The Currency of the Kin-dom – 15 November 2020

“The parable is asking us to become aware of how the world as it is works. What are its values, what is its real currency?”

The Currency of the Kin-dom – Rev. Adrianne Meier
November 15, 2020, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
St. Thomas Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana

Click here for a printable copy of this sermon.

Matthew 25:14-30, NRSV, emended

[Jesus is teaching his disciples privately about the arrival of the kingdom of God.] “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents (worth over fifteen years’ wages), to another two, to another one— to each according to the person’s ability. Then the man went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’ The 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.’ 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.’ The 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.’

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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, I give you what is yours.’ 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? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers—then on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from this slave, and give it to the one with ten talents.

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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

A few years ago I started a writing project about the so-called attention economy. I wanted to explore how faith communities could use and respond to the attention economy, but I found the work too depressing to continue. The attention economy essentially is the sale of my focus to advertisers. New apps and programs get funded by venture capitalists not on their worth to the human race but on how long they can hold my attention. The business model isn’t to improve my life, but to hold it hostage for profit. While my children cry for my attention, I’m going to play just one more round of Candy Crush. I wanted to write about it because I sometimes worry about the church using these so-called advancements in order to hold people’s attention. Where is the line where we have demanded attention for our own gain when the people of our community are pleading for compassion. When they are asking for our help in securing margin; in fighting the demon of busyness? Profit rules us from the top; compassion lifts us from below. The currency of this world is profit, but the currency of the kin-dom of God is compassion.

The easy way out of this parable is to call it a stewardship sermon with an epic mic drop. To ask us to identify the talents we have – playing on a pretty cheap pun for the name of a weight-based currency that dates to the 4th millennium BCE. Identify our talents and how we can use them for the kingdom of God and then ask to double down. You can always do more, we’ll say; a statement that leaves the overcommitted feeling guilty and too many others miraculously unscathed. That’s…the easy way out…but the trouble is the cross. Every parable has to reconcile with the center of the gospel — with the cross. Often, be try to locate ourselves in the parable, but the real work is to find the cross in the parable. Where is death? Where is the black hole from which can emerge one thing and one thing only: resurrection? So, we move the crucified Christ from role to role.

Is he the violent landlord, reaping where he does not sow and gathering where he did not scatter seed? The landlord is the only one who benefits from this little exercise. He gets entertainment and amusement while his servants live in fear. They don’t win their liberation, and, while, they’re entrusted with more money, it still isn’t their money. The whole thing only serves the landlord’s greed. This cannot be, for Jesus has already told us to scatter seed with reckless generosity on fertile field and rocky soil, upon the path, and even among the weeds and thorns. The currency of this world is greed, but the currency of kin-dom of God is generosity.

Perhaps Christ is the one of the profitable slaves, doubling their money. But why didn’t they loan a single talent to the third slave? Tutor him in investment banking? How could this be Christ, when the Bible has clear pronouncements about justice? Where is the field left for the alien to glean? Where is the good news for the poor? This is not right. The currency of this world is profit, but in the kin-dom of God, it is compassion.

We come to the last role, the one who buried his talent. The one who knew his master’s greed, and lust for wealth, and destructive vengeance, and refused to play along. The one who pays the ultimate cost for his rebellion. This feels like a fit. This parable tells us the currency of this world is retribution. The cost of the final slave’s profitless action is life without the possibility of parole. Ah, but the currency of the kin-dom is restoration. The currency in God’s reign is resurrection. Because God is the only one who can look into the black hole at the end of this parable and says, “Finally! I can work with that!”

On one side of this parable, Jesus begins the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” On the other side of the parable, Jesus will tell of the judgement of the nations, where people will be divide into two groups, as a shepherd divides sheep from goats. And he begins by saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…” But this parable begins with two words, “hosper gar.” There isn’t much here to play with; there isn’t much here to help us resolve or understand this parable Jesus gives us no thesis statement. The two words seem to setting up some kind of logical statement, and – and you have to understand I am no Greek scholar, and I am just stabbing in the dark here – I think this passage isn’t trying to tell us what the reign of God is like. That will follow when we hear about the separation of the sheep and the goats in the next parable. This passage isn’t about the reign of God, but the reign of this world as it is. The reign of this world demands more and more and more. The rich get richer and the poor have even the little they have stripped from them. But – and is in fact how the next parable begins – but when the Son of Man comes to reign it is the generous who will be lifted up: the compassionate who feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink; those who welcome the stranger and clothe the naked; the ones whose visit the sick and the imprisoned and restore them to life. This story tells us how the world around us operates – greedy, for profit, vengeful – so that we can do the work of understanding how God operates – generous, compassionate, restorative.

A poem I return to again and again is Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” The poem, is, I suppose, it a sermon in and of itself. It drips with sarcasm, naming the world as it is while holding open the possibility for the world as it could be. Berry begins,

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Beloved, I believe today’s parable is Jesus asking us to do something every day that won’t compute in this world because it belongs, not to this world, but to the kin-dom of God. The parable is asking us to become aware of how the world as it is works. What are its values, what is its real currency? In the face of greed, profit, and retribution, Jesus calls us to embrace generosity and compassion trusting that it will cost us everything and that out of the nothing that is left of us, God will restore us.