Monthly Archives: November 2014

“Encourage One Another” 11.16.14 Sermon

Matthew 25:14-30 • November 16, 2014

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Last week we heard the parable of the bridesmaids – some who were wise and some foolish. The foolish ones are locked out of the wedding banquet. Today, we hear about a wealthy man, three of his slaves, and talents. In the end, one slave is thrown into the outer darkness.

After we have heard these gospel readings I proclaim – The gospel of the Lord, which literally means that the words we have just heard are good news from our Lord. To which I have received a less than enthusiastic thanks be to God. I don’t blame you. This is good news? This is the gospel of our Lord. Really?

So, let’s do a little review from last week. This text comes in a section of Matthew’s gospel with four parables from Jesus about the final judgment and some sort of separating between who is in and who is out of the kingdom. The first one is about wise and foolish slaves, the second is about wise and foolish bridesmaids, today’s is about the use and misuse of talents by a rich guy’s slaves, and the final one uses goats and sheep to illustrate the judgment of the nations. Needless to say, this is a challenging set of parables from our savior in this section of the good news of our Lord.

Today’s parable uses the word talent a lot. What many of us think about when we hear the word talent in today’s world is a person’s ability to do something and to do it well. Popular shows like American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent have increased this understanding of the word. BUT – that is not what talent in today’s gospel reading is referring to. A talent, as it is referred to in our gospel reading, is money. A sum of money that is equivalent to around 6,000 denarii. One denarii was about one day’s wages. Needless to say, one talent is A LOT of money. And five talents is an INCREDIBLE amount of money. An amount of money that would far exceed the earning ability of an entire lifetime for nearly every human being in Jesus’ day – especially a slave.

Here’s what this might look like today. The current median annual household income in Burleigh County is around $59,000 – a daily wage of approximately $226. By my rough guesstimate, that is around $1.35 million per talent. In today’s money, the first slave was given around $6.75 million, the second around $2.7 million, and the third around $1.35 million. Obviously, Matthew wants us to understand that the amount of money being entrusted to these three slaves is not insignificant.

So, yes, I am one of your pastors, and, yes, I am once again talking about money. Because one of the things I want us to hear today is that I believe Matthew wants us to understand just how important money and our use of money was to Jesus and to our life as people who claim to follow this Jesus. But, money is not all I hear in this parable.

Theologian Thomas Long offered a bold statement about this parable that is just as chilling and direct as the final verse of the text. A verse that sends the third slave into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I think Long’s reflection give us perspective on this parable in a way that you and I as followers of Jesus, beloved children of God, living out our faith in North Dakota in 2014 might be able to hear better. Long states that, “to be a child of the generous, gracious, and life-giving God and, nonetheless, to insist upon viewing God as oppressive, cruel, and fear provoking is to live a life that is tragically impoverished. While those who trust in God’s generosity find more and more of that generosity; but for those who run and hide under the bed from the bad, mean, and scolding, God, they condemn themselves to a life spent under the bed alone, quivering in endless fear.”

How is God flowing through you today? Is God’s presence in your life causing the abundant and unconditional love and generosity of God to multiply through you in unexpected, amazing, and unending ways, OR, is God’s presence in your life causing fear and trembling that makes you bury all the ways that God blesses you in the ground or hide it under your mattress?

Mark Twain once said that, “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” There’s an old story of a pastor who, to show his reliance on God, entered the pulpit to preach his sermon after very little time spent in preparation – trusting that God would tell him what to say. After a silent prayer for guidance, he waited for God to speak to him so he could begin. God spoke to him alright. And the divine word that God said to him was, “You are lazy.”

How much of the problem with the church today and the Christian movement in the world is due to “lazy” pastors? Or “lazy” congregation members? Or a complete lack of ambition among any number of other children of God. Can a pious-sounding “I’m waiting on the Lord.” be a sign of laziness? Of burying the talents we are given – whether talents are gifts that we have been given to share with others or money that we’ve been entrusted to use wisely to bless and serve others?

Martin Luther often told people to “Sin boldly!” Maybe that could be paraphrased for you and I today, and used in light of the parable that’s before us as “get off your butt and do something”

The tragedy in all of this is that you and I are often filled so full of fear over doing something wrong, that we fail to do anything at all. So, here’s the challenge I’d like to present to each and every one of us who have made the effort to worship God on this incredibly cold November day, children of God who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus the Christ even when you aren’t sitting in a church.

This week, when you see a brother or sister in Christ trying to bury God’s love for all of God’s children in the dirt or hide the abundance of God’s grace and mercy for them under a mattress, don’t throw them into the outer darkness – there is already way too much weeping and gnashing of teeth taking place in the world today. Instead, as the apostle Paul so often said, encourage one another and build each other up.

Encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ to stop living their life of faith in fear of a brutal, mean, punishing God. What comes from God is good. And the goodness that we receive from God is far more abundant than you or I will ever need. God’s goodness, given for our use. Use with our time. Use with our gifts. Use with our money. Brothers and sisters in Christ, use it wisely. Amen.


“Waiting Together” 11.09.2014 Sermon

“Waiting Together” • Matthew 25:1-13 • November 9, 2014

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

Let’s take a quick poll. How many like to wait? Waiting in line. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for your friend or spouse or co-worker or children. Waiting.

I get a lot of top 10 type of lists from folks in my email inbox or through my Facebook and Twitter news-feeds. You know the lists, 5 ways to become a better parent today or 10 ways to be a more effective leader or 10 things that every person should do before they die. This week I got one that I thought fit our gospel reading from Saint Matthew. The 10 best things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk.

Here are a few of them –

“They told me at the blood bank this morning that something like this might happen after donating blood.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was meditating on the mission statement and envisioning a new paradigm that will result in greater profits for the company.”

“I was doing a highly specific yoga exercise to relieve work-related stress. Are you discriminating against my practice of yoga?”

Or my favorite “pause briefly after you realize you’ve been caught, and then say with conviction ‘… in Jesus’ name. Amen.’”

Waiting. Even for those of us who are gifted with a lot of patience, I think waiting is one of the hardest things we do. So let’s face up to the fact that waiting is part of our everyday life together in this world.

Waiting is a major part of today’s gospel reading too. 10 virgins or “bridesmaids” as our translation refers to them are waiting for the groom to arrive. This parable is the second in a series of four parables in this section of Matthew’s gospel that focus on Jesus’ return and a final judgment that seems to include some kind of sorting between who is in and who is out.

Texts like these are used in many Christian traditions as a way of scaring believers into making sure that you are “right” with Jesus before you die. Whatever “right” with Jesus means. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand that tradition of theological thought. Is the purpose of our life in Christ, the purpose of being a child of God at this time and in this place only about what happens to us after we die? If that’s all there is to being a Christian, if faith is only about what happens after I’m dead, then I don’t think I’m all that interested in a relationship with a God like that.

There are six occasions in the gospel of Matthew with final judgment scenes where separating is happening between things like sheep and goats or wise and foolish bridesmaids. Some are in. Others are out. Final judgment themes like this stand out in Matthew above the other three gospels. So, if we want to look at this text with a theological lens that puts us in control of life after our death, are you a sheep or a goat? Are you a wise or a foolish bridesmaid? When the bridegroom does finally arrive and you finally return with oil in your lamp, yes, all of us will need to go get more oil. I’ve never met another human being, and never will meet one, that brought enough oil in the first place. When the bridegroom arrives are you going to be in or are you locked out?

Please don’t hear me trying to make fun of this parable or discounting the theological thinking of our brothers and sisters in Christ in different Christian traditions than our Lutheran one or trying to cast this parable off as not being important to who we are as children of God.

I’ll be honest with you and admit, that, this is a difficult parable for me in a difficult section of Matthews’s gospel. But just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean we should fall asleep at our desk and ignore it or form God’s message in a parable like this into something that is only about what may or may not happen to us when we die.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are loved by God unconditionally. In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, you are claimed and named as God’s own child. As a child of God, you are freed and forgiven in all that you say and do – right now and for eternity! Never forget that. BUT – just because you are loved, claimed, forgiven, and freed unconditionally by God doesn’t mean that you and I should be passive or complacent. The great theologian William Barclay once said that, “The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is never to forget the presence of Christ.”

Yes, you and I believe, we hope, we pray. We wait for that day to come when Jesus returns. Until that day comes, I worry that you and I sometimes forget that Jesus is already here? How do we experience the presence of Christ in our work and in our play, now…today? Today, in times of joy and celebration? Today, in times of pain and suffering?

Pastor Kathryn Matthews Huey sees great irony in a text like our gospel reading today. She writes, “We can be so busy reading novels and looking for signs that we miss the ways God is still speaking to us today, in this meantime. We might miss opportunities to do God’s will, working for the healing of the world, caring for the good earth we were given, offering our own gifts in the transformation of an unjust society, reaching out in compassion to a world that is physically and spiritually hungry. However much we may be anxious about a dramatic end time, our faith reminds us of how often the Bible says, ‘Do not fear,’ and then challenges us to work here, on earth, for the bright day of God’s reign in its fullness, which is glimpsed in every act, every moment of compassion, sharing, and justice.” Pastor Kathryn concludes her thought by saying, “Even as we trust that we will be with God one day, in glory, we taste the sweet goodness of generosity and love right here, right now, through ministries of sharing the abundance with which we are blessed.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, together we wait. And as you and I wait may God’s light shine in this world through us. And may God’s light shining through us bless others in our congregation and our sister congregations, in our community and nation, and in every corner of this beautiful world that is one small piece of God’s good creation. Amen.