June 12, 2016 / GENEROUS LIVES PART 3: CURATORS / Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 19:12-26
For four weeks we’re looking at how we change the cultural story of scarcity. And we’re looking at three resources we all have. These resources are what? Time, treasure, talent. Three resources we all have to use in how we engage with the world – whether we fee like we have a lot or a little of those resources now – we all have them. The invitation is that as we look at our resources through four different lenses, it will unlock the potential of a generous life. An influential life. A powerful life. So really these four weeks are hopefully going to produce just one result, and that is a culture of extravagant, shocking generosity. I think Jesus has called humanity into a life beyond ourselves. But in order to discover that and experience that, we have to take a look at how we understand what we already have. So that’s what’s happening for these four weeks.
Do you ever ask yourself, why don’t I give, more? Why don’t I serve, more? I am not in the habit of doing that – the thought rarely crosses my mind. In fact the question I usually have in my head, is, how much do I have to give? How do much I have to serve? But I don’t ask why don’t I give more? I’ve tried to ask it this week in my life and initially I came back with answers maybe we would all say – my time is tight, you know. My money is tight and I don’t have it to give. I’m being responsible. And maybe that’s true. And also – something I hesitate to say publically but maybe this will sound like something you would say too: sometimes the reason I don’t give more, the reason I don’t serve more is because honestly I have not discovered a vision more compelling to me than keeping my stuff and my time. I don’t want to. Anyone with me in that tension?
And yet – isn’t there a much more compelling vision for what we can do with our stuff? And I think yes. And so today, as we look at the third lens through which we can develop generous lives, we’re talking about the compelling vision of why our lives matter right now and why that matters to the world. Because if we can discover that, if we can discover a vision that is actually worth taking a risk for, we will find more adventure and opportunity than we could possibly handle and that’s the zone in which God wants us to live.
I didn’t make up this idea. Jesus told a story that shows us this idea. We’re looking at this story together to see what impact it might have in our lives.
One of Jesus’ biographers, a Gentile doctor named Luke recorded eye witness accounts of Jesus’ life, and he wrote down one of the parables, the stories Jesus told in Luke chapter 19. It is one of those stories that gets our attention even now. And if we are paying attention it has the potential to offend us – so this will be super fun.
It is called the Parable of the Ten Minas. Luke 19:12-26. I’m going to read it and stop along the way and talk us through this. As we do, as always, envision what this looks like, get caught up in the details, listening for what gets your attention. Here’s how the story starts…
Jesus said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.
A mina is a unit of measurement of money. A mina was about a third of their annual income, it was a chunk of change. Ten servants, each given a mina.
His instruction was:
‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
This is actually a veiled reference to Jesus, Jesus was actually talking about himself how he has come as a king to lead them into a new kind of life but they don’t like the way this life is looking. “We don’t want this man to be our king!”
But that’s not actually the big idea of the story, this is just the setup – Jesus is going to be talking about our relationship with what we have, and we have two big ideas to get through to get to our paradigm for today. And this is the first big idea, right at the outset of what he is first trying to convey is this: we don’t actually own anything – what Jesus is saying is that we’re somebody else’s servants, in somebody else’s land, with somebody else’s stuff and we’re not entitled to it – that’s what he’s saying. Right away that might get under our skin.
We have to pause and ask: does that wash with us? For you? Can you roll with that? The Scriptures keep teaching over and over again about stuff and creation and our time and even our talent – over and over we’re told that God owns it all! It is all God’s! We only have it because he decided to give it to us right now. That is what Scripture teaches through every angle. But that’s not always palatable for us. It’s hard for me.
It’s a question of ownership. I like to feel like I am in charge of the stuff that I have, of what I have earned, I like to feel like I am in control. And if I don’t own any of it, it challenges all of those instincts for me. How does that sit with you? We don’t own anything.
Yet there’s also something deeply spiritual and liberating about this reality that nothing is really ours – that the money in our wallets, the car parked outside, the skills we use when we work and engage with the world – that it belongs to God. There’s a really liberating facet to this notion that we don’t own anything.
Let me illustrate this… I need two people, two volunteers – you don’t have to get out of your seat.
