Talentless

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:14-30

My sermon from 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (November 16, 2014) on Matthew 25:14-30. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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Living in New York City, I didn’t see a lot of fall leaves. When fall came, I’d spot a few trees along the street turning red and gold, and I knew that their leaves would fall, but I rarely ever saw them fall. I didn’t get that crunch-crunch-crunch sound from walking in leaves because – as those leaves fell, the super of the building would come out, sweep them into the street, and that would be it.

Now that I’m living here in New Jersey, I have the exact opposite experience. There’s an amazing number of beautiful trees, gold, red, orange – and they all decided this week that they were just going to give up. There are leaves everywhere. I can watch them fall outside my window, they land on me when I go outside, and instead of just crunch-crunch-crunch, I’m slipping on them as I try to go up and down stairs. The world is buried by an abundance of leaves. So, yesterday, as I raked an incredible amount of yellow and gold leaves into a giant pile, I had this parable from Matthew stuck in my mind. As the pile grew so big that I could be practically lost in it, it reminded me of an image I grew up with and still see from time to time on TV and cartoons – and that’s Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool. I mean, when I imagine what an abundant amount of wealth and money looks like – a swimming pool filled with gold, jewels, and cash is totally it.
But our parable today is about more than just money or being rich. This parable is about the concept of abundance – and just how to reframe ourselves so that we act, breathe, and live through the reality of God’s abundance in our lives – even though that abundance can be very, very, hard to see.

So Jesus starts this parable in an interesting way. He doesn’t talk about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God – no, he’s instead building on what we heard last week – the parable of the bridesmaids with lamps and the final words from Jesus that we are called to “keep awake.” But instead of bridesmaids this week, we have a rich man, a journey, three slaves, and what happens when that rich man gives his slaves an incredible sum of money to watch over while he’s gone.

Now, we need to realize that when we hear the word “talent,” we’re not talking about an ability. The rich man doesn’t give one of his slaves five skills – like making him an incredible dancer or cook. No, a talent is an actual measure of wealth. So, for those of us who get a paycheck, social security, or maybe just an allowance, imagine if you reached into your pocket and found a roll of cash with 20 years of your wages on it. That’s one talent. So this rich man is about to take a journey and he gives one of his slaves 5 talents, another 2 talents, and the other 1. He’s giving away 100 years of wages, 40 years of wages, and then 20 years of wages. That’s how much money this guy has and he gives it to these three slaves with no instructions, no rules, no requirements. He just gives it away, leaves, and lets the slaves do what they wish.

Now what would you do if you suddenly had 100 years of wages in your hand right now?

Well, the first two slaves get busy. They go out, wheel and deal, and double their money. The slave with 100 years worth of money now has 200 and the slave with 40 now has 80. But the third one does something very different – he takes that money and buries it. Now, that might seem odd to us but burying money was something people did in Jesus’ time. That slave took the money and buried it to protect it so that none of it would be lost. He was given twenty years of wages and did nothing with it but he didn’t lose it.

So the rich man comes back and he asks his slaves what happened to the wealth he gave them. The first and second slave tell the rich man that they doubled his money and this makes the rich happy. He’s promises each slave that he’ll give them more responsibility, more wealth, more power in the future.

But the slave who hid that talent comes forward and, maybe noticing that the other two doubled their money, he begins to explain himself. Now, his explanation might seem a little odd to us – but it makes sense in his context. In Jesus’ time, it was believed that there was a finite and static amount of wealth in the world. If you made money, you had to have taken it from someone else. For this rich man to have his own swimming pool of gold and money, he must have taken all that money and gold from someone else. You only get wealthy if someone else gets poorer. And so this slave, thinking this way, was afraid. The rich man got wealthy by taking from others – and this slave was afraid of what would happened if he ended up with no money left – if he ended up making someone else richer and the rich man poorer. So the slave played it safe and brought back the talent to this rich man.

And then the rich man does something strange. He gets mad.

We need to be careful at this point to not focus too much on the success of the other two slaves. Sure, they doubled their money and the rich man seems happy about that – but that rich man gets angry with his third slave not over money but because of the slave’s inaction.

If we go back to the start of the parable, we see that each slave was given a certain amount of wealth according to their ability. The rich man doesn’t need more money. He’s going on a trip – and his slaves don’t even think about taking his money or running away or buying their freedom and no longer being slaves. This rich man is so comfortable in his position of authority and power, that more money, more wealth, won’t change who he is or what he can do. Instead, he gives out of his abundance to these slaves and gives them no instructions. Instead, he portions out the wealth in the amounts that he knows they could do something with. So when the rich man looks at that third slave and gets angry – he even tells the slave that the least he could have done was do something that writings in the Old Testament are very much against – and that’s put the money in the bank to get interest.

