Extravagant OpportunityPosted: November 16, 2014
SLIDE 3: PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
What’s a Stewardship Season without the Parable of the Talents? I’m sure you have all heard this Parable used as an exhortation to return your pledge card. The Parable, however, is not primarily about money, although we might consider worldly wealth to be one of the gifts that God bestows upon us. Our God is bountiful and generous. Most of us have more than we need. And the talents in the Parable are not primarily our secular aptitudes, though clearly God gives us special abilities for singing, dancing, drawing, mathematics, physics, engineering, philosophy. No our Parable is about the spiritual gifts Jesus imparted to his followers to use in proclaiming and sharing the Commonwealth of God.
SLIDE 4: SPIRITUAL GIFTS
Jesus said, “The Commonwealth of God is here and now,” whenever we gather at the Sharing Table of Jesus. Whenever we overcome the divisions of race, class, politics and beliefs that separate us, and gather to share what we have at God’s table, then Jesus is with us to strengthen us and bless us with spiritual gifts of amazing power. Jesus shared the restoring power of God freely with all those who came to him seeking healing. People reached out to him in faith and miracles happened.
SLIDE 5: JESUS TAUGHT FOR FREE
When I was a freshman at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut the Trustees announced a dramatic increase in tuition for the following year. When I look back now tuition was nothing then in comparison to what colleges are charging today. A group of students gathered outside the administration building to protest the sudden and what they felt was an unwarranted increase in tuition. One of the students was holding a sign that read: “Jesus taught for free.” Well not only did Jesus teach for free, he also healed for free. And while I don’t expect Doctors and health care workers to work for free, and I admire those who dedicate themselves to the healing arts, I believe there is often more to healing than Doctor’s visits, medications and hospital stays. The prayers and support of the community of faith can also help to activate the spiritual energy the body needs for healing. Often when a cure is not possible, the love of the community of faith can still be spiritually healing. We should not ignore the blessing of a peaceful death surrounded by loving community.
SLIDE 6: CHANGE THE WORLD – SIT DOWN AND EAT TOGETHER
I also want to point out that the Parable of the Talents is not about entrepreneurship but about bringing people to God’s Table to share in the spiritual benefits of the transformed life. Don’t get me wrong, entrepreneurship, when it is pursued in an ethical manner and the benefits of that business enterprise are equitably shared with all of the stakeholders is wonderful. Entrepreneurship provides meaningful work, and useful employment for most of the rest of us. At its best entrepreneurship provides goods and services to meet the needs of other people. But the principle meaning of the Parable of the Talents is the invitation to bring other people to the Sharing Table of Jesus and that is indeed an extravagant opportunity. God says, “Here is how you can transform the world. Reach across all barriers of race, gender, class, culture, social group and invite other people unlike yourself to sit down and eat together, and listen really listen to one another.
SLIDE 7: ACCOMMODATING OTHER PEOPLE’S DIETS
The sensitivity and respect required to sit down to eat with one another is extraordinary: Kosher for Jews, Halal for Muslims, no alcohol or caffeine for Mormons, no beef for Hindus, vegetarian for strict Hindus and Buddhists, vegan for Jains. Accommodating other people’s theology is easy in comparison to trying to accommodate other people’s diets: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut free, onion and garlic sensitivity, no red die, sugar free, alcohol or caffeine free, diabetic, organic, and the list goes on. On Thursday nights not only do we try to welcome everyone to the Sharing Table regardless of their politics, theology and points of view, we also try to accommodate a wide range of diets, allergies and food preferences. When we say, “You are welcome here, we really try to mean it.”
SLIDE 8: BRING OUR GIFTS TO THE TABLE
In the Parable of the Talents Jesus invites us to bring our gifts to the Sharing Table. No one person has all of the abilities we need to help the community of faith to thrive. We need people who can teach both children and adults. We need people who have that special compassion to visit the sick. We need people who can lead small groups. We need people who have a special calling to reach out to the poor and the homeless. We need people who are gifted in building maintenance and repair. We need people who have the very special gift of managing finances and administration, especially when there are more needs than there are dollars – the sort of perpetual condition of churches. We need everyone to come to the Table and share.
SLIDE 9: FEAR
But now allow me to address a significant issue I have with the Parable of the Talents – fear. The servant who was only given one talent was so afraid he might lose it, he went off and buried it. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” Motivated by fear, so many of us bury our talents. We are afraid of being laughed at, messing up, being blamed. That is one reason why I keep asking of myself and other people the perennial question, “What would you do, if you were not afraid?”
SLIDE 10: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE NOT AFRAID?
Unfortunately the Parable as written re-enforces our fears. Listen again to the Master. “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.”
SLIDE 11: THAT MASTER IS SCARY
Hey, that Master is scary. Better not go to work for him. No wonder people don’t want to volunteer for anything in the church! “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness,” doesn’t exactly inspire me to step out and take a risk. Tell you what. God gave us the scriptures, but God also gives us permission to make Midrash out of the scriptures. Let’s try re-writing the ending to this Parable a different way.
SLIDE 12: YOU ALLOWED YOUR FEAR TO DOMINATE YOUR SPIRIT
The one talent person gives back the Talent, and the Master says instead. “Oh my, I am disappointed. You have misunderstood me, and allowed your fear to dominate your spirit. Let’s try this again. Here is the talent I am trusting to you. I want you to use it, invest it do something creative with it, anything you want, do what you would do, if you were not afraid.”
SLIDE 13: DO WHAT YOU WOULD DO IF YOU WERE NOT AFRAID
Do what you would do if you were not afraid. Maybe go off and adopt twin boys, or go back to school, or make a significant volunteer commitment, or maybe even fill out your pledge card. What would we do, if we were not afraid? And the secret Jesus wants to share with us is even though we are afraid we have to go ahead and do it anyway. Was Jesus afraid in the Garden of Gethsemane? You betcha! We can never know going into a major commitment, if everything will turn out alright. Should I go to school, should I get married, should I take that job, should I join that church, should we have children?
SLIDE 14: CELEBRATE WITH TOM AND JENNIFER
Today we are going to celebrate that Tom and Jennifer have had the courage to trust God and go ahead anyway. They went to China and they made a major life commitment to Nathan and Zachary who needed a Mom and a Dad. Tom and Jennifer have many challenges ahead. And we are going to promise to walk with them in the adventure of raising two boys. Friends, we can never know going into a commitment if everything will turn out O.K. Life is messy. But God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. So, pray, take a deep breath an