Date: November 19, 2017
Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Title: What Kind of God?
Last night, our church hosted Music Concert for the People of Puerto Rico and Mexico. I was surprised that we had many people attending on Saturday evening. I was notified after the concert that we raised about $1700 to be given to UMCOR. My gratitude goes to everyone who performed, sang, shared the stories, and served foods. There is something that I need to confess this morning though. The idea of the concert was not my idea. In September after the earthquake in Mexico and hurricane in Puerto Rico, Ron suggested that we could do some hymn singing and raise the money to help them. When Kathi heard it, she brought the idea to me. I said, “Yeah, it is a great idea, Kathi. Let’s think about it.” But in my mind, I hesitated to go ahead because it is a lot of work. Well, I need to think about the Stewardship Sunday. I need to think about Advent Sundays and Christmas. I just wanted to play safe, convenient. But there are times when you know that the Holy Spirit is pushing you to step out of your safe zone.
As we hear from the scripture lesson from Matthew 25, I wonder if you share my trouble that I do not find anything wrong with the third servant. So, the master goes on a journey, calls his servants and entrusts his property to them. He gives 5 talents to the first one, 2 talents to the second one, and finally 1 talent to the last one. My mind tells me that if I were the third servant, I would grumble because it does not seem fair to be given just 1 talent when my colleagues are given more than my portion. So, the master goes away for a trip. The first two servants do a great job with trading and make double of what they have. The third servant buries the talent in the ground. And my question is this, “What is the problem with that?” At least, he did not go out and wasted it. The master comes back home and greatly rewards the first two servants. But he harshly rebukes and punishes the third servants who wanted to play safe, convenient, and certain.
What is the problem with playing it safe? At least, you can predict the future. The first two servants went out and did the trade. It is possible for them to lose all they had and appear to their master with nothing and say, “Sorry, master. We have lost all you have given.” The third servant could at least bring the exact same talent to his master. The result is secure. The result is predictable. Isn’t it what we all want? If you are still working and paying the pension for your retirement, or if you have already retired and received your income from pension, would you want your company to use your pension aggressively with a possibility of losing it or preserve it conservatively?
Our lives as Christians could be also about playing safe, convenient, and predictable. People could just gather for worship service, share some fellowship inside but never dared to go out to the world to face the challenges, hardships, and struggles. When I was working as Teaching Assistant at Boston University, I saw lots of students who were filled with enthusiasm for their ministries. One day, I met one of my former students who looked so tired and even angry. I asked him, “What is going on? How is your ministry?” And he said, “Well, I thought that I could come and turn around this declining congregation. I suggested that we do some programs to reach out to the children in the community, do ministry with the poor and hungry. And they tell me, “Joe, we are not really interested in changing who we are. I know you talking about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But our mission is to make sure that we as the church exist in this town even after you are gone.”
When Jesus tells us the parable that the master entrusting his property to the servants, it is insightful to know that one talent is a large sum of money, “equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years.” Some commentators believe that one talent in today’s world could amount to one million dollars. So, when the master gave the last servant one talent, he actually trusted his servant that he could manage such a large money. The Gospel tells us that the master gave his property to his servants according to their abilities. It indicates intimate relationship between the master and his servants because he knows their capabilities. He intimately knows them to the point that one could experience growth instead of break-down when pushed to face challenges.
And Jesus implies God as our master who knows what we are good at and what we are not good at. God who created us in God’s image and calls us God’s children God is the One who knows where we can grow and how we can grow in our love for God and God’s people. And God gives us all talents and gifts. God may not instruct us how exactly to use our talents and gifts. As each servant must decide how to use his time during the master’s absence, we are also called to discern how to use our talents and gifts until Christ comes back in his final glory. Faithfulness is not merely obedience to directions. Rather, faithfulness means responsible discipleship. The grace of God is a gift given to us that we did not earn. But it is our responsibility of what we do with the grace of God. We are saved by our faith in Christ who redeems us from our sins and adopt us as children of God. But it is our responsibility to live as the children of God in this world, not by ourselves, but empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
If we realize that what we have from God today are gifts from God – whether it is our money, our possession, our family and children, and even our lives, we cannot just play the spirituality of safe, convenient, predictable, certain, and fearful. It is because God who serves certainly did not play safe in God’s terrestrial realm. Instead, God came down to the world, dwelt among us, and gave God’s only Son, Christ, to die on the cross. In our Disciple Bible Study, we discussed how terrible it was to read Abraham commanded by God to sacrifice his own son on the altar. It was because God was testing the faith of Abraham. But we know that when he raised his knife, the angel of God stopped him. One of the members, Linda, then said, “But God allowed Christ to die on the cross.” When we say that we are to love our God with all our hearts, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all our strength, we are called to love and imitate God who certainly did not play safe, convenient, and predictable. Rather, we see God in Christ who faces challenges, risks, and uncertainty.
