Context is king! For our gospel reading today, context is absolutely essential. In a general context, Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is on a teaching circuit that leads Him to a final clash with the powers that be. In the immediate context, Jesus is talking about the very near reality that He will be departing for a time, but that He will return. In the interim, the call is to be watchful = faithful and wise. Jesus is preparing His followers for what to do after He ascends into heaven. You’d think He’d be giving them a book of rules or lists of things to do. Instead, He teaches them the appropriate way to wait – what to do while He’s away so that they’re ready when He returns. In 25:1, Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this…” So, with what is about to be read, you have to think about it in the context of Jesus telling us what the Kingdom of heaven/God will be like as it grows and expands during his seeming absence…while we watch and we wait. And it’s worth noting that He uses a lot of analogies between servants and masters, or managers and owners.
Have you ever seen a problem or situation and wondered why no one was doing something about it? On a regular basis, Christy and the kids tell me stories about the things that are happening in their school: abuse, children barely eating on the weekend, an elementary aged boy who goes home from school and is responsible for bathing and feeding and taking care of his younger siblings. And the thought occurs to me: “Who buried something?” Who got so overwhelmed with life or burdened by the daily grind or pushed down by the abuse of power from others that he or she just buried life? And who has the resources to possibly help with the situation, but instead they’ve buried life too? I guess this reveals what I believe at my core about God. He is a God of abundance, not a God of scarcity so that we need to bury things…or stockpile them for that matter. I believe that if, instead of burying, we would steward we would see lives and communities changed.
There’s an Easter paradigm here. Out of what has been buried there is the possibility of resurrection life. Jesus takes all of our burials to the grave with him, and He emerges victorious over them!!!
Truth is…We’re good at burying things
First of all, we have to have something to bury – we all have gifts and talents to share; the talents were “entrusted,” not given.
We all have what I have recently heard described as “original glory.” No one is excluded because of status or contribution.
If we can agree that we bury, then the question becomes “why do we bury?”.
We bury, first and foremost, because of an incorrect view of the Master – harsh and greedy, or he doesn’t exist in the first place (vv.24-25)
1. As a result, we bury out of fear – “I was afraid, so I went and hid”
2. We bury out of shame – “I’m only a one talent person” – I wonder if the one talent guy looked around and saw what the other two had and thought, “I don’t have what they have, so I’m just going to bury this.” We so easily fall into the comparison trap: “If only I had this job or that wife or those kids or that house, then I’d make a real Kingdom impact!” As Andy Stanley says, “There’s no win in comparison!”; or maybe we have shame and think “I don’t want others to discover these things about me or else they’ll reject me.”
3. We bury out of guilt – “I’m disqualified bc of what I’ve done”
4. We get buried by the actions of others – abuse, manipulation, etc.
5. We get buried by life – things beyond our control (loss of a job, a difficult child, an unexpected death or illness, the immensity of problems around the world – war, poverty, disease, violence, etc)
So, that’s why we bury things. But what do we do about it? How do we unearth those things that have been buried? Leslie Newbigin challenges us to look for signs amid the rubble. I love this! Isn’t that our role? To see the rubble/messes/brokenness that’s around us, and to look intentionally for the signs of where God is at work. Here’s what Newbigin says, “…Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom.” (“Signs Amid the Rubble”). Our Kingdom investments will be revealed when the Master returns.
That’s what stewardship is all about. While we’re great at burying things, we’re not always great at intentionally investing things. It takes a lot more work. You can imagine the story being filled in a bit more. The 1 talent servant digs a hole and buries the money. A one-time decision: “I’m just going to burry this and sit back and watch life pass me by.” Do you know anyone like this? On the other hand, the 5 and 2 talent servants had to go out and work with what they had been given. They had to face rejection and the fear of loss. They had to enter into the messiness of exchange and interaction with others. At the same time, they also experienced the joys of seeing multiplication and growth. This is what stewardship is all about…entering into the buried things and unearthing the signs and realities of God’s Kingdom.
“But what does that look like?” you might be wondering. Here’s a few thoughts about what stewardship is:
1. Stewardship involves taking an honest evaluation of what you’ve been given – 5, 2, 1…a talent equaled about 15 years of a laborers wages. So, even 1 talent was a substantial amount of money. The 1 talent servant hadn’t been left out. Guess what? You haven’t either!
2. Stewardship involves taking a risk – our level of risk is directly proportional to our understanding of the master. Vv.20 – “Master, you handed over to me – you gave me a gift” He’s a good master!
3. Stewardship is about faithfulness – well done good and faithful servant (v.21)…not “great and successful” Life is a marathon, not a sprint. God’s measure is not fruitfulness, but faithfulness. It’s what Eugene Peterson refers to as “A long obedience in the same direction.”
4. And just like burying things, Stewardship is ultimately about our view of the master
Is he a harsh master? Frankly, I am weary of “harsh master” theology or what I like to call “POS Christianity” which has as its main goal to constantly remind me what a terrible, worthless wretch me and others are. As if that’s God’s primary goal is to constantly nag us about how much we fail and screw up. I really believe that’s what happened with the 1 talent servant. His unfounded fear incapacitated him and so he went and buried what he had been entrusted with. You even hear it in his final words, “Here you have what is yours.” He didn’t want to take any responsibility or ownership. Can you relate to that? How have you disqualified yourself out of fear or shame or guilt? I can’t tell you how often I hear people say something along the lines of, “I would love to serve or lead or step up or whatever, but I’ve done too much in my life that disqualifies me,” or “I don’t have all my stuff together so I can’t step out.”
But what if the master is a loving father? What if he sows and scatters his love and mercy and grace generously? You hear it in the master’s response: “You knew did you…” In other words, “You thought you knew what I was like…but you were wrong.” We have to start here with stewardship. We have to start with a correct view of the master as a generous, loving father. Truth is, most of us can’t get over this hurdle. We’ve had sometimes horrific and sometimes not so great experiences with parents. So, the idea of a loving parent…a loving and generous father who wants abundance for us… is a fanciful illusion.
But what if it’s true? What if God can’t wait to say to us, “Well done! Because of what you did with what I gave you, I am going to give you even more. Now, enter into the joy of my kingdom!”
In the end, the message is clear: “You should have done something!” Stewards hunger and thirst for more of the Kingdom of God. They evaluate and take risks with what they’ve been called to be faithful to. They have an “all of life” mentality which believes that the truest truth is that God is good and He’s Lord of all of life. That’s why the story ends as it does. “To those who have…or more like…those who realize what they have and do something with it, they will be given to the point of abundance. But to those who don’t realize what they have and who they have it from and therefore don’t do anything with it, even that will be taken away from them and they will be thrown out into “outer darkness.”
We have a calling at City Hope to elevate the significance and intentionality around the stewardship conversation. It is going to direct a lot of why and what and how we do things moving forward. So, as a further step today, I would like us to take the first step of stewardship which begins with an evaluation of what we have.
Hand out papers: Life of Discipleship Chart
What fits into these categories?
What has God given you to steward?
Keep this paper and ask, “Where is God calling me to be faithful?” and “Where is God calling me to take a risk?”