SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D ALLAN B. WARREN III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2011, THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

This morning for the Gospel we heard the parable of the rich man who entrusted his money to three of his servants.  (Matthew 25:14-30)  To one he gave five talents;  to another he gave two;  to the third he gave one.  And then he left on a journey.  When he returned the rich man went to each of those servants to take back his money and to demand an accounting of how it had been used. . . . you know the rest.  We just heard it.

And also this morning, in one of the great collects of the Prayer Book we prayed that we might learn from and be inspired by Holy Scripture, and I am sure that everyone here both knows and believes that Scripture is given to us by God to teach us and to comfort us, but also to confront us and even to judge us.

Nevertheless, I must confess to you that, in spite of the teaching of the collect, I’ve never liked this parable very much.  Everything about it seems so wrong, even unjust.  And frankly, it all seems so unlikely as well, for, you know, a talent was a an enormous, even ridiculously large amount of money in those days.  If I were the rich man, I certainly wouldn’t want my money to be played around with by a bunch of inexperienced servants.  If I were the rich man I would want my servants to do exactly what that third servant did:  dig a hole, bury it deep in the ground, squirrel it away so that nothing could happen to it.  I would not want servants taking risks with my money!  No sir.  Let’s dig that hole deeper.  Let’s keep it safe.  That’s what I would do.

But, of course, I am not the rich man and that is not what the parable is about.  In fact, according to the Gospel, the very servant whom I, in my prudence, would have praised - the careful, cautious servant who is afraid of losing all that money and who hides his talent - that same servant is the one found wanting.  And, I must tell you, this strikes me as perverse.  More even than that, our Lord seems to add injury to insult, when He tells us that the one talent was to be taken away and given to the servant who has ten, or even worse,  when he tells us in another version of the parable that the prudent servant is condemned to be cast into outer darkness, the place where “many will weep and gnash their teeth.”  (Luke 19:11-27)  Moreover, what on earth are we to make of his comment at the end:  “to everyone who has will more be given, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away?”  I don’t like that.

But, you see, of course I am wrong here.  The parable is not really about money.  What it’s really about is faith - faith in God.  Here in the parable is our Lord’s teaching, to borrow a phrase, about the “dynamics of faith.”  How faith in God works.  And from that perspective the servant who hides his talent is the man or woman who refuses to do anything with his or her faith, who makes no venture of faith, who shrinks back from putting his or her faith to the test.  And we may all learn from the parable - and profoundly learn - for what Jesus is telling us is this:  that if we hide our faith away, if we do nothing about it, bury it deep in the ground and trot it out only on Sunday, then nothing comes of it at all.  Nothing.  It just stays there - under the ground.     Safe perhaps.  Secure perhaps.  Untouched.  Untested.  Never risked.  But also dormant and dead.  Of no profit or use to us or to others.

And if at the end of the parable the careful, cautious servant is cast into outer darkness that should come as no surprise nor should it offend us, for as far as the Gospel is concerned with such a guarded, lifeless faith that servant was in outer darkness already.

My brothers and sisters, the Gospel says to you and to me and to everyone that we must live by our faith, try it out, practice, venture it, risk it.  That is the only way that faith will grow and come alive.  And that is the only way that it will become of any profit or benefit at all.  You may have five talents.  You may have two or only one.  That really doesn’t matter.  What you have you must, according to Jesus, put into practice.  Make it a real part of your life and act upon it.  Because - and we just heard it - the five becomes ten;  the two becomes four.  The one might have become one hundred.  With God it can.

* * *

“It is written,” says Jesus when He is tempted by the Devil, “thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test.”  (Matthew 4:7)  And that is true.  But is true only where the Lord has not covenanted.  True only where God has not made a promise.  But where He has promised, He invites us to put Him to the test.  Did not Jesus tell us, “if you have faith only so small as a mustard seed . . . .?  (Matthew 17:20)   One talent?  A mustard seed is enough and then mountains will move!

“The Lord is faithful,” says St. Paul, “and He will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:24)  If we meet the overwhelming faithfulness of God with our own faith - however weak it may seem to us - then miracles will happen, mountains again will move, and faith itself will deepen and grow.  “Well done thou good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over little, I will set you over much.”  Put the Lord to the test, my brothers and sisters, venture, risk, live by your faith . . . . and see what happens.

One thing more, and this is sad.  That third servant with only one talent.  When the rich man, after his journey, comes to him, the servant tells him, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow;  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”  The great mistake, the fatal mistake this third servant makes is failing to recognize the true character of his master.  He may well have been a hard man, but that was no reason to be afraid, for that was only the half of it.  The other half is this:  the master “reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he did not winnow.”  In other words, he was one of those people who just made money out of the air. Everything he touched turned to gold.  There was no risk and no reason to be afraid.  The master wasn’t going to lose his money, even if he entrusted it to a bunch of servants.  That one talent could not, in fact be lost.  And so the irony, even the tragedy of the parable is that the fearful, careful servant choose to do the one thing, indeed the only thing, that would keep his master’s money from making profit - and that was to bury it in the ground.

And it is the same, dear people, with faith.  Ultimately, there is no risk involved.  It may feel that way sometimes.  Yes, it may be scary to live by faith.  But if it is, if it does, perhaps that is because we  have failed to recognize the true character of our master.  For our Master is the God of abundance and creation, and He too reaps where he does not sow and gathers where He does not winnow.  And more even than that, our Master has revealed to us His character and the depth of His faithfulness.  He did that - didn’t He? - when our Lord took upon himself the risk and ventured his faith in the faithfulness of God.  God never asks of us anything which he himself has not done.   And God in Christ took upon himself the risk of faith when stretched out his arms upon the Cross, and offered Himself for us, and received the nails and hatred and  death itself.  And He triumphed over those things, and by that triumph He took away the risk.  Christ is risen ! There is no need to be afraid.  Put the Lord to the test, for He is “faithful and He will do it.”

Once again, good people, you may have five talents.  You may have two.  Or perhaps you have only one.  Never mind.  It doesn’t matter.  Just remember.  The five becomes ten.  The two becomes four.  With God the one may well become one hundred!

Amen.