Friday, November 14, 2014

The Long Run

Sermon preached November 9, 2014
Text: Matthew 25:14-30

            The Eagles, “The Long Run”
Here’s the story (Cotton Patch Version):  The God Movement….  It’s like a businessman who was leaving town for a long time and called in his assistants and turned over his investments to them.  He made one responsible for about five hundred thousand dollars, another two hundred thousand, and another a hundred thousand – according to each one’s ability – and then he left town.  Right away the man with the five hundred grand got to work and made five hundred more.  The man with the two hundred grand did the same and made another two hundred.  But the guy with the hundred G’s went and rented a safe-deposit box and put his boss’ money in it.  After a long time the boss returned and called his assistants together for an accounting.  The one with the five hundred thousand brought his other five hundred thousand and said, “Sir, you let me have five hundred grand; look, I’ve made another five hundred.”  The boss said, “Splendid, you good and responsible worker!  You were diligent with the small sum; I’ll entrust you with a larger one.  You’ll be a partner in my business.”  Then the one with the two hundred G’s came and said, “Sir, you let me have two hundred thousand; look, I’ve made another two hundred.”  The boss said, “Splendid, you good and responsible worker!  You were diligent with the smaller sum, I’ll entrust you with a larger one.  You’ll be a partner in my business.”  Well, the hundred-grand man came up and said, “Sir, I know you are a hard-nosed man, squeezing pennies you haven’t yet made and expecting a profit before the ink has dried.  I was plain scared to take any chances, so I rented a safe-deposit box and put your money in it.  Look, you’ve got every cent.”  But the boss replied, “You sorry, ornery bum!  You knew that I squeeze pennies I haven’t yet made, and expect profits before the ink dries.  Then you should have turned my money over to the bank so that upon my return I would get back at least my principal with interest.  So then, y’all take the money away from him and give it to the one with the million.  For it will be given to everyone who has the stuff, and he’ll have plenty, but the man who doesn’t have the stuff will have even what he has taken away from him.  Now as for this useless critter, throw him in the back alley.  That’ll give him something to moan and groan about.”
            Jesus could tell a colorful story, and it’s kind of enjoyable to hear it re-told in an equally colorful way.  But what is he trying to say with this story?
            It would seem that one focus of the story is on the guy who was given a single talent, the hundred grand man.  He gets called “wicked, lazy and worthless” (NRSV), a “play-it-safe” (The Message), or “a sorry, ornery bum” and “useless critter.”  He ends up in the back alley, in utter darkness.  It is clear from the story that this guy has lost his way, that he lives “in the dark” so to speak.  But why?
            The man lived completely out of fear, with little trust in either himself or in others.  He didn’t trust his boss, seeing him only as a harsh, hard person.  He didn’t trust himself, didn’t even trust his limited abilities to do something good.  His fear and anxiety distorted his perception.  If he really thought of his boss as a hard-hearted, penny-pincher, you would think he would have found at least a bank in which to earn some interest – though this was before the FDIC guaranteed deposits up to $100,000.  The boss is gone awhile, so some interest would surely accrued.
            Without trust, we don’t see life as accurately as we might.  Fear narrows our perception.  Without trust we become unwilling to invest ourselves in that which is lasting, in that which makes sense in the long run.  Without trust we play it too safe with life.  We focus on short-term safety and not on growth in the long run.
            This is a story about investing in what is lasting.  It is a story about putting ourselves out there.  It is a story about the long run.
            The philosopher and psychologist William James once wrote, The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.  The long run.
            The philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche wrote, The essential thing “in earth and in heaven” is, apparently… that there should be a long obedience in the same direction. (Beyond Good and Evil, ch. 5, #188).   The long run.
            Part of what we do this month in our church is focus on stewardship, and part of that is asking you to consider making a financial pledge for the work of the church.  But stewardship, considered broadly, is about what we do with our time, our attention, and our resources.  It is about risking investing in the long run, that which lasts, and to do that over the long run.
            Yes, it is, in part about financial giving.  We are about long run stuff here.  We are about connecting people more deeply with God through the ups, downs, pains, joys, boredom and adventure of life.  This is a long run project.  The spiritual practices we encourage work in the long run, shaping our lives slowly, like water smoothing stones, liking gentle breezes changing the contours of a landscape.  Over time we would like our lives to be more joyful, genuine, gentle, generous and just.  We want to develop a faith that is thoughtful, passionate, and compassionate. We are about God’s work in creating a newer world, a world that is more just, peaceful, compassionate, kinder, gentler, more beautiful.  Talk about a long run project.
            We are about long run stuff here, and we need your investment of time, energy, passion, vision, thought, and yes, money.
            Another part of developing our lives in the long run is engaging with the Scriptures of our faith.  The Church Council and I are encouraging you to read Adam Hamilton’s book Making Sense of the Bible this fall and early winter.  There will be a couple of discussion sessions about it following worship – November 23 and January 11.  I hope other groups will also read and discuss this work.  Why?
            We often hear that there should be more Bible study in the church.  We often hear people talk about increasing their own Bible reading.  We also find that when we try and organize Bible studies, they are often hit and miss.  And for some of us the Bible has become a closed book of sorts.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Let’s be honest, some of the Bible is dull, boring.  That we find that hard to admit is also a problem – such honesty seems, well, almost sacrilegious.  Being more honest about the Bible, however, is a necessary starting point if we want to engage this book for the long run.  We have also, many of us, seen the Bible wielded as a weapon.  Last week I was on a plane, seated next to Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room Ministries.  We have met a few times before so I knew who he was and he knew who I was.  We talked about spiritual growth and spiritual disciplines, and I shared with him a story about a Bible study I led in one of the churches where I was the pastor.  I told him that the group really did not do very well until a woman who was a fount of Scriptural quotes decided to stop attending.  She was intimidating to the rest of the group.  Experiencing the Bible as a weapon, we are reticent to grab hold of it for our own lives.
            I hope we can get beyond our fear and anxiety here.  I hope we can trust that struggling with this difficult book over the long run allows us to hear the voice of God in new ways.  I think Adam Hamilton’s book can help us with this.  I love this book… and I wrestle with it.  There are parts, if I am honest, that I have questions about.  There are statements on its pages that I don’t believe capture the character and will of God. (3) 
            I appreciate how Adam tells us what the Bible is not (chapter 1).  It is not an owner’s manual.  Some have used the letters for Bible to say that it is: basic instructions before leaving earth.  “The Bible is neither basic nor simply instructions for what you do before you die” (8).  It is not like a Magic 8 ball.  It is not systematic theology.  It is not a science textbook.  It is not simply a book of promises from God.
            I appreciate how Adam suggests we engage with the Bible for the long run (chapter 32).  It’s okay to wrestle with the Bible (301).  He offers eight suggestions for engaging this enigmatic and enlightening text: see yourself in the story; discover the situation in which the scripture was written; ask three questions: what does this passage say about humanity, about me, and about God?; pray the scriptures; memorize; study with others; bring the scripture into your life situation; imagine what might have been.
            Next week I will also discuss Adam’s book as a part of the sermon.
            For now, I hope you will prayerfully ponder two things.  Prayerfully consider how you will invest financially in the long run work of this church in the coming year.  Prayerfully consider another part of your stewardship, how you will engage with the Bible in new ways in the coming year.

            Above all, do these, and live your life, trusting always that we are embraced in love and grace of God for the long run.  Without trust, we are lost.  Amen.

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