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Pentecost 24A Sermon
Matthew 25: 14-30
19, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The parable of the talents in our Gospel lesson is a prime example of the expression, “I didn’t see THAT coming!” The man going on the journey has decided to leave part of his vast wealth with three different slaves. A talent was worth about fifteen years of wages for a laborer. Calculating at a pretty moderate rate, if a laborer made about $15 per hour in today’s dollars, then one talent would be worth about a half a million dollars. Did you see THAT coming? That’s two and a half million for the first slave, one million for the second, and a half for the third. That’s a lot of money to be leaving in the care of servants. But, in a time before banks, it would not have been too out of the ordinary to do this.

You know the story – when I read it this morning, it was probably about a dozen or more times that you had heard it. The first two take a chance with the master’s money and it pays off, being doubled in the time that he was away. The third plays it safe, buries it and gives it back when the master returns. Now, it really shouldn’t surprise us that the first two servants are commended in such a way – after all, if you came home and found that someone had doubled your money, you would be very excited and thankful! But the third servant does nothing wrong. He didn’t lose any of it, but (out of fear of what his master might do) he buries it until the master returns. We cannot blame this servant for doing this … so, when I hear the master call the third slave wicked, I can honestly say that I really didn’t see THAT coming.

This reading this morning builds upon the reading from the beginning of Matthew 25 – the passage on which Judd preached last Sunday, the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Waiting and watching and living in this time between Jesus’ first physical appearance on earth and his next appearance – as our lives roll on, these are the things that we think about. It is easy to be lulled to sleep with a false sense of, “I know exactly what this day will bring me…” so that when something happens that we don’t expect – either good or bad – we just don’t know how to react. As a matter of fact, we get so busy with the sleepy nature of our safe lives that we end up like the third slave – not wanting to step out of our comfort zone, to risk anything in order to increase the gifts that our God has entrusted to us. While the term, “talent” does refer to an amount of money, the pun is certainly not lost on us; God blesses us with talents which can be buried or used to increase God’s kingdom.
I recently experienced two surprises which have encouraged me in my faith as well as shook me up in my faith. Neither of these examples I saw coming. First of all, last year as we talked about the Hunger Walk that we have with North Community each August, we were looking to increase our presence in the Clintonville Farmer’s Market. The director said that if we volunteer, oh say three times, we would be part of the market and we could hand out our flyers and bags at the market director’s tent. When spring came around I started to think, “Do I really want to do this? It is just something more to have to do …” But I felt it was important to get into the market, so I signed up for three shifts, setting up. What I didn’t see coming was the joy that it brought me, getting there, grabbing a cup of coffee, meeting the director and her assistant, setting up their two tents, putting up signs and saying hello to the farmers who set up there. I went online and signed up some more. By the time it ended for the season yesterday, I volunteered on a dozen Saturdays! And I got a $5 voucher for produce, and was able to attend their end of year party last week as well. I truly didn’t see that coming, but that’s the way it is when we use what God has given us, not make excuses and hide it away in our “busy lives” and expect to be surprised with the presence of God along the way.

Those kinds of instances help, especially when the second instance of surprise happens, like what occurred this last Monday. It was typical beginning of the week – actually since I hadn’t seen some of my family for a while, I stopped at Wolfe and Sons to talk with my sister, brother and others in my extended family. We laughed and joked and I came to the church without thinking that this was going to be any different of a week. Then as I was pulling my lunch out of the refrigerator my cell phone rang. It was my sister, Brinda. I answered and immediately heard weeping on the other end of the phone. It took her about a minute until she was able to get the words out that her oldest son, my nephew Chris, was dead. On top of that, he had taken his own life. She was at his house so I immediately put on my coat and went over. We embraced and cried together. Chris’ longtime girlfriend was there and I embraced her. She just kept asking, “why?” I could only say, “I don’t know …”

We didn’t see it coming … or if anyone did, they shrugged it off as him being down in the dumps. Certainly he would pull out of it on his own. He was so kind and laid back, easy going and fun loving. Sure he had occasionally told people that life was tough and that he felt depressed. But we all feel that way, don’t we? We just didn’t see THAT coming! So now, how do we react when this kind of surprise hits us – the kind of surprise which is life changing, and not in a good way? We grieve. We cry. We get angry. We feel guilty. We are confused. We embrace and we will probably even notice things a little more, going out of our way to show expressions of love for a while … until we get lulled back into the routine of life and something happens again to surprise.

But what if we woke up every morning expecting to be surprised that very day? What if we left our houses not weighed down by the burden of facing the same old challenges, but inspired to expect to meet the goodness of a loving God? Maybe people like my nephew would not have hidden those battles behind the mask of always being “alright.” What if we were honest with our feelings with each other? What if we were honestly interested in the feelings of those around us? What if we really thought about how valuable this gift of life, entrusted to us by God himself, is so that we don’t bury it, but enjoy it, multiply it, and use it to praise God?

Ironically, I have always envied Chris for getting the most out of life. I know he had struggles with things, but he also had so many friends, loved seeing live music, camping, canoeing, good food and good drink. But even though this life has come to an end for him, his story is not done. Ironically on Monday morning before my wife left the house for work – to a job that she was leaving on Tuesday because of being physically and mentally beat up at it – I used a theological term on her. I said, “Have a good penultimate day at work.” She looked at me like I was weird! She asked what penultimate meant, and I said, “It means next to last. Ultimate is the final or last thing; penultimate is the next to last thing.” It comes from my seminary days. Death – all death, from Jesus on the cross to my nephew last Monday and beyond – is often thought of as the ultimate chapter in our lives. But the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is only the penultimate chapter – it is the next to last one. And as we go on living our lives, we can think of Chris and be inspired to enjoy all of those things that did bring him joy in life. And when we are called to our heavenly homes, we can fully expect to be with him there as well – THAT is the gift, the promise that we see coming through the love of God!

When Martin Luther was tucked away in the Wartburg Castle, Phillip Melanchthon was in charge of the continuing public work of the reformation. It wasn’t going well, because Phillip and others feared for their lives. That is when Martin wrote a letter to him with that famous quote: “Sin boldly, but trust even more boldly!” In other words, do something! Brothers and sisters in Christ, do something this week to increase the gifts that God has given you. Prepare to be surprised in good, loving ways. And when it happens that you are surprised in terrible, even evil ways, trust that it is not the ultimate surprise coming – it is only the penultimate one! The ultimate surprise from God is joy and resurrection and new life. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.