What Kind of God do you See?

November 19, 2017 (24th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 28/Ordinary 33)
Service for the Lord’s Day with the Sacrament of Baptism for Charlie Comisar
Indian Hill Church
Cincinnati, OH
Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
Matthew 25:14-30
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

25:14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then 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.’ 21 His 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.’ 22 And 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.’ 23 His 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.’ 24 Then 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But 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? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, NRSV)

Let us pray: God of the covenant, even when we fall into sin, your Spirit invites us to remember that you chose us to be your servant people. Awaken us to the talents and gifts you bless us with for the good of all creation, and grant that we may be trustworthy in all things, producing abundantly as we seek to build your kingdom. Amen.

Seth Godin is a marketing expert turned entrepreneur, blogger, author, and he has even done a few TED Talks. He is a graduate of Stanford Business School, and known for making some pretty bold statements. For example, one of his books is entitled “All Marketers Are Liars.” His premise is that it is not just marketers who lie, but on some level, all of us lie. What he means by this audacious statement is that each of us, even sub-consciously, tell ourselves things that are not completely true. But by telling ourselves these things over and over we begin to live into them and thus they become true at least for us. So, we tell ourselves stories about why we shop at Target instead of Walmart, why we buy the brand name instead of the store brand, or we drive a Chevy instead of a Ford. And by and large these reasons, while interesting, do not so much accurately describe the factual truth but instead they describe our perception of truth. And as most of us have come to learn, perception is reality.

The parable of the Talents is a great example of perception becoming reality. Now, let me say up front this parable is not about money and investment strategies. Instead, I believe it is about the blessings that God has given to each of us, that is our skills, talents, abilities, opportunities and it is also about our response to these gifts. Such as our fear, our joy, and our lack of faith that keep us from using them.

In the parable, we know nothing about the landowner except that he was going on a trip, and in his absence, he trusted his property to these three slaves. By trusting them, we learn that he was giving, and he was also discerning, as he gave to each of them according to their ability; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one. He gives these three salves talents to invest. He, in fact, was willing to entrust each of them with enormous amount of money. One talent represents about 15 years of wages for a laborer. The landowner seems like a very generous and giving person.

We also don’t know much about the slaves, other than what we perceive as their abilities that coincide with the number of talents they received. So, the parable plays out and the third servant, the one who received only one talent, took that talent and buried it in the ground. Why? Well, he says “I was afraid.” His reaction to his fear is to lash out at the landowner. Notice what he says: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” Wow! His fear has taken over his perception of the landowner. Neither the first nor the second servant said anything like this. Quite the opposite, the first two servants believe that the landowner has confidence in them as he affirms their abilities. So, in return they can take risks and invest their talents. It is only the third servant who is paralyzed by fear. Therefore, his image of the landowner becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, his perception becomes reality.

While the first two servants do not seem afraid, because they invest and make a profit and they return that profit to the landowner. In turn, the landowner praises them, rewards them with even greater responsibility, and invites them to enter into his joy. While the fear filled third servant is cast out into the outer darkness.

So, what does this parable have to do with us? Well, I want you to take a moment and think, wonder with me for a second… I wonder how often perception becomes reality for us in our relationships. With others and with God.

Who do we see when we see God?

Do we imagine God as the great scorekeeper in the heaven logging every sin we commit?

Do we see God as stern and punishing? Believing that every bad event in our lives is a direct punishment from God.

Do we see God as arbitrary and unpredictable? Believing life to be a crap shoot, or in the words of the modern theologian Forrest Gump, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!”

Or do we see God full of grace? That we are overwhelmed by the numerous blessings we experience all around us.

Or when we imagine God do we see love? Seeing God as love enables us to share love with others.

My point is, that what we see or imagine, is more than likely what we get. And so perhaps this parable is inviting us to closely examine the pictures of God I believe we each carry around inside of us.

So, what do you see or think about when you think of God? Is God gracious or stern, loving or judgmental, eager for peace or prone to violence. How we see God tells a lot about our own theology and our own perception of life, faith and the world.

Take a moment and draw or write what God you see…

Let me tell you about the God I see and believe in and preach about…it has taken me my lifetime to come to this understanding. I see God, as generous and giving. God has given us all we need to follow him even in his absence. I fully understand that I am speaking out of a place of privilege as I say this, but I believe that we have been blessed for living and for giving, for love and for faithfulness. In seeing God as generous we will experience the miracle and abundance of life. If we see God as a scary task master, then that is that kind of life we will get. We will experience life “as a miserable scarcity.”

If we view God as generous and kind, then we are more likely to live kind and generous lives. Our actions will imitate God’s actions. If we view God as unforgiving and vindictive, then guess what? Our lives will imitate that image of God and we will be unforgiving and vindictive. Jesus is telling this parable to help us see that God is generous beyond anything we deserve and gives us gifts to use, to risk, to share God’s love, God’s grace and God’s mercy with the world.

What struck me this week in reading this text (and wondering what I could tell Charlie) is that God is calling us to take risks with our life, to go out on a limb, to not sit back and wait paralyzed by fear. And that is how God wants us to live. God does not want us to sit back with our hands in our pockets and save every dime just to make sure we will have enough later in life. God wants us to use the gifts God has entrusted to us, and to take some risks, to invest our talents in others and making the world a better place and finally to give them away. Sitting back and not doing anything is wasting your life.

I don’t believe that God creates us to live in fear…instead Jesus calls us to leave our fear behind and give ourselves over totally to trust and faith in God. We too are called to use our talents — and to trust in a loving and generous God, who finds great joy in you. Fear not!

Let us pray: