Sermon 11/16/2008

Sermon for Proper 28 A
November 16, 2008
Michael Coffey

Text: Matthew 25:14-30
(Parable of the Talents)

Most of us have thought a lot about our investments lately.

I know, I hate to even bring it up.
But what I’m really wondering about is not
how you are doing in investing your stocks, bonds, 401K’s or IRA’s.
After reading Jesus’ parable,
I’m wondering how you are doing in investing yourself.

The parable Jesus tells is asking us to think deeply
about our investment of ourselves.
The business man gives each of the three characters in the story talents.
The word means a very large sum of money,
something like 20 years of wages.
But it is no accident that we use the word
to mean a particular ability or skill or gift.
Having a particular talent is worth a great deal,
whether it is organizing, or listening,
or designing, or building, or healing.
And the way we use these priceless talents we have
is how we invest ourselves in God’s world.

In the parable, two of the slaves given various talents
use their gifts wisely and daringly.
The third, however, is scared, safe, and afraid.
He was afraid of judgment, or rejection, or failure.
So he buries his talent.
He buries himself and hides
and has nothing to give or offer or live for.
And the story reveals the result of this burying and hiding:
bitter sadness and isolation.

These parables in Matthew near the end
can be hard to take, I know.
The image of being sent into the outer darkness
where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth
is not very pretty.
I have spent a great deal of weeping and gnashing my teeth
trying to figure out what to do in this sermon
with that part of the parable,
since I know it sticks in your mind.
The more I’ve thought about and read about this kind of ending to the parable, I’ve come to see that it is not something to be taken flatly or literally.
It is more like a way of saying: listen up!
This is really important!
This makes all the difference in your life!
Don’t miss it or you’ll miss out on life itself!

This parable is about how we live as people of faith,
and how we find joy and purpose in our lives.
And the warning of the parable is this:
Don’t live out of fear.
Don’t hold back who you are
and what you have to give the world
because you think you might fail
or not be good enough.
Don’t bury yourself and hide away
because you are unsure of what might happen
if you use what you’ve got.
Don’t disinvest yourself from life
just because it is risky.
Invest your self in this world.
That’s what God made you for.

It seems far too common
that we keep what we have to give buried or hidden:
our gifts, our abilities,
our love, our compassion,
our very selves.
How often we have thought of doing this or that,
using this or that part of us,
giving from our time or finances or expertise or love...
but we hold back.
We fear rejection, or judgment, or failure.
Whether it is fear of other people
or fear of God,
I suppose it doesn’t much matter;
either way, we end up living a fearful life
of burying ourselves.

Jesus presents to people a deeply transforming understanding of God.
He shows forth the deep character of God
as compassion and mercy.
He embodies the intense suffering love of God
in his death on the cross.
He shows us in all he says and does:
God is not a tyrant or a merciless business man.
The Lord God is the fatherly embrace
that calls us into the world
to use what we’ve got without fear.
The Lord God is the maternal love
that nurtures and sustains us
through all our struggles and trials.
With the God we know in Christ Jesus,
holding back out of fear is absurd,
understandable from a human point of view,
but absurd in light of the good news.

I think Jesus knows that life itself,
and the way each of us embodies it,
is so precious and wonderful and short,
that we each find ourselves
in how we use what we’ve got,
in how we live into the world
and into God’s kingdom.
Wasting that, Jesus says,
hiding that and fearfully burying ourselves,
is a source of profound regret and sadness for us.
When we confess that we have sinned in what we have done
and in what we have left undone,
it is probably the things left undone
that haunt us the most.
And so much of what is left undone by us
is because we are too afraid to do it,
or to finish it,
or to let anyone else in on it.

So I think Jesus is doing some painful and difficult prodding
of our faith and our lives in his tough parables.
He takes us to the very fear we don’t want to face,
and has us face it head on.
If you are afraid of living your life
and using what God gave you for the sake of the world,
then go to that fear and see it for what it is
and see how it robs you of life.
Stop denying it.
Stop hiding from it.
Go deeper into it.
Let it confront you.
Accept it.
In order to fully be yourself,
fully invest yourself in the world for the sake of the world,
you have to go deep into what you fear about it,
what you fear about yourself,
what you fear about others,
what you fear about God.
It is a difficult and painful journey at times,
but it is the road to healing and growth
and renewed faith and trust in God.

The Gospel message of God in Jesus
is a message that goes with us into the deep fears of our lives.
The cross is the sign of God’s willingness
to suffer with us in our fear and loss,
and go through it until we find healing and new life in it.
Jesus is always calling his followers to lose themselves,
to give up saving themselves,
to take up the cross as the way of life,
and yet, it is so difficult to go there,
to lose yourself,
to risk.

So as Jesus brings us the message of God’s profound mercy
and fatherly embrace,
he just says it again:
Go ahead and lose yourself!
Go ahead and invest all you’ve got into life and give it away.
That’s exactly where you find yourself!
Go ahead and fall into the mysterious way
of giving away all you have to give...
you will be embraced.
And in giving yourself away,
you will find life and love.
You will find the depth of God’s love for you.

In order to fully be yourself,
to fully invest yourself in the world for the sake of the world,
you have to go deep into what you fear about it,
what you fear about yourself,
what you fear about others,
what you fear about God.
What if I do it wrong?
What if I’m no good?
What if no one, or worse,
what if God doesn’t approve of what I do?

Are we holding back?
Are you scared of losing yourself?
Afraid of rejection or not measuring up?
The sad thing is, worse, than rejection or judgment,
is the discovery that we buried ourselves in our fear,
and we loved less,
created less,
gave less,
lived less.
We should risk confessing we messed up what we did,
rather than confessing we didn’t do anything at all.

If all of this is true for us as individuals,
it is also true for us as a community, as the church.
We find it difficult to risk using all that we have
and what we are as a community
because we are unsure of where it will take us.
If you were to add up the tremendous amount of gifts and talents
and resources and love we have in this congregation,
the sum total would be overwhelmingly huge.
And as much as we do great things to love and serve others,
I can’t help but think we are too often holding back,
playing it safe,
instead of investing ourselves fully in our community
and our world,
and in each other.
Imagine the church,
our church,
fully using all the gifts, talents, energy,
abilities we have,
set free from anxiety about failure,
trusting God enough to live fully,
giving more, loving more,
forgiving more, creating more, living more.
What kind of worship and neighborliness and community
and servanthood and compassion could we be living out of sheer faith?

So the word to each of us is also the word to our whole church,
here and across the synod and nation and world:
Go ahead and fall into the mysterious way
of giving away all you have to give...
you will be caught and embraced by the arms of the Father.
You cannot fall from this love.
We can live free from the cautious and careful way of preserving ourselves,
or the church, or stop fearing the future that God is bringing.
If we are bound and buried by fear,
we are freed in Christ by faith.
As people of faith in the good news,
we are always an Advent people,
living out of hope in what God will do
with our lives and our world.


  1. Pr. Coffey: Welcome to the blogosphere!

    I am happy to see that I'll be able to catch any sermonizing I miss on Sundays AND that your words on the Word will be reaching a larger audience.


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