This week, we’re continuing our 8-week sermon series called “Truths Along the Way.” Our series is focusing on the truths Jesus taught through the parables.
In today’s Gospel reading, you may recognize the story of “The Parable of the Talents.” It is a parable about a master who entrusts his servants with his property before heading off on a trip. One servant invests very wisely and upon the master’s return is given a huge reward. The second servant invests pretty well, and is rewarded…well, pretty well. But the third servant buries the money in the ground and just gives it back to the master. The master then punishes this servant for not using the gifts in the way the master intended.
When we hear the Parable of the Talents, we normally hear it from the Gospel of Matthew. That’s the version we’re most familiar with.
But the version of the parable that I actually read today…it came from the Gospel of Luke.
While the basics of the story are roughly the same, Luke’s version has a very different flavor than Matthew’s. In fact, if you look at the two stories side-by-side, it’s clear that while Matthew and Luke both heard this parable from the same source, the two of them did very different things with the story.
It feels like Matthew and Luke had very different agendas.
Matthew’s Gospel constructs a loose analogy between the absent landlord and Jesus. Matthew’s version is a parable about faithfulness, and about using our gifts well while we wait for Jesus’ return.
The author of Luke, however, has a different agenda. His interpretation of Jesus’ parable focuses on the timing of God’s Kingdom, and on the nature of God’s Kingdom. “When will the Kingdom come, and what will it be like?”
Luke begins his parable by explaining that “as Jesus’ followers were listening to Jesus, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” Jesus’ followers believed the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
They believed that Jesus was going to head to Jerusalem, and there, he would take over. It would be a spiritual, political and military coup, and with an army of angels at his side, Jesus would boot out Herod, and Caesar, and lay claim to his royal authority.
Since Caesar wasn’t likely to just give up power, obviously it would have to be a fight. Jesus, his followers believed, would receive his power from on high, and destroy all his enemies. Kind of like the ruler in the parable.
Of course, 2,000 years later we know the end of this particular story. We know what Jesus actually did. Rather than waging war, Jesus went forward, the scriptures say, and gave himself up, “like a lamb to the slaughter.” Jesus’ victory came not through violence, but through love.
Luke’s version of the parable of the Talents, tells us that ultimately, the Kingdom of God is going to be different. It would defy expectations. It will not come when you think it will come, and when it does come, it will not be what you expect.
- The Kingdom Jesus proclaims is not based on power. Remember, Jesus gave up power and went to the cross. The Kingdom Jesus proclaims is based on vulnerability.
- The Kingdom Jesus proclaims is not based on judgment. Remember, Jesus taught us over and over again to not judge each other. The Kingdom Jesus proclaims is based on mercy.
- And the Kingdom Jesus proclaims is not based on might. Remember, Jesus turned down the temptation of might, and force. The Kingdom Jesus proclaims is based on love.
Vulnerability. Mercy. Love. Not exactly what you’d expect from a King, right?
Today is the Fourth of July. Today is a day we celebrate our nation, our freedoms, and how far we have come together. There is so much for us to celebrate.
But what I love about the Fourth of July is that it is also a day that reminds us that we aren’t there yet. There is much more work to be done. The vision of the United States is never complete. It is always growing…always developing…always expanding. We are always becoming who the founders hoped we would become.
Sometimes I think we forget that. We celebrate what we are as if that is all we will be. I hear people say: “We are who we are…love it or leave it.” And we become defensive when the status quo is challenged. But I don’t think that’s an accurate or helpful perspective. Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin and Washington did not intend “love it or leave it. They believed in “Love it, and improve it.”
I love the line by the American screenwriter and playwriter, Aaron Sorkin in the movie The American President. He wrote: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad.”
Today, on the Fourth of July we remember that when the Declaration of Independence was signed, when the Constitution was adopted, it was the beginning of a journey that we are still on today. There was a vision that we are still trying to fulfill.
For the first 94 years of our nation’s existence, only white men had the right to vote. It took a terrible civil war and then a long political process to pass the 15th amendment, giving African American men the right to vote in 1870.
It took another 50 years, and the women’s suffrage movement, to give women the right to vote in 1920.
Since then, we’ve navigated wars and violence, the turbulence of the civil rights movement, and then the movement to guarantee rights for LGBTQ individuals…and the journey continues. We’re still dealing with hard questions of racial justice, and questions of our very identity as a nation. Who are we? Who do we want to be?
Struggling with these issues; working out these problems…this is our journey. And on the Fourth of July, we celebrate our nation and the journey we’ve been on, what we’ve accomplished, and the good work we have yet to do.
“America isn’t easy…You’ve got to want it…bad.”
Those early leaders (and we) could look at today’s parable for advice.
In telling this parable, Jesus was telling his followers to expect something different:
- Don’t expect the Kingdom of God to come as a political revolution to overturn a government
- Don’t expect the Kingdom of God to come as a violent revolt fought by an army of angels
- Don’t expect the Savior, the Messiah, the King, Jesus, to rule from some kind of a golden throne.
That’s not how it works. “Expect something very different,” Jesus is telling us.
Those early followers of Jesus, they were trying to fit the Kingdom of God into their limited view of what a Kingdom was. They only knew Kingdoms to be political, and military, and power focused. Their view was limited. Their box was too small. And it wasn’t working. Jesus was telling them “You’re going to need a bigger box.”
You see, God’s Kingdom is built not on politics, or power or might. It is based on love, and mercy and joy. It is so much bigger than we can understand. It is expansive in who it includes…way beyond human limits like nation, or race, or gender. God’s Kingdom is about love.
One of our members, Beth Bogen, recently had surgery. I asked her if I could share a little about it today. It was a significant surgery. It was a little scary. She is recovering well. Friends and neighbors have surrounded Beth and her family with love, and care, and food, and whatever they need.
On the day of her surgery, one of the Bogen’s friends called me and said “A group of Beth’s friends and family are meeting tonight at Four Seasons Center to pray for Beth. Could you come and pray with us?” Absolutely.
I was blown away. There were probably 50 or 60 people there. And the concern. And the care. And the love. Beth’s kids were there, and they were just surrounded the whole time. And when we were done praying, people stayed, and talked, and told stories, and cried and hugged each other. And it was this amazing time of love and support.
And when I got in my car to drive home, I remember, I said to myself, “This is the Kingdom of God. This is what God’s Kingdom is like. This is what it does: Love. Mercy. Community. Joy.”
The Kingdom of God is different. It is unexpected.
In this parable, Jesus was saying “get ready. This Kingdom of God…this is what is coming. Get ready!”
We are still getting ready.
My friends, Jesus is reminding us today that the Kingdom of God is here. And Jesus is reminding us that you and I…we might need a bigger box. We might need a bigger vision of what God does. God’s Kingdom is based not on power and might but on love and grace. And it is expansive. It is for all of God’s people. All of God’s people.
And as people who follow Jesus, our role then is to recognize what God is up to within the Kingdom, and then to be the hands and feet of God, proclaiming God’s Kingdom, centering our lives on love and pointing to what God is up to.
Our truth this week is simple: God not only defies our expectations…God surpasses them. God expands them. Because God’s love for you is so great that it cannot fit into any box that we create.
And when we focus on God’s Kingdom, our world, our nation, and perhaps our very lives, will align with God’s will, and we will all become who God created us to be.
It is different.
It is good.
It is love.
Thanks be to God!