Here’s $50. Now there’s going to be some hands. I need one more… $50. If you’re new, we do this every Sunday by the way. Here’s $50. Welcome to SH.
That was super easy for me – you wanna know why? It’s really not my money. It’s not my money. In fact it feels really good to bless your lives with a crisp $50 bill. I didn’t lose a thing. Because I never owned it.
So. I actually don’t’ think ownership is the most – you’re now wondering – is that it, did she just give out $100 and she’s not going to say anything else about it – well maybe – you’ll just have to hang on. Ellipses…
I don’t actually think the idea of ownership is the most challenging idea in this story. I think the second, more challenging idea actually comes up next.
Verse 15. The nobleman…
He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
“His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
That’s an incredible return on his investment, right? One mina became 10 minas, five minas. So – it wasn’t uncommon for the master to return, talk to his administrative staff which is probably who these servants were and if they had performed well, he’d give them greater responsibility, that just makes sense.
So because you’ve done well, because you’ve followed my instruction, because you’ve done what you knew I wanted you to do with these resources I’m going to give you greater opportunities. So that’s not all that weird. But within this story we know Jesus is telling us something about the principles of who God is and who we are and what that life looks like.
What he’s saying is not just “you don’t own that stuff” he’s also conveying the idea that we are responsible for the choices we make with that stuff. That we are responsible for what we do with God’s resources – all of it, our time, treasure, talent. So – it’s not ours, it’s God’s – AND what we do with it matters. He’s saying – I don’t want you to be a collector of resources, I want you to be a curator of resources. An agent of God’s assets. A broker following the desires of the master. For us, accomplishing what God would want us to accomplish as a delegate, as a steward of God’s resources.
This is that second big idea – and it is a challenging one. Do you think that’s true? Do you actually believe that what we choose to do or not do with the things we have ultimately is going to be tested and measured? That what we do with our resources is evaluated – do you actually believe that? It’s a challenging concept in an age where we’d like to believe that everybody’s business is their own business – hey, you can do whatever you want to do...
And yet I have to admit that for me at least, I’ve always wanted to believe that the choices I make in this life actually matter. I’ve always wanted to believe that it matters to the people around me and it matters to the universe, and the choices I make with what I have and the time that I’ve been given matters to future generations. And what Jesus is saying here is yes, it does, it even matters to God. I think this is good, good, news. Do you hear that, too? The choices we make with the things that have been given to us matter.
But this is not a success story, it is a melodrama, a cautionary tale, a tragedy because there’s a another servant. Verse 20:
Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
This third servant sees his master as an unreasonable man and so curiously he does nothing? Like he does nothing? There’s something suspicious with his actions here.
So what’s going on with this third servant? Maybe he was just overly cautious. It is not bad to be cautious, or to be intentional and discerning about how we use the resources we’re given – we actually should be discerning.
If you were here last week then you heard about how: people who share all they have actually receive all God has to give them. And we named that we are RICH – literally – we are in the top 10% of the wealthiest people in the world. We have a lot to give in all areas of our resources. And we raised that question of: well does that mean I have to give away everything, like are there boundaries, are there limits? The answer is: we don’t give it all away. Boundaries with our generosity is a good thing. Intention is a very good thing. So what kind of boundaries? What does that look like?
We see this in the first two servants: they weren’t foolish and frivolously with the master’s money, they might have even asked themselves: how would the master want us to invest this, then they followed suit. They were being intentional about it. That’s the guiding boundary they use – to ask how would the master want us to invest this, use this?
So then this third servant: was the third servant just overly cautious? I think it goes further than that, because I know, at least for me, sometimes my caution and my discernment eventually metastasizes into an excuse. I just don’t want to make a move. I don’t want to take a risk. I don’t want to let go.
That’s the difference here – with this third servant. Jesus is saying – don’t let caution paralyze you, keep you from action. Because: God doesn’t use caution, God uses courage. Whatever little bit of resource we have, whatever little bit of courage we can muster at any time in our life – curating those resources of God: that is when God begins to move through us. Through our courage – even a little bit.
So that’s the third servant – let’s see how the master responds:
His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
He’s saying – ok you’re scared of me, but even so couldn’t you have at least taken it to the bank to accumulate interest? Instead you hid it in a towel?
