ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBTYERIAN CHURCH NOVEMBER 19, 2017
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
MONEY IN YOUR MATTRESS
Isaiah 25: 1 – 10; Matthew 25: 14 – 30
Years ago, friends were selling the home of a recently deceased relative. They had emptied the home, cleaned it and were about to leave when the Dad decided to look in the attic. There, between the joists, was a shoe box. He took it down and opened it to find $25,000.00. The shock and joy of finding the money was doubled when the family realized they’d come very close to selling the house with the money still in it. The man who had lived there grew up in the depression when it wasn’t uncommon for people to hide their money rather then investing it or depositing it in a bank. The collapse of the stock market had taught them that financial speculation was too perilous; men had lost everything. Rather than take that chance, people were content to keep what they had. Hiding money in one’s mattress became a cliché of the time. Many people slept better knowing they slumbered on their security.
The practice of financial speculation goes back before the time of Jesus and it was always a risky business. Even then the adventurous could make money or lose money through investing while the cautious slept peacefully knowing their money was hoarded in some safe harbour. Jesus “parable of the talents” told of a wealthy man who went on a trip, but before he departed he honoured three of his servants by entrusting each with a large sum of money according to their ability. The first got 5 talents or coins, the second 2 and the third 1. A talent was the equivalent of 20 years wages, so even the fellow with 1coin had been entrusted with a lot of cash. The first two servants seized the opportunity, took a gamble and doubled their funds. The last one buried his, keeping it safe until his master returned. When the master finally returned, he was pleased with the entrepreneurial skills of his first two servants but rather than rewarding them with an indexed pension, he promoted them to positions of greater responsibility. The third guy – not so much. Seeing the positive outcome, this servant approached his master cautiously. He began by rationalizing his actions. He put the responsibility squarely on the master, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25: 24 & 25). Listen carefully to his words. This servant despised his master. He called him “harsh”. He accused the master of less than ethical business practices saying he extracts more profit from his business transactions than his proper due. He expressed no gratitude for the master’s trust but instead indicated it was a terrifying responsibility which he’d have rather not had. His limited respect was to grudgingly acknowledge his master’s authority. On top of this he had looked out, not for the master’s best interests, but for his own. He sought, no to serve his master, but to protect himself. He was content to save his own skin, rather than please his Master. In short, he didn’t trust his master and so was afraid. He’d hoarded the money in a hole in the ground and presented it to the master as if he’d done him a favour. The Master wasn’t buying it. He called the servant wicked and lazy and told him the very least he could have done was made a cautious investment with the bank. Then the master took the money from the third servant and gave it to the first. Then came the judgement; he condemned the third servant to eternal exile.
The immediate meaning of Jesus’ teaching would not have been lost on the people of his day, but it would have shocked them because it countered their religious practices. The parable targeted the Scribes and Pharisees whose approach to their faith was to rigidly keep the Law exactly as it was, in order to return it to God exactly as they’d received it. They buried what God had entrusted to them out of fear. The trouble was, their approached turned the Law of God into a static, rigid, lifeless, life-sucking observance. There was no room for variation, change, alteration, growth, development or fresh insight. There was no space for the Holy Spirit to act or reveal or move. Their religion lacked a sense of adventure and new life. Their so-called devotion was controlled by fear and their fear came from lack of in God and their mistrust revealed what they really thought of their heavenly master. On top of that their stagnant faith didn’t bear fruit; instead it caused others to be equally paralyzed in their devotion, discipleship, understanding and lives. They had created a culture not of life but of death.
This parable may be shocking to us as well. Often, we’ve viewed our faith as something we “keep” just as we might keep a law. We think of faith as something static. It’s like an immoveable rock in the rapid changing current of life. It’s not something we think of as an adventure. We protect it, rather than take any risks with it. We aim to give it back to God, untouched. Jesus reminds us faith is a dynamic relationship with our heavenly master. Our goal in living our faith is not our own security, but God’s pleasure. A faith-filled, faithful life is one in which we take the many treasures God has entrusted to us and invest them to the best of our ability. This is a great honour. As God has entrusted us, so we trust God. All God asks is that we give it our best effort. We recognize his benevolence and lay aside our fears. We recognize his love for us and love him back. We try. We don’t bury it, we go for it.
God has entrusted us with many treasures. The first is the good news of Jesus Christ; the gift of salvation through grace by faith. We bury this when we think of it as a private gift given only for our personal benefit. We invest this gift when our faith is transformed into action. Sharing our faith, whether by words or actions, is an adventure. We do it at the potential risk to our own safety. We do it not knowing if it will multiply or fall into the soil of a hard and thorny heart. When we do, we don’t know if it will bear fruit and multiply or if we will be used, abused, taken advantage of, or looked upon as saps. God entrusts to us our faith. It is a living, lively relationship. What will we do with our spiritual capacity? Invest it or bury it. God is pleased when we invest in it.
God entrusts us with relationships. Several years ago, two Christian friends of mine were going through a divorce. Because her husband invested more in his work than in their marriage, the wife felt unloved and neglected. As the marriage was unravelling she said to him, “I am the talent God gave you which you chose to bury.” They were incredibly insightful and heart wrenching words. God entrusts us with people to love; people about whom we’re to care. We’re called build into each other’s lives, to lift one another up, to help each other become the person God created us to be. That requires risk – we may get hurt, the love we offer may not be reciprocated, we may end up giving more than we receive. Yet regardless of whom we’re in relationship, whether its with a life partner, children, family members, friends or with our brothers and sisters in Christ; it’s the most wonderful adventure life offers. What are the ways you bury the treasure of relationships? By being emotionally or physically absent? Burying yourself in work or a hobby? Keeping the fun times for your friends? Putting yourself first? It pleases God when we invest in one another.
God entrusts us with gifts and abilities unique to each of us. Everyone is creative in some way, because our heavenly Father is creative. Your abilities may lie in the area of sports, art, music, crafts, or intellect. They may lie in nurturing, healing, caring, helping or teaching. Perhaps your gifts are administrative, technological, or hands-on practical skills. We bury these gifts when we diminish them in our minds; when we convince ourselves, we have nothing to offer. When we neglect our abilities, we are at risk of handing them back to God still wrapped in the original package. What fear keeps you from using your gift? What gifts are you neglecting? What can you do to develop your gifts? How can you use those abilities to enrich the lives of others? How might you use your gifts to bring glory to God?
Finally, God entrusts us with our own souls. Perhaps this is the treasure we neglect most often. There’s a quote I’d like to share, attributed to various people: “You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” God smiles when we unearth our truest selves and shine.
Our generous Master entrusts us with his own treasures. This is a great honour. What we do with them is a sign of our love for him. We’re free to bury them or to grow them. We can hide them or leverage them for his kingdom. He has left us to our own devices, but he will return and will ask for an accounting of what we’ve done with his endowments. What will you return to him? In what are you investing?