2020-11-15 24th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
You know that song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine?” I’m sure you’ve heard it before. The band R.E.M. did it way back in 1987, then the Canadian Newfie band Great Big Sea did a version of it 10 years later. It’s kind of a hilarious song title, contrasting two things that don’t often go well together. Like peanut butter on a pizza or like Joe Biden coming to a Trump family picnic!
But the end of the world - generally it’s not a topic that people “feel fine” about. Generally it’s a polarized issue. People are either totally freaked out by it, full of anxiety and trepidation or, they don’t give a rat’s posterior about it. It’s either panic and weeping and gnashing of teeth or it’s outright dismissal. “Just a pack of religious nutcases with the placards in the park” they say, “The end is near! REPENT!” What a load of hogwash they figure.
But even if you don’t think about the end of the world in a religious context, even science attests it will one day happen. I remember being in a high school physics class, way back in the day at Central Collegiate Institute and someone asked our teacher if earth’s sun will eventually go Nova and destroy the earth. After a brief pause, he said “Yes, the sun will eventually go Nova and destroy all life as we know it” with no expression on his face. Everyone just kind of stared blankly at each other for a couple of depressing minutes!
So, the end is near, friends, by Bible or by Telescope! Either way you slice it, this world isn’t long for this world. It had a definitive start and it will have a definitive end. For some people, this is terrifying. For others, they couldn’t care less. But for us, as God’s people, how do we understand it? Well we need to approach this like Johnny Cash. We need to walk the line on this one. We need to not be crippled with fear and likewise not become a bunch of laxidasical loafers either. Obsessing over the future, or politics or pandemics or our Lord’s glorious return to earth - or anything else that is outside of our control - is fruitless. And on the other hand, not giving a rip about Jesus’ promise to come back isn’t good either. Walk the line like the man in black. Don’t be a fanatical religious wacko and don’t be dismissive. Be right in the middle - watching, waiting and being prepared.
Again our Lord Jesus gives us this teaching in a parable, a story to warm the cockles of our hearts. There’s some workers who have been entrusted with some money to manage while the master is away. Operate with what you’ve been given, but know I will come back and want to see what you did with it. You can see the connection already. Our Lord gives us time, talents, treasures, faith and service opportunities - but what will His people do with it before the time is up? That’s what the ‘talent’ is in this Bible reading. It’s a measure of weight, like a pound or a kilogram or a metric tonne. Everyone is different so each one is given different amounts according to ability. The good and faithful managers, what did they do? They take what they were given and double it. 5 becomes 10. 2 becomes 4. No matter how much they made with it, the reward was the same. The master says “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (MT 25:23).
But then, he gets around to the last guy. Turns out he’s kind of a deadbeat! He thinks the master is a no good jerk - despite receiving a talent. He takes what he was given and buries it. All that he has been given comes to nothing. It’s a waste. It’s a kin to a child who makes nothing of himself, despite a good upbringing and tons of opportunities and blessings of every kind. It just doesn’t make sense! It’s unthinkable. Even what he was given is taken away. “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30).
When I was in Seminary, myself, another student and our professor got to travel to Ukraine. It was a Lutheran Women’s Missionary League grant that was fairly open ended - “take some students on a mission trip of some kind.” Our professor was instrumental in getting the Ukrainian Lutheran Seminary off the ground. So it was Edmonton to Vancouver, Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to Vienna, Vienna to Odessa. Welcome to the old country. It was fascinating! I remember walking down off the plane in Odessa and looking around. Panning from left to right and right to left - the country side was flat. Saskatchewan flat. “I flew 4000 miles for this?!” I thought to myself! But the longer I spent in Ukraine, the more I noticed something about the people there. It was a hold over from the Communist Soviet days - they would rather do nothing than do something but risk doing it wrong.
This fear was debilitating. Simple things that had the slightest chance of not working out simply didn’t get done at all. “How can a place run like this?” I thought. It was so totally different from the Canadian “take charge and get ’er done” way of life that I knew. The phone at the Seminary quit working. Nobody did anything about it. So we asked “Did it previously work?” “Yes.” “Did you pay the phone bill?” “Yes.” And on and on it went. 20 questions later we figured out that someone had vandalized the electrical box outside the building and stolen the wiring. But rather than do anything about it, they did nothing for fear of getting it wrong.
I can’t help but think of this last goofball in Jesus’ parable. He did nothing with what he was given because he feared the Master. The other two guys figured it out and doubled what they had been given. I mean, if the Master was a despicable jerk, why would he have given these guys his money in the first place? He isn’t as concerned about the return on investment as the development of the person. He trusts the people he gives stuff to and in turn, if they trust him back, great things happen. The investment doubles and it’s party time. But not so for the last guy. Ol’ “Soviet Steve” gets nothing but the rejection he was afraid of!
So what does all this mean? What is the parable driving home for us about God, us and the end of the world?! The point is that God is the generous Master who gives richly to us, His people. He is looking for us to trust Him and do great things with what we’ve been given. Grace. Faith. Forgiveness of sins. Life. Salvation. Victory over death. When God fills us with these ‘talents’ He looks to what we will do with them. And, they should grow. Like a crop that produces bread for the eater and more seed for the sower, when God gives us richly, He wants that investment in His people to multiply and overflow to others before the time runs out.
Will we use these gifts God gives us well? Will we serve others as God serves us? Will we be gracious and share of our time, talents and treasures? Will we support the work of the church and missions around our world? Will we advance His Kingdom and spread the Good News that our crucified and risen Savior has much love for knot-head sinners like us? The worst thing is burying the treasure, dear friends. That is faithlessness. It’s atheism. It’s a wasted life. It ends in darkness, weeping and gashing of teeth.
The end of the world as we know it - it will come for us all. What’s really going to matter on that day? Bank accounts? A new car? Buildings full to the brim with stuff and possessions?! Nope. It’s the heavenly blessings that matter. It’s the faith God gives us in our Baptism that we should run with and expand and share and give away doubling and tripling what we were given. God has entrusted us with His grace and salvation that we would multiply it for Jesus sake - before it’s too late. God trusts you, each and everyone of you, to reach out to those around you and bless them that they may know and believe in He who gave the gifts. For our God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim 2:4). Don’t bury the blessings in the snow. Be the blessing God has made you to be by His grace. Amen!