SERMON from 11-13-11: “Me, worry?”

Matthew 25.14-30

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Me, Worry?

I worry. I worry a lot more than I used to, though. I think I can trace it back to a very specific time. It was at a hospital. It wasn’t the time Emily contracted meningitis–though I was plenty worried then. It wasn’t the time I made my first hospital visit as a young clergy-person. It was the day we brought Carter home from the hospital.

We had spent the entire day filling out forms, watching videos–it’s funny those didn’t worry me–and listening on as the NICU staff performed Carter’s circumcision. He was a month old–poor kid. Then we got the go-ahead that it was our turn to take over. We placed him in the little carrier. Emily never walked so lightly in her life. I pulled the car up to the door and got out to assist my wife.

Have you ever seen a movie where they take a single moment and turn up the volume and zoom in on the action? For example, a door shutting. You get a close-up of the handle and the sound is something like “dooze-zhew-zhew.” It signifies that something has or is about to happen. When we placed his seat in the base, it made a similar noise in my head–“dooze-zhew-zhew.” It told me I was a father, now. I was responsible to more than just myself and Emily. You begin to worry about different things when you reach that point in your life.

The scripture for this morning isn’t about different things about which we worry, but different types of worry. Well, this scripture has a few things it is about. Certainly, it is about stewardship of the gifts which God gives us–though we won’t be covering that today. It also speaks to us about the attitude which God has about our stewardship–it is certainly important. While there is more we could bring up, today we are going to talk about the worry of the three servants.

The third servant is the one we would identify as the one who is worried–maybe even fearful. He takes that which he has been given dominion over and stuffs it in a safe place. His fear is that a failure on his part may constitute a reason for the master to be harsh with him. In other words, he ignores the responsibility he has to his master in hopes that he will avoid trouble altogether. Instead, the servant is punished for doing nothing.

We look at this servant and think he is nuts for not at least trying. The money is his master’s, but he could have at least tried to increase what had been given to him–maybe the master would have slid him a couple of “benjamin’s” for his troubles. Maybe, though, we look at the servant and see a bit of ourselves.

You receive a call from a collection agency about an overdue hospital bill; maybe they won’t call back. You stay out of your bosses sights in hopes they won’t notice you made a mistake at your job. You avoid calling that friend of yours to resolve the fight you had; maybe they will just forget it.

Worry is something that can cause us to do plenty of things we would or wouldn’t normally do. Just like the third servant, the worry can lead us to do something we will regret later–whether it is something we wished we had or hadn’t done. That is a destructive worry. It causes paralysis. It causes poor decision-making. It causes us to fail. We have all done it, even if it is hard to admit it.

It may seem silly at first, but there is a positive kind of worry. This worry–instead of causing us to freeze–causes us to pause. In other words, the destructive kind of worry causes us to pause and the positive kind of worry causes us to pause–and gather ourselves for what comes next.

In the movie 300–a movie about ancient Greek Sparta and one of my favorites–there are two great scenes. The first shows a young Leonidas being tested in the wilderness by a wolf. the second shows King Leonidas being attacked by the Persian army. In both scenes, the narrator says “it is not fear which grips Leonidas; only a heightened sense of things.” A heightened sense of things. After which, in both scenes, Leonidas makes his move.

That’s what we are talking about. The first and second servants don’t labor under a lack of worry. The worry they experience causes them to take inventory and make their move. They choose the proper path. Their fear sufficiently motivates them to double the vast sums with which they have been entrusted. What does the master say to them? The NRSV says, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave…enter into the joy of your master.” You are probably more familiar with the line put this way, “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.”

Our master is pleased with us when we act in his name–in the ways we know will be pleasing to Him. As a response to the grace upon which he has bestowed us, we are motivated to act. Not because that is how we earn that grace–it wouldn’t be grace if that were the case–but because we know the desires of God’s heart and act as a result. He has given us gifts that should be used for his glory. Whatever those may be–financial, service, teaching, caring–we act in response. Our decision rests upon whether or not we are going to be paralyzed by the fear of the unknown.

We have seen worry bore out in public over the last couple of years. I am sure most–if not all–have heard of “Occupy Wall Street” and the “Tea Party.” Both of these movements claim they are right. Both will claim that the other is wrong. Both will say that the other is nothing like themselves. However, both of these groups are born from the same things. Concern. Fear. Worry.

Their concern, fear and worry caused them to act in many different ways. “Occupy Wall Street” sees increasing income disparity becoming a very big problem. The “Tea Party” sees bloated Federal budgets as a very big problem. They organized protests and planned further to have their voices heard in the halls of national power. They represent different ideas, but they are very alike in the fact that they are motivated by concern, fear and worry.

Now, I am not taking sides in this “debate.” I am familiar with both because my love of history makes me pay attention to the events of today–because I will be reading about them in the future. These two groups–overall–represent two sides of the historic ideological spectrum. Liberal and Conservative. Both are wrong!

In the recently–and timely–release of the book about him, Steve Jobs tells his biographer something very important. “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive…[and]…destructive.” You might recognize those words from earlier.

That’s what it comes down to. Whether you are talking about policies from the halls of our government, or the decisions we make as families, we should understand that it isn’t about who’s right or wrong. Our lives come down to WHAT’S right or wrong. What we do in our lives can be judged very simply upon whether or not is was right or wrong. Constructive or destructive.

Jesus’ parable of the talents is about a myriad of things. The question we can answer for ourselves today is whether we will let ourselves be frozen by the possibility that things may go horribly wrong, or let ourselves experience the worry in order that we may be more aware of the possibilities which exist around us.

What if we have persistent worry? There are real dangers out there and real consequences for the real situations in which we find ourselves. Should we just throw caution to the wind? Do we step out onto the ledge and just hope things will be alright if we jump?

Not exactly. The key to being able to let the good worry–the constructive worry–heighten our senses and go boldly into the world is our connection with the one who created it. We must first trust God to be a good master. We can trust and understand that God will always be there–even when we think he isn’t. We can see that God–throughout the scripture and the history of humankind–has guided and sustained his people through it all. And I mean…IT ALL! Why, then, can’t we trust that things will ultimately be alright? Why shouldn’t we let constructive worry heighten our senses to all that God has in store for us?

That, my friends, is how you “enter into the joy of your master.” AMEN.

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