November 16, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Dare To Live!”
There was a man that I visited and chatted with on a regular basis. One of those conversations we were having involved a discussion about fear. In the midst of our words he spoke out and said: “It is not death that I fear! I know that I will be with God in Heaven; it’s life that I struggle with.” We went on to discuss this at great length. He was only one of the first to discuss this aspect of fear with me. I remember struggling with this conversation. If someone truly believes that they will be with God in Heaven when they die, then why would they have any fear at all? Overtime I have begun to realize that most of us, or at least a great many of us, have a similar view of life and death. I suspect that it is because we cannot fully grasp what death truly is. It is so far removed from our day to day struggles in life that we look to death as something that will be a release – a reward for a long hard battle through life. What a sad commentary on life.
In our gospel parable this morning we hear Jesus telling a story about servants that were given various portions of money to tend from their master, their boss. No details of instructions were outlined, leaving us to assume that they were all free to choose how to care for the large sums of money they were given. One ‘talent’ as referenced in our scripture was a “large monetary measurement equal to 6,000 drachmas or denarii, the Greek and Roman silver coins.” /Wikipedia/ So, it is safe to say ‘one talent’ was a large sum of money. In his usual fashion Jesus was using this common reference to money to illustrate a point; he was not trying to educate or instruct his disciples in regards to how to invest or use money. In the illustration the two servants that invested the money received praise for their efforts as-well-as promotions or rewards from their master, their boss. The servant that did nothing with the money and was fired, he lost his position within his master’s household, thus he was thrown out of the realm of protections his boss, his master offered.
As we look for the parallel meaning that Jesus intended for his disciples to understand, let us first take a closer look at the servant, the servant whom was given only one talent to care for. There are several ways to view this servant. Was he rebellious or was he fearful? Either way the crux of today’s message is in viewing this servant. If he was rebellious, as some progressive theologians would argue, then he was embolden in his actions; but if he was fearful he was not bold and he was not courageous. I am going to stick with the obvious picture, the most recognized interpretation that this parable portrays, I am saying that this servant whom was given one talent, displayed fear, he was not willing to risk using or investing his master’s money and possibly reaping a profit, for fear of losing it. The other servants, however, displayed courage and boldness as they invested and produced meaningful returns with their master’s money. From this point of view it is easy to draw an assumption that Jesus wanted and was looking for his disciples to have uniqueness, some individuality and true character; characteristics of boldness and courage!
Let us step away from Jesus’ parable for a moment.
What is it that draws people to Christianity? Well, certainly the whole concept that Jesus represents: freedom, for starters! Through Christ we are offered forgiveness of sins, forgiveness of our debts; and many of us would argue a whole lot more! In order to cash in on this freedom we need to take on the personalities of the two worthy servants that invested wisely. As Christians we may be wise to heed the advice that Robert Frost offers in these simple words: “Freedom lies in being bold.” In order to live the life of a Christian we will need to be bold in our interaction within the society and world we live in. Our understanding of God, God’s love, and social justice such as that to which Jesus aspired to, will take true boldness and tenacity to fully live into. We will need to display the traits of a Christian, based on the expectations that Jesus puts upon us via today’s parable.
Johann Wolfgang (von Goethe), of the 19th Century once said: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” As we began our journey into Christianity we came to know of the teachings contained within the gospels, as-well-as the Old Testament and the letters and writings within the New Testament. In so doing we acquired knowledge. As we mature in our faith we become willing to live the life of a Christian; however, that simply is not enough! We most fully embrace life and do so boldly! We must do something about passing the love of God to others! We must be willing to stand up and speak out for the marginalized, and the oppressed. Make no mistake, we shall be judged by our God when we stop short of taking action!
