McFarland

24th Sunday after Pentecost November 15, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

Prayer of the Day:
Righteous God, our merciful master, you own the earth and all its peoples, and you give us all that we have. Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom, and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
lookup the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

As Saints of Old – ELW #695
Awake, O Sleeper, Rise from Death – ELW #452
Christ, Be Our Light – ELW #715
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light – ELW #815

Reflection on Matthew 25:14-30

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

During moments of fear and uncertainty, when people are anxious and feeling unmoored, people often do things they wouldn’t normally do.  Often, we reflexively draw inward and become self-focused.  Under pressure we strive for self-preservation.  And today’s parable is about this reflex during moments of crisis.  But first, let’s set the stage a bit.

We are nearing the end of Matthew’s Gospel and the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  We are right in the midst of Holy Week and Jesus has drawn his disciples together.  It’s important to know that the audience of this particular parable is the disciples.

This story about trading or burying talents is not told widely to the masses, like the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus told this story to his inner circle.  And in just a few verses, we will hear the plot to kill Jesus, a woman will anoint his feet with oil, and he will host a meal for his friends one last time.  Jesus tells this parable to his close friends as a means to prepare them for when he is gone.  He knows that in just a few days they will be alone in a terrifying moment of crisis, so he tells a story about a man who entrusts three of his servants with large sums of his wealth.

A talent was a 30-pound piece of gold, just “under a million dollars at today’s gold prices.”[1]  Or, to put it another way, it was between 15 and 20 years’ of income for a day laborer.[2]  And that was just one talent.  So the first servant, who is given five talents, was given a sum equal to 75 to 100 years’ of wages to look after while the master was gone.  It’s as if the master in the story says, “Hey, Bill.  Here’s roughly $5 million in gold.  Hold onto it for me, will ya?  I’ll be back…eventually.”  This isn’t watering the plants, taking the mail inside, or keeping a goldfish alive…it’s $5 million.  Maybe I just have the wrong friends.

Asking someone to keep track of your millions while you’re on a non-descript journey is laughable.  It wouldn’t happen now and definitely wouldn’t happen at the time of Jesus’ story.  According to scholar Matt Skinner, the “extravagance that destroys the plausibility of Jesus’ story is a hint.”[3]  It’s helpful to remember that parables aren’t real stories about real events or real people.  They’re narratives told to make a point.  They are descriptive, not prescriptive.  Parables don’t neatly outline what we should be doing but describe how things already are.

The focus of the story lands on the third servant who, when being entrusted with an overwhelmingly lavish gift, doesn’t engage the world but, rather, hides in fear.  All of his focus and concentration revolves around him and what he can do to take care of himself.[4]  He is trapped in a mindset of scarcity and fear, and he hides away the gift he has been given.  When he only cares about himself, things fall apart.  It turns out he can’t actually save himself. 

Scholar Karoline Lewis teaches that the Greek root for the word judgement is “chrisis,” which is where we get the word crisis.  This is a crisis moment for the disciples.  There’s a lot at stake.[5]  There’s a decision to be made.  Good Friday is just around the corner and Jesus is encouraging them to not turn inward and focus only on themselves when things get hard.  They are not to withdraw from the world but to continue being in relationship with others and to keep sharing the abundance they have been given.

In the words of Dr. Skinner, “Jesus doesn’t send his followers into the world with a morality tale to warn against the evils of laziness.  This is a story about the responsibilities that come with incredible abundance, not about a cowardliness born out of scarcity.  [Jesus doesn’t want us to miss] an opportunity to further [his] work in the world.”[6]

This parable calls us to bask in the abundance we have been given, and then to reflect on if we are sharing it with the world or if we are hiding it in fear, anxious about its limitations or evaporation.  In moments of crisis, when there are more questions than answers, when we are afraid and feeling unmoored, when the inclination is to turn inward and circle the wagons…this story beckons us to look up and to look out.

