Monday, November 20, 2017

It's Best to Let it Go

Matthew 25:14-30
November 19, 2017

This is not the easiest parable.
I mean it’s pretty easy to understand,
But I don’t like what I understand.
Jesus is comparing God to a master
Who wants more money from his slaves.
And then there’s that whole outer darkness
And crying and gnashing of teeth.

It’s always good to remember that these are
Parables and not allegories,
Meaning that just because the character in the
Lord of the Parables
Jorge Cocco Santangelo
Parable is sending people 
to the outer darkness,
Doesn’t mean that we 
will get sent to hell for
Making the wrong choices.

But I do think that when 
reading these parables,
It’s apparent that Jesus believes that God
Has specific desires for us and there
Are good choices and bad choices.

Now, I saw this parable used in a Christian Financing web site.
It was used to encourage people to invest money in the stock market.
It’s also used a lot in stewardship sermons.
The moral of the story was “make God happy by making more money”

And then some people think this parable is about our gifts our passions,
or what we’re talented at because the money used in the parable
conveniently translates to “talents.”

And actually I found, the English word for talent
is derived from an interpretation of this parable.
So my brain was hurting trying to figure out how to explain that.
  
But we gotta remember again that this is a parable.
So if Jesus told a parable about money,
Money was there to talk about something else.
The stock market wasn’t around in Jesus time.
And really, Jesus never seemed interested in making
Middle class people more wealthy.

And looking at what Jesus talked about otherwise
I don’t think this parable is about increasing your personal talents
And I don’t think this parable is about increasing your personal money.

But since the parable is talking about money,
we’ve got to talk about money.
But just as a metaphor.

As Americans in the 21st century, we have it drilled into our heads
that putting money in the bank to earn interest and investing
in the stock market is the wisest and most
prudent thing we can do with our money.
It’s seen as the best way to save and prepare for the future.

But in the first century there was no stock market,
there was no federally insured bank,
and loaning money for interest was forbidden by scripture.
So burying your money was actually
a more respected financial plan for the future.
There wasn’t any inflation to speak of, so if you buried a dollar
in a hole in the back yard and picked it up 10 years later
it was worth the same amount, it was a good retirement plan.

So, the wisest, most prudent thing the master could have done himself
was to bury his fortune so that when he came home
from his journey, it would be there.
But instead the master does something crazy,
he entrusts his cash to his servants.

And he has a lot. As usual, Jesus is talking in extremes here
One talent is fifteen years wages, so one would be about
a half a million dollars today, and two would be a million
and five would be just a whole lot.

So the first two slaves take the massive amount
of money they’re given and they don’t do the most
reasonable and logical thing you can do in the first century,
which would be to put it in a safe place for later.
No, they go out and trade it for other things.

And that, I think is what pleases the master so much.
It’s not the extra money that they earned.
It was that they acted with courage with
What the master had given them and they took a risk.

Now the third guy on the other hand, acted out of fear.
Fear of losing what he was given,
and fear of punishment from the master,
(who turned out to be pretty nasty.)
He held onto what he had.  He did the reasonable thing
But  this was obviously not the thing to do,
and the master was very disappointed.

So if this parable is not about investing money,
or about using our talents, what is it about?
Remember, Matthew is always talking to a community,
not about individuals, he is talking about how to be the church.
how a community should  live their lives following Christ.
How to be the people of God.

So I think this parable is about everything we have together:
A little about our money and our abilities,
and about our buildings, the furniture, and the carpets, yes.
But especially those non-tangable things we’ve been given”
like love, forgiveness, new life, and salvation.
All that God has given us,
and the parable is saying that everything is
best kept when they are released.

As people, when we get something that is precious
our first instinct is to protect it.
To go like that third guy and bury it in the yard
so to speak, and not let anyone touch it.
And I think many people in the history of
Christendom have tried to do just that.

From the beginning: The church spent time protecting the gospel
roving marauders of heretics who were seen as threatening to it.
People were excommunicated and put in jail
and actually burned at the stake
for having different ideas and convictions.
Lutherans spent the first half of the 20th century trying to protect the
communion table from anyone who was from another denomination
and the un-baptized and anyone else who just
wanted a little crumb from the table of the church.

