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November 13, 2005 (Sunday 33 · Time after Pentecost)—“Extravagant Grace—Abounding Love”

Pastor David Barber

Matthew 25:14-30; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Psalm 90

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, November 18th, is a very important day for me. It's my birthday, but there won't be any birthday cake and no birthday cards. No one will sing Happy Birthday to me, and I don't suppose there will be any party. Some of you maybe thinking that when you get as old as I am--as old as dirt--you stop celebrating your birthday. "After all, didn't you just celebrate your 60th birthday on September 16?"

"Why--yes I did! But you see on November 18th, 60 years ago, I was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God claimed me and marked me as a child of God, and this life of faith was born within me."

Because of this event, my life is not my own. My life is hid with Christ in God, and this means that I can play it safe no longer. Through baptism God did a very risky thing. He entrusted to me and to all the baptized the riches of the family.

This morning I want to talk about extravagant grace and abounding love, and in that context I also want to talk about risk and playing it safe. I want to ask the question, "What have we done with the overflowing riches that have been given to us in Jesus our Lord?

Our Scripture readings for today begin with wrath and judgment. Beginning with Psalm 90, we hear: "You sweep us away like a dream...We are afraid because of your wrathful indignation...Who rightly fears your indignation?"

The reading from Thessalonians warns us: "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When we say, there is peace and security, at that very moment, sudden destruction will come upon us."

Our Gospel speaks of a master who returns from a long journey. He calls his slaves together for an audit of his resources. He wants to know what they've done with the property he entrusted to them in his absence.

This is judgment time and this judgment is full of wrath--directed toward the last slave, "You wicked and lazy servant. Take his talent from him and give it to the one with ten talents. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

What's going on here? It almost appears that we have a master with an attitude or a master with issues. You'd better cut a wide swath around this guy, and for goodness sake, don't make him angry.

Can't you identify with this one talent guy? He knew his master was a harsh man. Who could blame him for being afraid?

Doesn't he seem prudent and wise? He didn't lose any of the master's money. He didn't hop on a plane and go to Vegas. He doesn't waste it on cockfighting or by betting it on the Rainbow Warriors. In fact, he returned it all intact--a little dirty perhaps--but intact.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate to accuse the man of poor investment strategy--or lacking a sense of adventure when it comes to finances?

The master's response is more extreme than simply giving him a failing grade in Investment 101. His reaction and the way he beats up on this little, one-talent servant seems out of proportion to the situation and not in keeping with our notion of the master. So what's going on here?

What we notice in both the reading from Thessalonians and our Gospel for today is that besides judgment and wrath, there is grace--extravagant and abundant grace.

The Apostle Paul writes: "For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." His words are not only sweet but also extravagant, as the parable makes plain in our Gospel for today.

The truth is that grace permeates this story. It's there from the very beginning and runs throughout the entire story. Did you hear it?

We're told that the master was going away on a journey and he summoned his three servants and entrusted his property to them--not some of the property and a little bit of cash to tide them over until he returned--but all of his property. He took everything he had--every last cent of it--and put it in their care.

We're not talking about small sums of money. A talent consists of over five years' of wages! You can do the math. That would mean that two talents are over a decade's worth of wages. We're talking big money here. What would you do if, out of the blue, someone dropped on you ten years' worth of wages?

This is some kind of master--some kind of slavery! Can you imagine it? The master calls in the slaves and gives them everything he has--the key to his Jaguar--the key to his wine cellar--the PIN number to his bank account and the ATM machine and his entire stock portfolio--everything!

The stories of Jesus are full of extravagance. Mary pours a $20,000.00 bottle of perfume on the head of Jesus. A slave owes a king 10,000 talents, which might come close to covering the national debt of our nation.

A farmer sows his precious seeds on the pathway amid the thorns and upon the rocks. What kind of a farmer is this?

A prodigal farmer is the answer. He is like the prodigal father who runs out to greet his wayward son and also goes out to plead with his resentful son. What kind of a father does that?

What kind of a master entrusts the kind of money Jesus is talking about to his servants?

God does! In Jesus Christ, God is the kind of master who does abundant and extravagant things!

Matthew tells this story near the end of his gospel, so you know where this story ends, don't you? It ends at the cross.

On the way to the cross Jesus tells a story about a master who calls in his servants and gives them everything he owns. He gives away everything he has because Jesus, on the way to the cross, will give away everything he has--his very life.

He will risk everything. He won't play it safe, but he will risk everything--his whole substance--everything he has for you and for me and for the whole world. He will be the one who will go out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth to bring us back to God.

For you see, when Jesus gets into giving, he doesn't know when to stop. He gives, and he gives abundantly until he's given it all away.

Look at us this morning. We're an ordinary bunch of people to be sure. And yet this parable says that something extraordinary has been done to us.

Jesus has given to us the Kingdom of God. He entrusts to us the extravagant and abundant Gospel and everything he has. We are children of God and recipients of God's redeeming grace and overflowing mercy. We are rich and wealthy in the ways of God and the gifts of God.

This morning is Commitment Sunday, and like many congregations at this time of the year, we're talking about financial stewardship. This text from Matthew has something to say about this important aspect of our lives.

One of the gifts of God's extravagant grace and one of the gifts that Jesus has entrusted to us is this congregation and the ministry of this faith community. Now we have the opportunity to respond to God's bountiful goodness with our own extravagant gifts and commitments.

In her book Traveling Mercies Anne Lamott tells the story of a little girl about 7 years old. She got lost one day.

The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big city where they lived. She couldn't find a single landmark, and she was very frightened.

Finally, a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of the squad car, and they drove until she finally spotted her church.

She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, "You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here."

Maybe that's how many of you feel as well: "This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here."

For no matter how lost--no matter how down--no matter how frightened and unforgiven--my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ are here. My family is here.

The body of Christ, broken for me and for the world is here. God's life-giving word is here, and mission and ministry to others and to the world is here. And because of this, I can always find my way home--or even more to the point, "I am home!"

In Jesus Christ, God's extravagant and abundant grace is given to you in this place. What a gift! What a blessing!

Now you can be--and you are--God's extravagance and God's abundance for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for all those--wherever they might be--yearning to receive the goodness of God in their lives.


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