Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 11/13/2011

Sermon by Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick, supply at Bethany, Ishpeming
Sun., Nov.13, 2011, 10:30 a.m. [not Mon. evening] (Pentecost 22)

“Parable of the Talents”
Text:  Matthew 25:14-30

This parable is so familiar that it has become a cliché.  It is regularly used to encourage and praise obviously gifted people … and to chastise those who seem to be sitting uselessly on what abilities they have.  From the perspective of human wisdom, these are … well … reasonable uses of this story … reasonable uses … but they rise no higher than worldly insights about success and failure.  Such uses have a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” feel to them, and certainly offer nothing of the Good News of God-with-us.

Yet, when Jesus told this parable, he was just days away from betrayal, suffering and crucifixion … a death he was deliberately provoking … by his words and actions … for a purpose … that was beyond human imagination.  That being so … something seems amiss with the apparent message of the parable.  Think about it:  If Jesus is not just one more … in a long line of wise prophets and teachers … could he really be spending the closing days of his life-in-human-flesh offering a commonplace message about shrewd financial investment? … or even a somewhat more uplifting message about the benefits of making the most of our personal …“talents”?

The English word “talents” … referring to skills and abilities … comes from the Greekword talanton.  However, in Jesus’ time … the talent was literally a measure of money … and the amounts the master in the parable assigned to all three of his slaves … let’s call them Larry, Curly and Moe … represented huge quantities of it.   Just one talanton … what Moe was given to manage … represented about $1200 worth of silver … about 25 years wages … in an era when the average daily wage was about 16 cents … and the average annual wage only about $48.  In other words, even that one “talent” was a humongous sum in Jesus' day … a laughably large amount.

 So Moe … entrusted with just one talanton … had enough at his disposal to last his entire working lifetime … and Larry and Curly were rich beyond imagination for those times.

That said, was Jesus really talking about mere money? … or did he have perhaps a more lasting "currency" in mind at that most critical time in his earthly ministry?  He was … after all … about to take the greatest risk the world … indeed, the universe … had ever known … for the greatest vision the divine mind had ever conceived.  For the sake of reconciliation on a cosmic scale … in order to bring unimaginable new life to the world of desperately broken humanity … Jesus was about to plunge into the depths of human sin so as to wash clean the human soul with his own blood.

With stakes so high, there is no way Jesus’ message could be limited to advice for living well …  so let’s dig a little deeper into the parable … and perhaps find some food for our souls.

Consider Moe’s response when accountability time came.  He says, ‘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.’ Eugene Peterson, in his biblical paraphrase The Message, puts the third servant’s response in these words:  ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways; that you demand the best and make no allowances for error.  I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money.  Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

Either way … Oh?!!  … How on earth … did Moe draw such a conclusion about the master?  Is Jesus using this man’s “take” on the master in the parable as a mirror of the human condition? … a mirror reflecting the all too common view that God is keeping score of our missteps, waiting gleefully for us to mess up, so that he can pronounce condemnation?

Is it possible that Moe lived in such fear of making a mistake … that he was completely unable to recognize the gift of trust the master had given him … by placing in his care what was, frankly, a sizable chunk of change?  Is it possible that Moe, this third slave, represents the all-too-large segment of the human population that has bought into the idea that failure to become a success … the way the world defines success … is to be a worthless being?  

Is it further possible that this man is a victim of a world-view of pervasive fear … fear that makes it impossible for good people to take on life-giving risk?

And then what about Larry and Curly?  Was their success with the vast sums put into their care the result of their financial brilliance … or was it their joyful confidence inand love for the One who had entrusted so much to their stewardship?   

 It seems that Larry and Curly understood just who their master was . . . what his character was   . . . and just what “currency” had been entrusted to them.  The currency was faith and the sacred character of the master was love.   As true and willing slaves to their loving master, they lived in faithful obedience to the rules of the divine household … rules that required not conservative bean-counting … but extravagant riskfor the sake of a visionthey had to take on faith … since it was truly beyond human imagination.

 They were absolutely fearless, trusting that their master—God—would always provide whatever was truly important.  They understood that the Master wanted them to cultivate loving relationships with himself and with each other in all the circumstances life presented … and thus share in the Master's joy. 

In his parable, Jesus was warning the leaders of the Jewish people that they were cutting themselves off from real fellowship with God and from that divine joy.  They had made the choice.  They had chosen to be afraid of the rule-focused God they had invented.  They had chosen the dark paralysis of fear ... rather than the light of hope that had long been entrusted to them.  They had chosen not to trust … the loving God who had set them apart to be beacons of hope … for the whole world … for all time … and Jesus, with his parable, was warning them of their folly.

Even so … there's still a bit of a puzzle about the uneven assignment of talents … so let's toy with some possibilitiesPerhaps at the time the master was handing out the currency of faith … (note that faith itself is a gift … not something we can take credit for) … Larry may have already been through some tough times, perhaps beginning as early as birth and childhood.  Perhaps, too, he had been raised to recognize God’s presence in the midst of the most trying times of challenge and despair.  He had learned to trust God to care for him, and so he was free to treat others as Jesus would—giving generously of his time, love, patience, abilities, and material resources.  He lived responsibly by human standards—in that he was neither selfish nor wastefully profligate—but he was so full of the hope that God had given him that he never feared he would have too little if he gave away too much.  He proclaimed the Gospel by the way he managed his priorities.  His faith grew.

Curly, however, may not have been as far along on the faith journey.  Perhaps he always believed in God, but … as he moved up the ladder of worldly success … he didn't think much about whether God would really do anything particularly good or ill.  Yet he had been given faith enough to put love first when, perhaps, he had to choose between the needs of his family … and his career advancement.  Faced with the challenge of reexamining his life priorities, he was given the grace to live in trust rather than fear.  And his faith also grew … the more he allowed it to guide his life.

And so we come back to Moe.  He just never did understand that the abundant currency he had been given—one talent of faith—was a gift he could invest in the Master's divine business any way he chose! He could be free of rules, free of fear, free to proclaim God's loving, forgiving nature to the whole world, one neighbor at a time.  Instead, … he lived in fear … of breaking the "rules" … and so cut himself off … from the divine joy of the master … by burying his faith in that fear.

So what about us?  Do we trust the Master to be who he claimed to be … the God who created us in his own loving … risk-taking image … the God who asks only that we express that trust—that faith—by taking wild, loving chances with it?   Do we take the Gospel of Jesus … and the divine gift of faith … at face value? … Can we see the Good News … in God’s purpose of reconciliation on a cosmic scale? … and in God’s invitation to share in divine joy ... as God invites us to surprise and delight him by what we do … with both … our human talents … and the measure of divine currency he has entrusted to our creative use?  May it be so among us.                    

Amen!  

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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