Out of the Box

This week’s Scripture:  Matthew 25:14-30

When you get a brand-new toy, still in the packaging, you have two choices:
Leave it in the box, guaranteeing that it will never be tormented by sticky-fingered children.
Or open it up to play with it… knowing that it will probably end up looking like this.

Barbie out of the Box

Jesus’ parable of the talents is about this kind of choice.

Here’s how it goes: A manager gives three servants money to hold on to while he’s gone. He doesn’t give them any instructions, which is weird… but perhaps instructions were implied by the incredible quantity given. A talent was worth about 15 years’ wages – maybe $250,000 in today’s standards. That’s not like handing a guy a 20 to keep safe for a while. A sum that large demands action.

The first two slaves – the two who got more money – must have invested with some high-risk stocks and played it right, because they double their funds. When the manager comes back, he finds a fortune in the hands of these guys.

But not so with the third slave.

He doesn’t invest his money. He’s afraid of his master, so he literally buries it; today that might be like hiding it in a mattress (or keeping a toy in its packaging). When the master returns, he gets back exactly what he gave. Oh – that, and a pile of excuses.

That slave is not dealt with kindly.

When I was younger I was mostly like the first two servants. I was fearless. I drove around town at breakneck speeds with my gas gage on “E.” I climbed on roofs of houses just to prove that I could do it. I was the kind of person who would open up toy boxes with not the least concern about what could happen to the toy. Toys are meant to be played with, after all.

But I do have another side of me, the side that’s more like the last servant. A side that wants to leave some things in a box so they’re protected: my children, perhaps? As I’ve gotten older this side has gotten more persuasive. I want to minimalize risks to keep some things safe. I buy insurance. I drive a mini-van. I don’t pick up hitchhikers.

Those decisions are smart, adult-like choices. But they are also acts of self-preservation motivated by fear, which is exactly what got the third servant called “wicked” and “lazy.”

There is an urgency here, something so important that it’s worth taking frightening risks for. And that urgency is about multiplication.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.
The kingdom of God is like yeast that gets worked into the dough (Luke 13).

The kingdom of God is meant to expand and spread. It must grow and be shared. Therefore, if we’re not using what we’ve got to grow God’s kingdom, then we’re not working for the kingdom of God at all.

This parable is part of the second Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples before their last supper together. He’s giving them the answers to the test to come, telling them what to do if they want to pass. Thanks to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is giving us the answers, too:

Take what you’ve been given and fearlessly use it to grow the kingdom.
No excuses.

Let’s start with the gift of time. Each day we have twenty-four hours to work with. We might rightly use the majority of that time on practical, self-beneficial things. We work, we sleep, we care for our home and the people in it. After a while, we get comfortable in our routines. Doing something different with our time can feel a little risky. It takes extra energy to invite a neighbor for dinner. We’d have to step out of our comfort zone to go on a mission trip.

The gift of time is not meant to be used only for what’s comfortable. It is supposed to be used to grow the kingdom, even if it means taking risks.

Many of us middle-class Americans have the gift of money. Once, twice, maybe even four times a month we get to take home a paycheck. We pay for things we need like groceries, rent, and electricity. Then we pay for things we want like television, cell phones, and new clothes. We put some away in savings for the future. Between what we need and what we want and what we might need later, it’s not hard to spend everything every month maintaining ourselves.

To grow the kingdom, we have to do what seems foolish to others. We do the risky thing of giving 10% to God’s work. We do the very risky thing of giving that 10% away first, before we pay any other bills. We fearlessly invest what we’ve been given into kingdom work, asking God to multiply it.

If you have enough interest in Christ to read this, perhaps you have the gift of faith. Perhaps you do what you need in order to maintain that faith: you go to church when you don’t have other plans; you read your Bible from time to time; if you’re not too tired, you say your prayers at night. But God does not give us gifts to maintain them, and that includes the gift of faith. We are called to multiply our faith by sharing it.

For many of us, sharing our faith with others feels very risky. We don’t want to seem like a religious fanatic; we don’t want to offend our coworkers. But our faith can never be shared if we don’t take the risk and say something like, “Would you like to come to church with me?” If the kingdom of God is intended to spread, then this might be the most important thing to spread of all: our faith.

Take what you’ve been given – your time, your money, your faith – and fearlessly use it to grow the kingdom.
No excuses.

When I was a junior in high school, my youth group made plans for its first-ever out-of-the-country mission trip. It was 1995 and mission trips were not very common at the time. This was still the heyday of the choir tour, where youth wreaked havoc in churches of their own denomination, monitored by host families. As a fearless teenager ready to live out her faith, I thrilled that my group was taking a mission trip to an impoverished country.

My mom… was less excited.

In fact, my mom forbid me to go. To her this was a dangerous trip to an unprotected place where both germs and people might pose a threat.

I don’t tell this story to put down my mom. My wonderful mom knew it would be a big deal for me to miss this trip. She even made it up to me by taking me on a fall backpacking trip – over her 40th birthday, no less.

I tell this story because I think it reflects the two sides of myself that can be in conflict today.

There is the side of me that wants to bravely live for God, no matter what. The side that would up and move to Bolivia, give all our money away, open our home to strangers. The side that is ready to fearlessly grow the kingdom.

Then there’s the rational adult side. The part of me that’s saving for college and driving a mini-van. The part that worries about the safety of my loved ones.

That part isn’t all bad… it’s the managing part. The maintaining part.  Sometimes, I need to maintain. I need to be alive again tomorrow.  But I also remember Jesus’ parable of the talents. You might retell it like this: The kingdom of God is like a toy that’s meant to be opened up and played with. Every day, I want to do just that.

In the parable, the slaves are given a huge sum of money – multiples of $250,000. It’s given with no instructions, but as I said, a sum that large demands some kind of action.

What have you been given? Time? Money? Faith?

A gift that large demands some kind of action. It demands high-risk investment. It demands to be shared.

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