Thursday, November 10, 2011

Risk Management and the Faithful Christian

Matthew 25: 14-30

My investment manager, a devout Catholic, noted that in his circles of the shirtless and shoeless in sunny San Jose, it is well known that Matthew, of the Gospel fame, was the very first Christian Investment Banker.  His mantra, so says my friend, was ‘Short Moab, Long Jehovah’.  Who knew?  Some things they just don’t teach you in Seminary.

You see most of the time the Moabites and the Israelites didn’t see eye to eye, what with the Moabites worshipping that pagan god Chemosh.  That’s why, according to my friend, Matthew’s mantra was short Moab - not a great investment for the future, and long Jehovah – God.  This is a much more profitable investment in the long run. 

Today’s sermon is about money, investing and our giving.  No, we don’t always talk about money for those who use that as an excuse to disengage from the church.  Even though Jesus talked quite a deal about money….this is just one sermon out of 52 or it’s a mere 1.9% of the time to be exact, that we will talk about money. 

Today’s sermon also, and more importantly is about your faith in God and your level of trust and confidence that the Spirit of God is behind and evident in everything that we are attempting to accomplish at Wilton Congregational.  It’s about your belief that all of our outreach into the community fulfills Jesus’ command to ‘follow me and do for the least of these’.  It’s about a narrative.  God’s narrative and our call to be an active, contributing player within God’s narrative. 

Hear now the Parable of the Talents from the Gospel of Matthew, 25th chapter.

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.” 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.”

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.” 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.”

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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

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? 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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.

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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

You always know that when a parable ends with the phrase ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ it means that someone, somehow made a very bad decision, chose the door with no prize behind it.  A verse like this makes you feel like you’ve just put on a scratchy burlap bag without any protective undergarments.  It brings great discomfort.   The third slave, who had been given only one talent, hid it rather than to invest it.  Some might think this is prudent but this doesn’t seem to be where Jesus is heading with the parable, so weeping and gnashing of teeth are in order for this slave.

We can look at this parable in many different ways.  It is the third of four stories which highlight how people should live until the ‘end times’ come.  It is very much a parable of judgment and our daily living. Two of the slaves acted with fidelity and confidence and showed some responsibility with what they had been given.  “Well done good and trustworthy slaves.”  

One, however, did not.  Bad move.  This parable shows us that God values fidelity of one’s commitment, not one’s accomplishments or accumulation of wealth.  It doesn’t seem to matter that one slave had five talents and one had two and one had only one.  That’s not the point.  They all received talent.  They all were expected to use their talents.

The point is, what did they do with their talents? How did they invest wisely what had been given to them?  The five and ten talent men acted in faith the one talent man was lead by his fear.  The first two men took a risk but the third didn’t.  It is said that ‘the greatest risk is not taking a risk at all’. [i]  The third man took did not risk his talent because of his fear.  That decision was the greatest risk of all.

All of us, whatever endowments we have been given, are servants of God and are expected to use our endowments for the betterment of God’s kingdom here on earth.      Jesus, in telling this parable to his disciples, who by the way were not rich people, knew that each person has their own capacity for giving.

For investing in the purpose of living Christ-like lives.  For saying, yes Lord, I believe.   Jesus calls us to be stewards who invest our money, our time, and our endowments, our talent in God’s mission and purpose.  He asks us to risk what we have so that his kingdom is accomplished in the here and now.

This year’s stewardship campaign is aggressive.  No doubt about that.  But it is that way because we believe so deeply in God.  It is aggressive because we are choosing to live into our faith rather than our fears.  It is aggressive because we are willing to take risk by hand and manage it.  Now is the time, this interim time, to invest in the mission of this Church because you have a vision.  “Following Christ, we cherish all by giving hope, healing, and help so that lives and communities may be transformed.”  Following Christ!

I believe whole heartedly that God is alive in Wilton Congregational and that God’s spirit moves deeply in each one of you to follow Christ.  I believe that you give care and hope to those who are disenfranchised or down on their luck.  I believe that you offer healing in this wounded world.  I believe that you help one another and others when one is in need, not because it makes you feel good or look good but because you truly are followers of the way, Jesus Christ and you believe.  It was so evident this past week when dinners were offered and home opened up to help other through this recent power outage.

Giving is a spiritual discipline that each one of us has the opportunity to experience and engage in.  Martin Copenhaver, Senior Pastor at the Village Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts, tells of an imaginary conversation he has where a congregant offers to underwrite the budget for the church for an entire year.  The only condition is that no one else can give that year that his is the only gift.  What Pastor wouldn’t want to jump at that?  In the end though, Martin could not accept this man’s generous offer because he knew it would deny all of the other congregants the spiritual discipline of giving.  Giving is so much more than merely money.  It is an endeavor that feeds our spirit, and grows our faith.

I give because I love God above all and I love and believe in the Church. I believe that Jesus has saved me…as corny as it may sound.  I have been lifted out of despair many times in my life and I am so thankful.  I give because God has been so good to me.  I give because when I do that I become less attached to my own self interest and greed, and more focused on God’s purpose.  Sometimes it’s real hard to crack open the safe, I’ll admit.  But I do it. 

This is my witness to you.  I’m giving to Wilton Congregational because the presence of Christ is palpable here and because I believe in you and what you are attempting to accomplish through your vision.    I have assessed the risks involved, and what I am able to take and I have made my pledge for 2012.  Please walk with me in this journey of faith and pledge as you are able.

Risk management for the Faithful Christian:  Pray!  Determine your risks.  Face your fears. Assess your faith; increase your faith.  Understand what God has done in your life.  Find a balance, stretch a bit more.  Take the risk and then pledge.  Give thanks and Pray!

This sermon was about money, investing and giving.  If you don’t like talking about money in church then, my friend, I’ll see you for the next 51 other sermons that you’ll hear from this pulpit. Those sermons too will also bear witness to the love of God through Jesus Christ.  Amen!

[i] John Buchanan, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. 2011

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