23rd Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Nov 16, 2014

23rd Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Nov 16, 2014

Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham

Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

This week we encounter another parable in Matthew, but this week’s is just a little different:

  • Doesn’t start with “the kingdom of God is like…”
    • It could be that the phrase is meant to be carried over from the previous parable, as they do come one right after the other
    • But the parable also has another feel all together, so I’m not so sure that the parable describes the kingdom of God…although I do think it teaches us something about it
  • It is not as easily explained as an analogy: one character standing in for God, another for us, etc.
    • If so, people’s first instinct is to make the landowner God, and us the servants.
      • It is true that God instructs us with much (remember: a talent is worth 15 years of a laborers daily wage), but are we punished if we don’t use those gifts to earn enough return?

It is for these reasons that I found it helpful to be reminded of colleagues on Facebook of “10 Commandments for Preaching on Parables.”

  • Rule #1: Don’t assume that God is necessarily one of the characters in the parable.
    • A god that sends people into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, for not giving them what they want is not the God I have come to know. It is definitely not the God that sends Jesus into the darkness, to conquer death as the ultimate sign of love.
    • However, if we expect God to be some great punisher, it is easy enough to find bad things in this parable, throughout scripture, and in our lives that we can falsely attribute to God. This is why reading scripture fully and in context is important and why proof-texting is dangerous.
  • Rule #2: Don’t assume that the parable is trying to tell you how to improve your life.
    • This is linked to the first—if the simple moral is: use what you have been given in the intended ways or else, what happens of the cross is overshadowed. If we have to do something to earn salvation, than why did Jesus die and rise?
  • Rule #3: Don’t assume that you’re the goodie in the story (and that other people are the baddies).
    • Which slave are you?
    • Even before we figure out the “moral” (if there is one) or message of the parable, there are lots of ways to think about the differences between the slaves
      • Ability
        • Are you highly capable—entrusted with a lot?
        • Are you average? Below average?
      • Fear
        • Are you so afraid of messing up that you neglect to act?
        • Do you fear failure so much that you tend not to experiment and risk at all?
      • Prophetic
        • Do you call people on their bad behavior?
        • Are you able to read a person’s true intentions?
      • Scarcity vs. Abundance
        • Do you see any amount (of money, time, skill) as an untapped resource?
        • Do you see any amount as something to be treasured so much, you end up hoarding it?
    • Rule #4: If you can explain the whole parable without mentioning the words “kingdom of God,” you’re probably doing it wrong.
      • Even though the pericope (the snip-it we read) this morning does not use that phrase, we know that Jesus is still trying to tell us something about it—it is smack dab in the middle of other (more obvious) kingdom-talk and Jesus is about to die, so the kingdom is imminent therefore so is the teaching about it.
    • Rule #5: If it ends up having anything to do with going to heaven when we die, you’re probably doing it wrong
      • This again refers back to #1 & #2…the God I know loves me is not so interested in telling me how to earn salvation. We all know that is impossible, so there is no point in trying to understand how.
    • Rule #6: If Jesus seems more like a headmaster giving orders than like a comedian cracking jokes, you’re probably doing it wrong.
      • If the clear understanding of rules were the point, Jesus would have probably just chiseled a couple more tablets.
      • However, telling stories—especially outrageous stories like this one—is a way of getting us to remember, think, and (you might even say) struggle. The ways of God and God’s kingdom are so anti-this-world, so counter-cultural, that it is sometimes hard for us to comprehend.
    • Rule #7: If you feel perfectly confident and untroubled while expounding the parable, you’re probably doing it wrong.
      • Again, if there were one clear lesson to be learned from a parable, Jesus would probably have skipped the trouble and confusion, and just said what he meant. However, parables are so much more complex than a simple analogy or even straightforward allegory. The context of the original hearer, the writer, and the hearer all impact what is heard, remembered, and gleaned from Jesus’ words. This is not always the same for each person, or for the same person on two different days. That is the beauty of the complexity!
    • Rule #8: If your sermon on the parable leaves people with nothing to look forward to and nothing to hope for, you’re probably doing it wrong.
      • This is why I tend to steer away from that first interpretation I mentioned.
        • If it were true that we were subject to weeping and gnashing of teeth every time we fell short—I would have nothing to look forward to
        • Each of us being in charge of our own salvation—to me is hopeless
        • Believe that my actions are more powerful than Christ’s cross—his death and resurrection—is (for me) the very definition of the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
      • Rule #9: Now go back and repeat Rule 3 (because every preacher forgets this at least once in every sermon).
        • If the message of last week’s parable (which directly proceeds this one in Matthew) is “stay awake” for you do not know when Jesus is coming again, then I hear today’s parable as balancing out that command.
          • We are to stay awake, but not so singularly focused awake that we end up on the National Geographic reality show “Doomsday Preppers.” To prep, to get our make sure we have our salvation ducks in a row, to try to read the signs and predict Jesus’ coming, is NOT the point of the Christian life.
          • We are called to go about our lives—always awake to the fact that Jesus could be coming at any time—but doing what we are called, gifted, and equipped to do—use our talents! We are not meant to end up on the TLC reality show “Hoarders: Buried Alive” either. When we fear more than trust…when we hoard more than take risks…when we live from an attitude of scarcity rather than acknowledging the abundance that God gives us, we lose out…we miss the point…we put ourselves smack dab in the middle of the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
        • Rule #10: Finally, if you’ve preached a lousy sermon, just remember: as long as the parable was read aloud before you started, it won’t be a total loss.
          • Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is always at work in and in-spite of each of us. My thoughts and interpretations and struggling with the text can only do so much for you or for me.
          • And even more thankfully, we know the next part of the story, Jesus suffers and dies, and then after three days is raised, so we too might be raised, and not have to worry about that pesky outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Amen! Thanks be to God!

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