Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, November 16, 2014

God Invests in Us
[Judges 4:1-8; Matthew 25:14-30]

            Let us pray. Lord, we are humbled and awed that you put “your money” on us… in the game of life.  You have chosen us to be your children, your representatives, your advocates, your soldiers in faith, your stewards of all creation. Please help us demonstrate to you our gratitude, courage and ingenuity, as we use these gifts to make your world a better place when you return. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.
            A property owner goes on a journey. Before he leaves, he summons his slaves and entrusts his property to them:  giving one 5 talents, which is money equal to 6,000 days of wages or 15-20 year’s earnings.  That is quite a large amount of money for a property owner to give an employee! The second slave is given 2 talents and a third is given 1 talent, according to their abilities.
            Do you realize God puts God’s money on us, just as the landowner put money into the hands of those slaves? We hold in our hands an incredible inheritance: what we have received biologically, socially and culturally from own families… and what we have received as a spiritual community in St. Pauls.  “Oh,” people say to me: “You’re at the big brick church on the corner!”  Our geographical footprint in St. Pauls is huge.  In these pines, we have a beautiful sanctuary, a spacious Fellowship Hall, property to play on, a cemetery where saints are buried. Not only that, we have received a 214-year spiritual inheritance of people who followed in God’s footsteps courageously, using their brawn and brains, exercising ingenuity and resilience when they met resistance along the way.
            God wonders what we will do with these so-called 21st century “talents.” Will we fearfully sit on what we’ve received? Or, will we put what we’ve received into circulation: sharing, loaning, earning interest, and maximizing every bit of time, talent and treasure, so that when we see our Creator, we will also hear:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You have been trustworthy in a few things, so I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master”?
            This is a new thought for me – that I am God’s personal “investment.”  I know that God wants my time, talents and treasures, but I never thought of this as an investment before. The story Jesus tells is clearly about the rate of return on the landowner’s investment. What was the “return” on the landowner’s investment?  The slave with five talents doubled the landowner’s investment from 5-10. That’s a 200% return!
            The second slave with two talents also doubled the landowner’s investment from 2-4. That’s a 200% return also. Given what that slave received, he did an equally remarkable job of stewarding the landowner’s money.
            Unfortunately, the third slave was afraid and buried his talent, rather than putting it in circulation.  Not only was the landowner disappointed, he took that talent away from the third slave, and gave it to the most resourceful slave.  So the one who already had plenty to begin with was given more and the third slave, by wasting his gift, lost it altogether. These are harsh words for the one who dug up his one talent and returned it to the master.  He is pictured on the front of our bulletin, humbling kneeling at the master’s feet, offering the very same talent back to the landowner, which had not multiplied.
            What are we to take from this story about how we live our lives and exercise our faith?  Is Jesus praising the wealthy and criticizing the poor?  I don’t think so, because that would contradict many other Scripture passages which tell us to show compassion to the poor and to share our bread with the needy.  In fact the very next story in Matthew 25 defines the heart of Jesus’ ministry as service to people in need.
            No, the issue here is not wealth and poverty. What each slave receives at the beginning of the story is a GIFT – freely given—based on the abilities of the slaves, so how much they have is not what distinguishes them from one another. The slave with 2 talents pleased the landowner just as much as the slave with 5 talents.  Having 1 talent was not the problem, but burying that talent was a huge mistake.
            What is the purpose of the money in this story?  Money, a subject which Jesus talks more about than most people realize, is not to be protected or hoarded out of fear.  Money is a resource to be used and leveraged wisely for the greatest possible good!  Money is not evil; but Jesus does say the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  If we love money too much, we don’t want to spend it.
            The first two slaves were courageous and ingenious with the money they received, seeing it not as an end in itself but as a means to something greater.  If you don’t use it, you lose it. I dare say this story is about more than money, although that is the literal meaning.  Whatever we are given: money, resources & capabilities; lack of use diminishes the gift. 
            When I arrived in St. Pauls we had to replace the tires of the church van which had dry-rotted from lack of use.  If a car sits in the garage or driveway without being started, the battery dies.  If you are a piano player but never sit down and practice, your talent grows rusty.  Muscles atrophy when a person is bedridden. What we don’t use, we lose.
