Bigger, Better, or Bury

Scripture  |  Acts 17:24-31  |  Matthew 25:14-30

Our Second Scripture reading is a parable from Jesus about a wealthy master and his servants. It has been famously known as “the parable of the talents.”

And, because the greek word talanta in this text has been translated time and time again as our english word Talent, a lot of times when we hear this parable we think specifically about our talents -> as in America’s Got talent, our God-given gifts and strengths.

This translation isn’t isn’t wrong, in fact, most scholars think this greek word talanta and this parable in Matthew is where our English word Talent actually comes from. 

BUT since we are in the midst of a sermon series talking about money, and since this greek word talanta has more to do with money than our ability to juggle, I’ve translated this scripture a little differently than most translations and have decided to translate talent by its original definition… a talanta was a coin that was worth about 15 years of a day-laborer's salary. 

So with this in mind, Listen to God’s word to us today, as told through Matthew 25...

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed all of his possessions over to them. To one he gave 5 coins that valued 75 years worth of pay, to another he gave 2 coins, or what he would make 30 years, and to another he gave one coin, which was still valued at 15 years of wages. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.

“After the man left, the servant who had 5 coins took them and went to work doing business with his gift. Ultimately, He doubled the amount he’d been given. In the same way, the one who had 2 coins also doubled his gift. But the servant who had received 15 years of wages dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

“Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received 75 years of wages came forward with 75 more. He said, ‘Master, you gave me as much money as I would make in a lifetime and look, I’ve doubled it!’
“His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

“The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave 30 years worth of wages, and look, now I have 60 years worth.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

“Now the one who had received 15 years of wages came and said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

“His master replied, ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

Take the money I gave him and give it to the one has the most. Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need.

But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’
“The people there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.
— Matthew 25:14-30

I heard a story awhile back about a man named Kyle MacDonald. He was working as a blogger, and one day he was sitting at his desk and noticed a little red paperclip he had sitting on his desk. 

And for some reason on this day Kyle remembered a game he used to play as a kid called “Bigger, Better” where you would take something like whatever lunch your parents packed you and trade it with your friends for something bigger or better…

So sitting at his desk, with little red paper clip in his hand, Kyle thought “Hey I have this little red paper clip… I wonder what I could trade for it that would be bigger and better”

Kyle took a picture of the paperclip and put an ad for it on craigslist that read 

This red paperclip is currently sitting on my desk next to my computer. I want to trade this paperclip with you for something bigger or better,

maybe a pen, a spoon, or perhaps a boot.

If you promise to make the trade I will come and visit you, wherever you are, to trade.

Hope to trade with you soon!

Kyle

PS - I’m going to make a continuous chain of ‘up trades’ until I get a house. Or an Island. Or a house on an island. You get the idea.”
— http://oneredpaperclip.blogspot.com/2010/11/one-red-paperclip.html

A few days later someone responded to the ad, maybe they really needed that paperclip, maybe Kyle’s ad made them laugh and they wanted to see if it was legit. Who knows what their motive was, but they offered to trade Kyle his paperclip for an ink pen in the shape of a fish.

He met up with them, let go of his little red paper clip and got the bigger, better fish pen. He then took a picture of that and made a new ad on craigslist inviting someone to trade the fish pen for something bigger, and better.

Not long after this ad was posted, someone offered to meet up with Kyle trade the fish pen for a bigger, better door knob handmade by an artist that he got to drive out to meet. 

And her door knob Kyle went on to trade for a bigger better camp stove with fuel that he was given only after the guy he was trading with offered to cook him a barbecue on it, 

and then with the camp stove Kyle traded with a Marine Corps sergeantfor a bigger better electric generator. 

Kyle kept trading and trading, he would go one to receive a snow mobile, an afternoon with the heavy metal artist Alice Cooper, He even traded for a speaking part in a movie, until after fourteen trades in all, the city of Kipling, Saskatchewan in Canada contacted Kyle wanting to trade with him for a house! 

