Matthew 25: 14-15, 19-29
This passage makes me nervous. As a matter of fact, all of chapter 25 in the Gospel of Matthew makes me very nervous.
We’ ve got bridesmaids who can’ t keep awake and are not prepared when the Bridegroom comes. They lose their ticket to the heavenly banquet. I don’ t mean something like the Jefferson Hotel’ s Sunday brunch, heavenly though it might seem. We’ re talking about a banquet table with the food and drink of eternal life.
And we’ ve got strangers (heaven only knows how many) who are naked, thirsty, hungry, in prison, in distress and if we don’ t take care of them we’ re thrown into the eternal fires.
And we’ ve got these talents in Jesus’ parable today. Didn’ t ask for them, maybe don’ t know what to do with them, but if we don’ t do something with them we’ re thrown into outer darkness.
Wait a minute! We didn’ t hear anything in the gospel passage this morning about outer darkness. Well, guess what? Whoever those folks are who put together the lectionary readings and decide what’ s in and what’ s out, left out the last line in the parable. The last sentence, which we didn’ t hear this morning is, As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Somehow judgment day is not our favorite topic. But nobody’ s taken it out of the New Testament yet. So what do we do with it when it’ s staring us in the face?
One thing awkward about judgment day is that we just don’ t know when it’ s coming. It certainly would be nice if God would give us a timetable. And while God’ s doing that how about giving us, pardon the pun, a drop dead date. A time by when if we haven’ t turned back our foolish ways as they sang in Godspell, now is the time.
Being judged is no fun. It brings to mind a win/lose situation. The gospel sets us up for an either/or in the great sorting-out. Left or right. Sheep or goat. Eternal life or eternal fires. Outer darkness or a place in the light.
I just did a series in our Wednesday night programming. I titled it Heaven, Hell and the Hereafter. It was a two part series, one night for Hell and one night for Heaven. One parishioner asked, But what about the Hereafter? Perhaps when I chose my title and when he asked the question we were each hoping there was a third choice. Like the gladiator on the Coliseum floor we want a third door to choose from.
Well, we don’ t have a third choice in the Gospel.
So how do we live with the choices we do have?
And how do we find Good News in the face of Judgment?
The Good News spells out what we will face when our Judge comes. It won’ t be a surprise. The face of the Judge is the face of Christ, the one who loved us so much he died for us.
We’ ve been told what to expect.
We’ ve been told what’ s behind each of those doors on the Coliseum floor, life or death.
We’ ve been given the freedom to choose.
We’ ve been told which door opens up to life abundant and eternal. It’ s marked with the blood of the Lamb.
The key to that door is in the gift box lying right in front of each of us not some time in the future, but right now.
It’ s not enough to pick up the box. It’ s not enough to unwrap the box. It’ s not enough to take out the key inside and simply hold it in our hand, or lay it aside, or ignore it, or hide it.
When the Gift Giver returns, and no we don’ t know when, what will we do as the Giver stands at the door asking, What have you done with my gift? Will we stand there, stuttering, Here it is. I give it back to you. I was afraid to use it. I was afraid I would lose it?
As we stand in front of the Judge, gift unused, we know.
As we stand in front of the one who lost his life that we might have life and that we might share in the resurrection that brings us all into new life, we tremble as we begin to grasp the magnitude of what we may have lost.
Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life writes:
One day you will stand before God, and he will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity. The Bible says, Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God . . . . Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.’ ( Rom. 14:10b-12) Fortunately, God wants us to pass this test, so he has given us the questions in advance. From the Bible we can surmise that God will ask us two critical questions:
First, What did you do with my Son Jesus Christ?’ God won’ t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?
Second, What did you do with what I gave you?’ What did you do with your life all the gifts, talents, opportunities, energy, relationships, and resources God gave you? (Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, p. 34)
I don’ t always agree with all that Rick Warren writes, but I believe that he has hit on something important in this instance. I believe that what he offers is a faithful summary that speaks biblically based truth for our life and for our death.
In our Monday night class called MapQuesting with God fifteen men and women are exploring vocation, in all its seasons, in their lives, but particularly in times of transition.
Transition times are those times in life I call hinge times. Times when we uniquely have the opportunity to effect change in our lives, to see things in new ways, to commit to new ways. Or not. Think of the hinges on a door that enable us to open a door or to close it.
Last Monday night I asked the group to reflect on this parable of the talents as I read it through slowly, leaving some silent spaces for the work of the Spirit. Understand, I’ m not equating talents simply with money, but with any of the life gifts we have received.
Here is what I believe this parable calls us to consider. I offer you, today, these questions, with at least a tiny space inbetween for the Spirit to squeeze in. But of course, what you do with these questions, absolutely, is your choice.
What are the talents either one or more which have been given into your keeping? (Pause)
What are you doing with them? (Pause)
Have you hidden any of them? (Pause)
Have you buried any of them? (Pause) Why? (Pause)
What is keeping you from bringing them out and using them? Now. (Pause)
Are you willing to do something about this? (Pause)
I believe that as we explore these questions and as we honestly and with humility try to live through the answers we find, we will come face to face with Christ. With the One who calls us and walks beside us through the wilderness. And Christ will be our guide and our guardian, if only we turn to him and trust him.
About ten years ago, I was in a major transition time in my life. It didn’ t just feel like hinges moving, I was unhinged myself. It was as if the very plates of my being were shifting like the plates under the continents.
I went to a counselor, someone older, a person of great wisdom. I had met her through a client I had represented at one time and thought, if I ever need a counselor she’ s going to be it. I went to her to help me sort through a lot of craziness I was feeling after the death of my mother. I felt unstable, directionless and losing faith in whatever had held me together to that point in my life.
I wasn’ t paralyzed, I was still a person of action. After all, I was still the girl whose high school yearbook quotation remained, It’ s better to wear out than rust out. (Sad but true). But I was falling apart, in motion.
At the end of one of our sessions, the counselor gave me some homework. She told me to consider what I thought might be the epitath on my gravestone when I died. I struggled with this assignment the entire two weeks until my next appointment with her. It came to me the night before I was to see her. When I arrived at her office the next day, she asked. So what’ s it going to be?
I answered: A work in progress by the grace of God.
And it was then my true healing began. I had named what I had never really been able to name before, a trust that God was in my life and working with me, no matter the past.
Do I fear Judgment Day? Who doesn’ t? But it is fear in the biblical sense tempered by what I know as a truth in and for my life and at my death: that I will stand before an awesome God in the figure of the Christ who walks beside me even as I journey towards that time.
We belong to an awesome God.
We will stand before Christ on Judgment Day. But we will stand before a Christ who has promised:
Remember this. Though I am your Judge, I was and am and ever will be, Alpha and Omega, your Savior.