"DEDICATION" - Deuteronomy 8:11-20 & Matthew 25:14-30
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Texts: Deuteronomy 8:11-20; Matthew 25:14-30
Every now and then, a dramatic series on television gets our attention in our home. I wonder if you have seen the drama entitled “This Is Us,” which just started its second season and appears on Tuesday nights on NBC.
“This Is Us” gets our focused attention because all the characters are complex – like real people; none of the storylines are straight-forward, like real life; and this drama seems so willing to delve into the colorful dysfunction that often touches so many of our lives.
The series follows three siblings, Kate, Kevin, and Randall. Two of them are twins, Kate and Kevin, but on the day of their birth, the third sibling in the womb with them was still born. As it turned out, their grieving parents, Jack and Rebecca, decided to adopt an African American baby who was also born on that same day, but dropped off at a local fire station and brought to the hospital nursery. So, while one of their three babies did not survive the birth, Jack and Rebecca still went home with three babies, with the addition of Randall as their third.
What makes this drama so interesting and complicated is the way the story gets told. We first meet the triplets as 30-something adults, making their way in life, all with different gifts and talents, successes and failures. Then the story backs up to when they are small children, and then fast forward back to the present, then sometimes to their adolescence, and again back to the present.
Randall, the African American, is a successful professional in a consulting firm; but he has a passion to find his real birth father, William. He wants to understand why he was given up for adoption. He also remains challenged about what his adoption might mean in his life as a father to his own children and as a mature adult.
Kate is a very large woman who has always struggled with her weight, and also her identity and her relationships, and in her mid-30’s, she is engaged and now pregnant.
Kevin is super handsome, a successful actor, but also with relationship and growing addiction issues.
Then we meet Randall’s real father, William, who had a life of poverty and addiction but emerges as a fascinating character. Back and forth the story goes – past to present again and again. And we learn other pieces of the family puzzle that keep the story so complicated and so interesting. This drama takes on so many tough issues that many of us encounter but would rather not talk about. This drama keeps unfolding in intriguing ways, much as life unfolds – messy, sad, so joyful, so hard, so full of complexity and challenge and changes.
Here is the question from this series that relates so much to our lives and to our Biblical text today: What do you do with what comes your way? Or put another way: What do you do with what you have been given?
As “This Is Us” shows us so well, life is almost NEVER a straight line, with everything falling into place. This past week, we learn that William, who gave his son up for adoption, got out of prison because of the grace and compassion of a certain judge, who challenged him to make something different of his life.
What do you do with what comes your way? What do you do with what you have been given? So many variables contribute to our lives – blessings and challenges, maybe even addictions, strong and wonderful character traits but also major missteps, and the best intentions and the worst circumstances, and more.
Listen, now, to this familiar parable – Matthew 25:14f:
14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This parable of Jesus is not about money. This parable of Jesus is about what we do with what we have been given, what comes our way.
Here is a reminder: a parable is a teaching that always includes something expected and then something unexpected.
This parable has the Master going on a trip. It says, “he summoned his servants” and “entrusted them” with his property. The Master did not just leave; he gives to his servants responsibility. To one he gave five talents, to another he gave two and to another he gave one.
As in life, not everyone is treated equally. But we are all called to be responsible with what has come our way.
And a “Talent” here is not just what skills each person has. A “Talent” in that culture was the greatest unit of accounting in Greek money – about ten thousand denarii. We learn in another parable that a denarii is about a day’s wage. So the gift – one talent (10,000 denarii) given to the least talented servant is a whole lot of money – almost a lifetime of earnings.
The “expected” piece of this story is the powerful reminder that we – as servants - are covered with grace – given immense talents – and we are all free to choose how we spend our resources, how we use what we have been given. We can invest, or we can bury them; we can run and risk, or not; we can share or not share. We are given so much, and there is no compulsion from the Master, from God. It is up to us to choose what we do with what has been given.
The parable speaks first about the servant who received 5 Talents. It says “immediately” – a word that shows urgency and commitment – he “moved out, went to work, and won five more.” Then it says the same of the second servant – “he won two more.”
The way the story unfolds is so interesting – there is an eagerness to faith in these two servants. Do we have an eagerness about our faith and service? These servants are so thrilled to be entrusted with gifts from God – is that how we feel? We should. They both throw themselves into working and doing for the Master. They “moved out” then “went to work” and “won.” All of those are eager and aggressive verbs. They are active, not passive. They received what was given and got going in loving service.
