entrusted, part 1 of 4: money

READ: Matthew 25.14-30

You may or may not know this about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism: John Wesley grew up dirt poor. His own father was an Anglican priest, but in one of the poorest parishes, and therefore, it wasn’t unusual for the Wesleys to go without. As an adult, John Wesley, although following in his father’s footsteps and becoming an Anglican priest, did not suffer the same poverty as his childhood family; See, John was an academic. A scholar. And early on, he taught at Oxford, which paid well compared to his earnings in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. In fact, you could say the pendulum swung the other way with young John Wesley. As a young man, he liked to buy fine things and spend money and even play cards! His Oxford salary was about 30 pounds in the 1700s. Converted to today’s inflation standard, that would be about $6,000. He was a single man, and he was doing all right. But, the story goes, he was hanging new paintings that he procured for his home, when a chambermaid came to tend to him. It was a cold winter’s day, and he noticed that her clothing was completely inadequate — she was freezing. He immediately felt guilty, and wanted to buy her a coat; however, he realized he had spent all his money on the paintings. He said to himself, “Will thy Master say ‘Well done, good and faithful servant?’” He knew the answer, and from then on, he drastically changed his ways. With his earnings that year at 30 pounds, he figured it cost him 28 pounds to live, so he gave away 2 pounds. The next year, his salary was doubled to 60 pounds, and he gave away 32 pounds. The third year, his salary was 90 pounds; Wesley gave away 62 pounds… He figured that no matter how much he earned, it still cost him only 28 pounds to live, and throughout his entire life, that’s exactly what he did, no matter how much he earned. When he died, he might have been considered a rich man — earning about 1400 pounds a year — today, that would be about $275,000. But all his savings and pocket money when he died amounted only to merely coins. He gave everything away while he lived and kept only what he needed. All you can… When Wesley preached about money, he said this: “Make all you can.” “Save all you can.” “Give all you can.” In a sense, these words are similar to the parable that Jesus is telling his disciples, which we read today in Matthew 25. So as we delve into this four-part sermon series called “Entrusted,” we’re going to use scriptural examples such as these to put a fine point on what it means to be caretakers of the gifts that God gave us. The takeaways are simply these: All good things come from God; We are given the task to take care of those things and not hoard them or bury them or abuse them; and We’re called to share those good things that we’ve received. And so throughout this four-part series, we’ll look at how we are called to be caretakers — that is, good stewards — of those things. And we’ll focus on Money, the Planet (ecology), People (relationships) and Power (influence and privilege) . These are four of the most prominent and pertinent aspects facing our world and our lives today, and they encompass as wide spectrums as we can imagine. So we begin with money. And why not? After all, it was important in Jesus’s day, but today, our entire world operates on the concept of an imaginary economy that puts values on all sorts of arbitrary things as well as useful things, Yet regardless, it dominates our daily lives. And today’s reading — this parable of the talents — remains incredibly relevant to each of us here today. Talents So let’s unpack it: The synopsis is simply this in four parts: * A master is going away for a long time. * He leaves his servants a good amount of money to continue the business while he’s away. * When he returns, he asks for an accounting of what they did with the money. Simple, right? So now the characters and events: We have a master and three servants. The master is Jesus in the allegory, and the servants are the disciples. The property or money he gives them is the mission of God’s empire. That’s what they’re supposed to invest. And the long time that the master went away represents Jesus’s delayed return; also known as The Second Coming. Each of the servants gets a certain number of talents. In Jesus’s day, a talent was based on gold or silver, and silver was about $38 a gram. But a talent is kilogram, so multiple that $38 by 1,000. It was a lot of money. The first servant doubled the amount, as did the second servant. But the third servant buried it in the ground and didn’t use it at all. When the master came back, he was pleased that the first two servants did something with the talents; but he was furious with the servant who hid it away and didn’t do anything with it. The lesson, of course, is that God gives us each talents. Gifts. Certain things that are good that we possess. And it’s the property of the mission of God’s empire. It’s entrusted to us, but it’s not ours. We’re simply called to be caretakers of it and to make it grow — to invest it — and do good things with it. Not squander it away, but not just hide it or destroy it either. When we look back at young John Wesley, we can see that he was squandering his talents. He was spending everything as fast as he could earn it, and wasn’t sharing anything. In essence, he was like the third servant who did nothing to help others expand into God’s kingdom. Not until God got a hold of him and spoke into his heart. From then on, John Wesley’s lifestyle became a lesson for the rest of us. He didn’t simply need to preach the words; he lived them. And he showed the rest of us what it means to invest the good gifts given by God for the purpose of the mission of God’s empire. A bad thing? Recently, I had asked those who participated in one of our Wednesday evening Gathering services whether they thought being wealthy was a bad thing. And the universal answer was no, it’s not. As long as we’re responsible and helping others. Most agreed with this statement. But is that what Wesley was saying when he said: “Earn all you can? Save all you can? Give all you can?” Or let’s put it this way: Despite that Wesley’s earnings near his death were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s economy, was he wealthy? Because he lived on about just 28 pounds a year — less than $6,000 a year. He died with pennies in his pockets and no investment portfolios or nest eggs. Was he rich? Be careful We need to be careful here. Because if we look at the Parable of the Talents, we see Jesus rewarding those who shrewdly played the market. Or so it seems. It’s by no mistake that the word talent has a double meaning here. See, I might have a talent for writing (maybe you don’t agree), but that helped me to a very good career as a journalist and author of a couple of decades. And now it helps me as I prepare sermons. But what if I never used those talents? If it’s good, and we agree those talents are from God, then using them — not only on ourselves, but for others — that’s what God wants. We can double and triple and quadruple our talents! God calls us to. Jesus tells us to. Wesley illustrates it for us! Or we can hide them away. Keep them all to ourselves. Or keep them from others so that we have more of them for ourselves and less for them. Because we don’t want anyone else to have more than us… Well, what does that get us? Even more, what does it get the world? As we said earlier, the investment the servants were charged with was to use their talents to expand the mission of God’s empire. We could argue that even young John Wesley was doing a bit of that as he followed in the footsteps of his dad to preach the Gospel as a priest. But that’s not everything, is it? That’s just a portion of the talents he received from God. He was smart. And driven. And being able to teach at Oxford was quite lucrative for him. So what if he never did anything with that investment? Jesus tells us: It infuriates God.