The story reveals that God wants us to be safe and make wise choices, obviously, but to not close ourselves off and refrain from participating in the world.  This parable is a call to active waiting, when we have to decide how we are going to live in times of crisis, in periods of waiting that will last an undetermined amount of time.[7]

When it feels like we are trapped in a scarcity mindset, can God help us shift our perspective to instead see the abundance God has given us?[8]

Maybe we have been gifted with the abundance of people – friends, family, church family, and professionals – who will listen to our concerns and support us in this time of crisis.  Maybe God has gifted us with an abundance of generosity – a gift that manifests itself as a big tip when picking up curbside takeout for dinner, or that manifests itself in generosity of spirit where we don’t presume the worst in others.  Some of us may be gifted with an abundance of time that can be utilized to stay connected with people, or to learn about peoples’ lives that are different than our own, or to help organizations pivot their operating in light of covid restrictions.  Maybe we’ve been entrusted with an abundance of security regarding our finances and we feel empowered to share with the food pantry and click on a few more things when we place our grocery order online, or we feel called to support the Global Mission fundraising efforts, or we feel drawn to help other organizations that wrap people in God’s grace and care.  God has given some of us an abundance of experiences over the years, which have helped us develop a trust and a confidence that we will get through this hard moment and then we can suggest to others the resources we have utilized in the past.

During crisis moments, our reflex is to turn inward and focus on ourselves and our needs.  It is much easier to hole-up, stay in old clothes, forget to shower, and disengage.  Now, if the constant barrage of news stories is overwhelming, by all means, unplug and tend to your soul.  But be careful of the line between “me time to recharge” and “I don’t want to be with anyone anymore.”  If that happens, find someone to talk to about it.  One gift God has given us is incredible professionals who will listen and help. 

Crisis points are hard, my friends, and this story calls us to decide how we are going to handle the abundance we have been given while we wait for the new day to come.  This parable urges us to stay engaged and active in the world – even if it can only be virtually for a while.  It is hard to not let fear drive us away or bury our gifts.

God is in the midst of community and we are made to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  God has gifted the creation God so loves with a variety of blessings, and the world needs and wants your participation.

The world needs your prayers and stories and kindness…

your quirks and hope and passions…

your skills, finances, perspectives, and care…

your dedication and wisdom and compassion…

your bravery and challenges and softness…

your support, expertise, and laughter.

In other words, the world needs your talents, the things about you that are worth more than gold.

The world needs your talents and God is calling you to step out – metaphorically speaking.  Please, stay inside and stay safe and healthy right now.  But God is calling you step out and share your talent with a world that desperately needs you and needs you to be who God made you to be.  Don’t hide your talent.  Don’t bury it away.  Don’t miss the opportunity to join in Jesus’ work and to share it with the world.

It would be a shame to hide the abundance of such amazing God-given talents.

Thanks be to God for God’s generosity, and thanks be to God for you.

Amen.

[1] Matt Skinner, “Easter Imperatives: Advocate,” Westminster Presbyterian Church (website blog), May 17, 2020, https://www.westminstermpls.org/2020/05/easter-imperatives-advocate/.
[2] 15 years from: M. Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vo. 8 (Nashville: Abindgon Press, 1995), 453. 20 years from: Skinner.
[3] Skinner.
[4] Thank you to Kjersten Sullivan, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Battle Creek, MI on November 12, 2020
[5] Karoline Lewis from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 754 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 33A) – Nov. 15, 2020,” November 10, 2020, video, 30:39, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm_Lij8OxYo&feature=youtu.be.
[6] Skinner.
[7] Sullivan.
[8] Rolf Jacobson from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 754 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Ordinary 33A) – Nov. 15, 2020,” November 10, 2020, video, 30:39, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm_Lij8OxYo&feature=youtu.be.

Let Us Pray

God of generosity, thank you for the many and diverse ways you have showered your creation with abundance.  Reveal to us ways we can share the gifts you have given us with the world.  Help shift our perspective from one of scarcity to one of abundance, and embolden us to support those who are running low on food, health, finances, stable housing, employment – those who are running low on hope.  Use your disciples as your instruments of abundant grace.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.