Matthew 25:14-30

At our session meeting on Wednesday, we got the church investments’ quarterly statement. They lost 10% last quarter. Yours at home probably did too; if they lost any less, it’s just that you didn’t invest them as aggressively. We don’t panic about this; instead, we think long-term. We’ll use the money after it comes back. Investing is something like quantum physics: the money doesn’t really exist until we use it. So we lost some numbers on paper, but it would be worse stewardship not to take the chance.

What counts as good stewardship depends on the horizon, that is the goal and the time frame. I learned from our conversation on Wednesday that our investment horizon is perpetual. The goal is to maintain the institutional health of the church forever. On the other hand, when it comes to giving – and the pledge letters have gone out – the horizon is about a year. The goal is to preserve our programs and symbols, as if the church is at risk of running out of cash. Those priorities are true of established Christianity in general, not just for us. One side effect is that giving usually just keeps up with our advertised “needs.”

Put theologically, we could say that good stewardship, or any other service, depends on what kind of God we serve. Our use of our gifts will be as great as our fear permits or our love empowers.

There is more than one kind of God in this parable. The third servant describes one god we know too well, one who is always harvesting other people’s crops and taking what isn’t his. That god comes in judgment, ready to cast us into the darkness. It demands profit beyond the bounds of justice and insists on earning interest prohibited by the Law. To serve this God is to live in fear and trembling lest we do it wrong.

Jesus’ listeners – his followers, the Pharisees, and we – all know that god to be a lie. The proper response is to jump up and argue with this portrayal: this master is no God! The God we know isn’t an absentee landlord and profiteer. There’s nothing righteous, truthful, or holy about this – we know that in our bones. Our God shares with us what we’ve been entrusted with, welcomes us faithfully and lovingly, and invites us into the divine joy. Our God dwells in a world where life, not judgment, is on the horizon.

Which God do we follow and serve? The God we know to be God, or the god we fear might be? We can see this in how we use money, time, and relationships.

Do we labor under the fear of a god who is out to get us? Do we cling to money as if there won’t be enough for what really matters? Do we purge our relationships of all that may be unworthy of our time or god’s love? Do we feel uncomfortable with a freedom that doesn’t say clearly enough what not to do?

Or do we open to the life of God who gives God’s own self for our lives? Jesus speaks, heals, and lives this God into our world. So we dare to give, not to plug holes in our favorite church, radio station, or sports program, but to express and help create abundance in the world. So we entertain questions that challenge and unsettle our beliefs, trusting that God’s grace (and sense of humor) is big enough for that. So we give ourselves in relationship, service, and trust, expecting that God can give our lives back again, just as God gave life back to Jesus.

The honest answer is always “some of both.” We are always torn between lesser gods and the true God. But we can trust our indignation at the idea that God wants to find us lacking. We can trust in a God whose faithfulness isn’t limited by the size of our own faith, because God gives us that faith to begin with. We can trust in a God who takes on human life and comes into the world of false gods named Scarcity, Failure, Worthlessness, and Pride. That God took them on, gave his life away to them, and lives again so that all God’s people might have life. Thanks be to God!