The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - November 19, 2017
Scripture Reading:
Matthew 25:14-30 
Sermon Title: Five Talents

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I once heard of a church minister who gave each person 5 dollars at a church council meeting.  She asked them to come back in 3 months and tell what they did with it.  It was interesting to hear what happened.  Someone bought yarn, made hats and sold them for a few dollars each.  She doubled the $5.  One person bought some of that Equal Exchange Coffee, sold it, bought more with the profit, sold that and continued to do that.  He returned the next meeting with 60 dollars I think.  Or course there were one or two who held onto that $5 and returned the same amount the following meeting they had received the previous. 

     Certainly the lesson was that we can take what we are given by God, and do things with it to spread the Kingdom of Heaven to more people.  God freely gives you these gifts, and if you use it, you can do so much more than if you hide it in the ground, or donít use it.  Matthew, much like last week, could be telling his disciples that Jesus will return, and to be prepared.  I should explain that when I tell you what Matthew was doing, I donít doubt that Jesus said this or something very similar.  But we all tell stories for a purpose, and the way Matthew wrote it may be slightly different, or put in a different place to serve a purpose for the people he was writing it for.  So not doubting that Jesus said it, but the way that Matthew words it may be slightly different than what Jesus said.  So Matthew may be telling his readers to be prepared for this return of Jesus, as he believed Jesus was telling the disciples.  Take the gifts that God gave you and use them to do more.

     And we can, like in other parables, view the landowner as God.  A talent is a measure of money.  It is about 75 pounds of silver, and represented about 16 and a half years of labor for a general laborer.  These were freely given by the landowner to these servants.  So this master gave the first servant 5 talents, what a general laborer could expect to earn in about 80 years of work, or more than this servant would probably ever make in his life, worth a whole lot of money.  And he makes it work for him.  Traded it, we are told, and doubles his masterís money.  Likewise the second servant gets two talents, trades it and makes two more.  But the last servant goes and hides his money in a hole.  He still has it when his master returns, but still one talent;  it has not grown at all.  But, if we view God as the landowner, did you hear what the last servant said ďI knew you were a harsh man, harvesting what you did not sow and gathering where God did not spread seed?

     Much like the UCC, the Presbyterian Church has very different rules in different parts of the country.  I started working for the Presbyterian Church in Michigan just after I graduated seminary, and was welcomed in with open arms.  I could speak at Presbytery meetings, and think they even gave me a vote after my ordination.  When I got to North Carolina I was told I had to drive and sit with an examinations committee before I would be voted in at a Presbytery meeting, if they recommended that for me.  Now I went through UCC polity in seminary, had been working in the Presbyterian Church, but needed to brush up on some things.  I was given a book to read before my meeting.  On the day of the meeting I went in to a small room, and across the table from me sat two older ministers, and a seminary professor.  For the next two hours, they could ask me any questions they wanted, and I got grilled like I had not been since I was in seminary.  In the end I did appear before the whole Presbytery at a meeting, where again they could ask me any questions, and then a vote was taken, I was approved, and I was allowed to sign a big book saying that I accepted my position in the Presbyterian Church as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  One of the areas we spent a lot of time in my examination on was our view of God. 

     The question was something like: ďIn the Old Testament many of the stories of God are not always full of love.  God destroyed a lot of people, just that flood story did in almost everyone in.  And then you get to the New Testament and we have a God of love and peace. Jesus not always peaceful, but certainly have heard it said that God is love.  Explain that to us.Ē  I donít remember all that I told them, or the follow up questions that came from my answer.  But I wonder, as I read this parable if it helps us to understand our view of God. 

     In our lives, we can explain most of what we do.  My wife and I bought a house about 8 years ago.  Why did we buy that one, well, it has a short driveway and a smaller yard, easy to take care of.  The house appeared to be well cared for, so probably would not find a lot of things that need to be fixed right after we moved in.  It has a big garage, and a pad next to the garage to park on trailer on.  It does not have a dining room or a spare bedroom, areas in some other houses we have lived in that were not useful to use and tended to just collect stuff.  This was the right size.  But are they really the reasons, or did I create those over the past 8 years to justify the house we bought.  I donít know the real reasons, maybe the house smelled a certain way, or felt a certain way.  We create reasons for most everything we do.  Advertisers know this: Are you ever going to drive your car really, really fast on a salt flat, or on a winding road along the ocean, probably not.  Are you ever going to haul 10,000 pounds of something with your truck, probably not.  But they give you an explanation on why you need that car or that truck, and that becomes a reality for you. 

     So the third servant says ďI know you are a harsh man.Ē  He has already set up that expectation, and just like our explanations often become truths, our expectations also can become self-fulfilling.  If you knew that I was a harsh man, and the landowner does not dispute this fact, then why did you bury the talent?  You know that I would not be happy getting back the same I gave to you, so you probably should have thought of a different thing to do with this to make me happy. 

     So back to God.  We all have bad things happen to us from time to time, life is not fair or perfect.  We imagine God primarily as an enforcer of rules, and we get hung up by the legalism of religion. We visualize God as stern and prone to punishment, and we come to believe that everything bad in our lives is punishment from God. We see God as arbitrary and thatís what we experience, a fickle and unsympathetic God who meets our expectations.

     On the other hand, when we view God primarily in terms of grace, we are surprised and uplifted by the numerous gifts and moments of grace we experience all around us. And when we imagine God to be a God of love, we find it far easier to experience Godís love in our own lives and to share it with others.
What you see, all too often, is just what you get. And so perhaps this parable is inviting us to examine closely the pictures of God I believe we each carry around inside of us. What do you think about when you think of God? Is God gracious or stern, loving or judgmental, eager for peace or prone to violence.

     Jesus tells this parable just days before he will give his life on the cross, not as a substitute or surrogate to be punished in our place, but rather as testimony to just how far God will go to communicate Godís love for us and all the world. Jesus has spent his life and ministry proclaiming Godís kingdom, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, offering forgiveness, and welcoming all who recognize their need, into the loving embrace of God. And for that message he is crucified. Thatís how much God wants us to know of Godís love. And just in case we miss or underestimate that message, God raises Jesus on the third day that we might know that life is stronger than death and love more powerful than hate.

     I invite you to take some time this week and think about how you view God.  There are probably times in which you view God as a harsh landowner, an enforcer of rules.  And how do you view others and yourself when you view God that way.  But I suspect there are other times in which you view God as a God of love, and in those times, probably have a very different view of others and of yourself.  You are a child of God and created in Godís image. 

     There is a great truth in taking all the gifts that God has freely given us, and using them to be Godís hands in this world.  But there is also a value in examining the way that we see God, and realizing how our expectations and explanations both can become reality.  I still donít know the right answer to the questions asked in that little room when I met with the examinations committee, but I do know that God was with me, and God continues to show me today that Godís character is beyond human words.