Sunday, November 13, 2011

Measuring Out Your Life with Coffee Spoons

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. Words from one of T.S. Elliot’s poems that have always stuck with me. I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. Would that describe you? Do you measure out your life with coffee spoons?

This could certainly be said of one of the characters in a parable that Jesus told about a man who was going on a journey and entrusted some of his wealth to his slaves while he was away. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to the another one.

Now a talent is a unit of money equal to fifteen years of an average laborer’s pay, or about half a million dollars. So don’t feel too sorry for the slave who only got one talent. It was still a lot of money!

We learn that there was a good reason why the master didn’t give the third slave as much as the other two. Jesus says they each received according to their ability. No doubt, the master knew his slaves pretty well, because they didn’t let him down. The first two were able to present the money to their master when he returned with interest. In fact, they doubled the money that had been entrusted to them. But the third slave went and dug a hole in the ground and hid his one talent. So when the master returned, the third slave handed him back the one talent, just as he had received it.

Why? What excuse did he offer his master? Well, it seems that he thought he was doing the right thing in burying his one talent. Because, from his perspective, that was the safest thing to do. He had a different way of seeing the master than the other two slaves. He saw him as a harsh master and he was afraid. Therefore, he wasn’t about to take any chances. He was very careful. He played it safe.

So this is a story about people who are entrusted with great wealth. And there is a direct correlation between the way they handle that wealth and the way they perceive the one who has entrusted it to them. For the one who felt the master was someone to be feared, any kind of risk was out of the question.

And so it is for God’s people as well. You can tell a lot about the perception people have of God from the way they live their lives. Particularly the way they spend the gifts God has entrusted to them.

Christians are notorious for saying they believe in a God of love, but living as if they were scared to death of him. Afraid to take any risks for fear that they may mess up and God won’t be happy with them. They’re wasting the gifts they have been entrusted with. Even the very gift of life itself.

Psychologists will tell you that the healthiest people are willing to take risks in their lives. People suffering from anxiety aren’t able to take any risks. Their fear paralyzes them. But this isn’t just a psychological truth. It’s a spiritual truth as well.

It’s the difference between living large and surviving small. Surviving small is not a faithful response to our God of extravagant love. That’s responding to God out of fear. You’re convinced that God is just waiting to zap you when you mess up, and you’re afraid to take any chances. The main problem with responding to a God of fear is that this isn’t who God is. And you’re missing out on a relationship with the true God, a God of love. Playing it safe is never a faithful response to a God of love.

God’s love frees us from fear. It empowers us to act boldly for the sake of love. And it catches us when we fall. That’s what it means to live by faith. It’s to trust in God’s love enough to step out into the unknown without allowing fear to hold us back.

There’s more to life than avoiding mistakes. That’s not the life God calls his people to. God calls us to put it all out there, to risk our lives in order to find our lives, our true selves, the people God created us to be. That’s why Luther said, “If you must sin, sin boldly.” What pleases God is not that we live perfect little lives and never do anything wrong. What pleases God is that we risk it all for the sake of loving God and others.

We’re living in a fearful world right now, aren’t we? It’s scary. People we assumed were perfectly secure in their jobs have become unemployed. All around us houses are being foreclosed on, businesses are closing, building projects have been abandoned. We know that no one is immune. And we don’t know where it’s heading. Will it get better? Will it get worse? Will it get worse before it gets better? We can’t count on the things we once did. And so, we live by fear. Fear drives our decisions. And we survive small.

As people of faith, that’s not the way God calls us to live. We’re called to live large. That doesn’t mean that we’re reckless with the gifts God has given us. As God’s stewards, we responsibly care for the gifts that have been entrusted to us by God: our money, our abilities, our time. But good stewardship isn’t based on fear. God hasn’t entrusted us with gifts so that we can bury them in the ground.

Look at your own life. Are you out there living large or just surviving small? Is life flowing through you and spilling out onto the world around you? Or are you carefully measuring out your life with coffee spoons?