Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon, Proper 28A, Matthew 25:14-30

Question: what kind of person was the master in today's gospel story?

If we look at the first two-thirds of the gospel, the master comes across as trusting, generous and welcoming. "A man went on a long journey and entrusted his property to his slaves." He goes away for an undetermined length of time and turns over his whole estate to the slaves.

We could think of his slaves as figures in a story we don't really pay attention to. We could see them as hired hands, maybe not slaves, per se, but similar to people around here who work for absentee land lords -- people who care for a ranch estate in the owner's absence. But to make more of an impact, think of them as slaves of the South. Imagine a white slave owner going on a long rip and entrusting his estate to a few black slaves.

That's what this guy did. He turned over is estate to the slaves and trusted them to not only run the place, but to not steal it away from him while gone.

Trust is a funny thing. You have to be willing to give it away in the first place. We often do that in small increments, don't we? We will give somebody a task or a secret or something small to determine if they are trustworthy. If they can be trusted in small things, then it's likely they can be trusted in large things.

On the flip side, when we have been entrusted with something, I would like to think that we will work to earn the other's trust. And we hope to continue to build that trust to a larger degree as we become better and more intimately acquainted.

So the master leaves on a trip and puts three slaves in charge of five, two and one talent each. The master is entrusting these slaves to be in charge of a few things. Skipping ahead, we will hear him say, "Well done . . . you have been trustworthy in a few things." It would seem that the master is doing exactly what we do -- entrust somebody with something small to see how they handle it and then trust them with more.

How much did he trust the slaves with? Not much, just five, two and one talent. How much is a talent? A small thing? When I ask you about your talents, what's the answer? "Oh, I don't have much talent I think I have maybe one or two." We downplay our talents and their value. But in the story, a talent was a monetary value worth anywhere between 15 and 20 YEARS of wages. And the master calls this a small amount. So the master is exceedingly generous.

And the master is welcoming. The slaves with the five and two talents (something like 100 and 40 years of wages) took that gift and went to work. They didn't sit around waiting for the master to come home, living easily on what had been entrusted to them. They went out and took care of business, each doubling the value of what was given.

After his return and hearing how the slaves have doubled his holdings, the master welcomes them into his "joy." One interpretation says that the master welcomed them into his household as equals, removing the status of slave.

So for most of this parable, we are shown a master who is trusting, generous and welcoming.

Then we get to the third slave. He didn't take his gift and work. He didn't attempt to increase the master's holdings. He simply waited for him to return and did nothing. Instead of actively waiting, he went out and buried TWENTY YEARS worth of wages and waited in fear.

Why? Because he knew the master as a harsh man; as a man who took what didn't belong to him; as a man who gleefully punished those who crossed him. This slave saw the master as harsh, greedy and vindictive. And during the time of his absence, the slave waits in fear. There is no love here. There is no willingness to actively wait. There is no trust.

After learning what the third slave did with the money, the master flies into a rage, takes away his talent, and throws him out into the outer darkness.

Harsh? Maybe. But think about this: what in this parable, other than the testimony of the third slave, would indicate that the master is a harsh man? Nothing. There is nothing here to indicate he is such. But that slave had an idea of what kind of man the master was. He had heard stories about his harshness. He heard he took that which didn't belong to him. And he had heard about the punishments inflicted upon those who crossed him. His image and knowledge of the master was based not on experience but on hearsay and small pieces of information taken out of context and fear. And in the end, he received exactly what he expected.

How do we see God? Do we see him as trusting, generous and welcoming? Do we believe God entrusted us with his kingdom until he returns? Do we believe that what appears to us to be a small gift (one talent) that, in reality, God has been generous with us beyond our wildest dreams? Are we willing to use the talents God has given us to increase the holdings of his kingdom? And more importantly, are we willing to tell people about a God who is trusting, generous and welcoming?

Or do we see God as harsh, greedy and vindictive? Are we paralyzed by a fear that keeps us from using our God-given talents? Do we hoard our talents, waiting in fear, expecting a vengeful God who enjoys punishing those who cross him?

Either way, I have a feeling that we will meet the God we expect. We will either experience God through hearsay, out-of-context scripture passges and fear, burying our talents in the ground and not working for the kingdom; or we will experience God through an actual relationship of trust, generosity and invitation, actively waiting and working to increase the holdings of the kingdom.

Are you willing to risk using your talents? Are you willing to see God as more generous than you can imagine? Are you willing to return that generosity?

My challenge to you is this: use your talents, actively wait for God's return, and be not afraid.


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