Sunday, June 12, 2022

Phil Kniss: The God who trusts us

“Time, Money, and Being God’s Trustees”
Genesis 1:26-28; Matthew 25:14-30

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Today we begin a series of services, and sermons,
    focused on a different kind of currency.
    No, not Bitcoin. Not cryptocurrency.
        I’d be out of my depth very quickly.

I came across this term, “sacred currency,”
    in a recent workshop led by Everence.
    It wasn’t really expanded on very much,
        but it caught my imagination,
        and I kind of ran with it.

The writer was referring to time and money as “sacred currencies.”
    To me, it made a lot of sense,
        from a stewardship standpoint.

And keep in mind, stewardship is a central theological theme.
    It’s not at all confined to
        personal money management,
        or personal time management.
    That’s only a small part of the picture.

If any theological affirmation grounds us
    in who we are in relation to God,
        and who God is in relation to us,
    it’s that we are God’s stewards.
Stewardship starts in the first chapters of Genesis,
    and continues almost non-stop to Revelation.

In this series we will, in fact, narrow our focus a bit
    to time and money, as particular sacred currencies
        that we steward.

But this bigger picture will always be in the backdrop:
    Whether time, money, talents, or the natural world,
        everything under the sun belongs to God.
    God is Creator, and ongoing owner.
    We are graced with these things by God,
        in order to care for them on God’s behalf.
    It is up to us to relate to them in a manner that honors the owner.
    And the main point for today,
        is that the owner trusts us to do that.

God trusts us!
    Just think about that big idea for a while,
        and see where it takes you.
God trusts us
    to care for the thing God cares about most,
    the well-being and shalom and reconciliation
        of all creation.

That makes us God’s stewards, or . . . God’s Trustees.

The role of a Trustee is generally quite clear.
    A Trustee has remarkable power.
    And has distinct limits.

Trustees are given the authority and the resources
    to act on behalf of the owner,
    to carry out the wishes and priorities and mission of the owner.
But trustees don’t invent the mission.
    The owner has already defined the mission,
        and relies on trustees to implement it.

It’s true whether you are appointed as a Trustee for a person,
    for a church,
    for a foundation,
    for a university,
    for whatever.
As trustees, we are given all the power and resources we need
    to carry out the wishes of the ones who appointed us.

If we could only grasp that one principle,
    it would define this arrangement we have with God,
        and with the world we live in,
        and with our money and time and talents.
    And what a difference it would make!

I don’t have to decide my life mission.
You don’t have to decide your life mission.
The God who gave us life, and called us beloved,
    already decided that.
    It’s up to us now
        to measure our decisions and actions
        against that larger purpose,
            and see if they’re aligned.

Trusteeship is not a burden.
    It’s a gift.
    And the gift of being God’s Trustees
        is so great, so astoundingly generous,
        that it should amaze us all,
        and make us bow in joy and gratitude.

Jesus told a story to illustrate just how generous this gift is—
    the parable of the talents from Matthew 25.
    Quick summary . . .

A master goes away on a trip,
    calls three of his slaves to care for things while he’s gone.

One faithful slave is given five talents of gold—
    an astounding amount of wealth—
    and he invests it well.
        Doubles on the investment.
        Returns it all to his master.
        Gets a reward.

Second servant gets two talents—still astounding wealth—
    and he doubles it, returns it, gets his reward.

The third servant gets one talent—still astounding.
    But servant #3 is short-sighted & self-centered.
    He buries it.
    Master comes home, servant returns the talent exactly as he got it,
        saying to his master, “I didn’t trust you.”
    And the servant is taken to task, and pays the price.

Okay. What do we see?
    First off, this is not a story about investment.
        Preachers like to make this a moral lesson
            about managing our resources wisely.
        That might be a good lesson to teach.
        But it’s totally off topic for this parable.
    This is not about money management.
    This is about trust, or lack thereof.

And it’s a powerful, over-the-top,
    metaphor of our relationship with God.

You realize it’s a wild metaphor,
    and not a realistic life lesson,
    as soon as you do the math.

One talent was equal to about 15 years wages
    for the average paid worker.
    And these were not workers, they were slaves—
        servants legally and financially bound to the man.
    And one of them got 5 talents—
        a lifetime of average earnings.
    It’s a non-sense scenario.
        Because . . . it’s not trying to make sense.
        It’s a metaphor for something else.

In today’s economy, if $15/hour is a base living wage,
    five talents would be about 2 and half million dollars.

That is the kind of trust the master exhibited to—
    not his firstborn heir to his estate—
    but to one of his servants.

Knowing those outlandish numbers,
    keeps us from mis-interpreting this parable.

Back when I thought this was a story about money management,
    I felt kind of sorry for the third servant.
    He only got a fifth of what his fellow servant got.
    Maybe he didn’t have enough to generate the kind of return
        that five talents would have given him.

But that’s simply not the case.
    Because the story is not about return on investment.
    It’s about what we do with someone else’s trust.

The profound trust that the owner of this estate
    placed in even his third most trustworthy slave,
    is beyond belief.
This #3 slave had just been shown the kind of trust,
    that certainly no one else in his lifetime had ever given him.
He had been given a half-million dollars by his master,
    and he had the audacity to turn around and
        accuse his master of being harsh,
        and the half-million not worth even drawing interest.
    It’s non-sense. Because it’s metaphor.

The offense of slave #3 was not that he mismanaged the wealth.
The offense was his mean-spirited violation
    of the profound trust that he had been given.
    His accusation against his master rings hollow.
    It’s simply unbelievable,
        that a harsh and self-serving task-master
        would entrust such wealth to his slaves.

Just on the face of this story,
    we can’t let the servant off the hook.
    He didn’t just make a mistake.
    He, a trustee, spat in the face of the one who trusted him.
        And for that, he paid a steep price.

God has entrusted us with much more than we deserve.
    A half-million is nothing,
        compared to the treasure our Creator entrusted to us,
        and to all God’s people.

God’s lavish trust in us started in Genesis.
God created us humans
    and placed in us God’s own divine image, and breath,
    and then said,
        I trust you to take care of everything I just made.
        Tend it with the same love and care I have for it.

That’s still the deal God has with us humans.
    God trusts us.
    We can accept that as the amazing gift it is.
    Or we can ignore it.
    Or we can outright violate it.

And God will still love us.
    When we violate the trust,
        when as trustees we spit in the face of the owner,
        we will also pay the price.
We see examples of that everywhere we look.
    We are all paying the price today, for example,
        for our violation of the trust God placed in us
        to care lovingly for creation.
    We’re paying the price for violating God’s trust in us
        to cultivate shalom in all our private and public relationships.

    But the good news is,
        that the same generous character of God
            that prompted God to trust us with so much at the start,
        is still present when we turn to God in repentance,
            and own up to our failures.

    God is also generous with forgiveness.

    After all the ways we have violated God’s trust in us,
        God still trusts us.
        God is not ready to give up.
        There is always another opportunity,
            to live in a manner worthy of God’s trust in us.

Join me, please, in a prayer of confession, found in your bulletin.

   one    For the times we betray the trust you place in us,
     all    God forgive and heal us.
   one    For the times we deny our calling,
            and think we own that which you place in our trust,
     all    God forgive and heal us.
   one    For the times we simply fail to understand your trust in us,
            and miss out on the great joy and deep rest you intend for us.
     all    God forgive and heal us.
   one    After all that, God still trusts in us!
            And forgives and heals. Thanks be to God!

 —Phil Kniss, June 12, 2022

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