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Save. Matthew 25:14-30 November 15, 2015
Brothers and sisters – my preaching professor taught me years ago when a
national or world tragedy happens, words of hope and comfort need to come
from the pulpit. I want you to know that the first portion of the sermon, which
includes a skit by our worship and arts team, is the sermon I wrote earlier this
week. But I will address the tremendous pains of this past week.
With that, this morning we continue a modified version of our sermon series
entitled Earn. Save. Give.
It’s based on a sermon by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that he
wrote to enable faithful disciples to manage their money in ways that are
consistent with their commitment to Christ.
Wesley was an Anglican, or Episcopalian, priest, who over time grew to believe
the denomination had become an institution removed from its mission. Rather
than make disciples of Jesus Christ, and care for the least and the lost, and be a
voice against injustice; the denomination had become too entrenched in society,
in caring for its place among the power brokers and movers and shakers.
Wesley decided to not create a separate denomination – that was never his
intention -- but a movement within the Anglican church – a movement that was
so methodical in the ways the people prayed, and studied the Bible, and
gathered for growth groups and went out and visited in the hospitals and the
prisons, protested against slavery and child labor and poverty – that they were
derisively called Methodists. And eventually became a denomination that one
day planted a church in the heart of Hollywood.
In our first week, we spoke of how the saints who went before us built this
amazing sanctuary during the years of the Great Depression. Last week Pastor
Blair reminded us of the importance that Wesley placed on earning all you can,
to enable ministry to happen.
Today our focus is on saving all you can, in the formula Wesley laid out in his
sermon on the use of money: We are to earn all we can and save all we can, and
then give all we can.
Today we’re in the middle, with Wesley affirmatively stating
“Save all you can.”
Now, if you just took the first the two points, you might think that Wesley was
a strong proponent of the prosperity Gospel, which essentially says that God
wants us to live the American dream, amassing more and more wealth for
ourselves, because wealth is a sign of God’s blessings and God wants us to be
Let me be clear: that is not my theology, nor that of Wesley. In fact, as a
measure of striving towards holiness of heart and mind, Wesley lived far below
his means. As an academic at Oxford, as a member of the clergy, it was
expected that his lifestyle would reflect that of a learned man, one with status
obligations to society.
Wesley rejected that notion, and believed his only obligation was to God and
God’s people. Even though his income rose annually, and sometimes greatly
due to his employment, he did not increase his annual expenditures. He limited
his expenditures and saved his money so that he could give it away. In fact,
one year, when audited by the English equivalent of the IRS, Wesley responded:
“I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate
(meaning silverplate) I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so
many round me want bread.”
Wesley understood the connection between his own wealth and the poverty of
others. He also understood that true holiness, true contentment in Jesus Christ
comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have, and how we
can care for others, rather than thinking about what else we might buy or
accumulate for ourselves.
Wesley knew if we started spending money on things we did not really need,
we’d both be wasting money that could go to better use; and we’d increase our
desires for things of the world, instead of things of God. That’s why he
believed in saving all we can – not to dip into later for ourselves, but to have
money to spend on good uses.
But you know -- that kind of holiness is hard.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we need to be a little cautious
in our understanding of what it means. It’s been used as an illustration of the
prosperity Gospel which I spoke of earlier; it’s been used as a parable of
judgment in the afterlife for those who live this life in fear without trust and
risk in God.
I suppose I see it differently, especially today.
The man in Matthew’s parable wants peace and security. He’s going on a trip
and needs his property tended. He brings together three servants. To the first
he gives 5 talents, or about 100 years wages; to the next he gives 2 talents, or
about 40 years wages; and to the last he gives 1 talent, about 20 years wages.
And he tells them he trusts them with his treasure.
The two who received multiple talents invested in stocks and bonds and cattle
and real estate and so when their boss comes back they are able to give him an
100% return on his investment. He’s thrilled!
But the servant who received only one talent – because he was afraid of the
boss, he didn’t want to risk losing anything. So he had dug a hole in the
ground and placed his talent there. When the boss returned he gave him the
entirety of his investment back, but because he had been afraid of risk, of
losing that which had been entrusted to him, he had chosen to do nothing.
