We hear the challenge from the Prophet Zephaniah.
We hear the joy the master finds in the worker that goes out and doubles the talents.
We are challenged by these stories.
Do we go out and turn what we’ve been given into double what it could be? Or, do we safely dig a hole and bury it to be certain it is still there when the time comes?
People of God, grace to you and peace from God, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN
We find ourselves at part two of our mid-November three week sermon series – Out of the ordinary – Where, as we approach the end of ordinary time in the church year, we hear from prophets that call us out of our comfort.
Last week we had Amos calling us to fight and work for a world that realizes justice, that justice would roll down like a mighty water. We continue this week and we will hear from the Prophet Zephaniah.
Along with the Prophet Zephaniah we hear Jesus tell the disciples the Parable of the Talents, where there is a master going away and puts in charge three of his workers. He gives them control of his talents. Now, a talent was about 15 years worth of labor, so it is no small deal that this master, this man is going away from town and he’s putting five and two and one talents in the hands of his workers.
The worker to whom he gives five talents, goes out and doubles. And the master returns to five more talents. The worker to whom he gives, two doubles that and the master returns to two more talents, the worker to whom he gives one single talent sees it, fears what might happen if he messes it up, and buries the one talent in a hole. So, when the master returns, he says, “here you go, I didn’t lose it. You still have your one.”
And, like any parable we are to question, what does all of this mean? Who are we in this parable? Who are we in this story that Jesus is telling? Why might Jesus be telling this story to his disciples? What is at the heart of it?
It is an image of the church…to put it bluntly. This is an image of the church. As people of faith, in our baptism, we are called claimed, gathered into one body. But beyond that, we are sent. Going back to the great commission when Jesus tells his disciples “go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing and teaching them all that I’ve commanded you.”
We are given that mandate in our baptism. We are given that mandate in our baptism that as church we are to act as the worker who was given five talents – to go out and duplicate. Or, the worker who was given two, if we feel like the ‘talents’ we bring aren’t that great – we can still duplicate.
But, we hear the stern warning that the master gives the one who did nothing, who thought it would be more safe to not risk what had been. He holds onto that one talents saying, “I know what I’ve got here. I know this. And the only way I can be sure that this doesn’t get messed up is if I bury this in a hole and make sure nothing happens…” and the master comes back angry.
“How dare you think that, you know how I would handle this one talent.”
He was afraid of what could be. This worker who took the one talent and buried it in the hole – He was afraid of what might become. You see, digging the hole and burying it and doing nothing to duplicate, to expand, to multiply, to broaden was more comfortable.
But the master says to his workers, “to those who I trust with little, I will give more.”
The one who takes the one talent and buries it is afraid of what could be.
It is more comfortable.
It is more easy.
It is more certain.
If you don’t do anything then you know what you will always have.
If you don’t try change it then what you have is what will always be.
Zephaniah, our prophet, who we highlight his talking point in this preaching series.
Verse 12, “At that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs.”
I will punish the people who will arrest complacently.
Complacence is comfortable.
Allowing things just to be the way they’ve been is comfortable because you know what you have.
Going back to last week, Amos calling us to fight for justice, calling us to imagine how the seams of the people of God might tear open just a little bit and allow expansion. You can’t do that simply being complacent. The fight for justice is not one where you can just go dig a hole and say, “I’m just going to keep it the way it’s always been.”
It can’t be that way. Rather the fight for justice needs to be treated like the one who was given five and turned it into five more because it took risk. There will be hurt and there will be discomfort and there will be pain, and uneasiness. We are called as people of God to fight for justice. We are called as people of God to look at what God’s church might be, rather than say, we like the way it’s been.
We know it’s comfortable to do nothing. We know it’s comfortable and easy to just say, “look how great it has been. It should be that way again.”
Guess what? If all we do is say that it should be one way and don’t do anything about it then it isn’t going to be that way.
And, the prophets tell us as much. The prophets tell us “you need to get out and do something about it.”
The prophets tell us that we cannot just sit in your comfort and complacently watch as the world goes by. Because we, as people of God, are called to imagine what God’s church could be. As people of faith we are called to challenge ourselves to think about what we are doing to help dig the hole to bury the one talent.
Our comforts are challenged. Our ordinary, which as people of faith and seemingly and perhaps specifically as Lutherans, our normal is challenged. We don’t like change. Right? We are being challenged. These last two weeks in the words from these prophets, we are being challenged to change, to think about what more could be.
And I know it’s really weird to think about change and what more could be when we are locked in our homes and can’t go out and we are isolated. But, by God, if you could just see who is being reached, we would know that the word of God is spreading, even though we can’t be in our building.
This stinks. This all stinks. I’m not going to say it doesn’t, but this is church. We have been thrust out of our ordinary, out of our normal, into some make-up of what God desired for the church. And we are faced with a challenge.
Do we want to turn the five into five more? Or, do we want to dig a hole and bury the one to make sure we still have it.
People of God, we have been given a promise. We’ve been given a hope and we’ve been given a call to imagine what the church could be. The challenge of this is the question of…
What do we do with it?
Do we act as the first two who multiply the talents they’ve been given? Or do we act as the one who digs a hole and buries it?
What we become as a church will be defined by how we answer that question. What we look like as a church when we get to the other side, when the metaphorical master returns to see what we’ve done with our talents is going to be determined by how we answer that question. But the fact is that we’ve been given a promise, a hope and a call to wonder what church might be.
It is that promise, that hope, that call, and that sending that we need to decide here and now and in the future, what we do with it. And, we remember the challenge, the warning from Zephaniah,
“at that time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs. Those who say in their hearts, ‘the Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.’”
The thinking that we know the way it’s going to be. And the thinking that we know that the way that we’ve always done it as the way it needs to be done, that is the complacence that Zephaniah challenges that is the complacence that the master returned and was so angry about.
When the one thought it was good enough to just dig a hole and bury it.
God doesn’t call us into certainty in these texts.
God calls us into discomfort.
God calls us into uneasiness.
God calls us into a hope and a promise
that is bigger than the uncertainty
that is bigger than the uneasiness
that is bigger than the trouble
or whatever you want to call it.
God is with us in the midst of that.
Thanks be to God. AMEN