Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What We Have Been Given!

Every year when it is time to talk about stewardship people begin to worry.
I believe it is because most of us are not giving what we wish we did.
And so when we talk about giving we feel guilty.
We know that we have done enough.
Then we hear a text like our story from Matthew’s Gospel and it confirms for us that we are slated for the place of outer darkness.
Because we just feel that we can’t give anymore.
How can we give more money in a time of economic peril?
How can we give more time when so many things pull at us?
There are teenagers to monitor, proposals for work to be completed, leaves to rake, parties to plan, kids to drive, homework to be done, life is busy.
We simply cannot do it all.
Let us start by saying that you are right you can’t.
Let me shatter any allusions any of you have this morning about having it all together.
You on your own do not possess enough money, time, or talent to save the world.
Today’s parable is misread if the message we take away is that we should do more to make our lives better.

So this morning I am not going to preach about how much more you should all be doing.
Instead let me tell you about all the things that we are doing, and let me assure you that they are never enough.
I know this because I see the people who come to our church looking for help.
I know that our resources are too small to truly make the type of impact that is needed.
I see the people living under the 393 bridge, the woman who comes to the Friendly Kitchen with her Wal-Mart uniform on, the single mother who husband is in jail struggling to keep the roof over her head, the addict struggling to stay sober.
These problems are bigger then what we do here, they are problems that need more than the band aid we are to provide.
But I want you to know that I am not in any deterred.
I am not pessimistic or jaded about the world.
Because I know that God can do what I cannot.

The Parable for this morning is not about what we don’t have.
It is not about what we lack.
And thank God for that because we lack so much.
Instead it is about what we have been given.
We each have been given according to our ability gifts from God.
We all have been given money to use for the better good.
We all have been given talents to use for the building up of our neighbor.
We all have been given time to use in the spreading of the kingdom of God.
The parable never says that we will solve all the problems.

But that we should use the gifts of God now.
I hope you hear that as good news.
It is not meant to be a burden, but a gift.
God has given us more money then we need!
That is a gift!
God has given us a talent that can be used for the greater good.
That is a gift!
We have been given a new day to labor in the vineyard for God.
That is a gift!

The problem in the parable is that the person who buries their gift in the ground does it out of fear.
Fear of the master.
Our freedom as a Christian allows us to act without fear.
I wonder if how the story changes if the person who was given the one talent tries to do something with it but loses it.
Will the master still be upset?
My guess is probably not.
The problem is that he does nothing with it at all.

I feel this way about the Church.
God has given us this great gift.
We have this wonderful treasure.
It is the Gospel.
It is the wonderful amazing grace of God.
It is not flashy or fancy.
And it actually has no real value in the world.
You can’t buy a new car with the Gospel.
You can’t pay your mortgage with the Gospel.
You can’t win a presidential campaign with the Gospel.
You can’t attack another country with the Gospel.
You can’t cure cancer with the Gospel.

It would appear that it has very little use.
Until you talk to people who have encountered it.
Until you see how it really does help us live in a complex world.

The Gospel tells us that true joy is found in giving away our lives.
That happiness is about making others happy.
The Gospel is found in the poor, the sick, and imprisoned.
It is found in the smallest of seeds.
It is found hidden among us today.
And the parable is asking what will we do with that treasure?
What will we risk for it?
What will we give for it?

To me it is the most precious thing I have.
And I did not work for it, toil for it, it was simply given.

On our tree one person wrote about how they were working at Rise Again.
They met a woman who had been given a bike by our congregation.
That bike made all the difference in this woman’s life.
It was a ride to work and a way to get around.
It represented freedom.
A used bike seems like a simple thing, and yet it meant so much.
When we were going to collect the bikes there were a whole lot of questions that I did not know the answer to.
How would we get them?
Where would we keep them?
Who would take them?
We only knew that there were people in our community who could use them.
We took a chance.
We tried something.
We risked failure, and uncertainty.
That is what the Gospel is about this morning.
Taking a risk and investing in the business of the Kingdom.
As the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

There is one more thing we have to talk about.
It is the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It appears that the master is very harsh on the servant who buries his one talent.
In Matthew’s entire Gospel when we encounter the outer darkness we see that it is because people have misunderstood the nature of the kingdom.
In this case the servant with the one talent thinks the master is “a harsh man”.
That is what he gets.
If our image of God is one of task master, of harsh words and actions, of anger then we do not see God properly.
We will not be able to accept the true nature of the kingdom.
We will not be able to see God in the things foolish and useless to the world.
We will not be able to see God in the poor, the humble, the lost, the mourners.
We will not be able to accept that the kingdom is not about what we get, but how we use the gifts God has given.
And if we can’t see God and we can’t accept the Kingdom then we will be in the outer darkness and there will be weeping and gnashing of the teeth.
If talking about using our money, time, and talent for God makes you want to weep and gnash your teeth then perhaps you have misread what God is really offering.
God is offering you the Gospel.
A life lived in freedom for others.
A life lived in the mystery, wonder, and faith.

So let us go from here to live without fear, and use our gifts for the building of the kingdom not because we feel guilty but because we feel blessed.

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