“This is the Word of God for the People of God.”
Is it? Really? I mean, is this really something that Jesus said? This from the same guy that said “blessed are the poor?” That said “Blessed are the peacemakers?” Also said “bring my enemies here and slaughter them in my presence?” Come on. This can’t be the same Jesus.
Well, this morning, I am going to share with you that Jesus meant every word of this parable, but maybe not in the way that we usually think. It will take us a little bit of work to get there.
So, first, I need you to do a brain purge. For many of us, we will think we know this passage in Luke because we have heard the parable of the talents in Matthew. This passage is similar: it lands near the end of the Gospel. It involves three individuals who are given money and a chance to use it. And it involves a leader or ruler. However, these are not the same story. This is not the parable of the talents. That parable in Matthew is largely about stewardship and how we take care of our money. This parable is not the same thing. Often, we are guilty of assuming we know what a passage of Scripture is about, before we listen to it. We have read the parable of the talents…this one sounds the same…must be the same message. IT IS NOT.
So, brain purge. Wipe your mind clean. Open your eyes to a new passage. Not the parable of the talents in Matthew, but something else. And with a clean slate, let me tell you about two men. The first is a guy named Archelaus. The second is Stephen Colbert.
We’ll start with the second name first. Many of you will know Stephen Colbert from the late night comedy circuit. Now, some of you will love his politics and some of you will hate them. But I am not talking about his politics, but his methodology. Stephen Colbert is a liberal comedian. But on his show, he adopts the persona of the complete opposite. He pretends to be something he is not. He pretends that he is a conservative talk show host in order to both make fun of conservative talk show hosts and speak in support of liberal causes. Again, don’t pay attention to his politics right now, but his methodology. Everything that he says, he means the opposite. That, boys and girls, is called satire. It can make the show hard to watch sometime, because you have to always remember that he is being satirical. We are used to most people, and newspeople especially, being straightforward in their presentation. They mean what they say. Well, Stephen Colbert never means what he says on his show, but instead, he means the opposite.
Why do I bring up Stephen Colbert today? Because it is a perfect example of what Jesus is doing in this parable. This is an example of Jesus the satirist. Everything that he says in this parable, he means the opposite. Again, it can make the parable hard to read, because we have to stay focused. We are used to Jesus being pretty straight forward and prescriptive, right? Be like this. Do this. Follow this way. But more often than we realize, Jesus used humor and satire to make his point. Instead of being straight forward and prescriptive, he is saying “be the exact opposite of this vengeful and greedy king!”
Of course he is, right? Can we really believe that the same Jesus who told us “blessed are the poor” is now saying that the richest will be the most blessed and those who don’t make enough money will be punished? Or the same Jesus who says “turn the other cheek” is now saying we should have our enemies killed in front of us for our good pleasure?
No, Jesus was making a clear point about a specific way of life in a satirical way. Think Steven Colbert. But, for us to really be in on his point, we have to understand another guy by the name of Archelaus. Archelaus was a bad dude. He was the son of Herod. Remember Herod? The guy who killed the babies in Bethlehem to get to baby Jesus? Well, the son was worse than the father! He killed his political enemies. He had 3,000 countrymen slaughtered and took their property. He was so bad, and so violent, and so greedy, that eventually the Romans needed to remove him from his leadership because he was too violent. The Romans! These are the guys who fed Christians to the lions! But before they had to remove him from power, they actually put him into power. When Herod died, Archelaus travelled to Rome in order to appeal to Caesar to be made king in his place. Meanwhile, the people revolted and sent a delegation to Rome to argue against him. They appealed to Caesar that they did not want this man to be their king. They lost. And he was made king. Caesar put his arm around Archelaus and said, “here’s my boy. This is my king of guy.” And guess what Archelaus did to those political enemies who argued against him? It wasn’t pretty.
This was all recent history in the mind of Jesus and all of those who heard him teach this parable. And so, what do you think they thought of when Jesus started telling a story that began:
“So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.”
“But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.”
Jesus was not making this up. He was telling a biography of a specific person. And everyone who heard it knew exactly what he was talking about. This is clearly a story about Archelaus. And it is clearly an example of satire – “whatever I say in this parable, DO THE OPPOSITE!”
The parable is meant to make a radical claim about who Jesus was and what his mission on earth was about. He was setting up a very clear and very obvious distinction between two different Kingdoms. Two very different sets of values. Two very different models of how to live.
On one side are “Caesar values.” Modeled by Archaleus, these are the values of acquisition, of personal power, of violence. Caesar chose Archaleus because he modeled the right kind of values. Caesar values. He was a man who knew what he wanted and knew how to get it. No matter who stepped in his way. These are the values of a man who required his slaves to make him money, or risk death. These are the values that reward greed and punish failure. These are the values who demand retribution upon those who stand in our way, as we vengefully watch their demise. These are the values that Rome supported, as do many in our world today. I want for me and mine and anyone else can worry about themselves. My rights. My money. My guns. My insurance. My. My. My. Caesar values. Archelaus values. Acquisition. Personal power. Violence.
