we don’t know what it is about the first guy that distinguishes him to the point of receiving the largest stack…but he does…and then the second guy must be a little more average…and the last, maybe not quite so skilled…but regardless of the amount, remember…they all received something of great value.

We hear that two out of the three immediately put their talents to work…we don’t know what they do…likely not poker…but however they do it…in whatever way it is that they risk the treasure given to them…the talents increase…they each manage to double down…so when the master eventually returns they are able to say “look Lord…you gave me 5, here, take 5 more.” Or “You gave me two…here they are and two more with them.” And this return is a joy to the master…and he tells them “Well done good and faithful servant…you have been trusted with little, you will be given much…enter into the joy…into the DELIGHT…of your master.” (pause)

But then there’s this third guy…the guy who only received a single talent…for whatever reason…and he’s not quite so pumped about the whole situation is he? We don’t know exactly what’s going on with this guy…but for what ever reason…he’s afraid…afraid to risk it. (pause)

Maybe he looked at the other two guys…and he felt jealous…he got twice as much…and he got five times more…they’ve got way more to work with…and perhaps his jealousy froze him…and just like that time when I was playing poker with the big stack, unafraid to risk some…knowing that I had more…or perhaps even more fitting when I was the short stack…sitting there afraid to bet…afraid to risk what little I had…because what if he loses it…what then? (pause) Whatever the reason…fear…fear of eventually having to face his master…a man that he believes to be harsh…that he believes reaps the benefits of other people’s hard work…he simply decides to sit on it…risking nothing…nothing gained…but nothing lost…so that when his master returns he won’t be blamed for losing anything…and he can just give the talent back to the master…and how does it turn out for this guy?

It certainly…does not…end…well. (pause)

Perhaps as we sit here today, thinking about this story…we start to wonder just what those talents are…and there are quite a few different answers to that question…considering the time of year that we find ourselves in…and tendency for the topic of stewardship to pop up…maybe we hear this and think its speaking about money…about how we are called to use the money that God gives us wisely. Nothing wrong with that.

Another option is to take the word “talent” literally and think about the gifts that we are each given…those gifts of the Holy Spirit…about how we are one body with many members and each member has an important role…so how are we going to chose to share those talents…nothing wrong with that either.

But the more I thought about it this week…the more I reflected…especially considering the theme that’s emerged in recent weeks…I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, the talents that Jesus is speaking about in this parable…maybe they’re the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ…the wonderful news that through his life death and resurrection, we are forgiven of our sinful nature…washed clean in blood through our faith…that the free gift of God’s grace is available…is offered to each and every one of us….because to me…that’s something of great value. (pause)

But if that is the case…then it raises the question of just what are supposed to do with that? The first two servants in the story put their talents to work…and their talents increased…while the third guy just sat on it…doing nothing with it…and it remained exactly as it was…and not only that…it was taken away from him.

So what does that mean? How do we put the gospel to work? (pause) How do we risk it? (pause) Jesus himself answers that question for us, just a few short chapters after this. Following his death and resurrection, Jesus takes the disciples out to a mountain…and he tells them…All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…Go make disciples of all nations…teaching them all that I have taught you…and remember that I am with you always.

That’s it…putting the Gospel to work…risking the gospel…means making disciples…and how do we do that? Well…its pretty simple…we share the gospel…that’s it…because a person can’t become a disciple…they can’t learn about it unless they first hear about it? That’s what we’re called to do…and not out of obligation…but out of love…someone back in your history loved you enough to share the gospel with you…they must have because otherwise you wouldn’t be here today…and loving someone enough to share this life altering news with them…that’s just one way that we follow Jesus’ other command to first love God, and then to love our neighbor.

And the beauty of all this…the wonderful nature of the gospel is that when we risk it…when we go all in and share this incredible thing with others…we don’t lose it…we can’t…the gospel doesn’t work that way…we don’t divide part of what we have to give to someone else…when we share it…the gospel simply grows…and they have the full measure just as you do…and this is why those two servants were able to come to their master and say…look, what you have given us has doubled. (pause) The gospel cannot help but grow when we put it to work. (pause)

But what of that third man…the one who lived in fear…the one who chose to guard the talent…to safeguard the gospel and not give it away lest he lose it and have nothing to show for it…what happened to him? In his fear, exactly what he was afraid of became his reality.

