The Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28a)
16 November 2008
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29
On Wednesday morning I was in a taxi heading over to the Central Park Zoo to meet Jacalyn and William. Whenever I get into a cab these days, I always turn off that television monitor that comes on when you get in. Never before had I encountered one that wouldn’t go off. I could get it to pause for a couple of seconds, but there was no off button on the touch screen. I asked the driver and he said there was nothing I could do. By the corner of 72nd and Central Park West, I was doing my best to ignore the inane commercials that were on the monitor, but my attention was caught by a man yelling at me from the little box on the partition. It wasJim Cramer from that show, “Mad Money,”on CNBC. He was going on about the importance to the wise investor of cash. He was talking about how important it is to have cash on hand and out of the market—in a CD, under the mattress, in a regular bank account, anything—especially in uncertain times. “Nothing makes you feel safer than having cash,” he shouted.
Indeed, this seems to makes a lot of sense in our current economic climate. As I
sat in that cab, the Dow was down six hundred points over the past five sessions.
Would that all of us were heavily in cash at the beginning of September and we just
kept our money on the sidelines, as they say on financial TV. As a preacher with this
Sunday’s sermon on my mind—indeed I wanted the television off so I could think
about what I wanted to talk about with you this morning—I was struck by the
connection with today’s Gospel.
We heard about “a man going on a journey [who] called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” He gave each a different amount of cash to look after and when he came back rewarded them according to their success investing his money. The two with the largest amounts each made a hundred per-cent return and the master was well pleased. The third had decided to keep the one talent he was given, which does not sound like a lot of money, but it was, in fact, equivalent to about fifteen years’ wages of a labourer, in cash(1). Now according to my quick search on the web, the average salary for a labourer in New York City today is about $30,000, so the one talent in today’s money we could reckon as being worth the equivalent of $450,000.
This third servant was not so sure of his investing skills and was afraid of losing
his master’s principal, the principal of someone whom he called a “hard man, reaping
where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow.” He wanted to have
the cash on hand so that he could give back the money with no losses. Indeed he may
have been listening to Jim Cramer on the value of having ready money. And yet, the
master was not happy with him at all and told him, “then you ought to have invested
my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my
own with interest.” So the master took the money away from the servant and gave it to
those who had made him a good return. He even added this harsh lesson, “For to
every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who
has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
What are to make of this? That God wants us to make lots of money? That God
needs for us to be financially successful and savvy for him to love us? That those who
are poor will get the short end of the stick and have what little that have taken away
and given to the rich? No, none of this makes sense knowing the Gospel of Jesus
Christ, especially in Matthew’s version, since in the very next passage Jesus commends
the blessed, telling them “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you
gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed
me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me .... Truly, I say
to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” God
calls those who love him to love those who have nothing.
So what does all this business about being a skilled and risk-taking investor really
mean? We find the answer only when we realise that the Gospel of Matthew, tax
collector and skilled businessman that he was, is not, and I repeat not, actual
investment advice. Once again, Matthew is taking an example from a world he knows,
a word familiar still to twenty-first century New Yorkers, the world of hard nosed
commerce and finance, and using it to make people think about God. He is using this
situation to make people think about their spiritual lives, their relationship with God in
Christ in a world in which we expect to see him back with us again.
God entrusts many things to us, our lives, our skills, our gifts and talents (and
this time I mean the things we are really good at), and yes our money (those other
talents). He calls us to be good and wise stewards of our resources and not simply put
them under a mattress. God wants us to put all our resources to work in his service
while we still have life and breath because what we do here, on earth, in New York
City, and yes even as investors in turbulent markets, makes a difference to the God
who made us and who loves us and who calls us to do our best with the gifts we have
been given. We are called to use all of our resources, in whatever we do, to live out our
baptismal promises to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as
our self.” If we waste our gifts, store them up because we are afraid to take a risk, we
are staying on the sidelines of life, staying on the sidelines while leaving it to others to
do the hard work of discerning what we are to do, the hard work of sorting out how we
are to act, how we are to live in accordance with God’s desires for us his faithful
servants. And “what will be taken away,” what we take away from ourselves is the
possibility of living lives fully in love, fully in the Spirit of God, and failing to live up to
God’s dream for us to be our best selves.
“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but
from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Each of us has much to
offer, each of us is called to use what we have been given and in doing so, the reward
will be great. Living in love gives us more love and the return on that investment is
always more than a hundred per-cent.
As I said last week, we are in the season of the Kingdom. We, as a church, are living in hope and anticipation of the fulfilment of God’s promise to reconcile all things to himself. God is asking us to prepare ourselves for this future reality. God is calling us to act with faithfulness to his vision, his dream of love and peace. Indeed, God is calling us to live as if it were already achieved. It is in this way that we cooperate with God in his unceasing work, his unyielding purpose. The last bit of Good News is that we are not called to do this work alone. We have the love and support of a community, the encouragement of our clergy, and the life sustaining food of the Sacrament that turns our bodies into the Body of Christ working in the world.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Feria, 13 November 2008
1 According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (R.S.V.), 1973.
©2008 Andrew Charles Blume