The Spirit Lives in the Gift that Moves 11-16-14

Our assigned reading from Matthew 25 has troubled me for years. It just doesn’t sound right to me. At least the way our ears usually hear the story, it doesn’t. When we read it in LIFE group leaders meeting a few weeks ago, they were similarly uncomfortable. I suggested to them a possible solution, but we may do well to stay a little skeptical. See what you think as we read Jesus parable of the talents. Listen for the word of God for you this day.

Matthew 25:14-30 Again, it was like a wealthy landowner who was going on a journey and called in three workers, entrusting some funds to them. The first was given five talents, the second two talents, and the third one talent, according to each one’s ability.  Then the landowner went away. immediately the worker who received the five talents went and invested it and made another five. In the same way the worker who received two talents doubled that figure. But the worker who received the one talents instead went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried the money. After a long absence, the traveler returned home and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five, saying, “You entrusted me with five talents, here are five talents more.” The landowner said, “Well done. You are a good and faithful worker. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share my joy!” The one who received the two talents then stepped forward with the additional two, saying, “You entrusted me with two talents, here are two talents more.” The landowner said to this one, “cleverly done!  You too are a good and faithful worker. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs.  Come, share my joy! Finally the one who had received the one talent stepped forward and said to the landowner, “Knowing your ruthlessness—you who reap where you did not sow and gather where you did not scatter— and fearing your wrath, I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here is your money back.” The landowner exclaimed, “You worthless, lazy lout!  So you know that I reap where I don’t sow and gather where I don’t scatter, All the more reason to deposit my money with the bankers, so that on my return, I could have had it back with interest. You, there! Take the talent away from this bum and give it to the one with ten talents. Those who have will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not will lose even the little they have. Throw this worthless one outside into the darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.

November 16, 2014        The Spirit Lives in the Gift that Moves

Do you see what I mean? Jesus usually champions the poor and the underdog or the outcast and in this reading the way we usually hear the story, the wealthy ruthless landlord seems to represent God while the poorest slave is cast into the outer darkness with gnashing of teeth. Something is wrong here. Jesus parables are often surprising, and confounding, so that might be expected, but something is wrong.
I checked in with what the Jesus seminar says, and to my surprise they said the core of this story likely goes back to authentic Jesus. They think the ending about the slave being cast into outer darkness was added later and is not at all Jesus. And the original story is not about God, but about a wealthy ruthless landlord, as it says.
I guarantee you that there are lots of sermons being preached for Stewardship Sunday today about this passage – encouraging people to invest wisely and give all they have to the church. That’s not what this passage is about. We often misread the story of the widow’s mite in the same way. Jesus simply was not about exploiting the poor, especially for the temple whose corruption he was eager to challenge.
Brian did a good job of telling this story last week to the young people, imagining the first person receiving money and investing it in a lemonade stand. We might want to be aware though that a talent was a very large amount of money – like 20 years wages. This story is really outrageous. We might do better to imagine the first trusty servant as receiving 5 million dollars and going to the casino and betting it all on red in one bet to double it — not somebody we would emulate.
That’s how outrageous this story is. Jesus is breaking through the listener’s expectations to open us to new possibilities, encouraging us to accept people that we never would have accepted before – not just to accept them but to see how the Spirit works through them. And if we placed ourselves in the story, most of us church people would be most like the servant who buries a talent in the ground, if we are honest, and we would defend it to the hilt.
We are careful with our money, cautious with our rules and our actions. We are not likely to take big risks or associate with people who look at all risky to us. We like to be sure we get things right. I know I do. If somebody gave me a million dollars, there is no way I would risk it gambling or even take it out of the house. I would be sure I could give it back, believe me.

For the last 2 weeks, we have been imagining God’s home address. We have thought about how God lives with our ancestors, and last week we talked about how God lives in our generosity and our mission. Today I want to suggest that one key aspect of God’s home address is that God lives in the unexpected. This is what Jesus consistently teaches over and over again.
I mean, Jesus not only ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other party people – he expected God would be present through eating with them. This is not how I usually think or live. When I go to annual conference or some other meeting, I most often sit with people I know the best when it comes to meal time. I’m not trying to find God’s unexpected presence in people I don’t know. I’m trying to find safety and comfort in people that I know well.
Even when we go to our Mission Connexion or District meetings, I notice that we St. Luke people tend to sit with each other rather than risk finding God’s presence by sitting with folks from other churches. I know, it feels like work to get to know new people, but what if what Jesus was saying is true? What if God’s home address is in unexpected places and unexpected encounters?
The Spirit lives in a gift that moves, a gift that is open to the unexpected and the new encounter. The Spirit lives in the love & care for the stranger, the risk of opening ourselves to new possibilities. The Spirit lives in the random act of kindness – the person who pays for your takeout meal before you get to the window to pay.
The Spirit lives in the young person who risks sharing their talent no matter how outrageous or out-of-the-ordinary it might be. The Spirit lives in the outrageous unexpected bond of a Palestinian man whose brother was killed by Israelis with an Israeli woman whose son was killed by Palestinians.
The Spirit lives in gun shows and casinos. The Spirit lives in the large gift a man gives to try to atone for the fact that he made his fortune selling guns and ammunition. The Spirit lives in a father who gets great publicity and disinherits his kids by giving his whole fortune to charity.
The Spirit lives in us when we reach beyond our comfort zones and stretch our talents and our gifts for a vision of a world made whole.

Responsive Hymn   356 When We Are Living (Pues Si Vivimos)