The Parable of the Talents Window, by Tiffany, at Old First.
Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
Weeping and gnashing of teeth. That means grief with anger. You’re hurt and you’re mad too. Yeah, you blew it, but it was a set up, it was unfair to begin with. You blew it, but you feel it’s really their fault.
This is a timeless parable. It’s about venture capitalism, it’s about start-ups, you could set the parable in Silicon Valley. A story in last week’s Sunday Business section of the Times reported that “30 to 40 percent of venture-backed start-ups blow through all or most of their investor’s money, and 70 to 80 percent do not deliver their projected return on investment.” I think the third slave must have read this article.
A "talent" is a lot of money, say a million dollars. The master left $5 million with the first slave, $2 million with the second, and $1 million with the last. He gave them the gifts of both responsibility and freedom. “Here’s a lot of money, now you do something with it.” The master was investing here, he was investing in his slaves, and his investments had a high exposure to risk. But he was setting an example to his slaves. “You do with my money as I have done with you. Invest and expose yourself to risk as I have done with you. I put my faith in you.”
How do you respond when you’re given the honor of responsibility? Do you shrink from it? How do you respond to the terrible gift of freedom—do you see it as an opportunity or do you fear it? The first two slaves took the risk of betting on their master’s graciousness if their investments didn’t pan out. They counted on him to be decent. They bet that when he came back, he would value it that they dared to trust in him.
Their investment of his money was even more their investment in their own future with their master. There was risk in what they did — they had no proof of either result, that their money would double, or that their master would honor their attempt, but they took those risks. Jesus says that this is what it’s like with the reign of God.
The third slave did not dare the risk of his master’s graciousness. By his prudence he covered his fear. His fear prevented his chance for joy. Not just at the end, but all along. The joy which the first two entered as their reward was the expansion of the excitement of the daring marketing and commerce they’d been conducting all along.
To live in joy and creativity, you’ve got to work your faith. It is a life of risky vulnerability, but it is an open life. If you don’t invest your faith, if you live all closed, if you don’t risk your relationships, if you don’t venture on the good will of your Lord, then you end up living fearfully and defensively. Jesus said that this is what it’s like with the reign of God.
Poor third slave, cast out into darkness. How harsh the punishment. Well, it’s a parable, and isn’t the outer darkness the expansion of the inner darkness inside him all along, before his master came back, isn’t the darkness the expression of the fear and alienation that was in him already?
But still, why wasn’t the master merciful? After all, the third slave hadn’t lost him any money. The master seems to prove the third slave’s fear that his master was a harsh and greedy man.
As I work this parable, it seems to me that it’s not mainly about the talents, or the slaves, but about the master. The parable makes obvious easy points about investment, and the risk of faith, and such, but deeper inside the parable is a sharper point, and the stinger is this: that to the first two slaves, the master is gracious and generous, but to the third slave, he’s harsh and greedy. Can Jesus really be saying that this is what God is like?
What is God like? How true is it to say that God is what you make of God? Do you find God giving you what you expect God to give you? Do you find God acting as you expect God to act? Don’t get me wrong — of course God is greater than our projections, God transcends our experience of God, but at the same time, paradoxically, you will experience God as much you dare to believe God is.
If you believe your God is great and generous and gracious, you will find God so. If you believe that God is small or harsh or cruel, you will find God so. Therefore take the risk, venture that God is the infinitely magnificent personality that Jesus says God is, invest in a future with that kind of God, and already you’ll be entering into joy, even before your Lord comes back.
Isn’t that what you all want to do, the way you want to live, creatively and joyfully? So what causes you to be immobilized? How do you lose your creativity, how do you cease to grow? Each one of us has something in us that makes us retreat into defensiveness. Guilt. Shame. Plain weakness. The disempowering effects of sin, the self-defeating condition of our alienation from God. And we become fearful like the third slave. You fear both the unknown and the known.
So what do you do? You have to go right through your fear. Faith is not fearlessness, faith has fear in it, faith is not blind faith, but what faith does is look beyond what you can’t know and look beyond even what you can know and venture on the character of your Lord.
Fear and money. Jesus brings them together in this parable. Both of them are powerful, they make you nervous, they touch your vulnerability. You keep them private, both of them, and your money becomes an occasion for your fear. You need to have a certain amount of both, and you tend to want more of the one and less of the other. They tend to control your behavior, more than you admit to yourself. From the power of both of them Jesus calls you to his freedom, and this freedom comes from setting the course of your life by your vision of God.
Is this another sermon about tithing? No it’s not, but tithing does express the issue here at hand. Is this another sermon about stewardship? No, it’s not, but it could have been. This sermon is about what God is like. You will discover a God who will be as great and as gracious as you depend on God to be. How big is your God, how magnificent, how gracious? How much are you willing to invest, in spite of all the valid reasons for your fear? How will you handle your stewardship of your life and your livelihood and all that portion of the world which God has put into your hands?
Is this another sermon about repairing our sanctuary? No, although the sanctuary expresses what is at stake, because the repair touches our money and our fear. It should not surprise us that we feel our fear at the very same time that we are really vital as a congregation,
with a new a members class of nine people whom we will recognize next week,
with increasing levels of financial stewardship,
with our congregation sounding like a trained choir when it sings,
with deacons and elders taking on new responsibilities and challenges,
with a Sunday School staff of ten teachers,
with the awarding of a Landmarks grant as we start getting ahead on our building maintenance,
with a 2nd Mission Team at work envisioning a new level of adult education,
with all the offerings of the 4th Mission team,
with our seasonal ministries to the homeless and the hungry,
all this vitality, and right here is where we should expect to feel our fear!
We feel like the third slave even when we’re hard at work like the first and second slaves. We can see the vision, we accept from God our daring mission, we get excited and we invest ourselves in it, and then we feel our exposure to our risks, and so we are quite naturally tempted to safeguard, hold back, hold in, or we may lose it all.
This sermon is partly about your worldview and the transformation of your worldview. See the world as a world belonging to God, and everything in it, not only the salvation of your soul but also the spheres of economics and politics and ecology and social justice. When you see the world as God’s world, that changes your values within it. The problem with religious worldviews is that they so often end up in fundamentalisms and religious wars.
So the deeper question is your God-view: what is God like, and what does God expect of human life and human institutions.
I invite you to the same God-view that our Lord Jesus ventured on. You have been given so much. Do not hide it, do not defend it, do not protect it, rather dare it, expose it, risk it, just as Our Lord Jesus did with his own sweet life. Because this is a God who reaps where he did not sow, and gathers where he did not scatter seed, and this is a good thing! Outside there may be darkness, but when the light from God shines in you see that what the darkness was trying to hide is a world of great resource and boundless return. You can always tell when its proper investment and risking by when it feels like love, just as God has risked so much investment in you precisely out of God’s inexhaustible love for you.
Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.