The Christian church has lived in fear of offending God,
and of losing the precious things that we’ve been given.
And making an enemy out of anyone who thinks differently.
Churches throughout the ages has opted
for safety and a sure thing over risk.

Safety feels  like a logical idea, stuffing the treasures of our
churches into our metaphorical mattresses seems prudent.
But in the end, it doesn’t pay off.

My internship congregation in Milwaukee was in the middle
of a very bad inner-city neighborhood.
Even when I got there, the neighborhood
was riddled with drugs and crime and shootings.

The pastor that was there had come
About a decade before I had gotten there.
He told me that when he had arrived,
there were about 30 faithful people worshipping.
They were living on borrowed time off of an endowment.
All the members of the church had all moved
out of the neighborhood long ago.
But they still came faithfully to Reformation church to worship.

The church was closed all week long
and the doors actually chained
with a heavy lock holding it shut.
The members would all drive in on
Sunday morning wait in the parking lot
until the council president got there with the key.
Then he would unlock the chain and open the door, they would run in.

When the last person they knew was coming,
they locked the front door.
They had worship and coffee
and then they ran back to their cars again and go home.
This could have easily gone on until their endowment ran out.
Many churches have taken that path.
The path of comfort and safety.

But then my supervisor got there.
He was a pastor who didn’t just want to lock the church up.
He made them open the church on Sunday and every day in the week.
He invited the people of the neighborhood in.
He taught the older members that they shouldn’t live in fear,
but in joy and hope and trust.

And slowly, people did come in.  Not just the “right” kind of people
but all sorts of people: drug addicts and prostitutes and mentally ill people
the rest of the people from the neighborhood too.
People who needed all of that care and love and forgiveness and salvation
that the congregation had been keeping all those years.
Now some of those original members ended up leaving,
But many stayed.
By the time I got there, the worship didn’t seem very Lutheran.
And there was a certain sense of chaos going on every day.
But it was a vibrant ministry full of activity and partners
and lots of different people and love.

When the church had the courage to open their hands
and unlock the doors the gifts came back to them again and again.
Not in money, or security,
but in other ways that can’t always be counted.

The only wrong move was the logical one:
to lock the doors and hide the church.
To protect their Lutheran
The right move was to let it out of their hands and
trust that it will come back somehow.

The Kingdom of God is like this. Safety is not honored.
Hoarding the love we get from God for a later date is not the sure route.
The gospel can’t be buried and kept.
The stuff that God gives us is meant to be shared.

God can’t be protected from the outside world.
It has to be let go of and released and sent back into the world.
This parable is about taking risks.

Now, I was thinking that Jesus could have helped me
out here in making my point about risk
here by having that two talent slave risk what he had, lost it,
come back with one million and still been
given the joy of his master in the end.
That would have shown that the risk was the important thing,
not the return.

But I think Jesus point is that when you risk things
in the name of God, when you go out and you share
God’s love, forgiveness and mercy with outsiders,
it does come back. It actually is guaranteed. It’s a sure thing.

In the upside-down Kingdom of God the risky way is the sure thing
and the safe way is not the safe way at all.

So the parable of the Talents is about talent, it’s about money
it’s about every way shape and form that we can use to share the
Love of God with those outside ourselves.
It’s about the church being ready for its master to return at any time,
and trusting God by taking risks with the things that are God’s
not by taking the safe road and doing what’s comfortable
it’s about not reacting out of fear of repercussions and suspicion
or doing what makes the members most safe and secure and happy.

Now Gethsemane is a vibrant church .
We’re not running into church and locking the door.
So now is the best time to ask,
how can we practice the parable of the talents?
How can we be ready when God comes to us?
What can we release out of our control?
What can we give away foolishly?
How can we open our doors and our hearts and our hands further?
How can we give away what God has given us?
What should we risk?

The story of Jesus, is the story of a man
who could have had anything he wanted if he just played it safe.
But instead, he opened his heart, his life and his dinner table
to prostitutes and tax collectors and thieves.
He opened his mouth and told the truth to powerful people.
And for those things he was killed.
He opened his arms to us on the cross.
He risked it all.
And return the world got it back everything.


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