Archive for June, 2018

Matthew 25:24-30

June 29, 2018

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 25:24-30

Now we come to the twist in the story. If this was a movie, here the soundtrack would change from the light-hearted joy of the master and the servants celebrating their mutual successes in doubling their talents to something more ominous. Duh duh duh dahhh…..

The first thing we notice is that the description of the master offered by this final slave doesn’t quite fit the actions of the master we have seen thus far. He showed great trust in his servants to take appropriate care of the assets entrusted to them. He rewarded them handsomely for their efforts. But this final slave doesn’t see that in his master at all.

There is a disconnect between the master as he is in the real world and the master that exists in the minds’ eye of this third slave. To him, the master is harsh and greedy. He was afraid so he took the easy way out. He buried his talent for safe-keeping to make sure he could return it intact. At least he was honest about it. But then he loses everything. His fears are confirmed. The master does appear cruel and capricious.

We saw this ending coming from the very start. The other two went to work, the third buried his talent. Right at that point we knew that this wasn’t going to end well for him. He failed in his imagination even before he picked up the shovel to bury his talent. He had already decided there was no pleasing this evil master so he didn’t even try. He took the easy way out. In digging a hole for his talents he failed to see that he was already digging a hole for himself.

How does the ending of the story sound in your ears? Just or unjust? Fair or unfair? How does the story leave you feeling about the master? Is he, or isn’t he, the kind of master you want to work for?

I once worked for a boss who struck fear in the hearts of all of us. He was a gifted, talented, visionary man but he was also moody and quick to get angry. (Many people might have seen the same things in their parents.) If he showed up and we were hard at work, all was well. But if we were loafing, just seeing his car coming down the road made a pit in my stomach. We jumped into action, looking busy. That was the worst part of that job.

We could cynically say, “Well, that sounds about right. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Everybody gets what they deserve. Like it or not, life is a meritocracy and to the victor goes the spoils. You get what you work for and, if you don’t work, you’re gonna get it.”  Is that really the way the world works? Is that really the world we want to live in?

Maybe that is how Jesus intends for us to hear the story – it both encourages and troubles us. We’re drawing ever closer to the end (of this stage) of the Jesus story. At this point his disciples have largely been around for the ride. Maybe this story is intended to wake them up, to shake them up. I know that is what it does to me.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we see all of these slaves in ourselves. Sometimes, and in some places in our lives, we are bold and full of confidence. In others, we are fearful, lazy. We don’t want to be useless and we certainly don’t want to wake up on a trash heap. Come to us in our imaginations that we might see your love for us, toward us. Take away our fear that we might be freed to do what lies ahead of us, what only we can do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Matthew 25:19-23

June 28, 2018

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.’ Matthew 25:19-23

As I shared yesterday, we use the word “talent” today to refer to something that a person is good at, something they are gifted at doing. In Jesus’ day, it was a unit of measurement. A talent of gold today would be worth more than $1 million. Consider that and you will realize the cartoonish character of this parable. Cartoonish not in terms of funny or silly, but more in the way of a political cartoon – biting.

Imagine hearing this story from Jesus’ own mouth. Instead of doing what we do as we read them from the Bible – we immediately, without conscious thought, spiritualize them so that the master is “God” and the slaves are “us” – the first hearers might have heard them at face value. They would have realized that the master was crazy.

No master in their right mind would leave that kind of money with his slaves and then disappear for a long time, at least long enough to allow them to double his money. If not crazy, then the master must have been incredibly trusting, and the slaves trustworthy. Imagine that. There lies the bite.

While we might like to live in a world like that, we know that isn’t how life normally works.

Another way to hear this story, rather than a business transaction, is to hear it as an argument from the lessor to the greater, as a test of the trustworthiness of the slaves. If they prove faithful in some measure, they will gain greater responsibilities.

Once again, even here, the master is taking a huge risk. They might fail. He might lose everything.

So, in the end, is this a story about the master or a story about the slaves? Call it a test or call it a deal, the master remains a crazy risk-taker. Have you ever imagined God as a crazy risk-taker?