Then there is the servant with one talent. He did not “move out;” he “went off” – a recessive verb. His “digging a hole” offers such a contrast to the eager going to work. And his “hiding the talent” is the opposite of winning more talents. Jesus never wants us going away in isolation, digging and hiding ourselves and our gifts from the world. In other places, Jesus reminds us to “let our light shine,” to be salt, to do good, to give generously and love neighbor boundlessly (see D. Bruner, Matthew, p. 905)
Then the parable says, “after a long time, the Lord of those servants returns and settles accounts with them.”
This is when we get to the “unexpected” part. This is not just a parable about three servants of a certain Master. This is a parable about us – our lives, our talents, our accountability to God. THIS IS US!
What do WE do with what has come into our lives? What do WE do with what WE have been given?
We are in this story. Which servant are we? God covers us with grace and goodness, talent and blessings. There is not compulsion in giving. It is all grace and goodness. But we are called and expected to be responsible, to be faithful, to be eager and intentional in our living and in our giving. God has sincere expectations for our lives.
Tuesdays with Morrie is a little book that was published 20 years ago. Mitch Albom, the author, started as a sports reporter in Detroit, then became an internationally acclaimed writer and film-maker in large part because of this book, which emerged from conversations with his friend Morrie Schwartz. Morrie was facing death from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch would visit Morrie every week. Tuesdays with Morrie – has this the sub-title: “an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson.”
Here is one notable conversation. Morrie, the older man, says to Mitch: “We’ve got a form of brain-washing going on in this country. Do you know how they brain-wash people?” Morrie asks. “They repeat something over and over. And that is what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it,” says Morrie, “over and over until nobody bothers to think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what is really IMPORTANT anymore.”
Morrie continues, “Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you as I am sitting here (he is dying from his disease), when you need it most, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you might have.”
“You know what really gives you the satisfaction?” Morrie asks.
“Offering others what you have to give, . . . devote yourself to loving others; devote yourself to your community around you, . . . only an open heart will allow you to float.”
And then Morrie asks Mitch, the author: “I am dying, right?” And Mitch says, “yes.”
“Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car, not my house, not what I look like in the mirror.” When I give and love, “it is as close to healthy as I ever feel.” (p.126f.)
What do we do with what comes our way? What do we do with what we have been given? It is in eagerness and care, in generosity and DEDICATION, that we find life.
Today is DEDICATION Sunday. We have Pledge Cards that have been sent to the whole community. These Pledge Cards and this day invite us to think about our core values – our living, our giving, our DEDICATION.
In a few moments, we are all invited to come forward, as an expression of our Dedication. We come and place our gifts, our morning offerings, our commitments, and our lives before God on this Communion table to be used with eagerness and intentionality in God’s service. This is an act of DEDICATION but our lives are focused on serving God well in the world. This is an act of DEDICATION but the end result are lives – our lives - that carry God’s love and light from this place into the world, and to the coming reign of God. We do not just place our gifts here – that is symbolic. We seek to leave this place, trusting that our gifts and our lives are promoting the healing and hope of Christ our Lord. This is what God asks and expects from all of us. The end result is not our commitments placed here; the end result is life dedicated to God, loving and serving God in all the moments of life.
It matters how we live with what has been given to us.
As I have been the pastor here now for almost nine years, one of my favorite moments each Sunday comes at the end of worship in this wonderful space. We gather to sing and pray, to listen to Scripture and be strengthened for God’s work in the world. Then, at the end of worship, after the benediction and the sung “AMEN, ” we have that moment of silence, and the big doors are opened. In that moment the sounds of the street come in: we hear the buses and the traffic outside, we hear the noise of the city. All this reminds us that our lives are not just about worshiping in here but serving out there. The wonderful bell rings and we go out – out to serve God with our lives in the world!
This is our life of faith – gifted by God but called to serve.
Blessed but called to be a blessing.
Showered by grace but called to dedicated sharing of that grace in the world.
It matters what we do with all we have been given. It matters how we live.
May we give generously and eagerly – all glory to God. AMEN
Prayer of Commitment: We give thee, O God, thine own; whatever our gifts may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord from thee. AMEN
Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on November 12, 2017. This is a rough manuscript.