The Rev. Tom Baker
St. John’s, Harrison, AR
November 13, 2011
Year A, Proper 28
I don’t know about you but I am not the most patient person and I don’t know too many people who like to wait. We live, after all, in an instant society. Microwaves make a whole dinner in just a few minutes. Look at the packaging of any over the counter medicine and I’m sure you will see the words “Fast acting.” Stores, highways, and even airport security check points have express lanes. With the push of a single button on your phone and you’re instantly connected to the World Wide Web. Chances are if a two year old wants a toy they’re going to want it right now! And we all probably know a few forty two year olds who act just the same. What ever it is – we want it fast. We don’t like to wait. We have too many things to do and not enough time to get all done. If you’re like me, you may not be a very patient person.
After being a chaplain for over 17 years I’ve learned that one of the things people hate most about being in the hospital isn’t feeling sick, being separated from work or family, or even the expense of medical care. For many people the worst thing about being in the hospital is waiting. You wait for doctors to see you; you wait for the nurse after pushing the call button; you wait for tests to be done and for the test results; you wait for food; wait for pain medicine; wait to be discharged. For many, time goes backwards in a hospital.
People often say they’d love to be able to be able to just sit down, relax, and do nothing but when you find your day filled with nothing your anxiety level quickly goes through the roof. The empty silence of waiting is like a sword that cuts right through you. Waiting forces you face your own morality. It reminds you that you don’t have as much control as you thought. Waiting makes you feel vulnerable and nobody likes to feel powerless. Waiting makes people face head on how much trust they really have.
The parable of the talents in Matthew’s Gospel is really a story about trust. Many, however, see this parable as supporting capitalism for we see the two men who increase the talents they were given as heroes. In our eyes they do the right thing; they use what they were given and make a profit. The man who does nothing with what was given we see as a failure. Yet, we forget in Jesus culture it is the man who buries the money who does the proper thing. Jewish custom reminded him that it wasn’t his money to take risk with and if he kept the money it would most likely be stolen – and so he protects the money by burring it. Plus, we have to remember that the book of Exodus says that earning interest on money, like the other two did, is a sin – it breaks God’s law.
So we have to decide is this story about increasing your talents or is it about something else? As you can guess, I think it’s about something deeper than talents and treasure. It’s about finding the treasure of trusting God.
David Lose wrote on “WorkingPreacher.com that “How we see God (played by the master in today’s parable) often determines how we behave in the world.” The way we see the Master, that is, whatever we believe to be true of God, makes a huge difference in what our life in faith will look like.
Do we see God as loving and kind…or as harsh and judgmental? Do we expect God to call forth the best in us…or to condemn the worst in us? Is the God of our expectations distant and cold…or very present in every moment, filling our existence with Life? Is our God a God of disappointment and impatience…or a God of hope and endurance? Whether clear in our mind, or hidden deep in the experiences of our lives, we have powerful pictures of God that shape our experience of God profoundly. And these pictures shape not just how we think about God but how we actually choose to live in relation to God and others.
Many years ago I met a 15 year old girl who was in hospice care due to a brain tumor. She was a very loving and gifted young girl. One day she told me, “I don’t worry about all the normal teenage stuff: clothes, being popular, being good looking, sports, or cars. I’m not even worried about dying, or having to leave my sister and parents. If anything this cancer has taught me stuff is only stuff; that I can’t control how my family will feel when I die or even how I will die. This cancer taught me to give that all to God; to give myself to God.”
A few weeks later she died. Her sister and parents, of course, were extremely sad. Yet at the graveside they told me they were determined to live life like their daughter. They wanted a life filled not with fear but trust. The man who hid the treasure did all the right things; followed all the right rules. Yet he didn’t trust the master and saw God as distant, vengeful, and demanding; and so he did only what was expected of him. The other two, like that 15 year old girl with cancer, saw a different master; they saw a God they could take a risk with. Like that girl they were not frightened, nor do they live only for their own benefit; instead they lived for the One they could trust. They did not burry their talents instead they increased the size of the kingdom.
The end result is that we choose to either live as those who believe the world is a world of scarcity, where we must hoard what little we have…or as those who trust that God’s kingdom is a place of abundance, where we must practice grace and gratitude at every turn. We are called to live a life that has little to do with the quantity of our resources…and everything to do with the quality of our relationship with God.