Let me take us back to my conversations with folks regarding life and death. I know you don’t want me to, yet if I as your pastor do not, who shall? There are several ways to view death. The first is as the atheist, who does not believe in God at all; so they say. This person lives life believing that when the end of their life comes, bang, that’s it; game over nothing else happens. Even the skeptics and agnostics struggle with that finality. The agnostic actually believes in something; they argue that God’s existence has not or cannot be proven; they neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of God. This leaves me speculating that many agnostics, like so many people we know, are unsure about what happens after they die. In all due respect, this is a great place to start, and with their own words they leave the door to eternal life wide open!
To those of us who have acquired faith and have come to believe in the Almighty, the God of our understanding, the Heavenly Creator, we have come to believe that there is an Entity, whom we worship as a Deity, and for us Christians, we believe our Holy One, is our Savior, our Messiah. We have come to know God via many different images: The Heavenly Father, The Son of God, the Living Spirit of Christ, and we believe that they are all One God. They each represent one of many aspects of how we view God. We do acknowledge that we have given our God many names. And let me simply add, no name is incorrect or wrong; neither is any view of God via the various lenses and angles we use incorrect! As believers we have our faith, our traditions and our understanding of the scriptures to guide our visions of God. Surely we have many and various views of heaven and life after death, but we all agree it does not end when we let go of our earthly vessels. There surely is something beyond that last breath of life. On this, we hang our faith.
It is fair to say that people of faith use their belief to prepare themselves, ourselves, for what happens after death; thus we are at peace with this and pursue our understanding of God with enthusiasm. Yet, it is my observation, and I suspect that I am only one of a vast gathering of witnesses that observe that many believers somehow disconnect their zealous faith when it comes to living life! This is greatly puzzling and of major concern! If we have come, through Christ, to fully believe in God’s promise, the promise that we shall have a place in Heaven, thus life eternal, then why, why do we struggle so with living life? Why is it that we become so unsure of God’s promise in life, and why do we become unwilling to step out and take the risk and invest in life more fully! This is the point that we are lifting up from our lesson today! That is exactly what the servant that hid the one talent felt! He was afraid! He did not dare to live and take a risk!
Let’s view this from a different aspect. Before my calling into ministry became formal I worked, as a great many of you do or have, in the world of business and commerce. I studied in college and beyond all about how to be successful. I attended every seminar available about how to be all that I could be! But, the best advice I ever received was from a close friend. We talked one night at length. It was at a time when one of my ventures into high-end sales had not worked out quite the way I had envisioned, which is an understatement to say the least. My friend told me he was a self-made millionaire, and then went on to tell me how many more millions of dollars he had made and then lost due to bad investments and simply bad business decisions on his part, and at one point became penniless. Then he went on to tell me the difference between a failure and a success: “A failure picks himself up after his latest defeat and with tenacity pulls himself together; then boldly pushes forward; gleaning and learning all that he can from the previous mistakes and moves forward!” My friend left me there to ponder, for myself, his self-proclaimed words of wisdom.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” /Anaïs Nin (AnaÔs Nin), a 20th Century writer/ This statement by a journalist in the Twentieth-Century gives us yet another way to see into this concept we are exploring today. When we step out and take a risk, perhaps trying a new methodology in one or more of our Ministries; such as embracing bold new initiatives within our Outreach and Educational Ministries; Seeking out new ways to feed the hungry and the homeless; while focusing on becoming more attractive to families and children. We must believe that all is possible by relying on the knowledge of God’s grace and love, supported by the urgings of the Living Spirit of Christ to move into action. We can expand the fullness of our lives exponentially becoming larger thus touching more lives – as our spiritual wellbeing also expands and becomes larger! Or, fearful of change, we can back away from trying new things and watch as our efforts at passing our faith to the next generation, our efforts to feed the hungry shrink and lose their effectiveness.
Our God through Christ has entrusted us with much. Let us not shrink away from using what we have, but rather use it fully investing in the future of this our church! Let us dare to live the life ‘worthy’ of the One who has entrusted us with life!
Let us now hear and receive the words of Jesus, found in these verses of scripture, from the Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 25 verses 14 through 30.
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
20 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 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.’ 23 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.’ 24 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 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? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Allow that God may bless your hearing and your understanding of these ancient and holy words of scripture.