Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, November 16, 2014

Ice skaters are a risky bunch. They try to win competitions by having the highest jumps, the most difficult moves, the most dangerous spins. Sometimes they are successful in these moves, and sometimes they fail, ending up sitting on the ice. But they get up and continue right on, doing their best to get the highest marks. Judges reward the risk. A skater is less likely to be marked down for trying something difficult and failing than he or she is by failing at a standard move. Baseball’s home run kings and the ones with the most runs batted in are often the ones on the team with the biggest strike out record. They risk a swing at a pitch to get that big hit, that big score, that their team counts on them for. Sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t. But they keep on doing it because the big hit is their gift. They get in the batter’s box every time, determined to hit a home run.

John Glenn went into space again in his 70s. His wife Annie did not want him to go, but space travel was something Glenn could not forget, a high point in his life that he wanted to experience again. So he put on the space suit and blasted off the launching pad. His trip, which could easily have cost him his life, was successful. George Bush Sr. went skydiving on his 70th birthday (and just recently on his 90th as well). He was willing to take the risk to experience the physic rewards that came with a successful jump.

This gospel, the third in Jesus’ series about being prepared for the kingdom, is about taking risks. It is about trying your hardest in the face of possible failure and rejection and keeping on trying until the master returns. The first story was about watching for the master and doing good deeds until he comes. The second one was about rather passive waiting for the master, but being prepared with enough oil in one’s lamps, acknowledging that Jesus will return on God’s schedule.

This parable is about active waiting, about what we are to do in the meantime. A master who was going on a trip left his three slaves in charge of a great amount of his money. A talent was worth about 15 years wages. Entrusting slaves with this responsibility was not unusual at that time. Slaves were allowed to earn money, to be educated, to hold property, even other slaves. Most slaves received their freedom by age 30. So these men were more trusted servants than what we think of as slaves. He does not tell them what to do with the money but goes off on his venture and does not return for a long time. Two slaves go out and immediately trade with their talents and get 100% return. It is not hard to imagine how risky this is. The faster you seek to double your money, says financial wisdom, the more likely you are to lose it. But these slaves were willing to take the risk of losing it all to gain money for their master. The third slave chose a different course. He buried his talent in the ground, which most people of the time would have thought was a prudent financial decision. It kept the talent safe so the master would have what he had given when he returned.  The slave kept the talent from the possibility of loss, but also from the possibility of gain.

When the master returns, he commends the first two slaves for their success and puts them in charge of more things. He invites them to enter into his joy, which translates to feasting at the heavenly banquet. The third slave is not so lucky. He is called wicked and lazy, his talent is taken from him and given to the one with 10 talents and he is thrown into outer darkness for not taking any action with what he had been given.

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not the landowner is God. Some say yes, because God was very generous in God’s gifts to all his servants and some say no, because God couldn’t possibly be the harsh and cruel master who behaved unethically by taking that which he did not work for. But we only hear about the master’s character from the third slave. The first two seem content with him and gladly responsible for what he gives them. It could be that the master is indeed God and what God is to you is all a matter of perception. The first two servants are grateful for their gifts, and go do the risky business of trading out of love for him. A nagging question is what would have happened if they had lost everything. Would the master have commended them for taking the risk and trying? If God is seen as gracious and merciful, then that would be the case. The third slave lives in fear of the master. He just wants the master not to be mad at him for losing his money because the slave envisioned him as harsh and cruel. He didn’t even take the talent to the bank to earn interest, a pretty safe thing to do. Does your perception of God color what you do? Do you believe in God’s grace and mercy? Are you willing to take risks out of thanksgiving for God’s tremendous gifts to you, especially in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? Or are you more afraid that God might punish you if you do a bad thing. Thinking of God as a scorekeeper who consigns people to hell makes you want to stay as safe as possible, believing the right thing, following the moral rules, but not doing anything to create the kingdom of God on earth.

God has given us responsibility for God’s resources while Jesus is away, and God has graciously given us the space to work with them, using our own initiative, supported by the Holy Spirit. This parable is on the surface about money, but we have been given three treasures to act faithfully with: money, time and talents, and the good news of God in Christ. We are supposed to multiply these gifts, to pass them on, for our own enjoyment and in service to others.

Money is fickle. Sometimes we make a lot and sometimes we lose a lot, but we are trying to act with our treasure in a faithful manner. Whatever we have we are to share with others in service so we – and they – see a glimpse of the kingdom to come. Sharing our monetary gifts is an act of faith in a God we trust will give us an abundant life. In the giving, we find that we are God’s instruments of offering that life to others.

We are entrusted with our gifts, our time and our talent, not to hoard and bury in the ground, but to give of them, for our own pleasure and for that of others. Dancers, singers, craftsmen, salespeople all have gifts to offer to the church and to the world. But we can’t try and fail with our gifts and not keep on going. Like the skaters I described before, we must all listen to God’s call and keep on moving. A woman I was with in the selection process for the priesthood was not chosen and she was devastated, but I saw a few years later in the diocesan newsletter that she had continued to follow what she believed was God’s call to her and had been ordained.

We are also entrusted with the good news of the gospel to share with others. It is so easy to sit on that one, to bury it in ourselves, because we are afraid of rejection. But Matthew’s Jesus calls on us to take the gospel to all nations, baptizing and teaching. We may not be called to far-flung places, but we are all called to share our relationship with God with those close to us, those who may be looking for just what we have to offer.

For a life of discipleship to be fulfilling and abundant in the time of Jesus’ absence, it needs to be risky. Sometimes we will take a risk and lose, and sometimes we will take a risk and win. But we are called to keep taking risks, to keep putting ourselves out there, no matter what the cost, Share your wealth, give of your talents, spread the gospel far and wide, because that is the way we end up feasting at the marriage banquet of the kingdom of heaven.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker