Unearthed and Expectant

Matthew 25:14-30

I don’t know about you, but throughout the end of the summer and into the fall, I drove around Hutchinson with my eyes peeled. Looking in a few abandoned lots, a round about, a roadside ditch, the field out in front of my house. This past summer many of us left the worship service down by the river in July with seed bombs in our pockets.

What’s a seed bomb? Well, it was clay that surrounded some native seeds and dirt and then was rolled in dirt. The instructions were to launch them – after all, they’re called seed bombs and it’s the only kind of bomb I’ll ever tell you throw. And so I don’t know about you, but it changed the way I looked at Hutchinson. I looked for new spots, places I’d not seen before. Abandoned places, neglected, open spaces, unexpected places. And then, if the timing was right, and I wasn’t going to cause an accident, I’d roll down my window and send a seed bomb into the unknown. Sometimes I’d pull over and stop but most often, I’d let one fly while I was still driving. A few didn’t land where I’d intended and I fought the urge to pull over and run back to correct it. I’d see it bounce in the road and then, you know, land there, stay there. And I thought, well, who knows what could happen?

We are nearing our end of the year hanging out in the Gospel of Matthew – the Gospel writer who tends to mention the outer darkness more than the others. And while I struggle often and mightily with this Gospel, the wrestling is worth it, for there are deep and precious truths within Matthew’s harsh words.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this is the Gospel that has shaped our life together in this first year. Because, you might remember that Matthew is addressing a congregation that has split. The synagogue and the church are separated. It’s as if these churches are across the street or down the block from one another, with people seeing each other, still living in community with one another. Reminded of the pain daily. And so, in this new reality, the writers of Matthew are concerned about helping people live in a new way. So there is much talk about how to live, about discipleship – what does it mean to follow Jesus? The writers of Matthew paint harsh landscapes of judgment, and then are sure to underscore that judgment belongs to God, it does not belong to you or to me.

We all have our own stories of being left and doing the leaving when it comes to relationships, and when it comes to church community relationships. Many of us come from division that was incredibly hard and painful. And you could have easily faded away. You could have stayed “not going to church somewhere” indefinitely. You could have given up on being part of a worshiping, Jesus-following community.

You could have said ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’ Or from the NRSV translation: “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.’

The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?

You could have taken your toys and gone home. You could have done what is considered status quo. You could have given back what was given to you, without it ever looking like it was part of you, like it mattered to you, like it had ever passed through your fingers, like it had ever been shaped by your heart. You could have gone on, pretending that you’d never been shaped by something painful, had been given something.

Maybe it took you a little while, or longer than you thought it would to unhide yourself, to unearth yourself. To step out into the light of day and look into the future, to squint into the future, into the bright light that all at once lost the harsh glare of judgment and exposure and became instead a beacon of possibility. And instead of wallowing in your disillusionment with the church, with human leadership, with broken people, with what it’s like to be part of a community, well, you didn’t stay wallowing. No, instead of sinking into helplessness, into the Midwestern politeness of “oh, yah, well, I’m not so good at that” you instead took what had been given to you – good, bad, ugly – and you were open to being launched into this new thing, this new reality, this new body of people just meeting for an innocent picnic that now has you up to your eyeballs in river water!

Yes, you could have remained hidden in fear. In fear of judgment from God. In fear of judgment of a community, of friends and family. You could have lied, you could have given just enough to get by.

But that seems to me to be limited, buried, fearful activity of people depending only on themselves. I could stand here as your pastor and congratulate you on a job well done, how brave and bold you’ve been and also pat myself on the back too. But this community? It’s not based on good thoughts and brave actions. This community? It’s not based on a good hunch, a nice try. This community? It’s not a result of a well laid out business plan. River of Hope was birthed by the Holy Spirit. It was launched out of an unexpected and fast moving thing called conflict, and you’ve landed in a place you never would have imagined.

The fingerprints of Jesus are all over us. The work of the Holy Spirit is evident in too many ways to count. And our flesh and blood matters. Our ideas, our strengths our weaknesses matter! To be propelled into something like this? Well, it means we take seriously what the 3rd servant buried: we’re not playing it safe as he did. We, in fact, are trusting that God is abundant. We know God is abundant, and throws seed into places we’d never even look. And instead of quivering at the possibility of failure, of not doing things right all the time, we are moved into trying things that are risky, like holding cardboard signs up about our beliefs out here on church corner. Or building a float and handing out root beer floats to strangers. Or knocking on doors and not running as we gave away May baskets. Or handing out free coffee just because we can. Or inviting people to be part of this place, this people.

You see, trusting that God is abundant and not miserly; trusting that God is faithful and not capricious; trusting that God judges – yes – but that God also loves and trusts us – this changes everything. This parable starts out that a man, who was going to be gone for a long time, entrusted his property to his slaves. Or as Eugene Peterson says in the translation we heard today, he delegated responsibilities to his servants.

It’s all perspective. When you trust God, you hold out your hands, expectantly. Knowing this God is a generous God. This perspective of a generous, loving God tells us that God knows where those seed bombs landed. This is a God who takes an active interest in our whole lives. This is a God who knows there is life that comes out of darkness and waiting. That God resurrects life from death.

So this perspective? It changes us, it changes our relationship with God. And so this perspective, this relationship has us taking big risks. And these risks give us freedom. The freedom to fail. And if we’re not failing, if we’re not stumbling even a little bit, well then we’re not trying very hard. I don’t mean River of Hope falling apart at the seams. No, I mean trying something that doesn’t go the way we imagined. I mean tying red strips of fabric to a fan and having the whole thing shudder to a halt. I mean some Sundays that seem like a real blended worship style and others that seem a little too lopsided one way or the other. I mean putting ourselves out there in the community, saying, “yah, you are welcome” and then, you know, being rejected, or suspected. I mean taking the risk of being an important part of a group of people who love God and do their best to show it.

So here we are on this stewardship Sunday, and I ask you to get on a swing with me. I don’t know about you, but I’m on the swing of my childhood at my grandparent’s home in Floyd, Iowa, on a homemade swing my grandpa made. It’s as if the ropes are suspended from heaven, so tall is the tree, surrounded by green of what I imagine is a dense, magical forest, overlooking the river. And as you swing back, kick your legs back hard and let yourself swing up and back into your past, your roots, the stuff that shaped you. And it’s that motion of kicking back, of the weight of your past stories that propel you forward into not just your future, but God’s future for you, for the world. And that’s when you lean back and stretch your legs out, long in front of you, reaching toward the treetops, reaching toward the future. And you get to ask the freeing, terrifying, and awesome question that Bishop Anderson asked with us earlier this week: What is the greatest possibility you can imagine for deepening your mission and ministry in the name of Jesus?

Yes, we are not the cowering servant, afraid of God, afraid of our own shadow, hiding in the dirt, lamenting the “what-ifs”. No, we are the servants whom God has unearthed and has entrusted us with much. Our vision of who we will be, our expectations are forever changed and changing as we live into God’s future.