"Entrusted With Riches"
The First United Presbyterian Church
“Entrusted With Riches”
Rev. Amy Morgan
November 8, 2020
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19 "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
22 "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
23 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
24 "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
26 "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 " 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
Some weeks I wish you all could see what I see. Some weeks I’m glad you don’t have to. But this week, I have to share with you a few of the experiences I wish you could all have shared. On Monday, I received numerous calls, texts, and emails from folks who were praying for our brother, Michael, as he struggled with COVID-19, asking how they could help or what they might bring him. Michael, meanwhile, is concerned with making sure the church gets properly aired out and sanitized as he recovers. Our liaison at the City of Loveland and folks on the Building and Grounds team continued to lay the groundwork for a homeless shelter in our basement this winter. On Tuesday evening, I received a phone call from one of the leaders at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Detroit, thanking us for the flood of per capita donations they have received and asking how we can deepen the relationship between our two churches. Throughout the week, folks like Sara and Marge and Sherry all helped prepare for the packing of Advent kits for the congregation, and the youth came on Saturday morning to assemble them. Choir members recorded their parts for an intergenerational virtual choir, and Steve and Jeannie came to church Saturday to record the kids for their next video.
The best moment came Wednesday morning, when Jason told me about the re-installation of our church bell. For those of you who don’t know, our historic bell was damaged when it fell out of its cradle during a storm last fall. In the spring, the bell was shipped to the Verdin Bell Company in Ohio for repairs. It was returned a couple of weeks ago, with a new clapper and an all new frame and mounting hardware. Wednesday morning, an installer from Verdin, a crane company, and several members of the Building and Grounds team arrived at the church for the installation. The folks next door at Lundeen loaned us their forklift for free. The crane company knocked hundreds of dollars off the cost of the crane, and one of the operators decided to donate his labor. And when the installation was complete and the bell was ready to ring – it happened to be exactly 11:11 on November 11, Veterans’ Day. In Loveland, at 11:11 on Veterans’ Day, there is a flyover and bells are rung all over town. So at that exact moment, our bell was able to join in, rung by the Verdin installer who happened to be a veteran himself.
I share these moments with you because they all illustrate the riches that are found in making risky investments for the sake of God’s kingdom. Perhaps none of these folks thought of what they were doing in that way. They were just caring for people they love, doing kind things, putting joy into the world, being generous. But I would argue that they were all making risky investments. They all had to put something out in the world that might not come back to them. Maybe it was only a little bit of time or a little bit of money or a little bit of compassion. But there was no guarantee of a return on investment. And instead of taking what little time, money, or love they might have and burying it in the ground, saving it in case they get too busy, in case the stock market tanks, in case they get emotionally depleted – they put it out in the world. And wonderful things happened this week because of them.
In Jesus’s parable, three servants are entrusted with enormous sums of money. One talanta, or talent, would be equivalent to about fifteen years of wages for a day laborer, which would be almost half a million dollars with today’s minimum wage. The master doesn’t tell the servants what to do with the money, but two of them put the money to work and reap huge returns. The third buries the money in the ground, which would have been considered a safe place to store your treasure in the first century. In the end, the master rejoices with the first two servants and gives them promotions. The third is chastised and punished for allowing his fear to inhibit his productivity.
Columbia Seminary Professor Mark Douglas asserts that this parable isn’t really about the first two servants. Because the dialogue is repetitive and formulaic, he insists that the servants who did well for their master don’t really matter. They’re not the point of the story.
But I would argue the opposite. The master’s reaction to the first two servants forms the centerpiece of the parable. There is a lot of dialogue, for a parable. These interactions come first and provide the positive example. And the first two servants make up the majority of the group. There are more faithful servants than wicked, lazy ones. These things deserve our attention.
That is why I led today with just a few examples of the people who are investing the riches of their lives and reaping rewards. And I think we need to take a moment, this week and every day, to say, “well done, good and faithful servants.”
