Flawed Assumptions- delivered at OLUMC Nov 13, 2011
The other day I was in Sam's and the Christmas music was blaring! Every HDTV had a red ribbon on it, there were aisles of gift wrap, even the familiar bell ringing of the Salvation Army guy. As I left a guy in front of me said to the woman at the door, "Christmas is going to go and y'all will be so tired of all this music!" Holiday cheer for everyone! Yes, nothing rings in the holidays like people being upset about celebrating them too early. One home in our neighborhood had lights up the morning after Halloween. Last night as we came home we saw more lights going up. Through the miracle of Facebook I know of some folk who already have their Christmas tree up-but for their safety I will keep them anonymous. We're going to wait a few more weeks before we decorate the church for Xmas- Saturday December 3 to be exact. The way the Christian calendar works is different from commercial observances. Christmas is a season, but it's only 12 days, and it begins- not ends- December 25. Before that is the Season of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is November 27, but many churches are observing Advent earlier to give it its full consideration. It was only a thousand years ago that Pope Gregory changed Advent from a six week season- like Lent before Easter- to four (no one seems to know why). But the gospel lessons for the Sundays in November remained the same, dealing with traditional Advent themes like preparation for a new reality ushered in by God. Take the parables of Matthew 25. A few weeks ago we read the first parable, the one about the bridesmaids waiting for the bride and groom to arrive for the wedding. The parable at the end of Matthew 25 is a vision of ultimate justice. Stuck in the middle of those is today's text, where a landowner gives three slaves a tremendous opportunity. They are each given talents- a unit of money that represents years of work. This is a ton of money to share. The first slave is given five talents. Enough for a lifetime of work. The second receives two. And the third one. The slaves are given no instructions whatsoever- no strings or expectations attached. Then the master goes on holiday. The first two slaves see this as a great opportunity to make some cash. They sit down with their investment planners and go to work. The third slave's investment strategy involves a shovel, a box, and a metal detector. Now, recently I did something I had successfully convinced myself to not do for the past several years: in a moment of weakness, I opened my pension statement. That was a mistake. If this was a parable about investment strategies for the 21st century, slave #3 is your guy, right? Stuff those mattresses! But this parable is not about market fluctuations. The last thing Jesus would be interested in is Greece's debt crisis. No, the first two slaves are the stars here. Without any instruction from the owner, upon his return these two share great news: they have doubled the money. The owner is so pleased- they are both promoted for their actions. The third slave? Not so much. Dusting off his unearthed box, he returns the talent to his master with these words, paraphrased: "Master, I know you cheat and steal, and you're kinda mean, so I was afraid to do anything with this dough. Take it back." Now the owner is not pleased, but I wonder how surprised he was- this guy was only given one talent after all, not multiples like the others. The master turns his words back on him, "I'm the jerk, huh? Well, at least you could have opened a checking account and earned .25% or something, but instead you give back exactly what you were given. Fine. We'll give it to the first guy and see what he can do with it. As for you, go away where you can't mess up any more great opportunities." Now you're thinking, "The third slave was right. The owner is a lousy guy- look at how he treats this guy. I mean most of us would take a 0% return after these last 3 years! But here's the thing: this is not a parable about money. It's about using what we've been given. It's about risking everything for Jesus. It's about sharing our blessings and watched the Kingdom of God grow around us. If we have a negative view of the landowner, it's only because the 3rd guy said so- and why would we trust his judgment? HE's clearly motivated only by fear- why should that influence us? The other slaves are not afraid of their master. We should they be? We know him to be exceedingly generous with his money. He gave those talents- again, it's a huge amount of money- and he didn't ask them to do anything with it. It's their money! These are the verbs Matthew uses to describe the owner's actions: he gave it to the slaves, and they received it. These are not wages earned for labor- these are gifts freely given. The first two recognize this and use their blessing to create more opportunities for blessing. The third one creates this whole new reality. Returning the talent, he says, "Here you have what is yours." But the talent does not belong to the landowner! The first two slaves make no effort to return the original money or the proceeds: "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more." This is not a shareholder's meeting, but a celebration. To the third slave, who has called him lazy and a thief, he plays along, using his assumptions against him: "...You ought to have invested my money... I would have received what was my own with interest." He repeated the slave's mistaken assumptions about his character, "You knew, did you...?" Then turns the tables again: "Take the dusty talent, wipe it off, and you guessed it- give it to the first guy. To those who have received much, more will be- given- so they my have an abundance. To those who have little, it was will be taken." The landowner is God. The talent is the grace of God. It is offered to us without pomp and circumstance, and without strings attached. And this is not a little helping of grace- this is seconds and thirds. Not an investment. An opportunity. A challenge. Multiply it. Not because God demands it. But because you know a relationship with Jesus is the most precious and valuable thing you have- given to you through no work on your part. That s not the kind of thing to be buried in the sand. Don't waste it. You've been given a great gift because God loves you that much- and sees such greatness in you. Turns out the third slave did not know the master at all- and his ignorance was all he was left with. "It's the most wonderful time of the year..." is a popular tune in the stores. I'm not sure if it was going at Sam's the other day or not. It is the most wonderful time of the year- but not because of Thanksgiving or even Christmas. It's the most wonderful time of the year because during Advent it's time for us to really ask ourselves: who is God? Do you even know- or are your assumptions as flawed as the third slave? Why is what we believe important? How can what we have experienced help others who are searching? God has given us a message. A brilliant, life-giving message of hope, love, and peace. Don't bury it in the ground. Multiply it. Share what you know. Even if it's before Thanksgiving or Christmas. There's no grace in waiting! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!