Saturday, November 12, 2011

22nd Sunday after Pentecost: What Kind of Master Do You Serve?

Readings for this Sunday:  Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

What kind of master do you serve?
(Levi speaking) “My master, let me tell you, he’s a hard man.  He’s always looking over my shoulder, always ready to jump on me for the least little thing I do wrong.  Boy, I tell you, you don’t want to get him mad at you!  No sir, he’s just the kind to drop kick you into next week.

“So here’s what happened.  See, the master was going away and decided to give me some of his money to watch over while he was gone.  Now the master, see, he’s a shrewd businessman and he owns it all, I’m telling you.  Of course he didn’t give me all his stuff to take care of, no, he’s gonna make sure his eggs aren’t all in one basket.
So he gave me a million to keep safe for him.  Well, I don’t wanna take no risk – don’t wanna lose the master’s money.  And in today’s market, well…you just can’t be too careful.  So, I go to the bank and get a safe deposit box and that’s where the master’s money will stay – safe and sound until he gets back.”   

(John interrupts)  “Levi, you’re not being fair!  Let me tell you what our master’s really like.  You see, he’s really a great guy.  He takes an interest in our work, asking about how our day went.  He wants to know our ideas and when we have good ones, he’s happy to put them to use.  He listens when we have a problem and gives suggestions on how fix it and how to do our jobs better.  And he’s generous.  When this trip came up, he came to the three of us and said, “I am giving each of you part of my estate to manage while I’m gone.  Treat it as your own, put it to work for you.  Invest it how you want.  I have every confidence in you.”
“Of course he did give Reuben over here $5 million to work with, while I got $2 million and Levi got just a million.  But see, that only shows how well the master knows each of us.  He knows that Reuben is so much more experienced.  The master knows our abilities, what we can handle.  Hey, 2 million is still a lot of money – way more that I could ever earn in my lifetime. 

“Oh and I have big plans for that money!  You should see what I’m doing.  I’m going to get a great return!  The master will be so proud when he comes back and sees what I have done!” 

Perception is everything.  In Levi’s eyes, the master is ready to jump on every little failing.  Levi sees a hard, demanding man whom he fears.  Levi’s main concern is to make sure that he does nothing that will bring the master’s anger down on himself.  He doesn’t see the money the master gave him as a generous gift or a sign of trust.  No, he sees a trap, a risk that has the potential to destroy him. So, he took the money and buried it – the first century equivalent of a safety deposit box.  Under rabbinic law, as long as he buried it right away, he was no longer liable if anything happened to the master’s money.  Levi played it safe and looked out for his own security, and not for the interests of the master. 
Now Reuben and the second servant – we’ll call him John - had a different perception of the master.  They saw a generous, gracious man.  They loved their master and trusted him.  The master’s money isn’t a trap, it’s an opportunity that they could never have had on their own.  Only the generous confidence of the master made such an opportunity possible.   Sure there was a risk – everything worth doing had a risk involved. But they knew the master valued them and trusted them, so they were confident in taking some risks with that absurd amount of money he place in their care.  The master believed they could invest wisely, and they did just that – doubling the money the master gave them.

Same master – two completely different views of who the master is.  And that view makes a difference in what Levi, Reuben and John do with the gift the master gave them.  

So, what kind of a God do you serve?
Does it make a difference?

You bet it does!

Let’s say you see God like Levi sees his master – harsh, demanding, judgmental.  In short, an angry God. 
How do you serve an angry God?  You cower in fear.  You hide in the shadows and hope God doesn’t notice you.  You keep to yourself.  There’s no trust, no love.  Just the desire to avoid punishment.

There are congregations like this.  They fear getting it wrong, fear God will punish them for the least little mess-up.  They worry that they don’t have enough – people, money, time, ability, you name it.  They worry about their own security, about doing what is best for the congregation.  They make decisions out of fear and self-preservation, forgetting that God has given them this extravagant abundant gift of grace and love and forgiveness.  They forget that God’s lavish love enables them to boldly risk all for God’s kingdom.

Now what if you see God the way Reuben and John see their master? 

This is a God who is gracious and loving, concerned for the wellbeing of all created things.  This is a God who is generous, pouring out blessing upon blessings. This is a God of second and third and fourth chances, forgiving and choosing forget our shortcomings.  This is a God who is active in creation, working to bring healing and restoration and relationship to all.
How do you serve a God of abundant mercy?  You boldly enter into God’s presence.  You go to God with your hopes and dreams, and worries and fears, knowing that God cares for you. What God is doing in the world so captures your imagination that you can’t wait to be part of it.  You want to show God’s love to everyone around you. 

There are congregations like this.  They don’t worry if they don’t have all the answers because they trust God to show them where they’ve got it right and to forgive where they’ve got it wrong.  They rejoice in the abundance of God’s gifts to them.  They take risks with their gifts and talents because they know that in the economy of God there is always enough.  They trust in God’s love and grace and boldly go about the work of the kingdom. 

So what kind of God do we worship?
How we think about God makes all the difference in how we live our lives of faith.  It makes all the difference in how willing we are to take risks for the kingdom of God.  Just as Levi responded to the kind of master he thought he had, we too respond to our image of God. 

We need to remember that Levi didn’t have an ability problem – the master knew he was capable of handling a million dollars.  And he didn’t have a resource problem – the master gave him what he needed to succeed.  Levi had a perception problem – his image of the master paralyzed him with fear.  His image of the master cut him off from living up to his potential.

What kind of God do we serve?
It’s only natural to hear this parable and think, “How am I using what God has given me?  Will God say I’m a good and faithful servant, or will God find me lacking?”  It’s not a bad thing to stop and take stock once in a while.

It’s also good for this congregation, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, at this particular place, to ask as well, “How are we using what God has given us?  How are we investing the abilities and gifts God has given us?  Are we willing to risk what we have in order to build the kingdom of God?”
This parable also calls us to honestly ask ourselves, “Do we have a perception problem? Does how we see God cut us off from living up to our potential, from joining in the mission of God?  Do we live in fear of an angry God?  Or do we joyously respond to the love of a gracious God who empowers us to take risks with the good news of Jesus, and who challenges us to use the abilities God has given us to further the interests of the kingdom of heaven?"

1 comment:

  1. oh! I get it! actually, I like it. very creative!