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11.16.14 Preparations for the Judgment Matthew 25:14-30 Sermon Summary

by on November 17, 2014

There are a lot of different ways to think about God, and the source of this diversity comes from none other than the Bible.

Summary Points

  • Why the Lectionary is focused on judgment just now
  • Images of God in the judgment scenes and what they tell us
  • A helpful clue to dealing with God’s diversity in the Bible
  • How our perception of God determines our life
  • The lesson of the parable in our lives now and at the judgment
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

The existence of different religions is evidence enough that there are various ways to think about God. But even within a religion, like Christianity, variety exists. And it comes as a surprise to some that even within the sourcebook of Christianity, the Bible, there are many depictions of God.

At this time of year, the Revised Common Lectionary is walking us through passages related to God’s judgment. It is leading up to the end of the liturgical year with the celebration of Christ the King Sunday. And it is preparing us to enter the new year with Advent, when we focus on the coming of Jesus. Another way of looking at it is that it is preparing us for the end of our lives, and thus for the rest of our lives.

Today’s readings offer us various images of God in the last days. From the prophet Zephaniah we see a Warrior who plunders us. Zephaniah sees God conquering both our luxurious living and our idolatrous religion. This is a good image to have in mind as we approach Christmas. . .

Paul offers us two images: A thief who surprises us and a pregnant woman going into labor. The thief exposes our complacency; the laboring woman suggests that even when we might expect it, God’s arrival still comes as a disruptive surprise.

The image of God in judgment from the psalm is of an endurance athlete. God’s judgment can be experienced our whole lives long. By comparison to God’s judgment, our lives are short. In all these depictions, God’s judgment is certain, but it is also unpredictable.

Some people get nervous with so many images of God. They had hoped God could be understood in one simple way. But that’s not the biblical revelation, nor is it our experience. So how shall we think about various perceptions of God?

One helpful path is to recognize that some biblical depictions of God reflect truths about God, others reveal something of God’s actual nature. In both cases, the Bible’s intention is that we orient our lives around the presence of this God.

So, for example, from Zephaniah, where God is the Plundering Warrior, we are called to trust not in riches, nor in religion, but only in God. From Paul’s Thief and Laboring Mother, we are called to watch for God, live in the light, and endure trials with the hope of new life. The psalm’s final verse urges us to, “Count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” In other words, to keep the long view in mind.

In all these images of judgment, Paul’s words give us a comforting assurance: “God has destined us not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5.9) This is a passage that, in my opinion, does not merely reflect a truth about God, but reveals God’s very nature. God is a Savior.

All of this leads us to Jesus’ parable about the slaves and the talents. Even within this single parable, the image of God is diverse. If Paul’s statement is true, that our destiny is to “obtain salvation through Jesus Christ,” what might that look like? According to Jesus, it is, “As if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves, and entrusted his property to them.”

There are two technical facts that are helpful to know. First, a talent was equal to about 15 years’ wages for a common laborer. We’re talking about entrusting a fortune to the slaves. And second, to bury treasure in the ancient world was common, acceptable, and prudent.

In this parable, there really are only two storylines: the one following the slaves who received five and two talents, and the one following the slave who received one talent. Common to both storylines is that the master entrusts property to the slaves. The story hinges on the differing perceptions of the slaves.

These are revealed in the storyline of the one-talent slave. I contrast to the other slaves, this one says, “I knew you were a harsh man, so I was afraid, and I hid.” And the master validates that perception: “You knew, did you? . . . Then should have invested.”

Remember that the third slave was justified in his action. What he did, burying the treasure, was a completely legitimate course of action to take with a treasure. What condemned him was his perception of the master. In Luke’s version of this parable, the master says, “I will condemn you using your own words.”

This parable contributes its diverse images of God and discloses two fundamental truths. First, we have some freedom to choose how we envision God, and how we envision God is how we will experience God. Second, how we envision God will determine how we will live our lives.

The first two slaves envisioned God as entrusting and abundant. They went and traded the talents, multiplying them, and as a result, entered into God’s joy. The third slave envisioned God as entrusting and exacting. He hid the talent because he was paralyzed by fear.

The truth about God is that God is entrusting and abundant. We’ve all been entrusted with something. It doesn’t matter whether it is five talents or two or one. What matters is our perception and our response. That’s how we realize God’s “destiny” for us. That’s how we endure God’s judgment upon our lives. That’s how we “obtain salvation through Jesus Christ.”

This parable calls us to find our talent, to go and play with it, and to enter God’s joy.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What images do you have of the “last days” and God’s judgment? How many of those images are biblically formed, and how many come from popular depictions? How do you think you will fare under God’s judgment?
  • What do the various images of God found in the lectionary readings for this day speak to you? Are there other ways you envision God as you think about God’s judgment in your life?
  • Does the invitation to see a distinction between reflection and revelation help you in understanding the Bible, or frustrate you? Why is that?
  • What are some of the talents with which God has entrusted you? Are you playing with them or hiding them? Do you think God wants you to enjoy them or will God be “a harsh man” when he summons you to account for them?

 

 

 

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