On the other side are “Jesus values.” Notice who the model is for these? Our old pal Zacchaeus from last week’s sermon. Look again at the first verse. Jesus is still in the house of Zacchaeus when he starts telling this story. Caesar chose Archaleus. Jesus chose Zacchaeus. The guy who gives half of his possessions to the poor. The guy to gives back four-fold anytime that he cheats anyone. This is the model for Jesus values. This is the model for a new kingdom. Look at the passage right after this parable: Jesus immediately heads into Jerusalem in order to ride into town on the back of a donkey. To model a new kingdom. To demonstrate humility. To reject the Caesar values and set up a new kingdom. Jesus values. Instead of acquisition, generosity. Instead of personal power, humility. Instead of violence, peace.
Jesus says “everything that the king does in this parable, I want you to do the exact opposite.” These are the values that we are called to live by. To demonstrate. To follow. The ways of Zacchaeus. The ways of Jesus. The parable asks the question whether or not these values will be our values.
So, today, Jesus and Archelaus and Stephen Colbert all bring us to…the budget.
Say what? “What on earth does any of this have to do with Pledge Sunday?” you may ask. To be honest, in some ways, it would have been easier to preach about the parable of the talents in Matthew. Then we could have talked about stewardship and giving and how much you should give and we would have all been just fine.
But, I said at the beginning of the series that we weren’t going to talk much this month about how to give, or how much to give, but instead to focus on why we give. And on that subject, this morning’s parable in Luke speaks volumes. Because it is about purpose and identity and values. It speaks to the why.
Why do we spend money to teach our children and our youth the Gospel? Because we believe that the Jesus values of hope and peace are better than the Caesar values of violence and retribution.
Why do we spend money to hire and support staff? Because we believe in the Jesus values of shared responsibility and shared leadership and that a meaningful way to do that is to hire staff that empowers and encourages an entire congregation to minister together.
Why do we send money to missions and missionaries? Because we believe in the Jesus value of generosity that lifts our chins beyond our own needs or our own church directory or our own backyard toward a global sensitivity to the work of the Spirit in the world. And so we tithe our budget, giving a full ten percent to missions and missionaries beyond ourselves.
Why do we spend money on a building? Because we believe that our facility is important. That it is a base camp from which we leave to do the mission of sharing the good news. That it is a place of welcome and hospitality, of safety and protection, of worship and sanctuary. This month, we have asked “which is more important…the people or the building?” And we have answered, “yes.” Both must be grounded in the foundation of kingdom values. Of Jesus values.
Which is why a conversation about values and priorities will inevitably end up on the subject of money. Because on this Sunday that we offer our pledges for the coming year, when we talk about the ministry budget for 2014, when we talk about the capital campaign for the coming months and years, we are really talking about our values. The budget is simply a representation of our priorities and our values. John Haughey says it this way, “We read the Gospel as if we had no money and we spend money as if we know nothing about the Gospel.” May it never be so here at First Baptist!
But for us to get there, we have to give. To pledge. To do it together. We have to step out beyond “my my my” and work together. We cannot do it alone and cannot rely on one or two families or one or two leaders. The way we do church requires all of us to participate. All of us to contribute. Together.
We have asked what happens when the walls are gone. When we pull down drywall and pull up carpet, what will we do next? A practical question, but I want to ask the same question in another way. What happens when the walls are gone?
- Will we start to put up walls between each other?
- Will we put up walls between those of us inside our building and our neighbors on the outside?
- Will we put up walls between those who are like us and those who are different?
- Between those who agree with us or those who disagree?
- Will we put up walls between where we are and where we need to go?
If those are the walls we are talking about, I hope we never build another wall again! We have to do this together! The walls of Archelaus, the walls of Caesar, the walls of this world, of consumerism and greed and violence and personal preference, are exactly what Jesus came to tear down. Instead of putting up more walls, we need to build a foundation. One based on Jesus values.
We will build a foundation by saying that working together for the shalom of the Gospel is the thing that sets us apart in this world.
- We will build a foundation by saying that worshipping God is our vocation as believers, and giving priority and attention to the way we worship is one of the ways that we can give honor and glory to our God
- We will build a foundation by creating a space to welcome and show hospitality to individuals and families who sometimes aren’t sure anyone cares if they even exist.
- We will build a foundation by saying that children matter, that youth matter, that college students matter, and that raising the next generation to believe and listen and wonder is worth our time, our money, and our investment.
- We must build a foundation based on Jesus values – of generosity and humility and peace – and built and supported by our time, our dollars, and our passion?
- We don’t need to spend any more time on walls around here. But join me, as brick by brick, as inch by inch, we build a Gospel foundation that will last longer than you or I are around. Indeed, it will last for an eternity. Let us build this foundation together.