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Trusting God's Abundance in You

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

On first glance, there’s a lot NOT to like about this gospel reading. Slaves and masters, for one. Those words ring very specifically in our American ears. Not to mention the master calling one of the slaves “wicked and lazy.” But the part that stings me most is, “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

But it’s our Stewardship season, and I think there’s always a way to read our scriptures through a lens of hope and abundance.

I think the slave and master is the easiest one to reconcile. As I preached last month, the Greek word for slave is doulos (DOO-loss), which can also be translated as servant or, as the Inclusive Bible translates it: worker. A doulos in Jesus’ time would have been more akin to a servant or worker than what we think of today as a slave. After all, a master, or “landowner” as the Inclusive Bible translates it, would not trust just anyone with the massive amount of money a talent is. But more on that later. I’ll be saying worker instead of slave today.

But it’s really the “worthless” worker being thrown in the “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that I know really makes some of us cringe. Especially those of us who were raised in more conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical traditions. I know I was taught that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” was code for “the eternal hell you’ll experience if you don’t live right, if you sin and don’t repent, if you don’t believe in Jesus.”

I don’t know what happens to us after we die. None of us do. And honestly I’m not that worried about it. What I’m worried about is here and now. The way we live our faith here and now. The world our choices create here and now. 

There is plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth in our world here and now. The consequences of choices made from a mindset of fear and scarcity. There’s not enough! We must put up walls and barbed wire to protect what we have, create complicated and prohibitive rules of entry to keep strangers out, dig a hole and bury whatever we have in the ground so that it’s safe from others.

This is what wars are made of. It’s what poverty is made of. It’s what white supremacy is made of. It’s what all prejudice is made of.

Scarcity and fear is what the outer darkness looks like. It’s what weeping and gnashing of teeth feels like. Not in some mysterious, abstract, eternal afterlife. But here. Now.

But there’s another way to live and move and have our being. A way in which we invest the enormous gifts God has given us so that they enrich the world twice over. It’s what our Stewardship campaign calls us to, but more importantly it’s what Jesus calls us to: hope and abundance. Hope and abundance is what builds the Kingdom of God. Not in some mysterious, abstract, eternal afterlife. But here. Now.

In this parable, the landowner gives the workers talents. A talent wasn’t $100 or even $10,000. It was 15-20 years worth of wages. So even one talent was a huge sum of money. In today’s money, according to Oregon’s per capita income, one talent would be at the very least $600,000. Five talents would be $3 million.

So what Jesus is saying is, God has entrusted you with so much abundance. What are you going to do with it?

And not just money. But the abundance of all of who you are. Your joy, your love, and yes, your talents and in the modern sense of the word. God has created you with such abundance. We have incredible artists here. Amazing musicians. Compassionate caregivers. Devoted partners and parents and grandparents. Gifted businesspeople. Creative teachers. People with an uncanny knack for making us laugh.

You are not just any one of those things. You are the manifestation of God’s abundance in so many ways—spiritually, financially, intellectually, creatively. You contain multitudes. 

So how will you use that abundance? How will you risk that abundance? Because we all know that any investment involves risk. Those other workers risked their talents hoping for a big return. You don’t get a 100% return, like they did, on a fearful investment, on a partial investment. They put every last cent on the line, they made their boss’s resources vulnerable and so made themselves vulnerable. Instead of hoarding that abundance, burying it in the ground like the third worker, they trusted in hope.

Having a child is a huge investment—at least 18 years worth, if all goes well—and also a huge risk. Will the pregnancy be healthy? Will the adoption go through? Will the child be healthy? If so, how will this world treat my child? Will they be safe?

Choosing a vocation is a huge investment—sometimes needing years worth of education or training beforehand. Which is a lot of time and often a lot of money. It’s also a risk. What if the economy turns and there’s no longer a demand for these skills you’ve cultivated?

Even letting yourself be loved deeply by another person is a huge investment—of time and energy in getting to know another person, letting them get to know you. It’s also a risk. What if they change and they’re no longer able to love you the way you want to be loved? What if you change? 

But the alternative is fear and scarcity. Not taking the risk and never experiencing the deep joy of being a parent that you’ve longed for. Not making the investment and never knowing how your gifts could have changed the world. Being so afraid of being hurt or rejected that you never allow yourself to be truly known or loved.

Burying God’s abundance for you in the ground where it’s safe, where no one can touch it, where no one can hurt it, but where it will never grow.

That’s where the hope comes in. That’s where St. Luke's comes in.

A few years ago, there had been a practice of people writing their prayers on strips of cloth and hanging them in the labyrinth. And for the longest time there was one that read: “This safe place, these beloved people, who let me be who I am and grow into what I’m becoming.”

They were talking about us. This church family. Our community. This is a safe place to take risks. To play that flute or violin during the offertory and know, no matter what notes you may have missed, that you will be encouraged and loved. Where sometimes others see your talents—for welcome, for leadership, for creativity—even before you can. Where you can invest yourself, where you can feel safe enough to make the mistakes you need to make in order to learn and to grow into the abundance God has given you.

In the context of community, of the Body of Christ, scarcity and fear is thinking we have to do it all alone, that we have to have all the answers ourselves. It’s refusing to risk relying on others. It’s burying ourselves in the ground so that we’re safe but that no one ever really knows us and we never have the chance to grow.

This community, this Body of Christ, is the exponential compounding of abundance. The combining of my unique gifts and resources to your unique gifts and resources which creates an enormous, irrepressible love, an enormous, irrepressible joy. Through the vulnerability we all risk here together, we learn what God’s abundance feels like and then we get to show the world what God’s abundance feels like.

That’s what being part of St. Luke’s, part of the Body of Christ, teaches us. We need you to risk sharing the abundance God has given you—financially, of course: St. Luke’s can’t survive or thrive if we can’t pay our bills and fund our ministries and keep our building in safe and working order. That’s a huge part of our stewardship campaign. But giving financially is just the start. We need you to risk sharing who you are, your talents and your joy, so that you can grow into what you’re becoming. 

This is the last parable Jesus preached to his disciples before he left for Jerusalem and betrayal and his trial before Pontius Pilate. He trusted in God’s abundance in him so much that he led with that love, that hope, that joy, no matter what. And it led him to the cross. But then it led him to resurrection. Which changed the world. 2,000 years later, we’re still aspiring to the kind of love and hope and joy Jesus showed us. 

I don’t know, maybe it’s naive, but I think if we can live into even a fraction of Jesus’ trust in God’s abundance, we—you, us, St. Luke’s—can change the world.

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