Do you trust that God knows what God is doing in creating you, gifting you, deploying you in the world as an agent of God’s love? Use well your gifts, good and trustworthy servant.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, while our shortcomings and limitations might never be far from our minds, the scariest parts of us are our possibilities and capabilities, all gifts from you. We love because you first loved us. Love is crazy. Love takes risks. Love means letting go. When we love others, what we give away is doubled. May we love today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 25:14-18

June 27, 2018

“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.” Matthew 25:14-18

I love David Letterman’s new show on Netflix. He interviews interesting people. The other day I watched his interview with Jerry Seinfeld. At one point, as Jerry is showering praise on Letterman for the cultural contributions he made, Letterman – in classic Midwestern fashion – does the “awshucks, go on, it was nothing” thing. Letterman says his career was “selfish.” Immediately Seinfeld challenges him. To Seinfeld, the work they did was generous.

Seinfeld said that it is like God gives you a “talent horse” and then your job is to ride it where it takes you. It took both of them to a place where they made people laugh. That was their contribution to the world. It was worthwhile.

The “talents” in this story don’t refer to the same kind of talents that Seinfeld. These talents refer to very large sums of money. But – for Seinfeld at least – those two things go together. He had to work very hard for a long time to make it as he did…but so does someone who shingles homes in the Texas sun. They too have a talent. They too might use it to the best of their ability. They might do OK but they aren’t going to get Seinfeld rich doing it.

So the world then jumps in and decides that the roofer “got by” while Seinfeld was a “huge success.” But that isn’t what the parable says.

Yes, it does say that the talents were unequal…but that isn’t to say that the wise manager wasn’t shrewd enough to realize which of his servants had the right “talent horse” to do the most with what he was given. And I don’t know how long the master was away but doubling one’s money is quite the profit.

But the point…don’t we all see it?…is the poor guy who was afraid of the boss so he put the money away for safekeeping only to end up losing everything.

I don’t know what you’re good at, or what you are passionate about, or how much money you make, or how much money you started life with…but the warning in this text is not to bury it because you fear the boss. The boss is a GOOD boss! The boss is a GRACIOUS boss! The boss LOVES YOU! Make the most OF your life for others…which has little or nothing to do with what you make IN your life for your boss, yourself, or anyone else.

Let us pray: Thank you Lord for entrusting the gift of life to us and for giving us gifts that allow us to be useful, helpful, loving, and just with others. Help us make the most of our gifts. And if we already have something buried in the backyard, let today be the day we dig it back up and do our best with it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 25:1-13

June 26, 2018

“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

I got stuck after Easter. I’m very grateful to the members of Faith who wrote daily devotions for the Easter season. It is much easier to send out devotions when someone else is writing them and what they all, all from their own hearts and points of view, were very good. Then, when I turned back to Matthew to pick up the story, I got stuck.

Then I got stuck in the hospital. I went through a major surgery that I didn’t see coming that really knocked the wind out of my sails. Like everyone else, it wasn’t the hours that I spent in surgery that was the problem, it was the weeks of recovery that I only foggily remember. But now I’m much better, back at work, and back at my computer first thing every morning.

I still found myself stuck on this opening story in the 25th chapter of Matthew. I really don’t know what to make of it. I read it and I realize that weddings in the Bible are always significant and always a metaphor directed toward God. I have read about the multi-day nature of weddings in Jesus’ day but that doesn’t help. Because I can’t seem to get past those foolish bridesmaids who find themselves locked out of the wedding feast because they didn’t think to fill their lamps with oil.

All of my life I have heard people talk about the Christian faith in a way that makes it seem very logical, very biblical, to see life in such a way that is very OK with the idea that the wise get the goodies and the foolish get the shaft. Sorry, foolish bridesmaids, you don’t get to come in. Like the Titanic, this world is going down and the wise have hopped into the Jesus lifeboat while the foolish plunge into the sea. I am not OK with that. It is amazing grace that saves a wretch like me, not my own wisdom to keep my lamp filled with oil.

There is a way of reading this story that pours fuel on the fires of Christian entitlement, Christian privilege, and Christian arrogance. It is almost an anti-Christian story in that, in my mind, the Christian thing to do is to share my oil with those who don’t have enough, or to let them take my lamp and head to the party.

So I get stuck on this story (and those which follow) which Jesus told at a critical time in his life. Or, at least, which Matthew places in a strategic moment in Jesus’ life. The cross is just around the corner. The first will be last. All is not as it seems.

Let us pray: Keep us awake, Lord Jesus, even when we feel stuck in our ways of thinking, seeing, and being. Keep us awake and open, Lord Jesus, that we not miss your party nor content ourselves with the idea that it is OK that others do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.