November 19, 2017
Matthew 25:14-30, Judges 5:1-10
“Return on God’s Investment”
Our readings today are about people who are given the opportunity to do something for God. The reading from Judges only comes around once every three years. The book of Judges contains the largest number of women characters of any book in the Bible. There are nineteen women in Judges. The song Frances read is about one of those women, Deborah, who was put in a position of leadership at a bad time in Israel’s history. One of the refrains in the book of Judges is “Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” The pattern in this book is Israel turning their backs on God, suffering mightily, crying out to God, and God sending them a judge (someone to arbitrate disputes) to lead them back to safety. The reading today is a song after one of those cycles and Deborah is the judge who is chosen to return the people to God. She leaves the safety of the tree where she is helping people navigate their disputes and goes to the center of the conflict where she reminds the people that God is out in front of them. Being chosen by God to lead did not exempt her from risk. In fact, she had to lead from the front lines, the riskiest place of all.
This is not just a nice story about Israel being restored to God. In fact, it is a terribly violent story of many lives lost and terrific suffering. We hear stories of violence and suffering every day. Who will step up in these violent times and help us find a peaceful way of being together in the world? How can each of us be part of creating peace in our world? This week, many people will gather around tables and give thanks. What will we thank God for? I’m guessing we will thank God for food, loved ones, and some of the other things that make our lives good.
What if we gave thanks for our lives and then we each set out to live in such a way that acknowledges the investment God has made in us? Cesar Chavez said, “When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are really all that belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are.”
In stewardship season, we start asking how much are we supposed to give? How much of our resources belong to God? I don’t think that is the right question. I believe that everything belongs to God. If our lives are God’s investment in us, how will we live?
We tend to get hung up on the three people in Matthew’s gospel and wonder why some got more talents than others. This isn’t a story about making money. It is about how we will live our lives. Look at the story again – everyone got something. The amounts were not the same, but the owner in the story has invested something in each person.
I can make a long list of all the gifts I didn’t get. It would be so easy to focus on what I can’t do and use that as an excuse to stay on the sidelines of life. But I do have a gift that I can use and when I use it, I know the world is better.
Tony Campolo told of meeting a woman who is confined to a wheelchair. Although Nancy had a handicapping condition, she developed a unique ministry to people who are lonely and hurting. Nancy ran ads in the personals section of the newspaper that read:
"If you are lonely or have a problem call me. I am in a wheelchair and seldom get out. We can share our problems with each other. Just call. I'd love to talk."
From that simple ad the results were truly amazing. Nancy receives at least thirty calls each week from persons who need someone to talk to and listen to their pain. Nancy spends most of her day comforting and counseling people. She has become someone for hundreds of people with problems to lean on.
Campolo asked her how she became handicapped. Nancy's answer surprised, even shocked him. "By trying to commit suicide," she said. Nancy went on to explain, "I was living alone. I had no friends. I hated my job, and I was constantly depressed." Nancy decided to jump from the window of her apartment to end it all. But instead of being killed, she ended up in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down. While she was in the hospital, Nancy said, "Jesus appeared to me and told me that I'd had a healthy body and a crippled soul but from then on I would have a crippled body and a healthy soul. I gave my life to Christ right there and then," she said. "When I got out of the hospital, I tried to think of how a woman like me in a wheel chair could do some good, and I came up with the idea of putting the ad in the newspaper." (Wake Up America! pp. 87-88)
God has invested something in every community of faith. What will we do with that investment? If Jesus showed up today, he wouldn’t want to know that we carefully kept everything as it was when he left, he would want to hear what we are doing with his investment in us. Three years ago, we were struggling financially and had a meeting after church to talk about our challenges. It was clear to me that God was not calling us to bury what we have in the ground and close our eyes hoping that everything would be safe. Instead, I believed then and I still do today, that we were being called to some risky places as a congregation. God didn’t give us a big safety net to move into the future. God simply placed the talents into our hands and called us to step out into the world. We were exploring the sanctuary movement that fall and preparing to come together as a congregation to make a decision. The need diminished in early 2015 and returned this year. We have spent the last several months exploring our role in caring for immigrants. If one talent can have a tremendous impact so can one person.
I wonder how many risks this congregation has taken in 137 years. It is rather ironic that the way to life is to risk offering what God has entrusted to us. The way to death is to play it safe and try and bury what we have been given in hopes that we will not lose it. God has given us great resources to be light and hope to the world. Look around the room and notice all that we have here. We can do so much together.
When Christ comes, he doesn’t want us to say, “Look, everything is just as it was when you left.” What do we do with the treasure entrusted to us? In a small Oklahoma town, oil was struck on church land. The church had a congregational meeting to decide what to do with the proceeds from the oil. They voted to pay off church debts, make some needed improvements to the church building, put a small nest egg in the bank, and then divide the remainder among the church members. As soon as that last decision was made, one of the members jumped up and yelled, “I move that we don’t take in any new members!”
If we feel like it is up to us alone, it is tempting to simply bury whatever we have in the ground and keep our head down. But it isn’t up to any one person. It is what we do together. Mark Nepo said, “We are here to love the light out of each other.” (The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, p. 257)
We may need to do some digging to get all those talents up, but they are worth more than gold. One talent was more than 15 years wages. When we start loving the light out of each other, we can make a profound impact. God has given each of us a beautiful life. May we live each day as an expression of our gratitude.