Taking inventory What if we were to take inventory of the talents that God has given us? What are those good things? Can you name them? Are you good with money and ledgers and spreadsheets? Can you cook or bake or make visits? Do you have a strong back, do you have a large truck? Do you have the luxury of time in retirement? Do you have wisdom, love or are gregarious — are you a people person? Can you teach? Whatever it is, we’re called to invest those things — in others, for God. The more we invest those things, the better the return. The better the return, the more people are living into the mission of God’s empire. That’s how we expand into the kingdom now. That’s how we change the world! The fact that Wesley died with just pennies in his pocket means what? We don’t ever stop investing those talents. We don’t ever sit back and say, “Well, I’ve done my time here…” It wasn’t enough for Wesley. And if we agree that God never stops giving us gifts of good things — and we should all agree on that — then we are never done showering those good things upon others. Tithing? Now, I bet maybe you thought I was going to preach about tithing today when you heard the words stewardship and money in the same breath… I don’t need to. Because I don’t need to go back to the Old Testament ways to see that we’re to give back what God first gave us. We simply look to Jesus who flat-out told us to love like he first loves us. Love is a good thing, isn’t it? Jesus’s love is very a good thing, yes? Well, make no bones about it, my friends: Jesus is still loving us today, and is still calling us to love others. But that love that he gives us doesn’t do a whole lot if we never share it. No different from the talents he gave the disciples and told to go out and share. Whether it’s money or love or talent or gifts we are blessed with, then we must invest it. Give it. Multiply it. Give thanks to God for it. And look forward to the day that we will draw our last breaths knowing we did so not clinging desperately to or hoarding selfishly any of it. But that we shared every last penny of it, as God called us to. We invested it in the kingdom mission. So that we will hear those words as Jesus comes running to catch us in a loving and eternal embrace: Well done, my good and faithful servant!

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