The Joy of the Master

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How many of you have heard the phrase or even been confronted with it yourself: “If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ you are going to hell.”  I admit that I am not a fan of this method of “sharing the Gospel.”  First of all, says who…and second, it makes our relationship with God based on fear.  Fear is what prevents us from living into our full potential in the world and from knowing the love of God. 

God did not dwell on the earth in Jesus Christ in order that we would be terrified of God…

22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, November 13, 2011

Zephaniah 1.7, 12-18; Psalm 90.1-12; 1 Thess. 5.1-11; Matt. 25.14-30

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace to you and peace from the One who invites us to participate in the joy of the master, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 There is nothing like the threat of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” to strike fear into any heart.  Scripture doesn’t make it clear what the “outer darkness” is, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s not somewhere we want to be.  One person in our story today is thrown into the outer darkness and two are invited into the joy of the master. 

I don’t know what you were thinking as I read these words from Jesus to you this morning, but I’m wondering where your attention is drawn.  Is it on the outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth?  How many of you are wondering about that?  How many of you think the third slave was treated unfairly and harshly?  How many of you are wondering what in the world a talent is?

There is so much in this text that it calls for us to go through it together more closely rather than just reading it once.  What we need to keep in mind with Matthew chapter 25 is that it focuses on the return of Jesus to earth and also on judgment.  It is a fundamental Christian expectation and hope that the resurrected Jesus will return, and then this is what we confess happens in his return in our statement of faith: He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Okay, so let’s take out our bulletins and look at the Gospel together.  There are essentially four characters in the story: a master, and three slaves.  The master is going away for awhile and gives his property to them in the form of “talents.”  When we hear the word, talent, we often think of something we’re good at, or even a gift, which is correct.  Over time, talent has come to mean something we are naturally good at…something that is simply a part of who we are.  In our story today talents actually refer to money, and not just a little money, but a lot of money.  In Jesus’ day, one talent was the equivalent of 15 years of work.  So for the first slave to receive 5 talents, it would be worth more than a lifetime of money.  Even the third slave received an incredible sum of money.  Just one talent might be like the equivalent of receiving one million dollars today. 

So what we can gather from the master is that the master is very wealthy and also very generous.  What is also interesting is that he gives to the slaves according to their ability, not giving them more than they can handle and not less.  From this we can gather that the master knows the slaves well and cares for them by giving them what they are able to manage.

The master goes away and the slaves respond to their gift and responsibility differently.  Two work and trade to increase what was given, and one goes and buries the money.

The master comes back and finds that two of the slaves worked with the talents and had something to show for it.  They multiplied what they were given and the master says, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  I simply have to pause here and ask, “Aren’t these words what we long to hear when we finally see God face to face?”  These ones who used the talents given to them to further the work of the master got to participate in the master’s joy.  Not only did they get to participate in it while caring for the master’s property, but they got to continue to enter into the master’s joy upon His return.

So what in the world went wrong with the third slave?  He doesn’t have a different master than the other two and up to this point the third slave was not treated any differently.  How is it that he believes and accuses his master of being harsh and greedy?  Has there been anything in the story so far to make him believe that the master is anything but generous and inviting? 

I’ll answer this question for you…no, there really hasn’t.  For some reason, the third slave has a different perception of the master.  He is driven by fear and actually uses his perception of the master as an excuse to do nothing with what he has been given.  The master calls him lazy, worthless as a worker, and even wicked…and he even calls him out.  If the slave really believes what he said about the master he would have at least invested the money with the bankers.  The third slave is making excuses for not following through with his responsibility.  He is judged wicked and lazy and thrown into the outer darkness.

So where does this leave us?  What now is our perception of the master through this parable?  Generous, inviting, a judge, harsh?  This story invites us to think about our own relationship with and perception of God, as well as our own judgment.  Chapter 25 in Matthew is meant for us to seriously reflect on what we are doing with our lives and why.  Are your actions or lack of action in the world driven by fear, or are they lived out in loving relationship with a God who you believe loves you and is inviting you into the joy of life? 

How many of you have heard the phrase or even been confronted with it yourself: “If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ you are going to hell.”  I admit that I am not a fan of this method of “sharing the Gospel.”  First of all, says who…and second, it makes our relationship with God based on fear.  Fear is what prevents us from living into our full potential in the world and from knowing the love of God. 

God did not dwell on the earth in Jesus Christ in order that we would be terrified of God.  In our first reading we hear that “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him (1 Thess. 5.9-10).”  Asleep in this passage isn’t what we think of when we think of sleep.  It really means whether you are alive or dead you may live with Christ. 

In Jesus’ death, he went to the “outer darkness” for your sake and mine so that whether you live or whether you die you belong to the care and love of God.  This is incredible love.  The master, who is Jesus Christ, knows you intimately, is generous in giving you talents and gifts to be used in this world, and invites you to enter into the joy of God by participating in loving God back and caring for those around you.

God cares about what we do with our lives and you and I will be held accountable and judged for what we do and what we don’t do.  Matthew 25 could not be more clear on this, but our calling is not be afraid.  Our calling is to risk loving, to risk sharing the good news of God, and to use the talents God has given us to partcipate in the joy of the master.    

I know many of you are very compassionate people and are still feeling for the one in our story who was thrown into the outer darkness.  This is good.  Part of the work God gives to us is to seek out those whose lives are paralyzed by fear and show them how the Master is generous, loving, and inviting.  I also understand for some of you how life circumstances have led you to believe in a harsh God and to greatly fear judgment.  I pray that over time, you can know God in a different way…a God who loves you, died for you, and accompanies you in your darkness. 

I recently read a poem written by St. Thomas Aquinas, that speaks of darkness and purpose.  It is called, "Otherwise The Darkness."  He writes:

I have a cause.
We need those don't we?
Otherwise the darkness and the cold gets in and everything starts to ache.
My soul has a purpose, it is to love;
If I do not fulfill my heart's vocation,
I suffer.

(Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, p. 144.)

The life of faith we are all invited into is about realizing we’ve already been blessed by God and given talents in order to joyfully work in the world.  Our responsibility and joy is to actually do something with it!

Our confession of faith doesn’t end with “he will come again to judge the living and the dead;” it ends with, “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  This is the end of our story…or rather just the beginning.