St. John's, Centreville
November 19, 2017
Proper 28 A
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak with them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fear. Fear surrounds us every day. Many of us live in fear. Fear of more mass shootings. Fear of terrorism. Fear of losing one's job. Fear of not having enough. Fear of global threats. Fear of feeling helpless. Fear of an uncertain future.
The world is full of people who want to use that fear to get what they want. Some scare people into hating others, with words that describe them as less than human. Some scare people into accumulating more and possessions and wealth, by making people think they will have a more fulfilling life, or the fear that there is not enough to go around. Others scare people into burying their talents as a way of controlling them for their own profit or gain.
Fear has been used by churches as an instrument to get people to come to church. Fear of judgement, fear of death, fear of hell. People have been taught to live in fear of punishment rather than in grateful praise and thanksgiving for all God has given to us.
The parable of the talents that we have just read in the gospel of Matthew, looks like part of the problem, the story of an angry God wanting to punish the faithless slave. But I don't think this is what this parable is about. It is about a loving God who gives each of us special gifts and abilities that God wants us to use for the furthering of God's kingdom.
This parable is talking about taking risks verses playing it safe. We are not told what the first two slaves did to double the money that the slave master has given to them. All we know is that they returned twice the amount of money they were given and the master was so pleased that he put them in charge of more.
The third slave, however, buried the money he was given in a hole. He didn't use it to try to earn more money for the master. He didn't want to take any risks. He didn't give back any more or less than what he was given.
The point of this parable is not just about risk and reward but about mutual trust. The master trusted the servants to make good use of the talents he has given them; to use them well on the master's behalf. Two of them did that; the third did not. The third servant operated out of fear rather than gratitude and faith. He feared the master and decided to play it safe.
Each slave was given talents according to his ability. So the master did not have unrealistic expectations of what the slaves could accomplish. He didn't demand more than they could do.
Our God is like the master in the parable. God gives us many gifts and talents and abilities, which may change as we get older. God expects us, not to bury them in the ground, but to use them to further God's kingdom on earth, to do the work God has given us to do. God wants us to use these gifts and abilities, not just to survive, but to thrive and to flourish, to use what God has given us to help and serve others, not just use them for ourselves.
God gives us all great gifts but gives different gifts to different people, all to be used for the glory of God. The question we need to ask ourselves is how should we receive these gifts, with faith or with fear?
The way God may judge us is not whether we made a big return on our investment, such as bringing thousands of people to know Christ, but whether we received God's gifts with faith or with fear. Can we, by faith, bring one person to know Christ, or one person to be fed, or clothed or housed? Can we transform a fearful orientation into one of trust, to move from terror to faith?
The world is full of people who use fear to manipulate and motivate. But the church needs to counter that fear by proclaiming that faith is more powerful than fear because faith comes from God, the ruler of all.
We are in this world as people who know the love of God. As humans, we will have fears from time to time. But our orientation as Christians should be one of faith and not overwhelming fear. God is in charge, God is in control, no matter what happens. If our faith and trust is in God, then we don't need to fear, for in life and in death, God will take care of us.
We are each called to identify the gifts God has given us and then see how we can use them to help others and to glorify God. But we also need to be open to different ways to use our gifts, or different gifts we might have at different times in our lives. We can't remain stagnant. The needs of the world are changing and our gifts may change to meet those needs. We need to be open to God's Holy Spirit working in us and through us.
I read a fictitious story about a monk who started out on a journey, along with his assistant, a Brother. Night was falling and they needed a place to stay. The monk sent the Brother ahead to find a place to stay. All the Brother could find was a tiny hovel where a very poor family - father, mother and children - lived in the middle of nowhere. They were dressed in rags and barely had enough food to feed themselves. But they welcomed the two travelers overnight and gave them milk, cheese and cream to eat.
The Brother was moved by the generosity of the family and asked the father how they survived, so far away from the town and neighbors. The father replied, "We have one cow. We sell her milk to some neighbors and keep enough for ourselves to make cheese and cream to eat."
The next morning, the monk and the Brother said their farewells and continued on their journey. After a few miles, the monk told the Brother to go back and push the family's cow off the cliff.. "But Father," the Brother replied, "they live off the cow. Without her, they will have nothing!" The monk repeated his order to kill the cow. Reluctantly, the Brother did as he was told.
Years later, after the Brother had become a monk, he was traveling down the same road and decided to visit the family. But instead of a hovel, he found a large house with beautiful gardens. He knocked on the door and a well dressed man opened it.
"What happened to the family who used to live here?" the Brother asked. The man replied that he and his family had always lived there. The Brother said he had visited many years earlier when they lived in a small hovel. "What happened?" he asked.
"Well, Father, we used to have a cow. She kept us alive. We didn't own anything else. One day she fell over the cliff and died. To survive, we had to start doing other things, develop skills we didn't even know we had. We were forced to come up with new ways to do things. It was the best thing that ever happened to us! We are now much better off than before." *
To take a risk requires trust and faith - complete reliance on the One who is trustworthy; the One who has experienced the sacrifice and loss of everything. The gifts God gives us are abundant gifts, given with love and blessing, and not to be hoarded only for our own use. God's love can cast out our fears and we can envision new possibilities for growth and renewal. Amen.
*story from "Synthesis", Proper 28 A