(Matthew 25: 14-30)
Our scripture reading this morning comes from the 25th chapter of Matthew verses 14-30. Here we find Jesus speaking to the disciples in what is called the “apocalyptic discourse” which includes three parables about waiting for Jesus’ return after his ascension to God the Father and how we as disciples are to live faithfully as we wait for Christ’s glorious return. Our reading today is one of these 3 parables, listen now for God’s word to us this morning:
The word of the Lord – Thanks be to God
Will you pray with me? Holy God, move your Spirit among us that we may see and know the abundance of grace and love you have placed in our lives. Stir your Spirit among us that we may hear your word to us this day and be called to faithful discipleship in your name. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
This story is a parable, not a financial planning directive. This story is one that Jesus tells in his apocalyptic discourse, stories that tell us, the readers and disciples how to live in the time following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to God the Father. They help us to live life faithfully while we wait and long for for Christ to come again with justice, with peace, with love, with grace, and in glory!
The story is rife with parallels that help us make sense of it and apply it to our life. It’s not much of a stretch to see the parallel between the master and Jesus, or the parallel of the time in which the master’s is away from the servants to the time between Jesus’ ascension and final return (or – the time we are living in now), and finally the parallel between the servants and us, Jesus’ disciples.
So if this story, this parable that Jesus tells, if this is not a story describing our financial planning, how then do we understand it? Well, we read into and understand ourselves in the midst of the parable. We see our discipleship as it relates to the servant’s actions.
The story focuses on the action of the third servant, the one who doesn’t fair too well in the parable.
One thing to note first about this parable before going too far forward is the generosity of the master. A talent is understood to be equivalent to approximately the wages a day laborer would earn in 15 years, so the master is handing out hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Even the servant who receives only one talent is being handed a huge amount of money.
So, how do these three servants respond to the master’s generosity?
The first two servants respond with risk, they take the huge sums of money entrusted to them and they take a risk. They risk losing everything, losing the millions of dollars that have been entrusted to them, they take a risk for the sake of growing that which has been given to them.
But the third servant responds differently. He responds by doing a very conventional, conservative, safe-guarding of the talent. He effectively puts the money into a savings account that will ensure it remains there indefinitely. But the more curious thing to me is why. Why he responds with this measure of security. He says to the master the many many years later upon the master’s return that he fears his master, that he knows he is a harsh man and so in fear, the servant stockpiles the talent away. In fear.
Which begs the questions to me, how do we see God, and how do we respond to God’s abundant generosity?
Do we respond like the third servant, in fear? Or do we respond like the first two servants with risk?
Are we able to see God’s abundant generosity in our lives and in our world? Are we able to see the abundance of the gifts God has entrusted to our care? Are we able to see the beauty of the world God has created among us? Are we able to see the joy in our lives as gifts from God? Are we willing to be trustworthy servants? Are we willing to trust God?
And in being trustworthy servants, are we willing to risk it all? Risk the gifts given to us, risk the comforts given to us? In the interest of abundantly growing those talents, in the interest of multiplying the gifts of God, in the interest of sharing God’s mercy over and over, what risks might we be willing to take?
Or will we respond in fear like the third servant? In fear of a God who is gracious? In fear of an abundantly giving God? Will we respond with fear of losing these gifts? Will we respond to God with fear or will we respond to God with faithful risk?
The mistake, the sin, the problem of the third servant is that he lets fear rule his life, he is fearful not faithful. It’s not that he was careful with the master’s money, it is that he was afraid, not faithful.
Perhaps we’ve been there too. We’ve let the overly cautious side of us lead the way, the nagging bit of practicality, the fearfully reasonable part of us that keeps us from taking risks in our faith, risks in our ministry, risks in our discipleship. We’ve wondered if the risk of a new ministry is worth the challenges it may bring. Or if the risk of a new direction in life will play out for the best. Or if the risk of faithful discipleship will be worth it.
Yes, we all know too well the response of fear over faithful risk taking. We’ve felt the tug of fear take over the call of faith. Yes, we’ve been there.
Let me tell you a story though of when we, as a church, have let the call of faith speak louder than the voice of fear.
Several months ago, when approached by the Salvation Army Center of Hope with a request to house women who are currently homeless, this church took a risk and said “yes.” At the time, we wondered if it was possible to get enough volunteers in the summer, if people would be too burned out from all the new mission work we’ve taken on, if we could figure out the logistics of housing 12 women for an entire week, if we could ensure the security of everyone on the church grounds with this new ministry.
There were certainly risks, and before any of those questions were answered the faithful disciples of this church responded by saying “yes.” By saying, yes, this is a faithful response to what Jesus Christ is doing in the world, and we are being called to provide housing for the women of Charlotte. We took a risk and tomorrow we will open our doors to 12 women who are in need of a safe, hospitable place to stay and we are filled with people who want to serve in this ministry, we’ve figured out ways to make the challenges work, we took a risk and instead of being fearful, we were faithful.
This church let faith be more powerful than fear.
The greatest risk we can take would be to not risk anything at all. The greatest mistake we could make is to live our lives in fear rather than in faith. So let’s step into faith together, lets continue to fight fearful responses with faithful ones.
Yesterday the events of Charlottesville, Virginia begged this questions of us yet again – will we respond in faith or will we respond in fear? As the voices of neo-Nazis and white supremacists joined together shouting hate and violence, how do we respond? Do we respond in fear of conflict? Fear of making awkward conversation? Or fear of making situations uncomfortable? Do we respond in fear of what might happen when we speak out against racism?
Or will we respond in faith as we have so many times before. Will we respond by faithfully standing against racism, standing against hate, standing against violence? Are we willing to speak up against these voices and actions or are we afraid that it may make us uncomfortable? Are we going to live in fear that it may challenge us or live in faith that it is how God is calling us to be disciples in the world today?
I know that this church and the people who fill its pews and make up its membership, I know you, I know that we are a faithful bunch. So, let us respond to this hate with faith, with love, not with fear. Let us respond by taking a risk, by being willing to lay on the line our comfort, by laying on the line our ease. And by taking up a risky, faithful kind of discipleship. One that condemns hate not just with thoughts and prayers but also with words and actions, one that condemns white supremacy and racism by boldly stating that we believe God has created and ordered and blessed the diversity of our human race. One that is willing to change our lives for the sake of ending racism, and ensuring that God’s love is known to all people, that the kind of love that God calls us to, the kind of faith that Christ calls us to – one of risk, one of love, one of discomfort is realized in the ways we live our lives of faith.
So how will respond as a church? As people of faith? As individual disciples living in the world? Will we respond to God out of fear, afraid of what may happen? Afraid of loss? Afraid of change? Afraid of risk?
Or will we instead step into the unknown, step into the places and spaces we fear, and live a risky life filled with faith? A life lived risking ourselves, our lives, our comfort for the God who has so abundantly and graciously given to us?
Will we live a life of fear? Or will we live a life of faithful risks? Will we be disciples of fear or disciples of faith? Will we be a church of fear or will we be a church that risks, a church that takes chances, a church that takes what it has and does all it can to multiply and increase, to sow bountifully and reap plentifully?
I believe we are a church of faith, because I have seen it, we are a church willing to take risks, filled with faithful disciples. Let us step into this week with faith, and let go of fear, whatever it may be.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see it’s path.
Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
(“Dune” Frank Herbert)
In the name of God our creator, our sustainer, and our redeemer. Amen.