Sunday Message: “Kingdom Mathematics”

MESSAGE: “Kingdom Mathematics”

   Text: Matthew 25:14-30

   Liturgist Text: I Thessalonians 5:1-11

Purpose: the purpose of this message is to encourage and challenge the congregation to recognize and use the gifts God has given to heal the lives of those around us.

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     Sometime ago I went to a department store to buy a pair of blue socks. The price tag was marked $3.68. I waited in line and advanced to checkout with $4.00 in my hand. The clerk punched in the numbers and said, “That will be $36.80.”

    “Wheww! Expensive socks!” I replied, “I think you made a mistake.” Handing him the $4, I continued, “the tag reads $3.68.”

     He checked the tag, checked his screen, and said, “Oops! I misplaced a decimal Yes, that will be $3.68.”

     A misplaced decimal. It can happen—not only at BJs or Walmart, but in God’s kingdom work, too. In today’s parable, Jesus speaks of three servants, clerks if you will; two  are right on top of things, but the third loses his place in the mathematics of faithfulness, and the result is not a happy one.

     Read: Matthew 25:14-30.

     Having read the parable, let’s walk through it together. To begin, let’s consider the simple lesson of stewardship which the parable inspires. As a man prepares for a journey, he invites three servants into a conversation of opportunity. He entrusts them with valued assets or ‘talents.’ One receives five, the second two, and the third one. Already I can hear someone asking, “Why?” Why should one receive five, another two, and one only one? How is that ‘fair?”

     Fair or not, that is often the way life works, doesn’t it? Why should my brother be the hero at every sport? Why should she get the promotion, when I worked so hard for it? Why do some receive so much, while others receive so little?” It may be that the master has some idea of each servant’s experience or ability, and awards the talents accordingly, or perhaps not. Maybe the master likes the first servant best. We don’t know. But fairness is not the point of the parable; faithfulness is.

     We do know that each servant is given the same opportunity to grow the talent(s) given. A paraplegic doesn’t have the same resources that we take for granted, but that does not deny his or her opportunity for making a profound difference in the world which may well outsprint the contributions we make, even though we are physically able.

     The first servant puts his money to work and doubles the resources entrusted to his stewardship. Now. We may speculate about how he did this. Did he purchase a lottery ticket and wait for a jackpot? Did he loan the money and wait for its return? Probably not, for the master might well have returned in the midst of the waiting. Regardless of how he invested, there was no doubt risk involved, but there was also work. Growing talents may be fun, but make no mistake, there is real work required. Musicians in a symphony do not get there by chance. They practice long hours to hone their skill to a virtuoso level. Effectively managing a business with integrity does not happen by luck; it takes perseverance, long hours perhaps, and hard work. Being an effective parent does not emerge from a birth certificate; it requires learning, listening, loving, and intentionality.

     The first servant ‘grows’ his money by working hard to multiply it in his master’s interest. The second servant does likewise. He doesn’t have five talents, but he does have two, and that is enough to double the sum entrusted to his care. Instead of two, he will have four to present to his master upon return.

     What about the third servant? He is given only one talent. Jesus doesn’t explicitly say this, but my guess is that the third servant mistakenly begins by comparing his talent with the other two. Why are they given more to work with, and I am only given one? Obviously, my master doesn’t think much of my ability. If this is his attitude, then right at the starting gate, he engages in negative self-talk. Where the other two proceed from a place of enthusiasm and imagination, he proceeds from a place of envy, fear, or anger.

     What can be done with one talent? During the late eighties, a woman named Ellen Ahlgren lived in Northwood, NH, one town north of my hometown. She had a sewing needle and a capacity to care. She carried that talent into a conversation with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, best known for her pioneering work in identifying stages of grief common to those who experience loss. Ellen was troubled by the description Dr. Kubler-Ross gave of the plight of 3,000 AIDS-infected babies living out their brief lives within hospitals because they were orphans or abandoned by families overwhelmed with their care.

     Ellen had gift for making quilts for her children and grandchildren, and thought, “Why couldn’t quilters make little ‘Comforters’ for each of the infected children, just to let them know they are loved? She polled family and friends, and many said, “Let’s go for it!” They started making quilts. Hospital personnel loved them, and so did the children. The media picked up on the story and the idea caught on. All across the nation, and internationally as well, quilters used their talents to contribute to the AIDS BABIES CRIB QUILTS PROJECT. Women’s circles, grade schools, vacation Bible schools, retirement communities, service clubs, churches—all made and distributed quilts to at-risk babies and children with the simple message, ‘Love and comfort to you.’

     One talent. One talent shared, not hidden in a hole until reckoning day. A practical talent which takes wing on the winds of compassion, flying into the hearts and lives of those deemed ‘broken.’ Isn’t it wonderful to see how one simple gift of kindness can multiply and spill into the lives of others? Imagine how many might be healed by the talents represented within our own congregation! What can be done with one talent? Large debts can be forgiven or repaid, hope can be restored, starving children can be fed, hurts can be healed, unhealthy habits can be broken, hang-ups can be shed, and heartaches can dissolve into joy!

     Notice what the third servant of the parable does. He insults his master, blaming him for profiting off the achievements of others, probably to deflect from the fact that he didn’t do his homework. He didn’t make use of his talent. He buried his talent in the ground, and returned the tarnished, lonely talent to his master. The frustrated master scolds him for not even putting in the bank to collect interest. He then takes the talent away and gives it to the one with ten, who has proven his faithfulness. Jesus summarizes the point of the parable, “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

     The implications here are pointed, if not disturbing. Jesus is pushing us to use the gifts God has given for productive kingdom purposes. There is both a promise and a warning. The promise echoes the conviction of William Carey, missionary to India, “If we attempt great things for God, we may expect great things from God.” If however, we despise or minimize our talent, letting it sit idle, or burying it altogether, the talent itself will fall into disrepair and the golden opportunity to heal the world will be lost—to us and to all.

     As I mentioned last week, there is a vision which I believe God is placing before us. It is not something God will make us do, but I believe it is something God asks of us. At present, I would describe it like this: I believe God wants us to be ‘an unburdened community shaped for healing hurts, habits, hang-ups and heartaches, alive and free!’ We will know the vision is fulfilled when all burdened people living in the twin cities of Auburn and Lewiston, and the surrounding area, are invited into a healing journey, accompanied by others, into health, wholeness and harmony with God.

     That vision begins with me, and you–if you choose to go there, renewing relationship and covenant with God, marinating in spiritual practices which awaken the soul to God’s claim and purpose. It begins with a recognition of the resources and talents God has placed among us, coupled with a willingness for adventure—to prepare ourselves for the healing strategies to which God invites. Are you willing to partner with me in this?