Now, this isn’t a parable about money or our material wealth. This is a parable about living out of a place of abundance. That third slave was locked in a mindset of scarcity. He was worried about what would happen when he lost it all. But the rich man didn’t need more money and the slaves didn’t need more money either. Money isn’t what defined them because money wasn’t really what they were given. What they were given was abundance – and they were challenged to live out of that abundance rather than out of their fear of losing it.

That challenge – to live out of a sense of abundance – that was difficult in Jesus’ time and it’s difficult in ours too. Turn on the tv to BBC America and watch an episode of Top Gear – and we’ll see an amazing car that we might never be able to afford. Open our mail and there might be a medical expense, some credit card debt, a student loan payment, or another reminder that we’re not as abundant as we’d like. And isn’t there always another thing on our unending to-do list? Another kid to pick up, homework to turn in, project to finish, errand to run, or challenge to overcome. Time and money, these define our sense of abundance. We’ve got too much to do, not enough time to do it, and not enough money to really live the life we expect.

Scarcity can feel very much like a squeezing – like trying to tread water during a tropical storm. The instinct is to turn inward, to conserve, to draw our arms tight around ourselves and push everyone out. The fear of being swamped by one more wave – one more bill – one more unexpected experience – turns us to just go ahead and protect ourselves. We bury our ability to take risks, our ability to change, our willingness to try something we haven’t tried before because we’re too busy trying to not lose what we have around us.

But that’s not what God has in mind for us.

This text isn’t about scaring us – this text is about giving shape to where the Christian life begins which is firmly in the one who, when nailed to the Cross, looked like the complete opposite of abundance – the opposite of security – he was the pure essence of scarcity – abandoned by his friends, arrested and tortured by the ones who occupied his homeland, and he felt completely abandoned by the God of us all – the Christian life begins there – in the one who was broken but who was about to do a very brand new thing. The text isn’t telling us to be afraid of brokenness or to never be afraid at all. We’re human – we’re going to feel fear – we’re going to be scared – but fear, failure and scarcity doesn’t define us. Fear, failure, and scarcity doesn’t make us who we are. And we shouldn’t let those limit whose we are.

[9:00 AM
So, if we take that jump and try to live out of a sense of abundance – what would that actually look like? One way might be is to talk about the gifts that God gives us – those talents or abilities we have that others don’t – and that we should use those to further God’s kingdom in the world. But I’m not convinced that’s what Jesus is doing here. I don’t think Jesus is talking about abilities and skills or even money – Jesus, instead, is challenging that underlying sense of scarcity that turns us inwards, keeps our eyes firmly on ourselves. We don’t see our friend in need because we don’t have time to give them a call. We don’t see our family in distress because we’re too busy driving to the next event, to that next thing. We don’t see the stranger suffering because we’re just so tired that trying to get to know someone new is just something we can’t do. But that’s what a vision of scarcity does. And the truth is that we’re not living a life in scarcity because we’ve been brought into the life of the one who can only be abundant. Brokenness doesn’t define us – Resurrection does. The invitation, then, is to live that Resurrection out – to reach out to that friend, to take a breath and look, really look, at our spouse, child, brother, or sister – and to learn the name of the person sitting next to you – to be abundant in the face of scarcity because, like the leaves outside, piled in the street, in our yards, and on our cars – we are claimed by that God whose love for us, for our friends, for our neighbors, and for the entire world is abundantly boundless.

Amen. ]

[10:30 AM baptism
In a minute, we’re going to get a little abundant in our life together here at Christ Lutheran Church. I’m going to invite Jackson to come on up here with his family and sponsors and we’re going to baptize him. We’re going to bear public witness to God’s love of Jackson, God’s claiming of Jackson, God’s promise to make Jackson brand new. And we’re going to do it in a very scarce way. We’ll use only a few words – only a few prayers – and we’ll only use a little bit of water in our small font. Yet, in these very small and ordinary things, we’re going to live abundantly. We’re going to hear God’s promise to Jackson to always be by his side. We’re going to hear about God’s promise to lead the son Jackson to the Son on the Cross. We’re going to hear about God’s promise to love Jackson not because Jackson will always be perfect but because God’s promises are. We’re going to proclaim that God’s abundant care for this world is going to be shown in this little bit of water, this little bit of words, and this little human being. We’re going to show that abundance isn’t defined by quantity – it isn’t defined by absurd numbers or extravagance. No, the abundance that we proclaim, the abundance that we live into, the abundance that feeds us, nourishes us, and changes us – that’s God’s abundance.