The gospel does not live in fear…in cannot…because to be afraid to lose it…means that you never had it in the first place. (pause) The gospel…the good news that Jesus Christ lived and died for you makes you a new creation…and as a new creation, we know that this good news is not something that we keep to ourselves…we don’t guard it…we don’t hide it away from others…we must share it…because we know that this good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is not something that we are allowed to hinder…we do not get to judge who is worthy to hear it…because no one is worthy…including us…and at the very same time everyone is worthy…including us.

In God’s incredible wisdom…and immeasurable love for all humankind, God risked it all…God became human…lived among us…and willingly paid everything he could….because God died for you…God went all in…and because God is generous, he shares that with us.

And so today I pose the question…what are you willing to risk for the Gospel? Are you willing to risk it all…knowing that the gospel cannot be taken away from us when we share it…when we put it to work…knowing that it can only increase…

Truly we are all given gifts…we are all given talents and treasures…but most importantly we are given the Gospel…and when we chose to use it…when we take it out into the world and share it with those we encounter, then one day we too will hear those wonderful words from the master…Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy…enter…into the delight…of your master…and make no mistake…God delights in you…because God loves you

This is why God went All in…will you?

Amen.

Talents. Metaphorical or Literal?

Here in November, as we approach the end of the season of Pentecost and with it the end of another church year, our weekly Gospel texts have become quite apocalyptic in nature. Jesus talks with his followers about the end times, affirming that at some unknown point in the future, it will occur. Jesus will come back…the kicker is that no one short of the Father himself knows when this will be. And so, Jesus stresses the importance of living out our day to lives reflecting the truth that at any moment, it will be time. It may happen 5 minutes from now, or it may happen a millennia from now. Despite this, often times maddening unknown, Jesus stresses that we know the truth and we are called to live in a way that reflects that.

This week’s Gospel found in Matthew 25:14-30, fits right into this same theme, as we hear the parable of the three servants, each given talents as their master departs on a journey. One receives 5, one 2, and the final a single talent. The first two servants immediately put the talents to work, and by the time the master returns, they have doubled their investments. But the final servant, worrying about the Masters ability to be a harsh judge, simply hides the single talent until such time as he can return it, along with some harsh words based on his perception of the master himself. It does not end well for this final servant.

This passage, partnered up with last week’s gospel lesson of the 10 bridesmaids, 5 of whom eventually find out that the door into the celebration is shut, as well as next week’s lesson of the eventual separation of the sheep from the goats, paints a tough picture. The reality that Jesus implores us to recognize is that there WILL be a time when the door is shut (10 bridesmaids) and you’ve been entrusted with this amazingly valuable gift (the gospel) so what are you going to do with it? Its not about earning your salvation…its about sharing what you’ve been given…not storing it away. It seems to be, once again, how you live your life today in a way that reflects that Jesus could come back in 5 minutes.

Some may find a connection between this train of thought and the notion of stewardship. While stewardship can, and often does get associated with money, its more important to consider that stewardship is all encompassing. How do we honor God with all that He has given us? And perhaps this is fitting for us today as we begin to look forward at the upcoming year. How is God calling us as a congregation, as a community of believers, to act with the gifts we’ve been given?

A talent was the equivalent of 15 years worth of wages for a day laborer in Jesus’ time…so in short, it was of great value. Perhaps this gospel lesson speaks of talents as our Spiritual Gifts (the most common interpretation). But I tend to think of the talent being the Gospel itself…something of far greater value than simple wages. If this is, in fact the case, then it seems as if Jesus is telling us that today, right now, we need to live in a way that reflects the life-shattering difference that the gospel makes in our lives. No longer are we called to live in the darkness, but rather to bear witness to the amazing light that is Christ himself. And as the Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Let us keep this in mind as we continue to do the work entrusted to us by God until the day when we see our Maker face to face.