"While We Are Waiting"
Scripture - Matthew 25:14-30
Sermon Preached by Randall T. Clayton
Sunday, November 16, 2014
In the last few weeks it seems like it doesn't matter what time I leave my home near Hockessin to come into the church in the mornings, I have to wait. I have to wait for traffic lights. I have to wait for school buses. Sometimes I even have to wait for deer to cross the road. Waiting is a part of my life, and yours as well. This week I found myself waiting for an appliance store to deliver a dishwasher. They gave me a window of time during which I could expect them to show up. As I waited for them, I tidied the kitchen so I wouldn't be embarrassed when the delivery people arrived; I made sure the counter near the old dishwasher was cleared so nothing would get in the way. Next I started to wash the 2 coffee cups and 1 cereal bowl in the sink from breakfast, but quickly decided I could wait and let the new dishwasher perform that task later in the day.
For good or for bad, waiting seems to be a very real part of our lives. And it's not just traffic and delivery people that cause us to wait. We wait for a doctor's appointment or the results of a medical test. We wait for the birth of a child, a graduation, news about a job application. We wait for the plane to take off or touch down, for a text from the one we hope will ask us to the dance on Friday night, and for the check to arrive in the mail.
As people of faith, we wait for that day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. And we wait for that day when the political landscape is less polemical and more collegial and when the needs of the poor are truly front-and-center.
We wait for the day when swords and guns will be turned into shovels and hoes, and when weapons that create violence become instruments that make harmonious music.
We wait for the day when lions and lambs will lie down together. And so we wait for that time when Israeli and Palestinian will eat at the same table together in peace and hope.
Sometimes it seems as if we wait, and we wait and we wait...
Let us hear now a story about waiting. [Matthew 25:14-30 is read here]
It is a strange story, isn't it? Huge amounts of money either being doubled or buried. A man thrown out because he made bad decisions with his investment portfolio; and not just thrown out, but thrown way out into the outer darkness by a harsh master. The rich getting even richer while the poor become even poorer. Yes, what a strange, difficult, and in many ways uncomfortable and odd Biblical story this is.
A very wealthy master was getting ready to go on a long journey and entrusted huge sums of money to three servants to keep while he was away. Two of the servants succeeded in doubling their fortune while they waited for the master to return. And in return, when the master arrived back home, they were richly rewarded: getting praise, promotions, and even an invitation to the master's house. But the third slave buried his master's money while the master was away. When the master returned, he was angry that the slave has not increased his wealth. He called the slave "worthless". And then, after taking what that third slave had and giving it to the first slave, the harsh master threw that third slave out on his ear.
Truly it is an odd story, isn't it? But as I've thought about the parable this week, I've become convinced that some of the oddness of this parable, may actually be oddness of our own making.
Our world is undergirded by a Puritan work ethic, a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality, and a market driven capitalistic economic system. That being the case, I think we instinctively feel that the two who doubled their master's money while they waited for the master to return are the heroes of the story; it's a feeling which is reinforced by the master's praise. And while we might feel sorry for the third one for being cast into the outer darkness, perhaps he does seem a little lazy, or at least timid to us; and surely it appears he did squander opportunities and now must live with the consequences. Maybe he's not a villain, but he's certainly not a hero in our eyes either.
But Jesus' audience knew nothing of market driven capitalism and the Puritans with their work ethic hadn't even arrived on the scene.
Today we believe that money and wealth can actually be created. We believe that through hard work, increased productivity, ingenuity, and innovation, the economy can be expanded; in theory at least, as the economy expands, more and more people can benefit. In our economic understanding, I can increase my wealth without necessarily hurting or exploiting or taking away anything from anyone else. And all this means that in our view, the accumulation of wealth isn't a bad thing necessarily. In fact, I suspect everyone in this sanctuary tries to accumulate wealth.
But Jesus' world viewed money very differently. In Jesus' day, there was no notion that wealth could be created. It was believed there was only so much money to go around. Only so much money for everyone. And thus, when one person got more, someone else must have had less.
It's like a pie. Despite the number of people sitting at our table, you can't expand an 8-inch pecan pie into a 9-inch pie after it's been baked and out of the oven. Once baked, there is only so much pie for everyone to share and nothing you can do will change the amount that's available for all. And so, if I end up with more pie on my plate today than I had yesterday, then someone must have less than they had before. With this economic understanding, large gains in wealth (such as those achieved by the first two slaves) could have only been accomplished through the exploitation of those below them on the social and economic scale. And in exploiting others for their master's benefit as those first two slaves did, children were now hungry who had food before, and families were now homeless who once lived in safety, and people died because they no longer had the resources for care, and those who once were comfortable were now destitute.
Unlike the first two slaves who exploited others to please their master, the third slave buried his talent. In burying his talent, the third slave exploited no one, nor did he take anything from anyone. With his coin buried deep in the dirt, he courageously refused to participate in exploitative activities that would lead to suffering and poverty of others. Knowing that the master expected to receive more when he returned than he left with his servants when he departed, by burying his talent, the third man risked his own well-being, his own future, his security, in order to be faithful. And then, when the master returned, he took another risky step: he spoke truth to power. He said to the master, "You are harsh. You are unethical. You are unjust. You reap the crops in fields that you don't own and you harvest what you neither planted nor tended." Truth to power is what he spoke. So, it seems to me that despite being called worthless and lazy by his master, this third slave was neither. If anyone in the story is a hero, it is this third servant.
The powerful of course, do not often like to have their plans thwarted, their motives questioned, or to hear the truth proclaimed. And since power has the means to strike back with ruthlessness, the mean and unjust master did just that. He threw the third slave out. So at story's end, the third slave found himself waiting among the hurting and the poor. But of course, that's just the place we are told that we encounter God's love, God's power, and God's presence - among the marginalized, the disposed, the hurting.
Jesus told this parable as the forces against him were marshaling all around him. He knew by then that soon he would no longer be with them, and that his followers would find themselves waiting for that day when their hopes and dreams about God's reign might come to fruition. And, I think his purpose in telling this parable was to give some instructions for what faithful waiting might be like.
If the third slave is the hero, then faithful waiting is not about doing business as usual, nor is it about securing our own future, or currying favor with the powers of this world. It's not about getting more, saving more, securing more. If the third slave is the hero in the parable, then faithful waiting is about sharing God's future right now through our actions toward those who are weak, marginalized, and poor or in danger of being victimized or exploited. And so faithful waiting includes educating young women in the Congo, providing clean water in Guatemala, food for those starving in Syria and produce right here in our community. And perhaps faithful waiting is even about starting new communities of faith even though there are empty pews in our existing churches. If the third slave is the hero, then faithful waiting is about choosing to live a lifestyle that does not lead to exploitation and poverty for anyone, or to the destruction of the environment here or across the globe. And if the third slave is the hero, then faithful waiting is also about speaking truth to power whenever power is more interested in excluding than including, or whenever power is more interested in helping the have's get more than it is in standing up for the have-nots.
But if, as we wait faithfully, we find ourselves walking among the marginalized, the poor, the dispossessed and the hurting as the third slave did, we're walking in Jesus' footsteps. And, we just may discover that Jesus is walking right there beside us; after all, like that third slave, Jesus too was cast out, and in him we find true life.
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