What are you afraid of? Some people are afraid of spiders. Some people are afraid of the dark. Some people are afraid of heights. Some people are afraid to talk about money, but I think most people are most afraid of failing.
About a month into my internship in Massachusetts, I found myself in the middle of stewardship season. My supervisor, Pastor Goodman, informed me that he and I would be visiting a woman whom he felt could be giving more money to the church. She was giving less money than half of the congregation, but she was certainly one of the wealthiest. She was literally a rocket scientist. Sally (not her real name) worked for MIT calculating rocket trajectories for the military. This impending conversation about money sounded like the most awkward conversation I could imagine having with another person. Pastor Goodman was going to take me into this woman’s house and we were going to tell her that the gift she was giving the church wasn’t enough and we wanted more. I could just imagine her reaction. She would get angry, she would tell us that we should be grateful for what the church is receiving, and she would tell us that it ultimately wasn’t any of our business what she did with her money.
So I asked Pastor Goodman if he was scared that she would react in any of these ways. He told me that he was not. He said to me, “You know, Daniel, we have a real gift to give in stewardship season. Some people are genuinely struggling to make ends meet and they have told me so. Knowing that, the church can pray for and support those folks. But some other people are ruled by their money. They are so afraid of losing it, that they become paralyzed and don’t do anything with it other than store it away. We have the gift and responsibility to encourage folks not to be ruled by their money, but to let their money serve God and the church. There is a real freedom and joy in that.”
Pastor Goodman and I went to Sally’s house where he told her that he wanted to encourage her to give more money to the church. Her financial gift can be part of her legacy and can be a part of the exciting and transformative work that God is doing in the world through the church. To my surprise she did not yell at us, she did not scold us, and she ended up tripling her financial pledge from the previous year.
In today’s parable, I am most struck by the master’s exclamation to the first two slaves, “Enter into the joy of your master.” As I read this parable, I hear that invitation given to us as well. “Enter into the joy of your master.” God has already given us our gifts- our time, money, and talents, and God is now inviting us to use them in a way that gives joy. God has experienced the joy of giving. At Creation, God created sun, moon, and stars; air, water, and land; and animals and plants. At the end of each day of Creation, God stepped back, breathed it all in and shouted, “This is good!” In today’s parable, the master gives a massive some of money (some people estimate that a talent was worth about $250,000) to his slaves in a bold, fearless act of trust. In Christ, God took on our flesh, walked on our streets, and gave his very life for us. These are all good and amazing acts that benefit us and that give God great joy. God invites us to “Enter into the joy of our master,” and share in God’s creative, life-giving work in the world.
God has already given us the gifts. For some of us, it may be the gift of money, the gift of prayer, the gift of teaching, the gift of cooking, the gift of music, the gift of listening, or some other amazingly valuable gift. We can be ruled by our fear of failure, or by the grace of God, we can enter into the joy of our master and use those gifts to join in God’s good work in the world. Amen.