If God invests in us… what are we doing with that investment?  I personally am VERY proud of the fact that the Girl Scouts are using our Fellowship Hall several Tuesdays every month. I am proud of the fact Robeson Community College is teaching English as a Second Language and Family Literacy classes in our Fellowship Hall every Saturday morning. I am proud of the fact that an Hispanic Mission Fellowship was able to meet and worship in our facility for six months until they were able to renovate the former radio station in St. Pauls to become a place of worship.
            Not everyone who is a member of our congregation is proud of these partnerships, because it requires an “expenditure” of money on our part… for utilities… and it costs us occasional “inconveniences” – when other groups are using our facility.  I am proud of the fact we are “investing” in our community… to make a difference in the lives of people God loves and values.  I want to be the slave with either 5 or 2 talents, who is willing to give what I have… by taking a risk… to make “more”… in the long run. I do not want to be the slave who had “one talent” and chose to bury it in order to save it.  That slave was severely reprimanded by the master and the one talent he received was taken away from him.
            These are harsh words for harsh times.  The good news is that WE ARE GOD’s INVESTMENT in the future.  God is placing God’s bet on us… to yield a return that exceeds God’s initial investment.  God is willing to put God’s money on people who are a long shot.  After all, we are living in St. Pauls, NC, in Robeson County, one of the poorest counties in the U.S.A.  I chose to come here because I choose “long shots.”  Can anything good come out of Nazareth?  Some people asked that question in Jesus’ generation. Nazareth was nothing special, but God chose Nazareth to be the place where Jesus would grow up, learn his trade as a carpenter and prepare to be the Savior of the world.
            What do you consider a long shot? I am talking about “bets” – “gambling” – “games” – “stock portfolios,” all of which entail RISK.  Are you willing to put your time, talents & treasure on the table… so that God will get a 200% return?
            I am not an accountant or a money-oriented person; however, as a good steward of my father’s resources in his later years and as a good steward, along with you, of God’s resources, I have been doing a lot of thinking about Investment Portfolios.  My dad WAS a business man:  majored in business in college and spent most of his career as an outside salesman. His office was his car. He traveled from company to company selling his product: which sometimes was windows and doors, sometimes real estate and later in life his product was heavy construction equipment.  He also worked straight commission which means he did not make a single penny until he sold something. He had no guaranteed salary. For some of us, that would be pure hell to live like that, but for my dad, it was competitive, challenging and he loved it!  When he did sell his product he earned a percentage of whatever he sold.  In his last place of employment, he was the best outside salesman with the most sales of anyone else in the company.
             Sadly, they let him go, because as he neared retirement age, the company would have owed him a large sum of money for as long as he lived in pension funds, so they fired him. He took the company to court for “age discrimination.” He had an EXCELLENT case, but the other aging salesman the company fired, took an out-of-court settlement and walked away. My dad couldn’t and wouldn’t do that. He fought and lost, because the jury decided against him, even though the judge recognized the strength of his case.  Dad lost both his job and his case, at the same time he was paying for my wedding.  But being the entrepreneur my dad was, he invested his money in his own retirement. He has no pension from his years of employment, but he has an investment portfolio that most accountants would call “aggressive.” He can win big and he can lose big, because he invested in a few trustworthy companies.  In 2008 when the stock market tanked, my dad lost half his money; however, he didn’t panic and that same portfolio has completely recovered. Now, we are investing his money more conservatively, because he is older and cannot afford to lose like that.
            St. Pauls Presbyterian Church has opened an investment portfolio and has received 2 generous gifts in that account: one in money and one in stocks.  We are putting money away for the future so that when the master returns... there will be a return!  How do we translate this message into more than money?  How do we translate this message into a profitable return on our time and talents? 
            My advice is this – we have to bring everything we have to the table… and offer it to God.  How can we use our time so that “more time” is created?  How can we use our talents so that “more talents” develop?  These are important questions which can’t be answered in one sermon.  My dad used to tell me he didn’t have many talents like my brother and I did, but he used the one or two he had to the max! 

            Are you willing to put your money, time and talents on the long shot?  If God can invest in us, who are long shots, and can count on us to make a difference in the world, can you count on God to be your safe refuge in whatever storms arise!  May the Lord find us faithful!  Let us pray….