Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Treasure of Grace God Invested in YOU

Sermon preached for Pentecost 22, Proper 28A, on Sunday, November 13, 2011.

    As is so typical, we tend to focus upon the wrong things in Jesus' parables.  You can tell it by the names we give to them.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son is not about the Prodigal Son but the waiting, loving Father.  So we call this the Parable of the Talents as if it were about money or a shrewd investing strategy – or worse – some sweet little stewardship sermon about using our hobby talents for the good of the kingdom instead of our own happiness.  No, money is incidental to this parable.  The better name might be the Parable of the Extravagant Master.  For the point of this is about the seeming carelessness and riskiness of the master who entrusts all His resources to his servants.  None of us would do this.  We would never be ask risky with our treasures.  But God is.  He has given to us His all, the fullness of His grace and mercy.  It is His gift to us in Christ and with it comes the opportunity to be as risky as He is in investing this grace.
    You will not hear today a sermon about people running around doing good deeds with their talents and abilities and material goods.  This only encourages a religion of works and nothing in this parable supports that.  God is the Giver of all that is ours and what we do is either act in faith, using the grace He has entrusted to us, or in fear, afraid of the grace and of the opportunity His grace provides to us.
    There is another element to this all.  That is the unpredictability of the master’s return to settle up.  This is echoed in the epistle in which St. Paul recounts the suddenness of God’s appearing as the onset of labor.  Not unforseen but nonetheless unpredictable.  A woman once confessed to me that her greatest fear while pregnant was that her water would break at the altar rail. So unpredictable and  unexpected is the timing of childbirth.  We do not like this and so we try to scheduled it.  Drugs and C-sections have attempted to tame the unpredictability of labor. We have attempted to do the same thing to God.  His coming is as unpredictable as childbirth and we try to tame Him by guessing at the day and time of Jesus' return.  Some months ago somebody predicted the second coming on May 21 and, when it did not happen, then October 21.  We are still here.  So much for trying to predict the future that lies in God's hands.  If it is not ours to predict, then what is ours?  To use the grace of God as God has used it for us.
    We have a limitless supply of God’s grace.  The talent in the parable was not some small sum but a good days wage for some 1300 days of work.  Many thousands of dollars – a good amount of money even today.  The grace is limitless but our time is limited.  From the vantage point of the world, the master comes suddenly – as suddenly and unpredictably as a thief in the night.  If you had known the thief were coming, you would have been prepared but because you did not know, he came and cleaned you out.  So you are left with nothing but your fears and your loss.  God cannot be predicted and the point of the parable is not prediction but preparation.  You know He is coming and He has well supplied you with the abundance of His grace that it may be the currency of your life.
    Two of the servants knew their master well.  They saw him as a risk taker who was lavish and generous and trusting.  So they used what He had given them the same way.  In other words, they acted in faith.  They did not jealously guard what had been entrusted to them but put it to use just as the master had with them.  The other one did not know his master at all.  In his fear he buried the talent in the backyard to avoid having to deal with it at all.  Instead of faith, his life was shaped by his fears and resentment.  You can hear that in the words the parable records when he returns to the master the one talent.  His life was shaped by his fears and it did not matter how much time the mast might have given him, he would never have been prepared to the day of reckoning. So it is with those who live in the moment.  They have only the moment and this too shall be taken from them on that great and mighty day when the Lord returns to settle up with His people. 
    This is not rocket science. Faith is common sense wisdom.  Yet it is this very common sense wisdom that we ignore.  Trouble always finds us when we are least ready for it.  So it is in the parable.  God has already made us ready.  We do not live in the what ifs of a world that might have been.  We live on the firm foundation of the Word of the Lord and the promise of grace to a lost, condemned, and dying people.  God's timing may be unpredictable but we have not been left without resource to be ready to meet Him when He comes.  The talent or money in this parable is not money at all but the grace of God supplied to us in Word and Sacrament.  Hoarding it will not do nor can we live life shaped by fear.  Faith receives and faith acts with confidence in this grace and favor from God.
    From the vantage point of faith, God's time is certain.  The day of the Lord will come.  You cannot escape it.  When we do not know but that it is coming we know for sure.  Easter's victory points us to the day when what was begun in the garden of the empty tomb will be made complete in each and every one of us who live in Christ by baptism and faith.  We know that the Lord will come and we also know that He has generously endowed us with the resources of His grace to be ready. . . IF we use them.  So this parable calls upon us to remain in a state of grace by living this grace of forgiveness, mercy, kindness, hope, and redemption.
    The status quo will not remain.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.  If our resources are material, we will have nothing to show Him.  If our resources are that eternal Word and the means of grace, then we have all we need to be found prepared for His coming and worthy to enter into our Master’s joy.
    The point of this parable is not money or material resources.  The talent that God has given us is not some skill we are born with or the money and material wealth we earn and accumulate.  These do NOT make us ready.  Only grace makes us ready.  The talents in this parable are the grace of God, rich lavish, and generous. What matters in this life is that we live in His grace and mercy.  Everything else flows from this life rooted and planted in Christ and nothing else can make up for it if it is missing in us.  If we have Christ we have everything and without Christ we have nothing.
    It had to happen.  In 32 years as a Pastor.  And it happened here.  A woman's water broke right after communing and she left the rail to give birth at the hospital.  God's untimely timing cannot be predicted but if we are ready, it does not matter when He comes. And, by the way, the very next Sunday the same woman was back at the rail with newborn and her two siblings in tow.
    You are not a people walking in darkness.  You have the Light of Christ. You know the heart of God, the promise of God, the grace of God and the future that is even now unfolding.  So be ready.  Your investment in Wall Street or bonds is not what God is looking for but your lives fully invested in His grace. Those who are ready for Him are those whose lives are filled with repentance, who have been reborn by the mercy of the cross, and whose days are lived within the framework of grace. 
    The people of God live not in fear of the unknown but in confidence of what we do know.  Remember the guy who buried his talent?  He was so captive to his fears that he hid and hoarded what he was given.  We do this when we live captive to our fears instead of within the confidence of God’s grace in Christ, the sufficiency of that grace for our every need of this body and life and for eternity, as well as our confidence that investing this grace will not diminish us or what we return to the Lord.  In my view, we do not run the risk of being too risky in showing the love and mercy of God to others but too stingy.  Our tendency is to let our fears restrain us instead of our confidence in our Lord and Master empower us for His bidding.  God holds you accountable but God is not content to get back what He gave you.  What He seeks is YOU – your confidence and joyful response to what His grace has won for you in Christ.  To be ready, live in the means of grace.  Let this grace flow through you.  Let this grace be the currency of your lives and, when He comes again,  you will be ready to settle up and to enter into the eternal joy of Your Master.  Amen.

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