Sermon - 24 Pentecost
In the Name...
"Hobbits are quite respectable folk because not only are most of them rich, but, they also never have any adventures or do anything unexpected. They make their abode in very tidy, well-kept, caves and seldom venture far from home."
These are the opening lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, "The Hobbit", which tells the tale of Mr Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who did something very unexpected. He went on an adventure.
Bilbo's adventure began when a wizard named Gandalf recruited him to join a company of dwarfs seeking to recover gold stolen from them by a dragon. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Gandalf had told the dwarfs that Bilbo was an expert treasure-hunter. But, the poor hobbit appears to be more of a burden than a help. He does not have an aggressive nature. He does not have the strength to wield a sword. Lightning does not flash from his staff and he even lacks common sense. But, just when the dwarfs begin to wonder why on Middle Earth did Gandalf bring him along, the wizard firmly states, "Let's have no more argument. I have chosen Mr Baggins. There is more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself."
Looking at our Gospel today, I think Bilbo Baggins would identify with the servant who buried the money he was given. Hobbits hide valuables in holes. But, I think most of us can also identify with that servant and even feel sympathy for him. The fact is that most of us aren't wizards of the financial sort.
That's why I've had trouble dealing with the anger the master shows to the servant who held on to what he was given. Why not just thank the fellow for being prudent? After all, a talent was worth about half a million dollars. Not exactly chicken feed. This master has given, to each one of his servants, vast riches to safeguard.
And it's not just hobbits, by the way. In Jesus' time it was the common practice to safeguard precious things by burying them in the ground. Archaeologists are always running across these stashes. The one talent servant isn't doing anything unusual and Jesus' audience would agree.
So, I want to rush to the third servant's defence and argue with the master for being so unfair in condemning him so harshly. But, my struggle is resolved when I consider how the servant replies.
"Sir, I knew you were a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground."
This answer reveals a couple of things about this servant. One, he's not an innocent victim. He knows full well that he was supposed to do something with the money and he didn't. So, he starts his defence by trying to suck up. "Sir, I knew you were a hard man..." It seems that in every society throughout history, to call a businessman hard-nosed or tough is a compliment. The servant is parading a comparison as an excuse for laziness. "Oh, sir, you are so clever and so aggressive that I couldn't dream of competing with you."
Back in the 1700's, a Baptist minister named William Carey proposed sending missionaries to Britain's new colony of India. The chapel leaders quickly figured out the expense that would be involved and replied, "Young man, if God chooses to save the heathen, he can manage it very well without us."
Obviously, they didn't want to be bothered so they used a cloak of false piety to justify their laziness. God is so powerful He can do as He pleases and who are we to second-guess Him? Sounds like the third servant.
And the other thing the servant said was that he was afraid. And what did I say once, about fear? What is our greatest fear? Not that we might fail, but, that we might succeed, and, with success, be moved out of our comfort level and into God's. Success means change, and that can be terrifying.
For, the refusal to use God's gifts for God is a spiritual decision to not let God work through our lives. The refusal is a decision to not let our quiet, private, routines be disrupted by discipleship. The refusal is a decision to not extend ourselves to help others. And that's what made the master angry. The third servant was more interested in looking after himself than in serving his master and he called it sound judgement, responsible behaviour.
I wonder, what if there had been a fourth servant in this parable - one who had gone out and lost it all. What would have the master said then?
The answer is there's no place for a fourth servant in this parable. If you use what God has given you, you can't lose it, it can only multiply. There's no risk here. It’s only when you choose not to use what God has given you that the element of risk enters in.
We have each been given everything we need to accomplish God's plans for ourselves, our friends, our church, and even for people we don't know. We have been given greater riches than we can possibly imagine so that we can produce results pleasing to God. And God will not be mad at us for trying and failing. He will only judge us if we do not try.
Bilbo Baggins went on an adventure. He took a chance and used what little he had to offer. At first, it wasn't much, but, all that changed. Alone, in the darkness of the mountain tunnels, Bilbo discovered a magic ring. Slowly he learned that the power of the ring was more than its face-value and he indeed became the treasure-finder that Gandalf predicted. Before his journey ended, Bilbo Baggins found that even a little hobbit could shape the future of Middle Earth.
Today, you have each received an unexpected gift in your bulletin. Don't ever say the church didn't give you anything. It may not look like much. But, in much of the world that dollar bill is as valuable as the servant's talent. Don't underestimate its power. Think of it, especially this week when we are asked to give thanks for our blessings, as a symbol of all you have been given materially and spiritually. How will you use it?
So, to paraphrase Gandalf, let's have no more argument. God has chosen you. There is more in you than you guess and a deal more than we have any idea of ourselves. Are you willing to go on God's adventure?
In the Name....