Broad Brook Congregational Church
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2014
The title of this week’s sermon was inspired by the popular Hunger Games trilogy by author Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games is a series of young adult novels set in a dystopian society. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second book in the trilogy. Just so you have some idea of how popular the books were, here are some trivia facts: as of 2014, the trilogy has sold more than 65 million copies in the U.S. alone. The Hunger Games trilogy has been sold into 56 territories in 51 languages to date (according to Wikipedia).
At first I thought it was only the title that connected my swirling thoughts to this morning’s parable, but eventually I saw similarities between them. The premise of the series is a society in which the “Capitol” district controls the rest of the districts. There are definite class distinctions with accompanying privileges or lack there of. Katniss (the protagonist) refuses to succumb to the rule of the Capitol. A spark is ignited within Katniss and that spark is fanned to flame and she catches fire figuratively and literally—her costume is specially rigged to catch fire without harming her. Her courage and passion set others on fire and a rebellion against the Capitol is born. The rebellion, as most do, has its consequences. Yet, in the end it is love that trumps the venom.
Jesus preached the parable of the talents to his disciples only days after entering the capitol city of Jerusalem, according to Matthews Gospel. We know the society in which Jesus lived was under tight Roman rule. There were class distinctions not only within Roman society but also Jewish culture. God had ignited a spark within Jesus. His teachings were counter-cultural. The religious authorities viewed Jesus as a threat to the status quo and their power and privileges. The Romans saw Jesus as a disruption to the peace. Jesus was not trying to lead a rebellion against Rome. Rather, he was trying to teach the Israelites how to live a more God-filled life. But that meant overturning the commonly held practices of the religious leaders and resisting the detrimental influences of Roman culture. Jesus’ courage and passion in turn set his followers on fire.
This parable, like all the others Jesus taught, has many layers and
meanings. What I want to focus on is the third slave and the master. We heard that two of the slaves each invested their talents and returned to the master the original amount plus interest. They are showered with joy from the master. Our third slave, out of fear of his master, takes his talent (a unit of money approximating 15 years earnings for a day laborer) and buries it in the ground. He returns it to his master safe and sound. His master treats him very harshly. I don’t feel this slave to was a bad man. In fact, by our modern investment guidelines of a few years back he would have been congratulated as a prudent, conservative, and careful investor, but not in Jesus’ parable. Our third slave was not a risk taker. He was paralyzed by fear.
The way I see it, this story is not about doubling or tripling our investments. It is about taking risks, investing, and about living. It is a parable about Jesus: his risks, his living, and what was about to happen to him. It is about being part of the groundswell—those followers of Jesus. It is about you and me and what it means to live as a Christian.
The problem for the third slave was not taking a risk. Fear was hisgreatest roadblock. Perhaps it is also ours. Jesus’ says that playing it safe is like being cast into the darkness. What does that mean for you and me?
Unlike like the early Christians we have had to risk little for our faith. Our martyrs and saints, on the other hand, have risked their lives for their faith. We have not. We seem to have a comfortable faith. But does a comfortable faith lead to a life lived abundantly; a life full of Christ’s light and love, a life that risks giving ones heart away.
But how to we break free of fear—of being a cautious and comfortable disciple of Christ? Well it takes courage. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage,” wrote 20th century author, Anaïs Nin. To be a risk taker for faith; to give one’s heart away for God’s work in the world takes courage. It takes courage to work for justice and peace, to speak the truth to power, to be a voice for the voiceless, to be counter-cultural, to spread God’s love and light.
What do we do with our faith? Do we tuck it away and only bring it out
on Sundays and crisis situations; or, do we open our hearts and let our lives be transformed by living as passionate disciples of Jesus?
Perhaps a story will tell it better. This is a story about one of the Desert Fathers from very early Christianity, when people were forced out into the wilderness to live without the comforts of life but with passionate catching fire faith. “One day a young monk came to Abba Joseph and asked him what more he could do, since he was already doing some fasting, and some praying, and some work, mostly weaving baskets. The holy man responded, the story goes, by raising his hands, and fire shot out from his fingers as he responded to the young man with this great challenge: ‘Why not becomes totally fire?’” (Sermon Seeds, Nov. 16, 2014)
Are we just comfortably going along day to day doing some praying, some bible reading, some mission work but not catching fire? Kathryn Matthews Huey poses this question: Is our faith life more about safety and reassurance and security, or is it about risk-taking and openness and courage, and unimaginable abundance to which these virtues lead?” Are we willing to catch fire? What is this church willing to be passionate about?