33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2011a
Old Testament – Psalm 111:1-10
New Testament - Matthew 25:14-30
INTRODUCTION: In that beloved movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays an English professor named John Keating, who teaches at a ritzy prep-school for boys in Vermont called Welton Academy.
Through his classes, however, Keating does more than just teach poetry and English. He also teaches his students how to live.
At one point, Keating gathers his students in front of a large display case full of photos of past students from Welton. And as they stare at the old black-and-white photos of students from ages past, Keating wonders out loud how many of them truly lived.
Or as he says of the young men in the photos now long gone, “Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils.”
It is Keating’s way of telling his students that no matter how invincible they might feel in their youth one day they too will die, and because of that, they should make the most of life. They should, as Keating likes to tell them, “seize the day.”
From the Latin carpe diem, the phrase literally means “pluck the day.” First used by the Roman poet Horace, carpe diem was his way of exhorting people to make the most of each day, and therefore, life in general.
Or as Keating tells his students as they stare into that display case, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
ONE: Well, the third servant from Jesus’ little parable about the talents surely could have benefited from being a student of Keating’s.
After all, when it comes to playing it safe and close to the vest, the third servant in Jesus’ tale is an expert. The poor guy is a bit namby-pamby, right?
As his master rolls out of town for some sort of extended trip, he puts the third servant in charge of what amounts to about 15 years’ worth of salary for a day laborer. But rather than actually doing something with the bundle of cash he’s been given, all the poor guy can think to do is bury it in the ground.
There he is, with shovel in hand, diggin’ a large hole in his backyard all while mumbling to himself, “It’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
So let’s be honest. The man is a bit of a scaredy-cat. While the other two servants are out there taking risks and assorted chances with the money they’ve been put in charge of, the third servant drops his dough in the ground and leaves it at that. He’s a play-it-safe, take-no-risks kind of guy. “The coward is always in danger” goes a Portuguese saying. “The coward is always in danger.”
And so it goes for the third servant. In his own way, he sees danger everywhere, and because of that all he can think to do with the money given him is dump it into a hole. No wonder the Master, upon returning, labels the third servant worthless.
Apparently, carpe diem was not a familiar phrase to him.
TWO: You see, here’s the thing. In his Gospel, Matthew is kind of obsessed with ethics.
Sure, the other Gospels and assorted letters in the New Testament also provide guidance for how people should live, but Matthew is especially concerned about the issue.
Believing God’s kingdom was actually inaugurated in the person of Jesus Christ, Matthew is adamant people need to live in such a way so as to give expression to that kingdom. They need to be passionately committed to the cause of the kingdom, in other words. And so half-hearted, luke-warm efforts from Jesus’ followers simply aren’t going to do the trick, as far as Matthew is concerned.
Even though God’s kingdom has not been fully realized, Matthew is pretty insistent that Jesus’ followers need to embody that kingdom nonetheless. There are the values of an old and worn-out world, according to Matthew, and there are the values of the kingdom embodied in Christ’s life. And followers of Jesus? Well, they need to be busy living the values of the kingdom.
Hence, all that strange talk from Jesus about turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, not judging people, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, and being salt and light for the world.
And as the third servant clearly shows, Matthew has little tolerance for followers who aren’t all-in on God’s kingdom.
THREE: Some of you might be familiar with the phrase “dialed-in.”
While the phrase was originally used among car racers who were constantly working to fine tune (or dial-in) their engines to achieve the best performance, these days the phrase is often used to describe athletes who are playing a flawless, or nearly flawless, game. They are so focused on the task at hand all distractions and other impediments to a good performance just fade away.
Or as one baseball player recently put it after pitching a great game: “There were a little bit of nerves in the beginning there, but I was able to calm down and throw strikes after that...I dialed it in and kept that until I came out of the game.”
Well, a phrase that can be co-opted, I think, as a way to talk about faith and being disciples of Jesus Christ. For we too, as followers of Jesus Christ, are to be dialed-in, right? We should be so focused on being disciples, all distractions and potential interruptions just fade away.
Or as another man has put it when discussing the third servants lackluster performance: “The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently.”
No wonder sloth is considered one of the seven deadly sins. Because sloth means to be idle and lazy and listless. It means to live without passion, and worst of all as far as Matthew is concerned, to live half-heartedly for God’s kingdom.
FOUR: Will Willimon tells the story of a Southern Baptist Missionary in Beirut back in the early 80s.
Fresh on the heels of the Iranian hostage crisis, and with the nation of Lebanon sliding into a Civil War, American citizens were ordered to return home from Beirut ASAP.
But the Southern Baptist Missionary, an elderly woman, had different ideas and refused to leave. Being interviewed by a reporter about her refusal to leave, the Missionary was quite pleasant, but also adamant and clear in her answers to his questions.
“The president did not send me here,” she said at one point in the interview. “I am here at the behest of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board.”
And after being told by the reporter that the State Department had released a statement saying it could not guarantee the safety of US citizens in Lebanon, the elderly Missionary replied with a little twinkle in her eye, “From what I can see, the State Department hasn’t made us very secure here at any time. My safety is not based on the State Department.”
“Don’t you have family?”persisted the reporter. “If you stay, you will be arrested and fined when you return to the US.”
“Yes, I have family,” answered the Missionary. “Would you like to see pictures of my grand-children? But the people of Lebanon are also my family. Do you think the American government is going to arrest a grandmother going through customs at Kennedy Airport? Besides, the case would be tied up in the courts until I die. I still have much work to do for Christ. I’m staying.”
Now that, it seems to me, was a disciple who was dialed-in!
CONCLUSION: Friends, some 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of God.
He roamed the Galilee sharing God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, with any and all, while also urging those who would follow him to do the same.
And so what ya say? For even now the invitation is still the same. We can throw caution to the wind and get busy living for God’s kingdom and its values, or we can live for the values of a broken and worn out world. And so even though it’s the scarier and riskier choice by far, let’s opt for God’s kingdom.
Because the biggest gamble of all, in the end, is to never risk anything - especially when it comes to God’s kingdom.
Now to the Ruler of all worlds, undying, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.