We’re invited to continue to live out that sense of abundance. We’re called to not let scarcity define us. We’re told to not conserve but to share, not to hold back but to proclaim, not to retreat but to go out, to meet our neighbors in Woodcliff Lake, Hillsdale, Park Ridge, and beyond – to know them – know their communities – know their needs, hopes, wants, troubles, sorrows, and joys – and to live abundantly with them not because we’re perfect or because we’re fearless or because we’re always going to double our money and never fail. No, we live abundantly because, like the leaves outside that are piled in the street, in our yards, and on our cars – we are claimed by that God whose love for us, for our friends, for our neighbors, and for the entire world is completely, 100%, totally boundless. To love – that’s our invitation, that’s our calling, and Jackson – that’s your calling too. We welcome you to a new experience and a new life that calls all of us to be, do, and explore the world as abundantly brand new.

Amen. ]

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Between Now and Tomorrow

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13

My sermon from 22nd Sunday After Pentecost (November 9, 2014) on Matthew 25:1-13. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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“Keep awake….” that’s that start of our last line from Matthew today. “Keep awake – for you know neither the day or the hour.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever someone tells me to keep awake, to be alert, to be ready, I get a little anxious. I get a little concerned that maybe I’m not ready, maybe I’m not prepared for what’s to come. Even though I’m no longer a student in school, I still suffer from those nightmares, you know the ones, where we’re in highschool and it’s finals week and we walk into class for a test we’re totally not prepared for. Or, sometimes, I find myself having to take a final for a class I didn’t even know I was registered for until that last day. Every time I have these nightmares, I wake up to find myself a little sweaty, my heart kinda pounding, and the rest of the day just feels incredibly unsettled. So when I hear these words from Jesus about being ready – about being alert – I have flashbacks to those nightmares – to that anxiety – and I wonder, in this parable, just what can I stand on?

Because when we dig into the parable, a lot of odd things pop out. We have ten bridesmaids who are sent out to meet a bridegroom. They all have lamps and they’re suppose to meet this guy and escort him back to the party. So they all get to the prearranged meeting spot and – … – the bridegroom is not there. So these ten bridesmaids wait…and wait…and wait. They wait so long, they all just fall asleep.

But then, in the middle of the night, they hear a shout that the bridegroom is on his way. They wake up, get ready to escort this guy to the party, when five of them notice that they don’t have enough oil to keep their lamps lit. They ask to borrow some oil from the others but they’re refused. So these five bridesmaids without oil leave to go buy some and while they’re gone, the bridegroom arrives and he and the five remaining bridesmaids head to the party. The five without oil buy what they need and head back to the party, only to discover that the bridegroom not only left them, he’ll no longer let them in. They’re locked outside the party forever.

So, what gets me about all of this is that there isn’t anyone in this parable that I can really get behind. First, we have a bridegroom who is late to his own party and he doesn’t even apologize for being late. His lateness is the reason the oil runs low for some and we have no idea why he’s late. Second, when the bridesmaids are getting ready, the wise – those who brought extra oil – they not only refuse to share, they convince the other five to leave their meeting place and go out to buy more oil. When they leave, the bridegroom arrives and instead of waiting for the other bridesmaids to return – which might be the nice thing to do – they all just take off. Even the wise bridesmaids don’t tell the bridegroom to wait – they just all get up and go. There are plenty of opportunities in this story for a little patience, a little forgiveness, a little thoughtfulness – but when I share this story with my toddler, who do I want him to be like? Like the ones who don’t have enough oil, or the ones who won’t share, or the bridegroom who is late and doesn’t seem to wait? All we seem to get, really, is one set of bridesmaids labeled wise, another set labeled foolish, and we’re left wondering where we are in all of this. Are we wise? Are we foolish? When we head to God’s great party, are we going to be let in or are we gonna be stuck on the outside, knocking on that door forever?

Now, this parable is a story – it moves – and it brings us somewhere. But these last words from Jesus – “keep awake…” – they occur after the parable ends. They are, in one verse, Jesus’ exposition of what this parable means. We’re left at the end with a locked door, a party on one side, and a group of bridesmaids talking to the bridegroom on the other. Now, we can focus on that ending – on that locked door – on what that party on the otherwise is like – but maybe Jesus’ words provide us with an opportunity to take a step back and see this parable from another angle.

