St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Sunday after Pentecost (November 16, 2014)

Liturgical Color: Green

Marissa Tweed, Pastoral Intern


Three Sermons

I'll say it right off the bat — this scriptural passage is intimidating. Three weeks ago when I looked up the lectionary readings for today and saw that I was scheduled to preach the Parable of the Talents I let out an audible, "Oh No!"

Perhaps like many of you in the room, when I hear this particular parable my knee jerk reaction is ooooo yikes, this doesn't sound like what I'm used to. Where is the forgiveness? Where is the grace? I am disturbed by the harshness of the judgment against the third slave. I am troubled by the immediate banishment to outer darkness. Where is God in all this?

So, in an attempt to get a handle on this passage, I decided it would be helpful to brush up on some characteristics of Matthew.

And then, still searching for some direction, I thought it would be beneficial to place today's reading in the context of the wider narrative of Matthew.

And then, urged on by the difficulty of this passage and maybe a bit of desperation I thought to myself perhaps my Seminary Gospel Notes might offer a few more nuggets of information.

Needless to say after all this research it became clear to me that I had enough material for three sermons...which seem appropriate since there are so many ways of approaching this text.

So today that's what I'm going to do: share three sermons — three ways of approaching the Gospel Message in this puzzling parable.

Without further ado, Sermon #1 (walk to area in front of the altar)

Sermon #1: This Parable is SO outrageous that the Opposite must be true

To illustrate this idea, a poem from Shel Silverstein:

My dad gave me one dollar bill

'Cause I'm his smartest son,

And I swapped it for two shiny quarters

'Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters

And I traded them to Lou,

For three dimes — guess he don't know

That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates

And just 'cause he can't see

He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,

And four is more than three!

And them I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs

Down at the seed-feed store,

And the fool gave me five pennies for them,

And five is more than four!

Now, those who hear this story obviously know something is up. We know the facts and the narrative has it all wrong. The truth is actually the opposite of what's being said: 5 pennies are not worth more than one dollar. We become aware of the true meaning behind the son's words by picking up on the clues in the poem.

So what clues are in our parable?

For one, we are dealing with an outrageous amount of money. One talent is 6000 denarii. Remember from a few weeks ago that one denarius was equal to an average worker's daily wage. That means that one talent would be equal to 20 years of wages. Thus, the first servant who received five talents would have been dealing with over 100 years of wages! This is an absurd, almost comical, astronomical amount of wealth.

Secondly, how about that line, "For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." Sounds pretty backwards when compared to the reversals we have heard from Jesus up to this point (i.e. the last shall be first and the first shall be last). Based on the Biblical Narrative as a whole, this isn't the paradigm we know to be true for God's kingdom.

And a third clue: this slave master certainly does not lend himself to be a fitting comparison with the forgiving, restoring, life-giving God of the Ages. The master benefits from labor he has not performed himself. Then he punishes his slave for failing to generate revenue when he originally administered the talents according to their abilities. This third slave may not have had the capacity to increase the talent's wealth in the first place; yet he is punished mercilessly. It's ludicrous! This is about power and control, and it is characteristic of the unfair nature of the economic systems within the Roman Empire.

So what if these clues point to a meaning behind the words in this parable — a meaning that is subversive of unfair systems of power and control and exploitation? It may be possible that Matthew is out to subvert this harsh model of judgment by exposing its ridiculous nature.

Amen #1

(Walk to area behind the altar)

Sermon #2: God Blesses Us with Spiritual Gifts for the Sake of the World

For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

As we await the coming of God's realm in its fullness we are not called to sit and twiddle our thumbs. We are called to be at work sharing in the work of God and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, using the gifts God has given us for the sake of the world.

We notice in the Parable of the Talents a superabundance of gifts: a lavish outpouring of grace and faith and purpose. In this way we are invited to live life through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity. We are called to use the gifts and talents that God has given us in daring and creative ways for the kingdom — not out of obligation or duty, but out of a faith-generated response to God's grace.