None of us were entrusted with millions of dollars this week, at least not that I’m aware of. If you were, I would like you to call me right away. But we were all entrusted with something infinitely more valuable. I have a Frederick Buechner quote hanging on the wall of my home office that reads: “One life on this earth is all we get, whether it is enough or not enough, and the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.” We get one life. One beautiful, precious life. It has been entrusted to us. We did not earn it, and we cannot do anything to be more or less deserving of it.
The divine generosity depicted in this parable has been showered on each one of us. Each of our lives is an extraordinary gift and responsibility. And, just like the servants in the parable, we aren’t given explicit instructions for what to do with it. We are entrusted with the great richness of our lives, and it’s up to us to sort out what to do with it.
Following the example of the first two servants in the parable, we can invest our lives in those things that will garner returns for the reign of God. We can care for the precious lives around us, give generously of our time, our skills, our companionship, our wisdom, our energy, our love, and our resources. That is what most people are doing, that is the majority of Jesus’ disciples. And we should pay attention and notice this and be grateful for this.
But there will always be those disciples, and those times in each of our lives, where our pattern of stewarding the precious gift of our lives more closely models that third servant. For a time several years ago, it was popular for churches to run this experiment where the pastor would preach on this parable, and then they would give everyone in the congregation some money – anywhere from $5 to $500 – and tell them to go and invest it for the kingdom of God in the world. Some people successfully doubled or even tripled their money, asking for matching donations to the cause they chose to invest in. Some started non-profits or gave the money to organizations they believed are doing the work of God. But every time a church ran this experiment, some of the people did nothing. They pocketed the money and forgot about it, put it in their sock drawer, or never cashed the check. Maybe they didn’t believe the money could really make a difference. Maybe they were paralyzed by the thought of doing the wrong thing.
To me, this only serves to prove that this parable, like most of Jesus’ parables, is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Yes, we would all like to be those faithful servants who take risky ventures to grow the impact of the gospel in the world. But some of us will always be that third servant, the one who plays it safe and gets thrown into the outer darkness. All of us certainly have moments when we don’t rise to the occasion of our lives and feel left out and alone. But if all we take away from this parable is a fear of that outcome, fear that we will be the third servant and suffer his terrifying fate, we are missing the point. The reason the third servant hides the money instead of risking investing it is because he is afraid of the master. He has this image of the master as a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed. His fear paralyzes him and makes him useless. Fear is not the objective of this parable.
The prophesy of Isaiah was written in times of great fear throughout three distinct periods in the history of God’s people. The first part of Isaiah is written to a people in fear of attack, people willing to make a deal with the devil to save their collective hide. The second part of Isaiah, where we find the text we heard this morning, is written to a people who have been defeated, who are living in exile, fearful of losing their identity, their values, their faith. The third part of Isaiah is written as those exiles begin to return to the ruins of their former kingdom, fearful that they will never recover from the desolation of their homeland. Fear permeates each part of this prophesy. Fear that is real. Fear of loss of power, loss of place, loss of identity, loss of hope.
Prophesy often emerges in times of fear. Prophets are able to answer those hard questions fear brings up: “why is this happening?” “What are we supposed to do?” “How can we change our situation?” When we are tempted to place blame, find a scapegoat, entrench ourselves in seclusions of safety, prophets call us to see God’s plan, do God’s will, and live in new ways. Brian McLaren says that prophets are the custodians of the “best hopes, desires, and dreams of their society.”
Our calling today is to be those servants who invest all the riches entrusted to us in our precious lives for the growth of God’s redemptive reign. This is a difficult time to hear and understand that calling. People are afraid, and lonely, and alienated and deeply divided. People are suffering and dying. People are anxious and disappointed and angry.
And so there is no more important time than this for us to invest God’s riches. It will mean letting go and taking some risks. It will mean resisting the temptation to preserve what we have rather than risk investing it. Most of you are already doing this, and so I say again, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” You may be asked to assume even greater responsibilities because of your faithfulness, but you will also be rewarded with a closer relationship with God, the ability to do even greater good, experiencing more of the richness of the reign of God.And for those of us who have been hiding God’s riches, putting them in a safe place to gather dust, may this parable be a call to live as fully, bravely, and beautifully as we can. Your life is precious. Your life is a gift. Invest it wisely.
To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.