Those words – keep awake – now, there’s only one part of the parable that has anything doing with wakefulness or sleepiness. And it occurs before the bridegroom is met, before the oil runs out, before the bridesmaids don’t share or send each other away. Before the real nastiness of the parable begins, we find our ten bridesmaids all gathered together, at the expected place – waiting and waiting and waiting. Before their actions can define them as either wise or as foolish, they are all standing there together, waiting for their bridegroom to come – with their lamps ready.

And then they fall asleep.

It’s easy, I find, in our faith lives, to be asleep. Wise, or foolish, there are moments we all share when the experiences of our lives devour our faith. On top of the moments of pain and loss that we experience, we also have those little moments – those everyday moments – that cause our spirituality to be put on the backburner. We’ve all got too much to do and not enough time to do it. Rushing to get our kids to school, to the next activity, to get ourselves to the office, or the next job, or just to the next project or problem to solve – it’s easy to just blow past our faith life – to be, in a sense, too busy for faith. And as that next project, next responsibility, next priority, takes our focus, time, and energy, our faith life slowly goes dormant. Our prayers to God become shorter. Our time in worship becomes less. Our stories to one another about our experiences with God become quiet. We find ourselves going full speed forward, wise or foolish, old or young, onto the next thing and letting our time with God fall by the wayside.

It’s hard to think of ourselves as needing to be awoken when we’re so busy, we never have time to sleep – but Jesus’ words – to keep awake – isn’t about being roused from our slumber but to be mindful that we have already been awoken. Like those bridesmaids, we have been invited out, to go meet the bridegroom and, in our baptism, to remember that we have already been claimed by God. We have already been gifted the beginning of faith. We’ve already been given the spark needed to stay awake.

And as beloved children of God, we’re called to a state of active wakefulness. It’s a call to pay attention to God, to pay attention to ourselves, to pay attention that our wholeness rests not in how many items we get off our bucket list or how many unique check-ins we make on Facebook that makes our friends jealous – Jesus’ words are a reminder that our faith life, our life with God, needs engagement, needs focus, needs time. When we focus too much on the the end of the parable, on that locked door, we forgot about that middle part – that waiting. We skip over the time in the parable and just rush to get to that final event – to that next project – we end up doing what we always do – rushing through the parable rather than living with it. Jesus’ words are a reminder that our life as beloved children of God is less about the completing of tasks or checks on a checklist – but more about living into God’s activity, God’s future, and as one commentator said, more about actively living into the expectation that God will make all things new.

The Christian life is a waiting life. Stirred by God’s grace, we are pointed to the next big thing, to the promise that God will, and does, make all things new. But we’re not called to a passive waiting or a rushed waiting either – no, we’re called to be awake – to be like those bridesmaids while they wait – gathered with each other before the bridegroom, before God, with our lamps lit, ready to be fed by God and ready to respond to God’s call to gather into the world, into the darkness, into places where we might be incredibly uncomfortable – and to carry Christ’s light of love, mercy, care, and forgiveness.

We are called to be Christ’s light in the world – a light that burns brightly – but one that is constantly fueled, charged, and ready to engage with whoever and whatever comes our way. That doesn’t mean that we’ll always be faithful or that we’ll never doubt or that we’ll never forget to say our daily prayers – but it does mean that we don’t let apathy or habit or distance from our faith keep us from seeing what God is doing in our lives. When we open the bible and read, we are trusting in God’s wakefulness. When we share our faith life with our children and pass our faith down to them, we are participating in that active expectation that God isn’t done with us yet. Forgiving sins, sharing in the body and blood of Christ, baptizing children and adults into the church – we are resting firmly on that hope – on that call from Jesus to be awake – to be prepared – to keep making time for our faith because God continues to make time for us. So, wise or foolish, with oil or without, and even if we feel like we’re heading into our highschool classroom to take a test we never studied for or never even knew we had – we go awake. We go in hope. We go in faith that God is making all things new. “Keep Awake” – Jesus says – because God isn’t done with us yet.

Amen.

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The After Party

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:31-36/blockquote>

My sermon from Reformation Sunday. (October 26, 2014) on John 8:31-36.

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One Coin

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15-22

My sermon from 19th Sunday after Pentecost (October 19, 2014) on Matthew 22:15-22.

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Brand New Threads: A sermon on Confirmation Sunday.

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Matthew 22:1-14

My sermon from the 18th Sunday After Pentecost (October 12, 2014) on Matthew 22:1-14.

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Fruit By the Foot

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet

Matthew 21:33-46

My sermon from 17th Sunday after Pentecost (October 5, 2014) on Matthew 21:33-46.

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