In Five Practices of Fruitful Congregation, Bishop Robert Schanse calls the “Risk-Taking Mission and Service” the practice of church that actively going outward to engage the world and proclaim the good news through the words and actions. It includes “the projects, the efforts, and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, whether or not they will ever be part of the community of faith. I believe that our church in Putnam is strong with Risk-Taking Mission and Service. We constantly push our limits and engage our community by offering foods through Daily Bread and Community Café. We clothe the naked by offering NU2U ministry. We led our youth group to the mission trip in Philadelphia. We offer the love of Christ to our young people not just Sunday school but also Vacation Bible School. What other ministries have I missed? Bishop Schnase says that Risk-Taking Mission and Service is such fundamental activity of the church that failed to practice it in some form results in a deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
I believe that Risk-Taking Mission is critical both to individual and church. As we as individual greet and welcome strangers, we see the face of Christ in them no matter where they come from. As we serve them, we embrace the humility of Christ by lowering ourselves. Instead of becoming the third servant who just goes home and buries his talent in the ground, we are called to use whatever God has given us today to wisely use for the glory of God who calls us to serve others in the name of Christ.
There is one thing that I would like our church to embrace risk and push ourselves to come out of our comfort zone. Everyday, we get the posts from Facebook that people who are arrested by the police officers for misdemeanors or crimes. We can read the comments on those postings that people ridicule those who are convicted and say that they deserve to be punished. First of all, we do not know the stories of their lives. Maybe, someone needed some money to feed his or her little children who were going hungry. I am not saying that their acts should be justified. But I wonder what Christ would tell these people who are locked in the jail with their families facing uncertain future without their husband or wife, brother or sister. There is a correctional facility in Brooklyn with male inmates. Thanksgiving is coming next week. We get together with our families, children, and friends and celebrate with so much food. What can do we about those inmates or their families as the followers of Christ?
Bishop Schnase shares a story of how we might take up the risk-taking mission in our lives. Lucas runs a small business, has a young family, and volunteers frequently at church. After a spiritually powerful experience on a Walk to Emmaus retreat, he prayerfully searched for ways to respond to God’s call to make a difference. He did not feel called to ordained ministry, but he did want his life marked by greater service to Christ. He joined a team of men who met weekly for months to plan a prison ministry, Kairos, to offer spiritual sustenance to those serving time. He and his team received permission, signed waivers, and were permitted to spend seventy-two hours in a maximum-security facility for violent offenders. He describes the experience as nothing short of life-changing for himself as well as for many of the incarcerated and the other volunteers. Their significant engagement, genuine conversation, gracious respect, and active concern broke down barriers and established relationships that would extend for years. And I want us to watch a video of Kairos ministry.
In Matthew 25:36, Jesus says that when I was in prison and you visited me. Let me ask us. What kind of God are we serving? Are we serving God who stays out of the world, who enjoys the lofty status of divinity? God who plays safe and convenient and predictable? Or are we serving God who intermingles with the messy realities of this world, who stand with the poor, the naked, the sick, imprisoned, and oppressed and suffering? Where is Christ calling us out to take the risk-taking mission and service? I pray this morning that God gives us the spirit of audacity to live out the good news in Christ rather than being satisfied with the spirit of safety, predictability, and convenience.
 Robert Schnase, The Five Practices of Fruitful Lives