The Hard Teachings of Jesus

Scripture: Matthew 25:14-29

We have entered the “hard teachings” of Jesus. The hard teachings of Jesus are teachings that you can’t just take at face value and can be difficult to understand. They raise lot of questions and make you go hmmmmmm ….

Reading today’s passage raises many questions: Why did the third servant hide his talent or his money? Why was he so fearful? And why was the master so mean?

Yet, for me this week, those questions were not the most difficult part of the passage. For me the hardest part was that I could see myself as that third servant, who was tempted to hide all that he had under a rock.

It hit so close to home that, in the middle of the coffee shop where I do my office hours, I shut my Bible and stopped my sermon preparation.

As I put my head into my hands, I couldn’t help but think that the third servant got a bad rap. In the parable, Jesus tells us that the third man was afraid and went and buried his talent in the ground.

The man’s fear and struggle was real. Yet, what I wonder, what is left unsaid, is if he was struggling with demons. Now, it might sound like I am bring up demons out of the blue, but I bring them up because I see such torment in the third servant’s experience. He buries his gift under the ground, out of the way of light and life and love …. Where it remains deprived and shriveled … he returns to his master bitter and angry.

What caused him to hide his gifts in such darkness? What was this man’s inner struggle?

Was he wrestling with demons?

Now, I must confess, I don’t know much about demons. I don’t know where they come from, whether they come from inside or outside us; I don’t know what forms they take, whether they are actual demons or human darkness itself. All I know is that they are real.

That is the thought that came to me as I sat in the coffee shop. When I read about the fear and darkness that this man endured, I could understand where he was coming from because I have wrestled my own demons, who have tried to push and bully me into that hole in today’s parable.

Like a mix tape, they take the form of repeated thoughts in my head:

Ones that predict certain failure in a situation,

And dwell on my shortcomings

And berate myself cruelly and irrationally for perceived mistakes.

I remember one such experience in seminary. It was my first Sunday serving as a student pastor at a local church in Boston named Cambridge Welcoming Ministries. I met with the pastor right before the service and she invited me to do the welcome during worship. I didn’t have time to prepare anything and before I knew it I was in front of the congregation beginning worship. Now, I knew that this church had welcome in its named and that welcome was an important part of their service. And so, when I got up front, I wanted to say it exactly like the pastor usually said it…. And I found that, in the moment when I needed it the most, my mind went entirely blank, grasping for words that I could not find. And so I began: Welcome everyone … welcome whether you are young, old, male or female … whatever … welcome everyone, everything …. Welcome to worship.

It was awful. Even now I can say it was awful and awkward and my re-inactment does not do it justice.

Well, that night, when I went home and my demons haunted me, predicting failure for my internship and life, pressing my embarrassment and urging me to run away from the situation and hide my face in shame. They were relentless and mean.

I remember calling my partner Matt, saying I was planning to drop out of school and move to New York City where I could live anonymously. You see I can relate to that man who wanted to take all he had and run and hide it away in a hole. Because he was scared, and didn’t have a lot and didn’t want to lose what he had. I wonder what demons haunted him and pressed him to bury his talent in the deep, dark soil where it would not see the light of day. I wonder how they criticized and berated him and bullied him into that corner.

One pastor who preached about demons, defined them as anything other than God that tries to tell us who we are. The precision with which the devil or evil or demons worms into our lives is breathtaking. The pastor describes it as “a tailor-made radioactive isotope calling into question our identity as children of God”. It might come in forms like addiction, compulsion, depression or despair. There are forces that seek to defy God that swirl around us and even within us.

That’s where Martin Luther comes in. Luther is the guy who started the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s .. he posted 95 theses on a church door, with began as a critique of the Catholic Church but ended up as a whole new church … he opened the door for all the Protestant denominations.

To help everyday people grow in their relationship with God, Luther holed himself up in a castle translating the Greek Bible into German so that for the first time somewhat regular folks could read it for themselves. Yet, while he translated, he struggled with doubt and discouragement from what he understood to be the devil. Subsequently, Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God’s promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, “I am baptized!”

Not I was baptized, but I am baptized.

To yell I am baptized! Is to renounce the forces of discouragement and addiction and every other thing that tries to rob you of the peace that is yours in Christ. 

To yell I am baptized! Is to renounce the power of fear and self-loathing and hubris and hatred creep in to try and tell you who you are.

To yell I am baptized! is to celebrate the promises that God has named us and claimed us as God’s very own. It is to celebrate that God loved us so much that God slipped into skin and walked on earth as Jesus … The God who created humankind in God’s own image, who declared that humankind was good … this same God has chosen you, claiming you through water and words, marking you eternally as a children of God.

(Story and “I am baptized” declarations come from Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz Weber)

To me, that is the claim of the first and second servant. They walked in the Light, investing freely with all the talents that they had, and those talents grew and multiplied. One of the servants had two talents and the other had five, yet both were commended by their master for the way they had shared their money. What this passage teaches us is that it does not matter how much you have – if you two talents or if you have five talent, what matters that you share what you have.

And I imagine that what empowered them to do this was this their rootedness in their identity as children of the Living God. It is an identity that defines who they are at the core and nothing and no one else gets to tell us who they are – not mistakes or anxiety or other people or critical bosses or powers above or powers below.

It is that claim that allowed the first servants to walk from darkness and fear into Light and Love …. It is that claim that allowed them to move from a mindset of scarcity and stagnation and hoarding to one of abundance and love and generosity.

I do not take for granted the first two servants’ decision to share their talents … we can get a perverse pleasure of taking what we have and hiding in a hole or burying it under a rock. It seems simple and easy and safe. As I sat in the coffee shop, I felt strongly the temptation to be like the third servant, to not share my Light and Life and aliveness in God because, well, sometimes it can be hard. And today was hard. Yet, even as I felt that temptation, I heard another calling … and that calling is to be myself and to be a pastor … to share openly of myself, knowing that speaking of God is not always about easy things but also about speaking the truth of the evil and demons and principalities that we struggle with in our everyday life. The Light and Life we experience in God is so precious precisely because we have known darkness. We have known what it is to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

It doesn’t matter whether we have two talents or five talents or one talents … what matters is that we share what we have with one another. God can do great things with us. Today’s story, I think, is a story of liberation. It is the story of two servants walked in the Light, claiming their identity and shouting fiercely in the face of their demons and telling them to scram, get lost … their actions liberated them to share their aliveness with others … and now, in turn, we experience liberation through their story.

We in turn are invited to experience this liberation for God calls from death to life, from darkness to light, from despair to hope … We are invited to live boldly, shouting “I am Baptized!” that we might denounce our demons … We are invited to claim loudly our identity as bright, brilliant, beloved children of God who are beautiful to behold. That we might walk in light and burn with a fierce sense of aliveness … that we might be who God created us to be … that we might be liberated …. And that we might liberate those around us. Amen.

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