I believe this parable is about our attitude and how we use all that has been
entrusted to us as God’s people. If we see God as only to be feared, as the
source of all judgment rather than all love, then understandably we will be like
the servant with one talent, hesitant to risk out in faith in any way – by
investing any of our time, or talent, or treasure to build the kingdom. But if we
live as people confident in the all inclusive and never-changing love of God in
Jesus Christ, then think what our investments -- time, of talent, and of treasure
– and also of love and faith, can bring? Love and faith, like money, require the
taking of risks in order to grow. And risks require relationships, and
relationships require opening ourselves to questionable as well as mighty
One among us who has long risked so much of her time and talent and treasure
in building relationships with our homeless brothers and sisters, is our beloved
Pauley. Last Thursday she was attacked by a mentally ill homeless man last
Thursday not far from her home. All things considered, she’s ok. But in the
face of that attack, hear how continued to risk while it was going on. Even
though this man was punching her and threatening her life, Pauley prayed. For
her safety, and for him. One she was able to call upon the strength of God’s
love for each of us and for all of us – by asking his name and then connecting
with him by saying that her nephew had the same sweet name – he let her go.
And when Pauley was telling her story in the media on Friday, she risked in
three other ways: first, by proclaiming herself as a person of faith, as Sam
Rubin described her on KTLA; second, by proclaiming forgiveness upon him;
and third, by calling attention to the critical need for Mental Health services in
our country but ESPECIALLY here in Hollywood. Amen?
Brothers and sisters, that’s risk taking. That’s investment. That’s true holiness,
as Wesley would say.
There’s a commercial running on cable television that introduces us to the
“Moore” or “more” family. They want more of this. They want more of that, all
of which is possible by spending more with this particular outfit.
Brothers and sisters, there are things we should want more of too.
mental health services, especially for the least and the lost among us. More
investments in those talents, those treasures, that bring forth the kingdom.
And as especially as of Friday afternoon: More peace on earth. Amen?
I spent most of Friday afternoon and evening, and yesterday like many of you –
alternating between the news and sobbing over the senseless loss of life of
these precious innocents in Paris. Trying to find reason where none exists.
Praying for peace and comfort for all.
And being crystal clear about God in the process:
1) These senseless acts of violence are not God’s will nor is violence ever
the will of God. Amen? Our God who loves us so deeply would never will
such pain and suffering on any of us.
2) God’s heart is breaking over the hurts and pains of those wounded and
killed by extremists who have co-opted a faith, any religion, to slaughter
in the name of God for their own sake; for their own political power.
And while Paris was the most horrendous massacre on Friday, there were
dozens killed by presumably the same group last week in Baghdad and Beirut;
and a few months ago, 156 by the same in Kenya. There are no words to
express the depths of our anguish at the inhumanity possible in our world. The
millennial Somali-British poet Warshan Shire offered this yesterday:
With so much pain, how do we as people of faith respond? Let me offer these
completely unsatisfying thoughts.
First, we can indeed pray over our own world atlases or maps, asking God for
peace to prevail. Whatever human action we as nations or as individuals take, it
needs to be rooted in the justice and peace that only God can offer. Amen?
Second, if you do not follow the great writer Anne Lamott on FB or Twitter, to
find inspiration and hope, do. Her books are wonderful; her essays especially
in times of trial are exceptional. Here’s an excerpt from yesterday:
I wish there was a website we could turn to called, "What it means, What is True,
and What to do." We know that "Why" is not a useful question; and "Figure it out"
is not a good slogan.
So where do we find grace and light? If you mean right now, the answer is
Nowhere. Grace always does bat last, and the light always overcomes the
darkness--always, historically. But not necessarily later the same day, or
tomorrow, after lunch. Wendell Berry told me 25 years ago, in Advent, the
darkest shortest days of winter, "It gets darker and darker and darker, and then
Jesus is born." But it is only November 13! It gets even darker.
What is the answer? Gandhi is almost always the answer. Jesus's love for the
poor and refugees is the answer. Adding a bit of light and warmth to these cold
dark days doesn't hurt. Candles are beautiful and bring a soup of solace to our
souls. People living on the streets could really use your old blankets and jackets.
Grace will always show up in the helpers, as Mr. Rogers' mother used to tell him
in times of tragedy.
Finally, we need to be the helpers that show up. Like Megan Goldberg who
drags her dad out of bed to deliver hot oatmeal and coffee to the folks living in
the park near them. Like all of you who bring clothes and blankets for our
homeless ministry. Like those of you who write your elected officials asking
what they are doing to help the least and lost among us.
We need to be the embodiment of the holiness that Wesley preached – folks
who understood our call from God to earn, save and give – live on 80%, save
10% and give 10% to bring forth the kingdom of God on earth. And live as
peacemakers in this broken and hurting world.
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