I could not have asked for a better Gospel reading as the starting place for my last sermon with you. It’s all about gifts – how to use them and what happens when we don’t.
I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for the servant who got only one talent. Think about how that must have felt. He must have felt at least a little cheated. Here were these others getting more than he had. So he may have been resentful. And he says he was scared of what the master’s reaction would be if he lost the one talent he’d been given. That makes some sense. It’s scary to think of losing all you have when that amount is small to begin with. So he may have thought he was being fiscally prudent. After all, investment can be risky.
But the master’s reaction is clear. He doesn’t care what the servant was thinking or feeling. He told the servants to invest the money, and this guy didn’t. .The master takes away even what he had. And then there is this very odd final verse. Jesus says, “For 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.”
And that’s the bit of this Gospel that I want to leave you to ponder. There are two major ways of living in the world. We can live in a spirit of scarcity or in a spirit of abundance.
A spirit of scarcity says, “There isn’t enough to go around. If I’m not careful, I’m going to lose out. I have to guard my wealth and my safety and my security, or someone will take them away.” The spirit of scarcity is a fearful spirit. It is fear of being in want or need. It is fear of anything or anyone who might be a threat to what we have. The spirit of scarcity sees anything or anyone new as a potential threat. The spirit of scarcity says no before it says yes. It sometimes disguises itself as prudence or good planning, but it is fearful of change or risk. The spirit of scarcity lives in a dangerous, hostile world in which it has no weapons except its own skill and effort. It is, in the end, a lonely place.
The other approach to the world is in a spirit of abundance. This spirit says, “The world is full of riches, and my life is filled with them as well. I have all I need, and if a new need arises, I will be able to meet it.” The spirit of abundance is a spirit of courage and joy. The spirit of abundance sees new people and new experiences as inviting new adventures. The spirit of abundance shares easily, because it knows there is always enough to go around. The spirit of abundance takes risks, always believing that taking risks brings its own rewards. The spirit of abundance lives in a welcoming joy-filled world, and that vision of the world creates the reality.
The servant with one talent is the perfect example of a spirit of scarcity. The master is angry with him because he lived in his fear. It doesn’t seem that the amount of return was the Master’s concern. What he wanted was for his servants to use the gifts they had been given.
And that’s what God wants of the Indian Hill Church. God has given us hundreds of talents, many, many gifts, and all the abundance we can ever need. We have more than we need. And God wants us to use what we have been given. We live in this world, not by the effort of our own wills, but by the grace and power of God. We can take all that we have been given and use it for wonderful things. But if we are going to do that, we must let go of fear. And we can only let go of fear when we realize that we live surrounded by Grace. As long as we remember that God’s love surrounds us and fills us, then we are free to live out of abundance.
Let me tell you a story. When I was first ordained, I went out one day to make pastoral calls. My first stop was at the home of an elderly woman. She lived alone, but she had a son who lived close by and who always made sure her house and yard were taken care of and that she got to the grocery store. She was a widow, but she had been married for many years to a man who seems to have been very kind.
But to hear her talk, she was the most miserable of people. She was angry that she was alone, she didn’t feel as though her son did enough for her, she was even angry at her husband for dying. I remember thinking that so many people would have given a lot to have a safe home to live in and a family to take care of them. But she only saw what she didn’t have.
My second visit was to see Joe in the hospital. He had just had both knees replaced. He had stitches up and down his legs and must have been in a good deal of pain. He was telling me the story of his family. It turns out that he and his wife had had a child who died in infancy. Each of them had struggled with a lot of issues. And as the story went on, I wondered how he could seem so peaceful. Life had handed both of them a lot of troubles. But just at the moment when I was getting ready to say how sorry I was for all the things they had gone through, he said, “You know, Doris and I have been so blessed. We have been given so much. And when life has been hard, we have had our friends and our family and our faith to support us. And we have stayed in love over all these years. I couldn’t be a luckier person.”
I spent a lot of time thinking about those two very different visits. And I think this is just what Jesus is saying in that last part of the Gospel. Joe and his wife had been through some terrible things, but they lived out of the abundance of their love for each other and God’s love for them, so everything good in their lives became even more valuable. The elderly woman, on the other hand, lost even the good things she had because she refused to see them or use them for good. “For 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.”
Now, of course, most of us aren’t at one end of the spectrum or the other. Mostly, we live with a mixture of faith and fear. And each of us has to struggle with how we will respond to the challenges life throws at us. That’s what learning to be a Christian is all about. We just keep working at it!
So I want to leave you with a challenge and a charge. It is this: When you make decisions, for yourselves as individuals, for your families, and most of all, for this community of faith, stop and think. Remember God’s goodness; remind yourselves that you are children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember that God has promised to give us everything we need. Remind each other of how good God has been to us. Encourage each other to take loving risks, to dare to do something new and different for God and for each other. Let go of fear. Dare to trust. Live out of the abundance that is ours.
I can tell you with absolute assurance that as you do that, you will find riches and miracles that you can’t even imagine. That is God’s promise and it can be trusted.
Let us pray:
O God, you have filled our lives with gifts and blessings. Help us now and always to accept those riches, and to trust your goodness and faithfulness in giving them. Then help us to share them with a world that so badly needs to hear your voice and feel your touch. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.