Optical Illusions

Sermon – Sunday, November 16, 2014
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 25:14-30

I love art, as you can tell from the pictures I showed the children this morning. It was one of my favorite subjects in elementary and high school. I look forward to going to museums and appreciating the artwork of talented artists of all kinds. But I have to admit – and my apologies to anyone who likes Picasso’s artwork – that I don’t. I’ve never been able to appreciate Picasso’s art even though it’s considered genius and his paintings are worth millions. Quite frankly, I find them scary. In his paintings, faces are twisted and contorted like images in a fun-house mirror. Eyes are where ears should be; faces are turned in weird angles, body parts are attached in bizarre places. I just don’t like Picasso’s works. His image of what something looks like and mine are very different; they’re distorted. And yet for Picasso, that is what he sees. To him, there is a perfectly logical reason why these distortions make sense. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is a distortion, an illusion, and what is reality.

That seems to be the problem with our gospel lesson from Matthew today. The landowner in today’s story gives an enormous amount of money to each of his servants before he goes away. A talent was gold, copper, or silver coins weighing between 60 – 90 pounds. And one talent was worth between 15 – 20 years of a person’s wages. In today’s currency that would be equivalent to over 2 million dollars. Can you imagine, given over 2 million dollars? And that was just the third servant’s amount. The other two servants were given even more, double and even five times that amount! What would you do if that kind of money was entrusted to you? It’s a huge responsibility and it’s understandable that the third servant didn’t want to lose any of that money by investing it. What if he lost it all? What would his boss do then? I guess it depends on what kind of boss he was. According to the third servant he was a “harsh man.” He was someone to be feared and so the third servant afraid of making any mistakes, buried all that treasure in the ground so nothing would happen to it. It would be safe there. So while his boss was away, the third servant hid the money and went about living in fear. He was paralyzed by fear. He spent his days waiting for his boss to return in total fear. He dreaded his return. What his boss had given him was a burden! What a way to live or should I say, what a way not to live!

Meanwhile, the other two servants took that money and invested it and earned even more for their boss. They didn’t waste a minute. They didn’t know when their boss would return, but when he did they were excited about showing him how much they had multiplied what he gave them. How generous and gracious of this boss they must have thought, that he would entrust to them all this wealth. He could have given it to someone else, but instead he gave it to them. I can just imagine them saying, “What a privilege! What a joy! What an honor that our boss would give us such an opportunity to use our skills!” They couldn’t wait for their boss to return. They couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when they showed him all that they were able to accomplish. They were loving this great opportunity! What a way to live!

One boss, two very different images. What is reality? Two individuals see the glass as half full and the other one sees it as half empty. Two see abundance and gift and the other one sees scarcity and burden. Two feel gratitude and the other one feels fear, which can also be an acronym for false evidence appearing real. Was his image grounded in reality? Their experiences and interpretations are so different that you almost think they are talking about two different bosses. The truth however, is there is only one boss and the problem lies in these individuals perceptions of their boss, their master, their lord. What is our perception of our Lord? How do we see God?

For many people, their image of God is of an angry, vengeful God. To them, God will inflict wrath on people and throw them to the darkness where there will be “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Sickness or tragedies are seen as punishments from God. They believe that God expects perfection and there is no room for error. You either behave a certain way or God is going to get you. They judge others as harshly as they believe they will be judged. They see violence and war and all the evils of this world as a punishment by an angry God who will inflict the final blow on the day of judgment. They live in fear and terror just like the third servant in today’s story. For many people this is the way God has been presented to them. They have a distorted image of who God is.

In reading the entire Bible as a whole, however, we see a different image of God. We read in Psalm 103 that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We read in Jer. 31:3, that God says “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” In Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And in Romans 8 that “nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Scriptures are filled with images of God’s great love for us. And because of that great love, Jesus commands us to “love one another as I have loved you.” And real love, not a distorted love, comes from God and it requires risk. We only have to look at Christ and see the great risk He took in saving all people to see what that kind of love requires. It requires risk and sacrifice and even death.

But great risk also brings new life! Yes, it may mean doing things differently than we have ever done them before, but rather than focusing on the image of losing something, what if we focused on what new things we may learn or gain? The landowner in our story risked a great deal by giving all of his wealth to his servants to manage and they could have lost it all, but he took that chance. He trusted them with a great abundance and out of gratitude the two servants were eager to do something with that abundance. I wonder what he would have done if they lost the money when they invested it? Would he have punished them severely as he did the third servant? We don’t have the answer to that in our story, but it seems he was more concerned with action than inaction. He was more concerned with taking risks than letting fear run their lives. He was more concerned with the image they held of him and how that determined their actions.

What is our image of God? Do we see God as an angry vengeful God who is keeping track of every mistake we make, or do we see God through the person of Christ who loves us with an everlasting love? Do we fear His return like the third slave or do we eagerly await His return like the other two servants, diligently taking risks and living out of gratitude for all we have been given? Do we live our lives out of scarcity or abundance? Courage or fear? Do we play it safe and bury our talents thinking it will be safe, or do we boldly take the risks of growing the kingdom of God here on earth? Our security doesn’t exist in things; our security exists in Christ and we as followers of Christ must be willing to take risks just as He did.

It takes great risk to open our hearts to love and trust someone – maybe even a new pastor – because that person may let you down, but they may also be your greatest advocate. It takes great risk to forgive because what if that person never changes, but what if we are changed in the process? It takes great risk to stand up and fight against injustice, to care for the poor, the oppressed, the outsiders because we may be seen as hopeless idealists, but what if we actually are the instruments that God works through to enact change in this world? It takes great risk to pray to God that God’s will be done and not ours because what if we don’t like the results, but does our image of God really believe that God does not have our best interests in mind? Faith takes great risk, but it is worth the risk because we have the assurance of God’s faithfulness through Christ.

We as disciples of Christ cannot act out of fear, but must respond out of faith. There is too much fear around us; we as the church must combat fear with faith and the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Maybe like the third servant, our fears come from a distorted view of God. It’s an illusion. And because of that it distorts everything and everyone around us. Fear – false evidence appearing real. We don’t even know how to respond to the abundance that God has blessed us with.

I’d like to end today with a saying from Marianne Williamson – also quoted by Nelson Mandela who knew a lot about taking risks- that I think speaks to our gospel today. It is entitled Our Greatest Fear.
“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. Imagine what we could do to grow the kingdom of God here on earth if we all lived out of that image! Amen!