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November 19, 2017

“Double or Nothing”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Judges 4.1-7

Matthew 25.14-30

November 19, 2017

            A couple weeks ago I traveled to a church in the presbytery for a council meeting. Before it started, I opened the fridge in the church kitchen to put my lunch inside, and I found three dollar bills sitting on the bottom shelf of the fridge. I stared at it, confused why someone would keep money in the fridge. I had heard of freezing one’s assets but this seemed a little ridiculous. As I put my lunch bag inside, my mind drifted to the Matthew passage we read today and how the third slave puts his money aside without investing it. Just like the money in the fridge, the man takes his talent and puts it in what the master considers to be a seemingly useless place.

            Now, this isn’t really about money, believe it or not. The passage is more about how we use the gifts God has given us, and how we live our lives. We hear about a man who is going on a journey and entrusts his money with three slaves, “according to ability.” This last part makes me pause and wonder what that means, and how it affects the rest of the story. Each person is given a different amount, seemingly based on ability. Does this mean the person who received five talents was more trustworthy than the one who only received one talent? Was that a true statement, or an assumption and bias of the master? Was this third person set up for failure? It makes me wonder if there was a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the third person knew the master didn’t trust him, and – trustworthy or not – decided to just hold on to the money because that was what the master expected him to do. I also wonder if each person knew how much the others received.

            So, the master goes away and when he returns he asks for his money back. The others have doubled his money, but the third has not. He rightfully gives the master the money, but the master is furious because he expected the slave to have done something with the money – even if he lost it all. It is important to realize that it was not that the master was looking for double the money – though I’m sure that would have been nice – but the master was looking to see who was taking a risk and who was willing to try.[1] This third slave was not bad – he was not greedy or keeping the money for himself.[2] He is honest, but has a different way of using the money. In fact, he probably reflects many of us in that we want to care for our assets and we want to make sure that we are responsible with what is not ours. Yet, that is not what the master wanted. The master wants the risk to be taken – life to be lived.

            As I mentioned before, the talents represent more than just money – but all gifts with which we have been entrusted. What do we do with these gifts? Do we share them, or protect them? What is our motivation for how we respond? The third man’s motivation is important, in that he was not acting out of frugality, but fear.[3] We might assume that he was just trying to be careful with the money, but perhaps he was being careful because he feared the master. He was fearful he might lose the talents – which might say more about the master than the slave.

            Yet, we are called to look at our intentions and motivations. Are we driven by fear or something else? Are we willing to take risks for our faith? What are those risks, and how far are we willing to go? Life is full of risks – and sometimes we recognize it, and sometimes we don’t. Some risks we obviously take, and others we struggle with because so much is at stake. Every time we walk out our door and hop in our car, we are taking a risk – we don’t know if we will be in an accident. Every time we love someone, we take a risk – they might not love us back, and might tear our heart apart. Every time we follow the Gospel and share hospitality of others, we are taking a risk, because we do not know how they will respond.

Some risks are bigger than others. We take the risk of driving in our cars every day without too much thought. To follow God, though, requires prayer and thought, because God invites us to a risky faith. God asks us to go outside our comfort zones and love people who are unlovable; to care for people who are in the margins; to befriend the lonely.

Leaving this place and sharing the good news is a huge risk. Jesus took that risk, and look where he ended up. While our risk is not quite that drastic, anytime we open up about our faith or welcome someone who is different than us we take a risk, because we are making ourselves vulnerable. To share something about ourselves is difficult, because someone might disagree with our way of life or our opinions. Yet, we are called to be in community with one another, and that is a huge risk.

Think of the risk people take when they walk into our doors for the first time – they don’t know anyone here, they don’t know what we believe. They don’t know if they will be welcomed or shunned, or if the preacher will greet them or condemn them. They don’t know if they will be sitting in someone’s assigned seat or if they will know the hymns. It is a pretty big risk for someone to walk into a new church. How much easier it would be for someone to enter a church knowing they have a friend there, and that they are already loved. I certainly don’t suggest you just befriend people to bring them to church, or that all those we befriend will want to come to church. However, when we think of the risk people take in coming into a new church, it might put our risk taking into perspective.

So, we are invited to use our gifts of hospitality and love and kindness and humility. These are the gifts we are called to use, because if we keep them to ourselves they will not expand – they will not double. When you love someone, they share that love with someone else. When you are kind to one person, I pray that kindness is contagious. For those of you who understand investments, it is currently like putting your gifts into the energy fund rather than leaving them to sit in the money market fund. We might lose some along the way – our kindness may not always be spread, but we tried. In the money market fund, it just sits and doesn’t even attempt to care for someone.

The master returns at the end. This is an important aspect of this parable because Jesus is talking about his return – even though we do not know when it will be. Perhaps Jesus is trying to tell us how to live our lives in the in between – trying to understand how to use our gifts in the meantime. We have to take risks and live our lives rather than sitting around and waiting for Jesus to return, or for the realm of God to appear. God has offered us gifts in this day and time because we can see glimpses of God, and we can share that with one another. When the master returns, he asks for his talents back. I don’t imagine that God will ask for our gifts back, but at the very least, we must recognize that God will wonder how we used those gifts. The first part is using our gifts, the second part is realizing they aren’t ours to own. We can accumulate and accumulate and double what we’ve been given, but if we don’t realize it isn’t ours to begin with, we’ve missed the point.

In the Judges passage we meet Deborah, a judge and prophet who could have her own sermon. In the time of this passage the Israelites were living in chaos – no king, no ruler, no Moses, no Joshua.[4] The people relied heavily on people like Deborah to help them understand what to do and where God was leading them. The people have had a bad time because they haven’t been listening to God and have been punished for their actions.

Deborah is a decisive person – it is part of her job and perhaps part of her personality. She is a risk taker, and must be because she recognizes that the future of the people is in her hands. Does she lead the people into war? Does she tell them to run? The weight of decision making is on her shoulders, and either way she must take a risk.

Yet, she doesn’t do it alone. She leans on others who are also leaders in the land, including a general, and she works within the community. When we take risks, we don’t go them alone. God has given us all gifts to work together and lean on one another.

What risks do you need to take? What is God calling you to do? May you take that step boldly, knowing that you are being led by God, and surrounded by a community of faith. Amen.



[1] John M. Buchanan, “Matthew 2.14-30” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 310.

[2] Ibid., 310.

[3] Mark Douglas, “Matthew 2.14-30” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 312.

[4] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: A (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 509.