Show me the money?

Matthew 25:14-30 Lent 4

15 March 2015

What story do you tell yourself about God? And by that I mean, how do you imagine God? How would you describe your relationship God? Is God loving and present or distant and cold? Maybe you’re not even sure you have a relationship with God, or that it’s more a one-way kind of thing rather than a reciprocal deal. Whatever it is, I want you to ask yourself, what is the story you tell yourself about God?

Maybe, just maybe the first 2 slaves in today’s story would describe God as gracious, generous even. Trustworthy, faithful, loving. Maybe they’d describe God as their rock, as the one who loves them best and most and takes care of them. Because the way they respond is, seemingly, in utter trust. They come back with double what they were given. The Master, in return, says, “enter into my joy!”

Now, how do you imagine the 3rd slave might describe God? Well, he described the Master as harsh and unfair and ruthless, reaping where he did not sow. And the Master responds to the slave in this ruthless manner. So perhaps this is how he’d describe God too.

Well then, what you see is what you get. End of sermon, right? Yah, right.

I don’t think God is the master in this story. I think the landowner owns land and Jesus tells this story to illustrate what following Jesus is like. Sometimes it’s risky.

So we could think of the first 2 slaves as doing something incredibly risky. They took the very generous gift given to them by their master and increased it. The gift they were given was called a talent in today’s reading. And one talent equals 15 years of work. So they were given each of them, incredible amounts of money all at once. They took it all, they increased it all. They made a lot of money for their master and potentially for themselves. So then we could certainly see that darn 3rd slave as lazy, ruled by fear. Cue the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Obviously, one of these things is not like the other. The first 2 are models of faith, their trust in the Lord is lifted up, and now is when I ask you to support the church with your financial gifts, right? Be like the first 2 guys, not like the 3rd one.

But what if, just what if that 3rd slave, the one I like to think was operating out of fear and not faith – well, what if it was faith. What if that 3rd slave displayed incredible faith, took an incredible risk and blew the whistle on a corrupt landowner? What if it took incredible faith, risky faith for the 3rd slave to say no to a system that would certainly mow him over and move on.

The way the economy was organized in the ancient world has this household and the master of that household as part of the elite class. The wealth of the land was collected and distributed by these households that impacted the city and the kingdom. This was no 1950s era aw-shucks Minnesota nice farmstead. These households influenced and ran politics and industry far beyond their home base. So in order for these households to effectively run, the staff was significant. These are not lowly slaves we read about today, but movers and shakers in maintaining a smooth-running operation. They were trusted yet totally dependent upon their master. And in order for the household master to maintain status and influence, the master would have to travel to over see the goings on of his business ventures other places and get new business as well.

The majority of the landscape of the ancient world was not elite but peasant class. So wheeling and dealing was done at the expense of the poor for the profit of the rich. In a nut shell: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Sound familiar?

So what if that third slave was putting his own status on the line, his 1% status and acting on behalf of the 99%? Those who were at the bottom of the system? What if Jesus was saying be like the third slave – be thrown out for the sake of others? I call that risky faith.

Truth is we don’t know the motivation for Jesus telling the parable. But I like how muddied the categories get when Jesus opens his mouth to tell stories about God and life following God. Certainly, you can assign clear cut categories and then come up with some dandy morals especially when they’re tied to money and our relationship to it – but it doesn’t seem to hold true to the rest of the story.

I do think it matters the story you tell yourself about God because it impacts all of your life – how you relate to people, your work, rotten circumstances and incredible joy. If you think God only loves you when you’re good or that God decides the outcome of football games or the closing bell on Wall street – well then, it’s a God you expect to deliver in a pretty particular way. The 3rd slave knew that faithful Jews who read scripture knew you didn’t make money off of money. Perhaps the 3rd slave’s view of God was God as creator, and all things come from God, so the most natural place to put it while the master was gone was in the ground – where it would cause no hurt to the peasant class. The story you tell yourself about God impacts how you treat strangers, how you treat people who are different from you.

Some days, my story about God is one who is tolerant of my faithlessness and fear. And on other days my story of God is about the wicked sense of humor God has. And God’s perfect timing. And God’s terrible timing. But at the end of the day, I think of God not as a person but as love that will not be discouraged, and it’s not just for me.

I think we are always being called into risky behavior when we are called to follow Jesus, and to invite others along. It’s risky stuff. So will you see risk as doubling what was given to you? Or will you see risk as saying no to being another cog in the wheel? However you see risk in this story, you know the risk of following Jesus. Because he always leads you toward the stranger, the enemy, the one you still need to forgive, the one who is in great need of food or love or attention.

Following Jesus is filled with risky behaviors and sometimes, well, wouldn’t it be nice if we could see results? We want to see bar graphs and charts, buildings constructed, balanced budgets. Oh and changed lives. Disciples are inspired by the Holy Spirit to take risks is one of the guiding principles of our community. It’s a dangerous one, isn’t it?

I’ve seen you and your risky behaviors in reaching out and taking risks. Here in worship, as you serve in helping to make worship happen each week. Out in public, at restaurants and at Main Street Sports Bar. And I delight in knowing I don’t see the half of it in your own lives. Just think of the ways you reach out to people in love – whether it’s a student who tries your every last nerve, an impatient patient, an ungrateful client, a crabby parent or a sullen teenager. You impact others’ lives in big and meaningful ways because you live into the risky behavior of following Jesus Christ. And that changes people’s lives. You can take that to the bank, because what I know for sure about following Jesus is – It changes lives… yours and others… it influences your story. And far and away, It’s worth the risk. Thanks be to God. Amen.