Friday, November 11, 2011

The intention of God's gifts

Matthew 25:14-30


The Gospel according to Matthew is replete with parable after parable after parable that Jesus often sets up in this way: "The Kingdom of Heaven will be like..." this or that or another thing. In earlier parts of the gospel, Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like the little bit of yeast that is put into flour to make bread. In another place, he says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king putting on a wedding banquet for his son. Yet in another place, Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a mustard seed growing from something very small to a large bush or like a tree. So if Jesus keeps on using parables to tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like, what is he trying to tell us?

Is the purpose of the parables to simply give one to one analogies of the specific ways that God acts? Is God a landowner who throws slaves out into then outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth all because the slave didn't invest the money that God gave him? Is the lesson to be learned that God wants us to invest with banks in our lives? No, I think that the parables seek to do one thing and one thing only: they seek to tell us a truth about the world, about us, and about what having a relationship with God is all about.

In other words, when Jesus begins the parables, he just might be saying that The kingdom of heaven will be like this....a place where truth is revealed.

The parables, and especially the parable Jesus tells us this week have to do more than give us a simple moralistic lesson like one of Aesop's Fables. They have to, because if they don't then why are we wasting our time gathering around the Word of God that really only works as an advice column rather than words of hope and life that are able to lift us up in our lives wherever we just might find ourselves and be words of love and of forgiveness and of redemption that call us into a new way of life where we seek to share all of that TRUTH with the rest of the world in our words and actions.

The Bible is not a place where you can get advice on single, separate issues like some kind of ancient "Dear Abbey" letter next to the comics of Garfield and Peanuts you would find in a newspaper. Can you even imagine what THAT would be like?

Dear Bible,

I'm a 29 year old man who has fallen in love with a gorgeous, intelligent woman, but there is a problem. She wants the financial luxury that a wealthy investment banker can give her, yet I'm only a teacher who makes $40k a year and I have student loan debt. What can I do to attract her?


Not enough money for love

Of course the Bible doesn't work that way! Of course Jesus isn't some advice columnist who only seeks give a few words of wisdom about our minor, every day problems in life. Yes the Bible gives words of Wisdom, but words of Wisdom must eventually speak to the core of our being if they truly are going to be words that change and deeply affect our lives each and every single new day. They must speak to the truth about our lives. They must speak to the truth about who God is. They must speak to the truth about who we are in relationship with God. For if these words that gather us together as God's do not do that then, again, we are wasting our time here.

So what then is the truth in our parable for today? It is simply this (and this insight comes from Bishop Jim Arends of the La Crosse area synod): if we are indeed God's people, then we must let the gifts that God gives us be the gifts that God intends them to be. And God certainly does shower us with many gifts throughout the days of our lives. We owe our very life to God. There is no other place from whence it would be able to spring forth. We owe the people we call family and friends, those people love and support us in our lives, to God. For without God, we would not have them in our lives. We owe livelyhood that our skills and abilities earn for us to God. As many of us know, as much as we hard to develop the skills and education that lead to our vocations, our education whether in school or on the job refine the things we already have a raw innate ability to do. God is the source of these things, and that is where real stewardship begins, with the knowledge that all he have comes from God.

We are given those gifts not so that we can know that we ARE truly blessed by God. We are given those gifts so that we just might be able to share our gifts with in a loving community that seeks the welfare of others and not only ourselves. In some ways, God also gives us the gift of community through the ways we care for and share the gifts that we have been given.

And ultimately there is one precious gift that is given to us by God. We owe our forgiveness, our redemption, our new life in Christ to the God who comes to us in our lives where we are, where we have fallen short of the glory of God, where we should see that there has been no time and no place where we have earned the love and forgiveness of Lord for ourselves. This is a gift that is manifested in our lives as we are joined with Christ in our baptism. This is a gift that is manifested in our lives as we come to the Lord's supper as sinners indeed not worthy of the gift of Jesus' body and blood, yet still given FOR US. But here's the sticking point: we are not given these gifts so that we can isolate ourselves from the world in some kind of a mystical blanket that allows us to not have to worry about others in our lives. These gifts of our faith are indeed meant to bring us out into the world to engage our neighbor, to bring forth the love in Christ Jesus that we ourselves have already received. So in the end, the Kingdom of Heaven is truly the place where God gives us great gifts, gifts that are meant to burst forth and not be buried in a field because of some fear.

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