Preached FCCW November 16, 2014
I’ve never been a fan of so-called Reality TV Shows, like “Survivor” or the “The Amazing Race.” Or (Lord have mercy) “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” A few years ago, though, there was one Reality show that had a little more depth than most. It was called “No Opportunity Wasted.” In this show, contestants were given 72 hours, $3,000 and the opportunity to fulfill some long-held dream or desire. Some contestants used the time and money to do things for themselves and others used the opportunity to create something that benefitted others. The winner was judged to be the one who made the best investment of the time and money that was given them. Is it just me – or does that sound awfully like the “parable of the talents?” Think about it. You have three slaves who are each given an amount of money. As far as we can tell, they aren’t given any special instructions about what to do with the money. The first two slaves eagerly invest the master’s money. There is an enthusiastic energy about them and their choices. The master is pleased, and rewards them by inviting them to share in the master’s joy over what they have done But the third slave doesn’t take the risk of investing the money that was given to him. He just buries it in the ground for safekeeping. The master is not impressed, or pleased. The third slave misses out on getting to share the master’s joy. But this parable is not a reality show script. It is however, a reality many churches are faced with. When Matthew recorded this parable in his gospel it was several decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those things that Jesus had predicted about himself would already have occurred. But there was one prediction Jesus had made that had not yet come to pass.
Jesus had still not come back to earth. As the time between Jesus’ death and his Second Coming dragged on, maintaining a sense of joyful expectation about Christian discipleship grew more challenging. Doubts crept in. Divisions arose. Fears replaced faith. And since WE are STILL living in the interim between the resurrection and the Second Coming that Jesus promised – this parable speaks to US about what it means to be joyfully engaged followers of Christ in our time. The parable of the talents cautions us about not wasting opportunities to use the gifts and talents we have been given. The question this parable asks us is, – what are we doing with the talents and resources that God has given us? How are we making a difference in the world for Jesus? The first two slaves made a difference. They used what talents they had. The third slave never put his talent to use, and so he never made a difference to anybody. In the end, the first two slaves were rewarded. The third slave finds himself in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Which, by the way, is a good description of the effect that reality-tv has on me. The slaves who were passionate about figuring out how the master wanted their talents to be used were already in tune with the Master. What gave the Master joy, brought them joy, too. When we feel excitement about the opportunities given us to make a difference for God, investing ourselves becomes something we want to do, rather than something we feel we have to do. It’s not a question of doing something to please God. It is about being pleased to be a part of what God is doing. Church membership is a commitment to investing who we are and what we have in God’s grand plan. But when we choose not to invest ourselves in what God is doing in the world, we shortchange ourselves, as much as God. The outer darkness with the weeping and gnashing of teeth represents the absence of the joy that can be ours
when our lives are invested in something greater than ourselves. God’s desire is that we find our joy in making use of what we have been given to grow closer to God and to serve God’s children. When asked why he didn’t use the talent he was given, the third slave answers that he was afraid. Fear gets in the way of living the life God wills for us. If you read the Bible from cover to cover, do you know what are the most repeated words God has to say to people? Do not be afraid. Jesus trained his disciples to recognize the abundance God provides. Fear, though, tells us a different story. Fear blinds us to the presence of abundance. Fear teaches us to see scarcity. Fear immobilizes people, so that they bury what God has given them. Fear wastes opportunities to invest ourselves in God’s plan of redemption. Fear distorts our perception of reality. Fear is what drove one slave to bury the talent he had been given instead of investing it. He said, “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid and hid your talent in the ground.” Is that really an accurate description of what the Master is like? A talent was a measurement of gold or silver equal to something like 15 years worth of wages! So, the slave that was given five talents was entrusted with enough money to last a lifetime. And even the slave who got only one talent, was given enough to live on for fifteen years! This Master was not the harsh greedy man the third slave imagined him to be. Just the opposite – he was crazy generous. He was throwing his money around to his slaves like there was no tomorrow. The award for being the biggest risk taker in this parable didn’t really belong to any of the slaves. Because the biggest risk taker was the Master who trusted them each to do the right thing with his fortune. Fear painted a picture in the third slave’s mind that was totally the opposite of what the master was really like.
In His wisdom, God has given you and I resources and abilities that when used as God intended, not only serve God’s purpose, but also brings us joy in the process. So, maybe, if this parable was to be compared to any Reality Show, it would be – Fear Factor. Because it points out the power that fear can have, power over whether or not we will dare to commit the best that we have to God. What the first two slaves did right had nothing to do with how much money they made for their Master What pleased the Master was that they had not been afraid to follow his example of taking chances for the Kingdom of Heaven. What fears stand in the way of your willingness to invest yourself in the reality of a God who took such a big risk in creating everything and then entrusting it to us; the God who took such a big risk of rescuing a bunch of slaves from Egypt and then molding them into a chosen people; the God who took such a big risk in becoming human, willing to be treated not only as one of us, but worse than most of us ever will be treated. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is NOT to risk anything for the Kingdom of God, NOT to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to give your heart away for it. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to go through life always playing it safe. God has already risked everything for us. Let’s not bury what we’ve been given, and miss out on experiencing the most rewarding reality of all. The reality of God’s joy.