"That Church"

The God We Get

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“The God We Get”
Matthew 25: 14-30
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
January 28, 2018

Today’s parable is often referred to as “the terrible tale of the talents”. It paints a picture that seems incongruous with Jesus’ stand on “the least of these”. It implies injustice and inequality that most of us find difficult to accept. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer. Abundance is perpetuated at the expense of deprivation. The parable just does not seem fair.

It’s a simple story. The master goes on a journey. He has three servants and to each he entrusts some talents. He gives one servant five talents, a second servant two, and the third one. Then, off the master goes. A talent is a denomination of ancient money. It is worth about 15 years wages.

The first two servants upon receiving their talents shout “Hot diggity dog!” They are excited to be trusted with those talents and they roll up their sleeves, get busy in the marketplace, and double the talents, the master entrusted to them.

“Oh, rats!” mumbled the third servant. He took his one talent the master entrusted to him and buried it under the big rock by the cactus in the backyard. The poor guy was scared. Tossing and turning at night, stomach churning, thoughts swirling. “What if I invest the money and lose it? There’s no guarantee if I do this that I’ll be successful. I’ll be the laughing stock of the company; I’ll lose my reputation and the master will fire me when he gets back. How can I possibly take a chance?”

Many of us understand fear. Many of us would rather be safe than sorry. I personally am not one to throw caution to the wind. I appreciate that in the children/youth skit earlier this morning the third servant was treated with compassion rather than condemnation.

After some time, the master returns and calls for an accounting of his servants. As the first two servants make their reports, the master does somersaults and cartwheels, 76 trombones lead the big parade, and fireworks explode. On top of all of that, the master does something bigger, he entrusts those servants with even more. “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

But the mood changes dramatically when the third servant stands before the master. With trembling in his voice, he says, “I know you,” said the servant, “You’re a hard man, a harsh master. You reap where you don’t sow. I know you. I am afraid of you. Here! Take your talent.”

It appears that the third servant is not just afraid of losing money, but afraid of the master. Where did this understanding of the master come from? Is there anything in this parable that would lead us to view the master this way? Quite the contrary – this is no first century master.

For one thing, he entrusts his servants with hundreds of thousands of dollars. No first century master would have done that. Servants are not partners or coworkers – they are servants. Yet, this master has given the key to his Bentley, the key to his wine cellar, his personal identification number to his bank account and his stock portfolio – everything.

Next, he lavishes them with praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Servants were expected to do their duty without receiving praise or pats on the back.

Then he empowers them with even more. “You’ve been faithful in little; I’ll set you over much.” The master gives the servants extravagant tribute, increased authority, welcomes them into his home as members of the family. Next thing you know, they’ll being eating at the master’s table. No first century master would break down the barrier between master and servant.

Yet, this master did. This is a benevolent master – kind, empowering, gracious, generous, welcoming. This is the way the first servants view him – otherwise they would not have been so free to risk and act.

But the one talent servant sees this master through an entirely different lens – hard and mean. This story is not about a generous master suddenly turning cruel and punitive; it’s about living with the consequences of our faith. There is a kind of theological economy at work here.

It seems that there is a direct correlation between the way we view the Divine and the way we live our lives. If we see God as big, generous and loving, says the parable, then we step out in faith and live big. If we view God as oppressive and punitive, then we condemn ourselves to a life spent under the bed alone, quivering in needless fear. The message of the parable seems clear, “Come on out. There is no jury; there is no judge, just the steady arms of God’s infinite love.”

If there is a preposition that I think best describes God, it is “for”. God is for us. God’s desire is for us to flourish, thrive and grow. God is on your side. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “If God is for you, who can be against you?”

Too often, the Christian faith has painted God to be over and against and even in opposition to human flourishing. How did the message about the Jesus who comes among us to heal and free and bless and teach us how to be more generous and forgiving and less judgmental and more compassionate ever turn into something other than a clear and compelling message about God’s desire for us to flourish in God’s good world?  Jesus is one who touched lepers, whom no one else would touch. He heard the cries of blind people, who had been told to be quiet. He dined with tax collectors, whom everyone hated. Over and over, we see him going to the edges, to the margins, to those in trouble, to the hurting, to the lost. He moves toward them. He reaches out to them (Bell, R., What We Talk About When We Talk About God, p. 141). Undoubtedly, the God we meet in the person of Jesus is for us.

The universe created by this God who is for us is conspiring in our favor, to bless us, to help us realize our dreams, our hopes, our aspirations, our prayers. I firmly believe that we are supported by this magnanimous universe in ways that we are not even aware, seen and unseen.

The mystic Rumi puts it this way, “It’s rigged – everything, is in your favor. So, there is nothing to worry about. Is there some position you want, some office, some acclaim, some award, some lover…maybe all at once… a relationship with God…I know there’s a goldmine inside of you.”

“It’s rigged!” affirms Rumi. The universe is rigged! The universe is working on your behalf right now. When I look back at my personal journey, I can affirm, “It’s rigged!” I bet when you look back at your personal journey, you, too, can affirm, “It’s rigged!” As we prepare to head into the 43rd annual meeting of Redlands United Church of Christ and I see where we came from 43 years ago and where we are headed and the vital ministries that take place here and the lives transformed in this sacred space, it’s clear – it’s rigged!  It doesn’t mean that we don’t have our challenges and setbacks, but in the midst of those challenges, the universe is quietly working behind the scenes, on our behalf. God is for you. God is for us.  God’s desire is for us to flourish, thrive and grow. We don’t need to play it small. Go ahead, live large. “Come on out. There is no jury; there is no judge, just the steady arms of God’s infinite love.” Amen.

**Many thanks to Tom Long’s unpublished sermon, “The God We Get”, which greatly influenced this sermon.