There’s no need for fear: we belong to a loving God of abundance, and are entrusted with that abundance for the sake of the whole world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 33, year A
Texts: Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The third slave was wrong about his master.
He believed his master was “harsh, reaping where [he] did not sow, gathering where [he] did not scatter.” So he buried a huge amount of money in the ground.
But he wasn’t worried about judgment, or getting thrown out. He resented that his master would profit from his work.
Do you see the problem? This wasn’t his money. Before the master gave it, the slave didn’t have it. The name on all the accounts was the owner’s, not his. It was his job to use it on behalf of the owner, until the owner returned. If he didn’t want to do it, he should’ve refused the job at the start.
And he was wrong about his master. The other two worked their master’s wealth until he returned, and did well. And yes, the owner benefited from their work. It was his money. But both were praised, given more trusted assignments, and were welcomed into their master’s joy. They shared in his joy, his trust, and his wealth. This isn’t a harsh master. But the third one was bound up in his own fear, and couldn’t see.
But we know even more about our Master.
If we assume we’re the ones in this story given charge of God’s wealth, we have even less reason for fear. We know from Scripture that God’s abundance is meant for the joy of all, to feed all God’s children, to care for this world. We know that none of our wealth is ours, that the name on our bank accounts is not ours but the name of God.
But we know this, too: the terrible judgment at the end of this parable doesn’t land on us. Remember, Matthew has said it is truly God’s Son who dies on the cross, who goes willingly into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. God’s Son weeps and gnashes his teeth, from Gethsemane to the cross.
As with last week, this parable falls apart at the point of judgment. Whatever else happens, in real life the master takes the judgment on himself, joins all those out in the darkness, to bring them back inside, into the light, into the joy of the master, the joy of God.
And best of all, we know this ahead of time, unlike these three. We don’t have to guess at God’s nature, or the depth of God’s love. We’ve been in the outer darkness ourselves, and have been found by God. We are free to hear Jesus and act in joy.
Because the parable is simple: all we have is God’s, all we’re asked to do is use it for God.
But too often we obsess with the judgment at the parable’s end rather than the main point. That ignores the truth of the cross, that judgment isn’t the end of the story, or even the story itself. But distracting ourselves with the ending also conveniently lets us avoid the clear teaching of Jesus.
Jesus speaks of wealth beyond anything his disciples could comprehend. A talent today, about $1.25 million, is beyond most of our comprehension, too. This is intentional.
First, Jesus insists that we have blessings and wealth from God far beyond what we imagine, far beyond our anxieties about wealth. We’re millionaires of God’s abundance and blessing, if not actual dollars.
Second, with these unimaginable amounts, Jesus frees us to remember it’s not ours. We can’t dream of holding that kind of wealth. So we’re entrusted with God’s abundance because God needs us to use it and care for this world. Feed our neighbor. Clothe and house those in need.
The only thing that can stop us is our fear.
And let’s be honest: our fear is not of God. We know God’s love for us is greater than death, it can’t be stopped. We know we are God’s beloved children.
Our fear is that we won’t get to keep what we do with God’s wealth. The third slave didn’t fear the owner. He resented that he couldn’t do what he wanted with the money, benefit himself, take care of his priorities. But he never would’ve had the money if the master hadn’t entrusted him with it.
Neither would we. Let’s break free forever, right now, of the myth that we deserve what we have by our hard work and effort. Billions of people on this planet give hard work and effort. Not all are born into the privilege of families that are doing well, not all have a culturally and economically protected skin color. Most don’t live with so much space and resources that their country believes there are no limits to wealth, that we never have enough, and that each generation needs to be wealthier than the previous.
That’s the garden you and I were born into. We got fifty talents right out of the gate, while others barely got a coin to work with. So let’s stop pretending there’s any question of whose wealth we have. It’s not ours, never has been. The only question is, are we going to start being faithful with God’s wealth or not?
Here’s our blessing: we are a “we.” We can learn faithfulness together.
What if these three had gotten together with the money and worked as one? Maybe the two could have broken through the third one’s fear and greed and self-deceit. Encouraging each other, unimagined blessings could have abounded. We are not destined for wrath, Paul says today, but are saved through the cross of Christ. So, Paul says, we encourage each other in this life of faith, build each other up, help each other.
That’s what stewardship is together as God’s people here. It’s nothing to do with meeting a budget or giving money “to” anyone. The giving we do is how we share this task of faithfully caring for God’s wealth. How we help each other be free of fear.
Because meeting our budget each year is a pretty low bar. It’s good things we do: taking care of this building, paying staff and giving generous benefits, running programs. We also give 12% above all that to others – to our global partners, to our neighbors, to our sisters and brothers across the ELCA – and that’s great.
But if we lived this parable, meeting that budget would be exceedingly easy. If we all were able to let go of only ten percent, for example, of what we have been given, we could double or triple our budget. Maybe more. We know what it costs for our usual work, so all the rest could be an astonishing blessing of abundance to share with God’s world.
What could our partners at Bethania in India, EPES in Chile, Common Hope in Guatemala, do with an extra $100,000 a year for their critical mission? What impact could we make in south Minneapolis by buying the four houses north of us and converting them to affordable rental housing for low income people, or a transitional shelter? What could our new loan program do funded at a level that truly made a dent in how many use payday lending? When we aim only for our minimum budget, we’re not quite burying God’s wealth in the ground. But we’re also not catching God’s vision for what God’s abundance can do.
So our stewardship is communal: we get together and pool God’s money, and dream what we can do. We elect leaders, a Vestry, to help guide us. We learn from each other. There are folks here who’ve understood proportional giving and tithing for decades and lived into it, and shaped this congregation. They can teach us what it is to live without fear and release what is God’s so the world is blessed.
It’s enough joy to make us giddy to contemplate what God could do among us if we really caught this parable’s vision.
The grace of this parable is in the master’s welcome: “Enter into my joy.”
Freely, fearlessly using what their master had entrusted, the first two found joy in serving and joy in living. They were entrusted with even more to care for. In their relationship with their master they found joy.
That’s our truth, always. Our relationship with the Triune God, grounded in God’s love, forgiveness and grace, is a blessing beyond our ability to describe. When we really live freed from fear because of that relationship, because nothing can separate us from God’s love, and we live into Jesus’ vision here of multiplied, shared abundance, we find the joy of our God.
We had no idea we could do so much with God’s abundance. Now we know. And we don’t need to be afraid. So what shall we do, together, as faithful stewards of God’s abundant blessings?
In the name of Jesus. Amen