Believe God. Help Your Neighbor.

This sermon was preached on November 19, 2017, Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, by the Rev. Nancy Vogele.  The gospel reading was Matthew 25:14-30.

[Jesus said to the disciples:] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five 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 trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘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.’  But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Today has been declared the first World Day of the Poor by Pope Francis.  It is a new celebration for Roman Catholics, created by Francis at the end of his Jubilee year for mercy a few years ago.

Francis’ message for the first World Day of the Poor has been given the title “Let us love, not with words but with deeds.” The title of the message is taken from the first letter of John, in which the author tells the Christian community of his time: “Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.”

Francis writes, “These words voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard.  The seriousness with which the ‘beloved disciple’ hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.” [Message of his Holiness Pope Francis, FIRST WORLD DAY OF THE POOR. ]

On this World Day of the Poor, the pope asks that Catholics and all those of good will “turn their gaze … to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.”

“They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father,” the pope writes. “This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.”

Alluding to the main focus of liberation theologians, Francis asserts that “God has a preferential love for the poor.”  This same love must guide all that we do as well.  So, on this first World Day of the Poor, “Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.”

I so wish that today’s Gospel was the one you will hear next week about the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in which the King says, “As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”  Alas, I will be away next week so pass that task off to Bob who will be taking the services.

Today, we have the Parable of the Talents.  As I said last week, all three parables – the parable of the bridesmaids, the parable of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and the goats are about the end times, the end of the world, the end – as in intent and purpose and goal – of our lives.

And it isn’t just to turn a profit or amass wealth.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

This parable is about what we do with the gifts we have been given, financial or otherwise.

In the parable that we read in this morning’s Gospel lesson, a man entrusts a lot of money to three of his slaves. A talent was worth about $1000 which was a huge amount of money in those days. One gets the equivalent of $5000. Another gets $2000. And another gets $1000. In the opinion of the master, each one is given what he can handle. Imagine being in trust it was so much money. I’d be afraid that I’d lose it.

So part of me can really identify with the third guy – the one who is so afraid of losing the money that all he manages to do is go and dig a hole and bury it. And when his master returns, it seems the slave can’t wait to go dig the talent up and give it back, relieved that he no longer has the responsibility of such a large sum of money.

Now the master is very pleased with his first two sleeves. After all, they went and did something with the money entrusted to them and they both made a 100% profit. That’s pretty good. That’s really good! When the third slave gives his master back his one talent, the master is livid: “What! Didn’t you do anything while I was gone? What’s the matter with you?!”

What’s the matter is not, in my opinion, simply that the third slave didn’t make a 100% profit. What’s the matter is not that he didn’t produce like the other two slaves.

What’s the matter is that he didn’t do anything.

What’s the matter is that the third slave was afraid to take some risk. And fear is such a paralyzing thing. It stops you cold in your tracks. It whispers all sorts of crazy things in your ears – about yourself in about others. It keeps you from doing what you know you need to do and can do. Fear is a horrible thing.

Jesus told this parable not to help people understand good business practices. He told it to help people understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. And what God is like. And what we are here for.

The talents were given to each slave to be used. We are not here to guard the little that we have, burying it in the ground. We are called to use what we have been given, to take some risks, and to see what happens.

This parable is about courageous faith – a faith that knows that God is good, that God loves us, that God wants us to become fully whom he created us to be. But it’s also about God’s frustration at us when we are afraid to take the necessary risks in order to find out who we were created to be and what we are to do with the things we’ve been given. Only courageous faith or trust will allow us to take what we’ve been given and to go for it. That’s what God’s hoping from us. That’s what God’s cheering us on to do. That’s why God gave us all that he has in the first place.

Even if we feel like a mere beginner or even an outright neophyte in this Christian faith – even if we are afraid, do something with the talents God has given you. Don’t hoard them.

As next week’s parable makes clear, all that we do is to be in service to the least of these. And Jesus says, “As you do it to the least, you did it to me.”

We are called to use all that has been given to us, to take risks with our lives, for the sake of the least of these – for the sake of the poor. Luther put it this way: “The whole Christian life consists in these two things: Believe God. Help your neighbor. The whole Gospel teaches this. Parents should tell it to their children at home and everywhere.”

“Believe God.  Help your neighbor.”
We must not let fear – of losing the little we have or of not having enough – or greed cause us to have any other end or purpose for our individual as well as communal lives.

God will honor and guide us – God will bless us – as we step out in faith and take whatever risks we must in order to use the various talents we have so that all may experience God’s Kingdom more fully here on earth as it is in heaven.

The last verse of the choir’s anthem this morning sums it up well:

“the talent when buried was withered,
the manna, when hoarded, decayed,
but Love meets us in resurrection
when love gives itself unafraid.”

(“The Earth Is the Lord’s,” Hymn 656, United Methodist Hymnal.)


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