Kyle was able to take the little red paper clip he found sitting next to his computer and trade it for house!  Its an incredible story, If you want to watch the whole story, I’ll post Kyle’s TED talk about it online later. 

But what is even more incredible than Kyle’s story is Kyle’s perspective on the whole thing. 

Ultimately, Kyle said the best part of the story to him wasn’t the objects he was trading, as fun as all of that was, He say’s the best part of the story was all of the people he got to meet because of the trades. He says “It was all about the people saying “Yes” …saying “Let’s collaborate, let’s do something together, let’s build something and let’s see what happens”

In the end Kyle says “It’s not about the paperclip, about having it, or selling it or what its worth… If I hadn’t traded it away I would still just be a guy, sitting at his desk with a paperclip in his hand wondering what would happen if I did something with that paper clip. 

So, if you have a paperclip, trade it away, you might only get a fish pen, but it might be the single step that leads to an amazing journey.”

Kyle I think, is a whole lot like the first two servants in today’s parable. 

Like Kyle, they were able to look in their hands and see the red paperclips that their master had gifted to them, and ask themselves the questions… What would happen if I did something with this?

Of course, the servants in the parable were given a whole lot more to work with than red paperclips. Their master gave all of his money to them and each of them were given anywhere between 15 and 75 times what they’d make in a year!  

Its hard for us to put ourselves in the shoes of these servants. Imagine one of your friends came up and asked you what you make in a year, and then decided to give you 15 times that amount to watch over.  What if this friend decided to multiply what you make by 75! I’ll give you a second to calculate that on your cellphones. Chances whether its 15 times or 75 times your salary, this amount of money would be more than you have or will ever see in your lifetime. It is a hard figure to imagine someone giving to you, and its even harder to imagine how you would respond if you were trusted with that sum of money.

I imagine it would be a totally random, which of us would respond as the first two servants by going out immediately and doing something with this gift seeing hope and new opportunity, and which of us would respond as the last servant did by burying the gift out of anxiety that we might mess it up or fear that the master might not approve of our choices. It certainly seems random for these servants.

So, what is it that causes some of us to treat God’s gift as an opportunity, and some of us to react in fear? And is there something we can all do to be more like the first two servants?

A few weeks ago, when we began this series on money in scripture, Karen used an image from our small group study manual to help us understand what it means to see yourself as a trustee of God’s creation. 

She invited us to imagine our life as though a friend lent us a very nice car, and asked us how we would drive it… would we drive differently than if it were our own car? How would you care for it?

The idea is that everything we have in life doesn’t actually belong to us, but belongs to God, and therefore we have a responsibility to handle our money, our time, our gifts, and our lives with a deep humility and respect because it all belongs to God.

I think the difference between the first two servants and the last servant is that they know when God lends you a car, God doesn’t care about the state of the car, God doesn’t want the car to be washed and waxed and returned exactly as it was given. God gives you the car so that you can make a difference with that car. 

Seeing yourself as a trustee of God’s gifts isn’t just about treating God’s gifts with respect, it means using the gift’s God’s given to make the world around you a better place for the people around you!

In the end our friend Kyle with the paperclip said the best part of his story was all of the people he got to meet because of the trades. He said “It was all about the people saying “Yes” …saying “Let’s collaborate, let’s do something together, let’s build something and let’s see what happens”

This is why God gives such abundant gifts! Think about all of the lives the first two servants changed by taking that money and doing something with it! It wasn’t just about the master getting more money, it was about all of the people helped when that money was out in the world and not in a hole somewhere.

This is what it mean to be a trustee of our talents, this is what it means to be a trustee of our money, this is what it means to be a trustee of our time and our lives. Seeing it all as a gift from God and choosing to make that gift even better for our world, So that we can return it to God and trust that we will hear “Well Done Good and Faithful Servant”

May you look for the paperclips God has put it your hand, 
May you look for all of abundance that God has given you to care for in your life, and ask yourself…
What could I do with this…  
However small the gift may seem at the time, 
How might I do something with this gift to change the world around me? 
How might I take this gift and make it something Our Master can be proud of?

Amen.