This is the Freedom of a Christian that Martin Luther talks about: "A Christian is the freest lord of all, and subject to none; [and yet] a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone."

We are freed to use the gifts God has given us. We have been saved by grace, through faith, apart from our works, for the sake of Christ. The love of God in Jesus Christ makes this possible. The Holy Spirit guides us to invest our talents and use our gifts wisely for the world. This is the joy of discipleship.

As Lutherans, sometimes we can be so over-corrective about avoiding works righteousness that we tend to shy away from talking about our response to God. This parable offers that chance: Go big or go home, there's kingdom work to be done! Take risks for God, and trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Be free to give of yourself: your time, your talents, and your treasure.

And this conversation begs to go beyond the cognitive. Western Christianity tends to talk about faith as if it's something cognitive. Our society teaches, "If I think right, then it will affect my behavior and I will do right." However, what if those two things were reversed? What if the thinking was influenced by the practice.

In the Jewish faith, belief is implied by the action. In other words, the practice itself defines the belief. The Parable of the Talents offers an invitation to practice participating in the abundance of God's kingdom.

Amen #2

(walk to the area behind the lecturn)

Sermon #3: Asking the question,"Where Is God in All This?"

"As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."...Thanks be to God?

When I hear this line I can't help but think where is God in all this? It's a simple question with powerful implications. By asking this question we are seeking God.

There are many unanswered questions in this parable. Words that can be disturbing, yet the troubling nature of this passage doesn't change that fact that it is a part of our canonical scripture. So we continue to seek for God and trust that God is at work even in this.

The same is true for our lives. There is enough weeping and gnashing in the world: malaria, starvation. terrorism, global warming, divorce, car accidents, murder, sexual assault, cancer... We all encounter times of weeping and gnashing and feeling drowned in outer darkness. We cry out to God, "Where are you?"

And in the act of asking this question we are affirming a doctrine of expectation that God is present and active in this world.

Blogger Nate Pyle writes, "There is something holy and sacred in being courageous enough to ask these questions. It is easy to spout Christian platitudes designed to make people feel better with bumper sticker theology. It is more courageous to ask the hard questions of God."

When we ask the hard questions, when we seek God in the dimmest, most confusing and disheartening situations, we are on holy and sacred ground...and God says, "I am with you."

Amen #3

(walk back to the ambo)

Closing

In closing, to borrow a phrase from my Seminary Professor Dr. Ralph Klein: The Gospel is God's good news for our bad situation.

So Parable of the Talents, what is the good news you are offering to us today?

The answer may be different for each of us. The beauty of being the Body of Christ together is that each of us offers a different perspective for how we see God at work in our midst.

Perhaps #1 "This parable is so outrageous the opposite must be true" resonated with you. Perhaps #2 "God blesses with spiritual gifts for the sake of the world" hit home. Perhaps you heard the Spirit's whisper in #3 "Asking the question, where is God in all this?"

Or perhaps you are still wrestling with how to make sense of this parable in your own life. Whatever the case may be, each of us brings a diversified way of experiencing the good news for our bad situation. The Living Word of God is dynamic and moving and speaks to us in different ways at different times in our lives.

In our Book of Faith Study an analogy of climbing a mountain was described to illustrate the ways each of us are seeking to understand God. We are all climbing: some of us see one side of the mountain and others see the opposite side, but we are all experiencing God in our midst, and God is working through each of us in different ways.

In my mind this is exactly what our reading from Thessalonians is getting at. Verses 9-10 offer a punchline that sheds some light on the Parable of the Talents: For 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 asleepwe may live with him.

Thessalonians is proclaiming this good news: That we may obtain healing, wholeness and restoration of life through Jesus Christ regardless if we are awake or asleep, regardless if we are on one side of the mountain or the other, regardless if we resonated with sermon #1, #2, or #3 and regardless of how many talents we multiply.

Amen.

 

 

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