“Fairness in the Kingdom of God”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
November 19, 2017
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Matthew 25: 29
There’s a great deal in the Bible that isn’t fair. We might have some questions for God. What do you do with this? In Exodus 34:7 God is describing God’s character to Moses and says: “keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Sounds very loving, caring and kind, but God isn’t done. “…yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Poor kids. They had nothing to do with the sin they are being punished for. Some of them weren’t even born when the sin was committed! Is that fair? No. Is it true? Yes.
We had nothing to do with the institution of slavery. Right? I was born in 1951, the Civil War was in the distant past. The issue decided. But they were still lynching Black folk. There were still segregated bathrooms and schools. I had nothing to do with slavery. You had nothing to do with slavery. But are we still paying for slavery’s sin? You bet. It may not be fair but it is how the world is structured.
One other example – environmental degradation. Unborn generations will be dealing with our sin. The world is warming. The seas are rising and at the highest levels of our government the sin goes on. Indeed, it is even embraced. Will my children’s children pay for my sin? You can count on it. It isn’t fair. They will have had nothing to do with it, but still they pay. It is how the world is structured.
This morning’s text is no different. Those who have much get more. Those who have “nothing,” even that will be taken away. Fair? No. True? Yes. But why is this true?
First, this has nothing to do with money. Remember, it is Jesus who said you cannot serve wealth and God. It was Jesus who reached out to the poor and oppressed. It was Jesus who saved some of His harshest words for the rich and powerful.
This is a story about being willing to risk what you have been given. God has given me purpose, hope, and an enfolding love. What have I done with what I’ve been given? This story makes clear God’s impatience with those who bury the gift, who never risk, whose lives are lived in timidity and fear. That’s what is being said.
The philosopher, Simone Weil wrote, “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence but life in scorn of consequence.” Oh how the church needs to hear this. Too much of my time is spent in trying to preserve the institution. And you? Do you wish for a full church rather than a faithful remnant? Do you long for a past rather than dare an unknown future? It was Goethe’s Faust whose soul was to belong to the devil if he said, “Stay, o moment. Thou art so fair.”
Risk is at the heart of faith. Right? It is because of faith that I can risk. I firmly believe that the future is in God’s hands. What ever comes, God will ultimately triumph. So if God’s church decides to bury its talent, God will find another instrument to do the Spirit’s bidding. If the church thinks itself too small to make a difference, God will call upon those who place their hope not in numbers but in faithfulness.
So what is God calling us to risk? Is it not the cross? When all is said and done it is in loosing one’s life that one finds true life. When I live in scorn of consequence, I am at last free.
When Dr. King delivered his last public address he spoke about having been to the mountaintop. That night, he was not fearing any man. He was sure that the Promised Land awaited. “I might not get there with you, but my eyes have seen the coming of the Lord, and we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” He was free at last.
When a reporter saw Mother Teresa dressing the wounds of a leper amidst the stench and filth around her, the reporter said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I.”
Where is the cross to be found? Wherever the horizontal way of humanity is intersected by the vertical reality of God’s will, the cross is formed. It is there that the church is called to serve – where people are crushed by unfairness, where humans are denied dignity, where freedom is feared and order revered, where the arrogant faithful pronounce others damned. That is where the cross is formed. So look not at numbers for a measure of the church’s success. Look at those places where the church has dared to carry the cross.
It was George MacLeod, founder of the Iona community, who wrote:
“I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek … at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what He died for. And that is what He died about. That is where the church ought to be and what the church ought to be about.”
Are we? Have we buried our talents? Can we live lives in scorn of consequence? We must or we are already dead. Let us pray….
Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”