3 West 65th St | New York, NY 10023 | 212.877.6815

“Forget about the Shovel and Boiler and Do Ministry Instead!”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Forget about the Shovel and Boiler and Do Ministry Instead!”
Matthew 25: 14-30
November 19, 2017 (24th Sunday after Pentecost)

“By the way, the parable of the talents is not Jesus’ hottest investment strategy! He is not offering advice on whether you should invest conservatively or aggressively in volatile emerging international markets.

Jesus’ parable is advice on how to live the Christian life with gusto.

As you know, a property owner entrusted three of his servants with large sums of money before going on a trip. He gave one five talents, another two, and the third one talent.

The servant with the five talents traded aggressively with what was entrusted to him and doubled his money. The second did likewise and also doubled up. The third servant, terrified what his master might do if he lost the money, took a shovel and buried his talent in the ground.

When the master returned, he poured lavish praise on the two who had risked substantially but was extremely harsh on the scaredy cat.

As I said, this parable is not Jesus’ investment strategy offering guidance for our congregation to see how much money we can amass in Chase Bank. Rather, Jesus is commending courageousness and extravagance and lambasting timidity and miserliness. He urges us to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel.

Why do I say this? Jesus told his parable only days before he ended up hanging on a cross. Jesus lost everything because he lived life to the fullest. His life was one of courageous and extravagant love. All that he could do as he breathed his last was to trust that God would provide—he didn’t have a penny to his name!

Christian congregations can be funny birds. We don’t always trust that God will provide so we hedge our bets, doing everything we can to control our destinies. Over my forty years of ministry, the biggest congregational fights I have been involved in have had to do with money. Some congregations limp along, fearful over how much money—or how little—they have in the bank, refusing to risk for the Gospel’s sake. One of my dear friends referred to such ministries as “no hits, no runs, no errors.” They are the kind of churches, by the way, that measure their ministries by how large their endowments are. Such places remind me of the bumper sticker that reads, “Whoever has the most toys when she dies wins.” Rich perhaps, but dead and gone nonetheless.

Exciting ministry never happens when we take the shovel and bury our treasure in the ground. In fact, you just heard Jesus say to the one afraid of taking a risk that he would be cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth—so much for timidity and miserliness!

Do you think Jesus who said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” gives a hoot about how much money we have in the bank? Give me a break!

I have been fortunate to serve five very different congregations during my forty years of ministry. I have served black and white and Hispanic congregations, gay and straight, deep inner-city and affluent suburbs, places teeming with Republicans and Democrats. I served a church with a yearly budget totaling $37,000 and one with an endowment of $2.5 million. My experience has been that the vitality of ministry has little to do with how much money a church has in the bank and everything to do with whether the people of God are willing to take risks for the Gospel’s sake. I have seen wealthy churches obsess over whether they would have enough to fix a leaky roof. On the other hand, I served one congregation that dreamed of calling a pastor from El Salvador to begin ministry with the growing Hispanic community but was uncertain whether we would have enough money; then, one Christmas Eve, I walked into my office and found a $25,000 check on my chair with a note that simply said, “Let’s quit talking and let this ministry begin immediately!” Courage and extravagance for the sake of the gospel!

The question for us here at Holy Trinity is what we plan to do with the considerable talents God has entrusted to us. Will we risk them for the Gospel’s sake or will we take a shovel and bury them in the ground, fearful that the roof might leak, the boiler explode, or the elevator go on the blink? I don’t think I am too bold to suggest that fourteen people are joining our congregation in the next few weeks, not because of our roof, elevator, and boiler, but because they detect courage and extravagance rather than miserliness and fear!

At our church council meeting on Tuesday evening, we voted to bring the Saturday luncheon ministry called HUG back under our congregation’s wings. For nearly forty years now, this has been a separate 501c3 non-profit outreach; from now on this program for senior citizens and homeless folks will be run solely by and funded by The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity. On behalf of the council, I invite you to consider making a gift to this ministry. $200 will provide meals for forty people on Saturday afternoon; $10,000 will fund the program for an entire year and ensure its future with no worries and even allow us to dream bigger. Why not give a Christmas gift to a friend whom you have no idea what to give and say on the Christmas card, “40 people will be served lunch in your honor…Merry Christmas.” And if you can’t make a financial gift, why not volunteer?

This, my dear friends, is how ministry here at Holy Trinity is going to thrive. We are going to risk what God has given us for the sake of this suffering world.

Vibrant churches never reach for the shovel to bury the treasures God has entrusted to them. Rather, they do ministry with risk and courage and extravagance. May excitement prevail at 65th and Central Park West, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.