"Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – November 16, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Proverbs 3:1-10; Matthew 25:14-30


    The parable that we are going to review this morning is one of the more familiar ones.  If we ranked our memory of Jesus' parables, the Parable of the Talents would be right up there with the story of The Good Samaritan. 

    The word talent is an excellent choice of words for this story although it has nothing to do with the display of a person's abilities that might be demonstrated on a program like Bermuda's Got Talent.  In this case, the word talent refers to how much something weighs.  Just as something could weigh ten pounds, in Jesus' day, something could weigh ten talents.  The most popular currency of the day came in the form of silver coins.   For a common laborer to earn one talent of silver, he would have to work for 16 years.  In this parable, Jesus used gold as the currency that he gave his servants.

    When we study what Jesus was teaching, our attention is immediately drawn to the third servant who buried his master's money in the ground.  This was a common practice in Jesus' day.  Even today excavators often find hoards of coins that were buried by citizens thousands of years ago who had become fearful that they might be stolen.  The first two servants invested their talents of gold. When their master returned from his trip, the two had doubled their assets and were praised for doing so.

    This third servant was not only belittled by his master, but his one talent of gold was taken away from him.  He was condemned with the same strong language that is found in other places in the Gospels.  "The useless servant was thrown out where he would cry and gnash his teeth."

    We have to remember that Jesus' stories were illustrations of social issues that were instantly recognized by his listeners. There was nothing mysterious or abstract about Jesus stories as they might be for us living in the 21st Century.  In this parable, everyone recognized who Jesus was criticizing when he used the third servant who buried his master's treasure in the ground.

    The third servant represented the Scribes and Pharisees.  These two groups were charged with maintaining a fence around the Laws of Moses thus preventing any new interpretation or changes in the wording of what Moses had written.  This is why the religious authorities listened very carefully to what Jesus was teaching.

    In his parable, Jesus was teaching that no one can remain faithful to their religious heritage without taking risks.  Equally, there was no place in the practice of a person's faith for a mind that was closed to new insights and new creative ways of expressing that faith.   Jesus once taught this same message in another way, "No one pours new wine into an old wine skin."  (Mark 2:22)

    What immediately becomes apparent is that each servant was treated differently by their master.  So it is with each of us.  We do not all have the same potential for certain skills.  We do not develop the same interests; we do not claim to have the same values or the same goals for our futures. These are important distinctions to consider in every person's life. What is more important than any of these qualities of life is the spirit in which we use and express what we have developed.   

    There was a time when I was working with a woman that had no use for any thoughts or practices related to religion.  She did not recognize the existence of God in her life. She understood that horrible things can easily happen to wonderful people as they do for anyone else.  She accepted the fact that death is part of life.  She knew that marriages were not made in heaven because she was working on number three.  However, she had all the symptoms of being a committed Christian.  How could this be?

    She was fun to be around. She loved children and there were moments when I saw her taking time with a frustrated child that needed a little coaching on how to accomplish a task that other children were completing with ease.   She had a wonderful spirit.  She was extremely happy and her smiling eyes were always the first thing that people noticed when they approached her. 

    Her radiance communicated volumes, completely overshadowing everything that she claimed did not matter in her life.  She had succeeded in multiplying over and over again her many gifts of spirit and personality.  After I had gained her confidence I asked, "What's the matter with naming God as being a part of your life?  I have to admit that you have no trouble making God's spirit visible."

    She laughed and said,

You are not the only person that has told me that.  I guess I don't need God the way you do.  After all, your calling is to introduce people to God.  I am in a good place in my life.  It is natural for me to love others and to be as selfless as I can be.  To me, love is not gender specific.  Spirit is not gender specific.  You Christians often refer to God as "Father." You see, I had a father . . .

    She stopped talking as tears formed in her eyes.  Sensing that she had reached an area in her life that had been off limits to most people, I put my index finger over her lips and put my arms around her.  She started shaking and suddenly she burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably as she held on to me like the grip of a vise.  I said, "You're okay now.  It's okay.  You are in a safe place."  Nothing more was said.   She apologized after she had regained her composure and said, "You have no idea the mountain I have had to climb."  I said, "I don't need to know.  What I do know is that you have made it to the top."

    She was the Director of the Rape Counseling Center at Prince George's General Hospital in Cheverly, Maryland, the town where I grew up.  She had taken her wealth of spirit and had invested it in people.  In so doing, she had quadrupled her many abilities.  No religious faith, as we practice it, was required for her to be what she had become.  Her spirit was that of an angel who was walking among women who felt that their experiences with men had shattered them forever.  

    We Christians have to be careful that we do not put a fence around our faith traditions so that we are not open to the ways love is being expressed by others who have no church affiliation.  Sometimes such spirits are all around us.  They are sowing their own seeds reflecting what Jesus once taught, "Those who are doing what we are doing must be allowed to continue.  Do not try to stop them!"  (Luke 9:50)  All of us are far more valuable than the labels that others have given to us. 

    Jesus remained faithful to his Hebrew traditions until his death. Siddhartha Gautama, traditionally known as the first Buddha, never became a Buddhist.  Mahatma Gandhi never became a Christian because he was prevented from entering several churches due to the color of his skin.   

    Jesus was correct.  Not everyone that can cite chapter and verse in the Bible or recite all the salvation statements parroted by the faithful are among Jesus' disciples.  (Matthew 7:21-23)  Our discipleship is not defined by what we claim to believe but rather by the spirit in which we live.  (John 13:35)

    Due to his inability to do anything with what had been entrusted to him, the servant's talent was taken away from him.  The Scribes and Pharisees were an exclusive club of the faithful.  They were sure of their personal salvation to a fault.  All the rest of the people were viewed by them as sinners wandering aimlessly in a confusing world.  Jesus, however, chose to be in the company of sinners rather than with the guardians and keepers of the Hebrew faith. (Mark 2:13-17).

    When we really look around today of what has slowly been happening all over the world, the light of love is breaking away from the traditional settings where it was once found -- the orthodoxy and dogma of the Church. 

    Perhaps the movement started with Normal Vincent Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking.  Next, we had The Be Happy Attitudes by Robert Schuller.  Joel Osteen wrote a book about the seven steps for living our full potential.  Wayne Dyer wrote a book entitled, There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem.  On and on have come new pathways that liberate our spirits from the fences that once surrounded them. 

          Centenary is like all the churches I have served in this sense -- we are spiritual learning centers.  People come and go in our midst.  Just think of the wave our church families have created in its 175 years of existence that has influenced the world.  In a real sense, we are like the leaven for the loaf.   

    Each of us disappears among the rest of the ingredients that others bring.  Miraculously, the entire batch of dough doubles and triples in size.  This was at the heart of Jesus' parable.  Those of us who sow our seeds with abandon, taking risks of faith without caring one bit about what happens in our futures, our love has vanquished every ounce of fear.  We have become free spirits that create alongside the spirit of God.