The Joy of the Middle Class – November 1, 2020
I was looking forward to telling two more stories from the early days of the church, the story of Stephen, and, of course, the story of Paul. But next week is Stewardship Dedication Sunday, and I think it’s important to talk about that today. We should have enough time to tell those stories before the beginning of Advent, later this month! (Yes, that’s right! Advent! Later this month!)
Today I want to talk about this story we call, “The Parable of the Talents.” That’s a story we often use at Stewardship time. But this year I’m doing so using this very strange title called, “The Joy of the Middle Class.” And I hope you’ll see why I’ve called it that in just a little while. (Although I’m sure the wheels of your brains are turning right now!)
This is a great story! And I want to remind you that Jesus made up this story! He was the master story teller! And he made up all of the parables, using the people’s experiences and the things in their lives that made these stories come alive to them!
And he always seemed to add a twist to these stories. For example, it would have been a great story of compassion if it had been a Samaritan who was beat up by robbers and a good Jew who came along and helped him. But Jesus made it the other way around. Instead it was a “Good Samaritan” in that story. And that’s a title that, to them, would have seemed a contradiction in terms! (An oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, or Microsoft Works!)
This story for today has a little twist to it. Jesus could easily have made this a parable of two men, the rich man and the poor man. The master, on going away, could have entrusted one man with five talents and the other with one. And the story would have the same impact! A lot of stories have been written over the years about a rich man and a poor man.
But Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he made this a story about three men. He added a third man, a man to whom the master gave two talents. That made this more than just a story about the rich and the poor, about the “haves” and the “have nots.” Now it’s a story about those who are not poor, but who have less than some others. And the important thing about the middle man is that he too had joy when he brought his talents back to the master!
I think that’s such an important part of this story! Think about it. This man didn’t seem to be bothered that he was given less than the first. He didn’t have any sarcasm in his voice when he said, “Master, you delivered to me two talents and I have made two talents more.” He didn’t say, “Even though you didn’t give me as much as this other guy… look what I did!” He didn’t indicate in any way that he felt slighted that he had been given less. There was no envy on his part.
I think this guy could be seen as representing the middle class. And I firmly believe that the middle class is the true strength of this country. (That’s as political as I’m going to get today. So have no fear!) But, if you think about it, every country has its very rich and its very poor. There’s nothing unique about that. There are lots of countries with very small or even non-existent middle classes. It is the strong middle class in this country that is our strength!
And in all the political “fervor” in this country, what I hate to see the most is when candidates stir up tension – envy, anger, even hatred between the classes. We’re all in this together. And I mean that regardless of Covid! And we’re the middle class, most of us. And I think we need to be joyful as the middle class – like the second man in this story. We need to resist the other emotions – emotions like envy – that might rise up in us.
That’s the way people used to think. They used to think it was important to control our emotions. Because there are attitudes and emotions that rise in all of us, from time to time, and I believe we need to control those things! Last week I talked about those who say, “I can’t help how I think, or how I feel, or even what I say.” And I say we can. We need to resist bad feelings. We need to stop negative thoughts. “We need to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ,” as Paul said to the Corinthians.
How about “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Do you remember them? Can you name any of them? “Sloth” “Avarice” (That’s greed) “Gluttony” None of them are particularly violent things like “stealing,” or “cheating,” or “murder.” They’re more subtle, they’re more attitude and emotion based. And they’re more easy to succumb to, without thinking of it too much. And one of them is envy! And envy is an insidious little sin that can take hold of us when we least expect it.
As I said, this second guy in our story had no envy! Or at least he showed no envy! And I think that’s a huge part of this story. He was joyful in his stewardship of the master’s money, no matter the portion he was given! He either had no envy or he controlled that envy, and concentrated instead on the joy of the master! And I think he was the understated centerpiece of this story!
Now, I’m not saying there isn’t joy in God’s people in all classes. If you consider yourself among the wealthy, God bless you! (And the Stewardship committee would like to talk with you!) And by the way, in a lot of countries in this world, you would all be the wealthy! But I have known some wealthy people over the years who were very joyful believers. They were people who loved God, and who didn’t let their wealth get in the way of that! As I’ve said before, God isn’t all that impressed with your wealth. He’s more impressed with what you do with your wealth – or what your wealth does to you. And that’s true of all of us!
And as far as the least wealthy go, let me say that there are many who would be considered poor in this world who are content in their state, and joyful in their faith! I have heard time and time again from people who have been on mission trips to developing countries, who have come back saying the same thing. They’ve said how the people there have next to nothing, yet they are the most joyous people of faith they have ever seen, and they are hugely generous, even though they have very little to give! One even said, “They put our faith to shame!”
We have a lot to learn from them, too. And I want you to see that, in telling us about the third man in this story, Jesus was not telling us about a man who had less. He was telling us about a man who had a bad attitude about having less! And that also can be true of us, too. We can learn from all three of these men.
The Apostle Paul gave us some great words about all this. Listen to what he wrote in his letter to the Philippians. “Not that I complain of want.” he said. “For I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and how to abound. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
So, as we think about Stewardship. What are we thinking about? Are we thinking about what we have relative to others? Are we thinking about what we’re able to give relative to others? Are we thinking that maybe something isn’t right, that we were given less by the master? Is that little demon called “envy” trying to get the better of us? Or are we thinking about the joy of being God’s people? Are we glad to be part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, his body here on earth? And do we show that joy – do we choose that joy – by what we give and how we live?
Eternal God, we have been blessed with the riches of your kingdom and the incredible gift of your love and Grace. Help us to be people who live in the joy of your kingdom, who are glad to be part of your body, here on earth. Help us to be content and live in peace, no matter what the circumstances of this life. And help us to know better, Jesus Christ, the one who strengthens us in all things. And all of these things we pray in his name, Amen.