November 15, 2020 “Save It for Now”
“Save It For Now”
First of all, is anyone aware that two weeks from today – Nov. 29 – is the first Sunday of Advent? I don’t mention this to push you all into a tailspin of depression because Advent…well, just ain’t going to be the same this year. We all know that, and it’s going to up to us to honor our time-honored traditions as best we can. No, I mention this because with Advent comes the end of the Christian year, at least the Liturgical year. For the last few weeks we have been reading from the Apocalyptic parables from the Gospel of Matthew – apocalyptic meaning the end of the world as we know it, to put it bluntly. Starting in the 24th chapter and all through the 25th, Matthew has recorded a series of parables that Jesus spoke to his disciples, and by and large they don’t make the best bedtime stories for youngsters and adults alike. The theme of a final judgement seems to hang in the air throughout this period, with many of the parables ending with Matthew’s signature closing of “And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But take heart, Advent is just around the corner.
The parable we read today is commonly called “The Parable of the Talents.” In the Living Bible Translation that I read from, the landowner invests through his servants in the form of cash: $10,000 to one, $5,000 to the second, and finally $1,000 to the third “according to their abilities” it is written. Older translations refer to these chunks of cash as “talents:” 5 for one, 2 for the other, and then only one talent for the last guy. But at this point, I think it’s important to understand something about how much money is involved here. We know that a Denarius was the coin used to pay a day’s wage for a laborer. Well, a talent was the equivalent of about 6000 Denarii, or what a worker would make in 20 years or so. My point is that this is a lot of money – a crazy amount of money to entrust to some guys that you have been paying peanuts for years. But you’ve heard how this ends up: two of the servants make good on their investments while the 3rd is afraid and buries his talent in a hole in the ground. The master comes back, congratulates the two and chews out the 3rd. Then he rubs it in by giving his money to the one with the most. It’s a little unnerving to realize how much 1st century banking in Palestine wasn’t much different than out own.
The comedian Louis C. K. is known for his foul language, but his comedy has shed a light on the human condition that is worth noticing. He says, “You ever get so broke that the bank charges you money for not having enough money? I’m broke, man. Bank calls me up and says ‘ Hi. We’re calling to tell you, you don’t have enough money.’ I know. She said, ‘Sir, you have insufficient funds.’ Whoa, that’s a good way to put it too, I agree with that! I find my funds to be grossly insufficient. Thanks for calling. Why are you mad at me? How is this something that’s hurting you? She said, ‘Sir you only have $20. We have a required minimum. You can’t just have $20.’ They charged me $15, that’s how much it costs to have $20.”
Then he went on the say: “I was telling this joke in Orange County California before a rich audience all looking at me with their boat tans and their golf shirts and their penny loafers. They’re all looking at me like “Well, yeah. You were financially irresponsible, you have to pay the price. Frankly, don’t see why you’re angry about it. The bank has the right to accrue a fee, clearly.” That’s how different it is to be rich, than it is to be poor, because when you are rich the bank pays you for being rich.
If you have a lot of money they give you money because you have a lot of money. You have so much money that we should give you some. Here! Take more money! Take the $15 bucks this broke guy used to have.”
It has been said that the Parable of the Talents is possibly the most abused passage from the New Testament. So for our purposes today, let’s forget about talents and money and who gets what and who deserves whatever. All right? Besides, I can’t believe that Jesus was talking about money here in the first place. Instead, we might want to have a look at the gifts we have been given. And as we do that, have we been using these gifts for the glory of God? Have we been reckless and extravagant by spreading these gifts, even to the point of embarrassment? Or have we been saving them up, waiting for the perfect place and the perfect time? Saving them up for later? It’s a tough question to ask. What makes it even tougher is that Jesus is asking that of us every day.
You know, there’s something about the Kingdom teachings of Christ that have always appealed to us. When Jesus begins a parable with the words, “The Kingdom of heaven is like,” we know he is about to paint a picture of a better world: a world where evil is called out; a world where the poor and less fortunate are lifted up. It is a world where suffering is understood because it breaks our hearts; we can’t ignore it because it truly breaks our hearts. The Kingdom world that Jesus preached cuts to the chase. We’ve all heard the stories of folks who have lived their lives and done this and that. They’ve built empires and they have gathered great wealth. But in the end, in their final days, they will tell you their regrets. More often than not, they will regret the love that was lost: love of family, love of community, and yes, even the love of a loving God. They’ll regret that they buried it in a hole somewhere where they knew it was safe, but somehow never got back to it.
A guy named Robert Ellsberg tells the story of a friend of his who had an experience some years ago that had changed her life. She had gone to an artist’s studio to have her portrait drawn. The artist took his time, asking her a number of questions aimed at drawing her out. Eventually he asked her what she feared most. Her first answer was nuclear war. She mentioned that she had repeatedly had nightmares about nuclear holocaust.
But the artist said, “No, I don’t believe you. That can’t be right. Something more personal.”
Nancy thought and thought. Finally it dawned on her. “What I fear most is getting to the end of my life and realizing that I had been too fearful — too careful — that I never really used my talents.”
“That’s it,” the artist said. “That’s it.”
The Parable of the Talents can be many things to many people. It can be a call to stewardship; to support your church. It can be a call to trust in the abundance that comes from a life in Christ. It can be many things; but for today, let’s acknowledge that in a world of worry about debt and security and disease and unemployment, we’re going to always be looking for a safe hole to bury our strengths. Things are bad right now; let’s save this for later. But we are called to be a Kingdom people. We are called to carry the light of Christ into this world, and I can’t think of a better time to do just that. The light of Christ, the light of the Kingdom of God – there’s not a lot of sense in saving that for later. As the body of Christ, if we’ve been saving that at all, then we’ve been saving it for now.
Amen & Shalom
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