Monday, November 20, 2017

Sermon - November 19, 2017, Proper 28A

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, STS, November 19, 2017

‘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)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘I believe that God has created me together with all that exists.
God has given me and still preserves my body and soul;
eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses;
reason and all mental faculties.
In addition, God daily and abundantly provides
shoes and clothing, food and drink,
house and farm, spouse and children,
fields, livestock, and all property,
along with all that is necessary and needful for this body and life.
God protects me against all danger and defends and preserves me from all evil.
All this God does out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy,
without any worthiness or merit of mine at all!
I therefore owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
This is most certainly true.’

This part of Luther’s Catechism, explaining the first article of the Creed,
was memorized by children for generations.
It is a triumphant song of thanksgiving and trust in a good God
who provides for his people,
who gives them everything they need,
who acts as a loving father to his beloved children.
If we have this good God,
would we not as a natural response thank and praise, serve and obey him?
Loyalty begets loyalty.
Trustworthiness begets trust,
Faithfulness begets faith.

The first two slaves have these kinds of hearts.
Both the one entrusted with five talents of money
and the one entrusted with two talents
trust that the master knows what he is doing,
and that he desires not only his benefit,
but their benefit; their success.
They are quick to act because they have confidence.

I love words, and the word ‘confident’
combines the Latin prefix ‘con’
which can mean ‘with’ or ‘joining together;’
think ‘confluence’ or ‘conjoin’
with the word ‘fide’ which means ‘faith’ or ‘trust.’
The first two slaves act with confidence in the master,
their faith in him is joined up with his faith in them.

But the third slave in the parable Jesus tells
does not believe in the God Luther tells us about in the Catechism.
Listen to his words about the master in the parable:
‘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 hid what was yours in the ground.’

He who was given the one talent to trade with until his master returns
believes that the master does not provide for him,
is jealous of the gifts that the other two have received,
and believe that he has been set up to fail.
And so he does not thank and praise, serve and obey the master.
He does not act for the master’s advantage,
but for his own safety and security.

In fact, it is not the ability of the slaves
that is the true difference between them.
It is in their attitudes.
It is in their concepts of who their master is.
It is in their hearts.
It is in their confidence in the master.

But why should the third man be confident?
After all, he has not received the five talents, nor the two.
He has received one measly talent.
No wonder he has no faith in the master,
and has to put his faith in his own ability to keep himself safe.

The third slave accuses the master of being unjust.
Is this true?
True, the master does not give him as much money to trade with as he does the others,
but he gives ‘to each according to his ability.’
If the master were unjust,
if he truly were setting him up to fail,
he would have given ten talents to the man who only could have handled one.
So the accusation of injustice falls short of the mark.

I have, in the past, been critical of a popular phrase,
‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.’
If a person burdened with grief, depression, or fear
is given this slogan,
it might not be a helpful word.
But when we are faced with the question of who we are,
and called to invest our lives in God’s service,
it can be quite a helpful word.

God knows who we are,
God has created us,
Nothing we do in God’s service is wasted.
He frees us from worry about ourselves,
for he has given us gifts according to our abilities.
We can have confidence in him,
and therefore throw ourselves into the life that is joy;
a life of thanking and praising God,
serving and obeying him.

So what is your concept of God?
Who is the God you believe in?
Is it the one who is a hard master,
who will judge you for every mess-up you make,
and so it’s better not to reach out,
not to do something outside your comfort zone,
not to give away without hope of getting back,
not to risk getting hurt and being tired
and not knowing whether or not you’re doing the right thing?

Or is it the one who has created you,
who has given you everything you need to know him
and to love him and to love your neighbor as yourself?
Is it the one in whom you can put your confidence,
because when he tells you, ‘Do something for me,’
he has given you exactly what you need to do it?

Isn’t that a joyful vision of God?
When the master says to the faithful, to the confident slaves,
‘Enter into the joy of your master,’
it is because the slaves already were living in his joy.

Let’s not waste time thinking about the times
we have been fearful and self-invested,
because we’ve all been there.
At least I have been.
But let us joyfully and confidently confess,
‘For all that God has freely given out of pure, divine, and fatherly goodness and mercy,
I owe it to him to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
This is most certainly true.’