pastor steve's blog
February 28, 2012 :: Author:
Pastor Steve DeFields-Gambrel
February 26, 2012
The Circle Church - Santa Cruz, CA
Rev. Steve DeFields-Gambrel
Talents are a kind of money, probably a thousand dollars in today’s money. It’s not about being able to sing, or being good at math or dancing, or using any of your natural talents. Well…not directly, anyway. It’s about whether to save money, or risk money in bold investments. It’s about caution versus risk, saving versus investing.
• Why is this a hard saying? What’s hard about it for you?
• If your boss gave you some money, would you invest it on Wall Street?
• Spend it on a business idea that might or might not work out?
• What is the definition of “trustworthy’?
Seems to be about saving versus investing, caution versus risk. You don’t think of your sweet, Christian grandmother as prone to living dangerously, do you? We think of Christians as cautious, careful, conservative.
In Matthew, this story is part of a larger speech about judgment day. After today’s parable Jesus describes how, at the end of time, he will separate the sheep from the goats. “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” It’s all part of the same speech, about being prepared to stand before God and give account of our lives.
If he had lost it all, what would have happened?
In Luke Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, and the people thought the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately, so he told them this story. In Luke’s version, the Master gives more specific instructions about what to do with the money. “Put this money to work until I come back.” That’s the NIV translation. The NRSV says, “Do business with these until I come back.” Put the money to work, do business. Do something with it. Make something of it.
This story turns on how the slaves understand the character of the Master. The slave who buried the money said, “Well, 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.” To this slave the Master is a harsh man.
Now Matthew doesn’t comment on that description of the Master, but in Luke the Master responds, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave!” In other words, “if that’s who you think I am, then I guess that’s who I’ll be to you.” To this slave, the Master does become a harsh man, taking away the money and throwing that slave “outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
There’s a vital spiritual principle here. Come judgment day, we’ll get the God we expect. It’s a sort of Jesus-Karma principle. You get the God you expect. In Matthew chapter 7 Jesus explains that “with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Listen to that last part. The measuring cup we use to judge others will be the very measuring cup with which we will be judged. How we judge the character of God will determine how God will judge us. If you think God is selfish, miserly, harsh, unforgiving, then you will be afraid to risk anything. And so you will hold back, afraid and cautious. And on judgment day you will have nothing to show for your life, and God will not be pleased.
Do you know what are the most awful words in this whole parable? “I was afraid,” the slave said. “I was afraid.” That’s the problem. Fear causes us to hold back, freeze up, be afraid to live our lives with passion. And that is the worst thing you can do. The Master doesn’t demand that we win every battle. But he did say to do some business, make something happen, do something with our lives. Win or lose, at least play the game of life with all your heart.
I heard once about an artist, one of those abstract painters. He laid a big canvas on the ground, and splashed paint on it. Then he invited children to play in the paint. Use their hands, use their feet, roll around in it. Whatever they wanted to do. Oh, there were some guidelines. He’d say to the kids, “Imagine playing on the playground on a nice summer day,” and then let them go to it with the paint. Another time he might say, “Imagine a thunderstorm with lightning and thunder.” Or “Imagine Christmas.” I suppose there were some don’ts, too. “Don’t eat the paint, it will kill you.” And perhaps, “Don’t poke holes in the canvas.” But except for a few basic guidelines, they were free to play, to express themselves.
The artist was not in control of the outcome. It’s a collaboration, and that’s what made it exciting for him. He could not know what would come of it. He could suggest a theme, but then even the artist was surprised by what happens when the kids start rolling around in wet paint.
What if God is an artist, and our lives are the canvas, and God wants to collaborate with us in making our lives into works of art? What if God gives us a world of canvas and paint, some themes to think about, and then says, “Go at it. Play. Create. Make something beautiful.” Could it be that God wants to be surprised and delighted by what we might create with the paints God give us?
But what if there’s this one kid who is afraid? Somebody told him that the Artist is a mean, harsh man. That if you don’t do it just right he’ll yell at you. That if you don’t paint between the lines, you’ll get in trouble. So this kid just stands there, afraid to get his hands wet. Afraid to ruin his clothes. Afraid of being yelled at. So he refuses; his canvas remains blank. The artist knows that this kid has creativity in him. But the canvas remains blank. Empty. How sad.
The talents represent the essence of who you are. Not just your talents, your natural gifts and abilities. Yes, some can sing, some can do math, some can cook, and so forth. But more than that. More than that. The talents represent the essence of your soul. This includes the hand you have been dealt in life. The colors which you have to play with are not just your abilities, but your parents, where you grew up in, teachers, friends, enemies, jobs you’ve had, relationships, marriages, sicknesses, the hard knocks you’ve taken over the years, the heartbreak. The paints are the givens of your life, the raw material which you must use to create your own unique life – a work of art that includes the good, the bad, the ugly. Light, happy colors. Dark, brooding colors.
Life is risky. And a truly spiritual life is the most risky life possible. But the only sure way to fail is to refuse to paint anything at all. To bury it all in a hole in the ground and wait to die. To die without ever really living. That, to me, is worse than hell. To die without ever having taken the risk of really living. God gave us life. We decide what to do with it. But doing nothing is not safe. It’s sin. It’s cowardice.
You see, you can’t lose it all. It doesn’t work that way. The universe is not a zero-sum game. Life comes from God, and will return to God. Nothing can ever be lost. You may paint a joyful, sweet picture, or you may paint an angry painting, or a tragic painting with your life. But a sad, dark, brooding painting can still be beautiful. Have you ever seen the work of Vincent Van Gogh? So maybe you paint more tears than laughter. Maybe.
But the worst thing you can do is to not paint anything at all. To make nothing of your life so that in the end there is nothing…nothing but a blank canvas. That’s a waste. In the book of Revelation, another book about the day of judgment, Jesus accuses the Christians in Laodicea of being as bland as lukewarm water: “I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” To be like lukewarm water, to play it safe, to make nothing of your life, that literally makes God sick.
To follow Jesus is to live an extravagantly risky life. Don’t let the stereotype of conservative, cautious, “play it safe” Christians fool you. To really follow Jesus is to embrace a lifestyle of extravagant risk-taking. That’s why we need faith. Take up your cross, give up everything, abandon all thought of safety, and boldly go where Jesus has gone before. This is the way of Jesus. Paint wildly, throw paint, roll in the paint of your life, splash it, dance in the colors of life, whatever that life is, whether easy or hard, happy or sad, paint it with big, bold strokes, and make something. Anything. But make something out of the gift of life. Race boldly into the unknown country of the kingdom of God, taking extravagant risks for the sake of love.
What have you got to lose?
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