A kindergarten girl was busy one day drawing a picture – she was working at it so intently that her mother stopped her work and asked, “What are you drawing?”
“A picture of God,” the girl replied.
“But,” her mother protested – “No one knows what God looks like.”
“Well… they will when I get through!”
What does your God look like? That’s the question I’d like to ponder with you this morning. I ask because sometimes our perceptions – our viewpoint – can influence our actions. That may be what’s happening in the story Jesus tells in our Gospel today.
There are three servants, I’m going to call them Tom, John and Harry each of whom has been entrusted with talents. Now, probably because of the way people through the years have interpreted the word “talent” in this parable, the first definition for “talent” is a person’s gifts and aptitudes, their God-given gifts. But in Jesus’ day, a “talent” was Roman currency for a very large sum of money. A “talent” might be like a million dollars today.
So this landowner – I’ll call him Chris - is planning to go away and puts Tom in charge of 5 million dollars, John in charge of 2 million dollars and to, Harry, he entrusts one million dollars. He doesn’t give them each the same amount but even receiving one talent - a million dollars -- to manage is no small amount.
What do we know about Chris the landowner? At the end, we know what Harry thinks – but is that who he was? What we know is that he clearly trusted his servants. He didn’t try to micro-manage them. Instead, he gave them the money to manage and went away for a long time.
When he returned, Tom and John stepped up – no sign of fear or anxiety there – and shared their success. Chris said, “Enter into the joy of your master.”
But Harry, the third servant, lashes out at him, 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.'”
We don’t know why Harry was so afraid of Chris but his image of the master – an image not apparently shared by Tom or John -- kept him from using the one million dollar gift of seed money that he had – that the master had entrusted to him. I wonder if the problem was that: The master had trusted him – but he did not trust the master.
What is your image of God? Do you trust the master? Do you trust yourself to use the gifts that God has entrusted to you?
I think far too many people think of God as an angry old man seeking vengeance. That was the God that Martin Luther feared. He worried that he wasn’t good enough – and that he couldn’t be good enough. So… for a time… he was so afraid to do the wrong thing – that he did not use his gifts. He just fretted. Luckily for us, Martin Luther’s superior noticed the gifts that Luther had – and put him to work so that Luther’s focus could be on teaching others scripture rather than on his own short-comings. And Luther blossomed.
Luther’s work – and focus on what scripture said – allowed him to change his image of God from one who expected perfection to a God who loves us.
That’s how I see God too – and I hope you do too. God is loving and generous –entrusting us with gifts beyond number. And God not only gives us these gifts – resources of time, of skills, affinities, and talents – in both sense of the word, but also trusts that we will use them well. But… you may wonder…what happens if we don’t? Will there really be the weeping and gnashing of teeth?
I must admit –this parable is not my favorite – especially the end. It’s a parable – so it is trying to teach a lesson. Perhaps this strongly worded ending was meant to persuade and encourage people to be like the first two servants. But I also wonder if weeping and gnashing of teeth is not so much a punishment – but rather a description of what happens to us when we don’t use our gifts. Weeping and gnashing of teeth – that’s what happens inside us as we focus on our regrets – both those things that we have done that we wish we had not done– and those things that we wish that we had done. It’s really easy to beat ourselves up for the times in which we aren’t the people that we want to be – or the people that God made us to be. It’s the “I wish I wouldas or “If onlys” of our lies plague us in the dark of night.
Jesus told this story when he was in Jerusalem… preparing to go to the cross because of his great love for us. It is because of Jesus’ love that he is able – unlike the disappointed landowner – to forgive us and give us second and third and seventy times seven chances. That’s image of God that I want you to take away today.
Rob Bell tells a story of his son and a little white ball. It was an ordinary ball – but when he asked his son about where it came from, his son acted really strangely. Later… it became clear that the little white ball wasn’t just there by accident because when asked again, instead of saying anything, the little boy just ran to his room and BURIED himself under the covers and hid. When Rob went to see what was wrong… he found a lump in the bed. Clearly there was more to the story that his son was afraid to share. Rob looked at that little lump in the bed and pulled back the covers and gathered his son into his arms and said, “There is nothing that you could ever do that would make me love you less.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, “There is nothing that you could ever do that would make God love you less.” That’s love. That’s Grace. That’s what God looks like. Amen.