Notice how this doesn’t line up. The servant says the king is unreasonable – yet he has seen what the king does – and it is like he doesn’t know him. The king is a man of great provision and wealth and he entrusts that wealth to his servants. He took a risk on the servant. He didn’t have to do that. The servant says the king is unreasonable, yet he saw the way the king treats those who follow his direction. He rewards faithfulness with more opportunity. Is that an unreasonable man? I don’t think so – it seems generous, trusting. The servant’s excuses don’t seem to line up with the reality of who the king actually is. Instead, the servant has fabricated a false profile of the master – that gives himself permission to stay safe and comfortable. Do you see that? The servant has made up who he thinks the master is so that he can stay safe and not have to be courageous. Fascinating! And oh my goodness, this draws up for me the ways in which I make excuses to keep from taking generous risks with God’s resources, too.
Here’s how the story ends. Verse 24 for the last piece of our reading.
Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ (He already has 50 buck!)
He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
That last line sounds so cryptic, but Jesus is simply saying, that the servant, at the end of this – he doesn’t have any less money than he did when this started. So he has nothing. But even more has been taken away from him because what he has now lost is opportunity.
Listen, this parable is not about money. It’s not about finances. It’s not about God wanting to see 1000% ROI on whatever amount of resources we have. This is about trust. This is about faithfulness. And where God sees faithfulness and faith, he grants opportunity. This third servant, for a moment he had the master’s resources, but he lost them, he lost opportunity, he lost the adventure.
God does not need our time. God is not betting his entire movement in this world on our talent. God doesn’t need our money. But God is fueling his mission in the world. And God is enabling all of us with whatever we have, whether we feel like we have abundance or we feel like things are tight. He’s enabling us to join his mission – the movement in our generation of God. I think God continues to reach the forgotten and the left out and the detached and I think he creates communities of hope where we can belong with each other and tell a broken world that God is here, that God is alive, that God loves them – and God could do this any way that he wanted to do but for some reason God has decided to create those communities through people like you and me. Because: and here finally after all of this is our paradigm for today: God only gives to us so that he can give through us. We are curators of the resources of God – and that is awesome.
Now you know that I couldn’t give out $100 without a purpose in mind. You see, I didn’t give you money today, I gave you a mission. And now you’re like – you can have it back. Thanks. Listen – this is easy.
This week God is asking you to make a life investment. That’s it. I invite you this week to take that $50 and just invest it in someone who feels like they’re far from God. Invest in love, surprise, encouragement, or in healing – it does not have to change the world, it doesn’t have to be a new idea. It just has to be for somebody else. I think God only gives to us so that He can give through us. I’m not going to follow up with you. Though you can check back in with me, I welcome that.
This is also about the experience of what it feels like to hold a $50 bill in your hand that is meant for someone else. And how good that feels to give that $50 away, to invest it in someone who feels far from God. And how good and different and freeing it can feel when we don’t feel like it is our money.
Because the reality is, all of the bills in our wallets, in our bank account, they are given to us with that same agenda – that we would curate our money into what God is doing. Yes, we have to pay bills and buy food and clothing and pay for life – but we’re invited to look for and change the ways we spend our money, our time, our talents – so that we can invest in what aligns with God’s movement in the world.
And for those of us who didn’t get our hand in the air soon enough – next time I ask for a volunteer, you are going to be on it! Even for us without the $50, could we also this week take $5, $20, $50 of the money God has given us, and use it for that same mission? Or that we would hold our cash, our credit card, our debit card, with that same freeing, good sense that comes when we don’t feel attached to it – because it belongs to God. Could we try that?
At the beginning of this, we asked ourselves: why don’t I give more? Why don’t I serve, more? How different this question will feel as we live into this reality that God gives to us so he can give through us. It’s not our stuff, our time. It’s not. It’s God’s stuff and what we do with it matters. And the reason God gives it to us is so that it can be used for the sake of the lost, the broken, the hurting, the places of suffering in our world. And God does it through you and me.
That is a vision for our lives compelling enough to change the way we use our money and all our stuff, our talents and skills, and yes, even our time. That changes everything.
And for that we say thanks be to God – Amen? Amen.