Vicar David Sivecz
Matthew 25:14-30 “Where Do You See God? - Part 2”
Last week we began a mini-sermon series titled “Where Do You See God?” Over these three weeks, we are discovering where we see God working as we read through Matthew twenty-five. These readings will carry us into the season of Advent. Then it’s followed by Christmas. Although the radio stations are playing Christmas music and the television stations are showing Christmas commercials we as the church are not there.
However, before we arrive at Advent, we are coming to the end of our church calendar. Each of these passages we receive during these weeks is a parable, or story, from Jesus. Within each of these parables Jesus share with us images about Parousia. Last week you did an excellent job pronouncing it. So let’s try it again. We’ll take it one syllable at a time - “Pair” “Rue” “See-ah.” The Parousia is a big church word that in Greek means the “second coming of Jesus Christ.”
So, we’re not only getting a vocabulary lesson, but we’re also seeing that as we wait for Jesus’ ultimate return, he is acting right here right now. We can see that Jesus is acting as we are waiting together. We can see God at work in the ministries at Zion, in our relationships, in our homes, and in our daily lives. We can see God working anywhere and everywhere to show us God’s grace or God’s unconditional love and favor.
The whole point is for us to know how far God is willing to go to show us how much God loves us. God loves us so much that God’s doing everything to end our pain and suffering, rid our lives of fear and anxiety, and make death and sin cease to exist. So, it’s through worship we give praise and thanksgiving to God as well as to be empowered to go and live out this great love.
But, how often do we leave here and don’t live out God’s grace? How often do we revert to our old ways? How often do we fail to see where God is working? I’m not trying to be accusatory. I will confess that I also fail to see God working at times. Maybe we fail to see where God is working because of how we perceive the world around us. We fail to see because of how we recognize or understand what’s happening.
Each of us has different perceptions of others, which comes from our prior experiences or knowledge. So, what we might perceive might not be what’s present. What we perceive to be there might not be the only thing that’s happening. Just because we perceive an event or action in a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s true.
All of this might be a bit confusing. But to help I have four pictures, I want to show you. Maybe some of you have seen these pictures before. If you have, look at them again. (The first picture was shown). When we look at the first picture what do we see? Do we see a rabbit or duck? Based on our perception we might see one or the other. How many of us can see both?
Let’s try the next picture. (The second picture was shown). What do you see? Do you see a young woman or an old woman? Again, based on our perception we might see one or the other. If you can, try to see both?
Let’s try another picture. (The third picture was shown). I had difficulty with this one. Do you see an old man or a young man? If you only see an old man the old man’s nose is the young man chin. Are you able to see it now?
I have one more picture. This one is a little different (The fourth and final picture was shown). What do you see? With this one, we need to stare at the center of the image for at least thirty seconds. Then look at a blank white wall or a piece of paper. Again what do you see? Hopefully, when we blink, we can see the face of Jesus.
These pictures are all optical illusions. They are pictures that challenge what we perceive. More often than not our perceptions play a role in how we act. What we perceive dictates what we will do. The way the three servants in our Gospel perceived the landowner determined what they did.
In our second parable, during these three weeks, was about a man who went on a journey. He summoned his slaves and gave them property. We don’t know anything about the landowner at this point. Matthew didn’t share whether this landowner was generous or harsh. All that we know is that the landowner gave each of the servants a certain number of talents.
In the Scriptures, a “talent” isn’t the same definition as we have today. We think of a talent as one’s natural ability such as drawing, playing music, or writing. A talent during those times was worth more than fifteen years’ wages of a laborer. So, when the man gave each of them a certain number of talents, it’s as though he’s investing his money with the servants.
As we heard, when the servants took their own portions they went away, and each did what he perceived to be correct. The first and second servants made more talents or money for the master. As a result, the master placed them in charge of more, and they got to enter into the joy of the master. That third servant selected a different route. He took what the master gave him and buried it.
When he went back to the master, he explained his rationale. He said, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
The servant acted out his perception that the master was a harsh man. On the other hand, the other servants seemed to act out of the perception that the master was generous. Could both be true? Could this be true about how we see God? Could this be true about where we see God?
Allow me to be more clear. First, what I am saying is that God does NOT act according to how we perceive God. God is beyond the realm of what we see. That’s why there’s always more places to look for God working. Second, could the way we perceive God affect how we respond? Could our perceptions impact where we see God in our society, in our communities, and in our homes.
Do we primarily perceive, or see God, as an enforcer of rules? As a result, we get caught up in the legalism of religion. Do we see God as stern and prone to punishment? Then do we see that everything that's wrong in our lives must be a punishment from God? Do we see God as erratic and judgmental? Then do we experience an unsympathetic God who doesn’t satisfy our expectations and desires? If so, then maybe we will continue to experience that suffering as described at the end of this parable.
Or instead, do we see God through the Crucified and Risen Christ? Do we perceive God as a God of grace, mercy, and acceptance? If so, then we will be surprised and uplifted by seeing all of the moments of grace all around us. We get to experience the abundant joy of dwelling with God’s presence.
But, these perceptions not only play a significant role in how we view God but they also impact how we view others. When we perceive God to be a God of love, we will find it far easier to see God’s love in our own lives. Thus, it will be easier to share that love with others. We are more willing to take risks with what God has given us.
Then it won't be as scary to explore and experiment with new, creative, and innovative ideas. If we are scared, then we would be more willing to face that fear head-on. Or better yet, we might be more empathetic towards others. We will try to look at the world from their perception. Then we could see how God might work through those people. We could see God working through others that we wouldn’t expect.
George C. Wallace was someone most people wouldn't have expected to work through. Many of us have probably heard or read what he said at his inauguration as Governor of Alabama in 1963. Wallace infamously proclaimed, "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
During that same year, Wallace blocked the registrar's office door at the University of Alabama as an attempt to halt National Guardsmen who were there to help enroll the university's first two black students. Wallace was so adamant about segregation that he ran, unsuccessfully, for U.S. President in 1964, '68, '72, and ’76. Records show that in 1968 election he received ten million votes.
But in May 1972 while campaigning in Laurel, Maryland someone attempted to assassinate him. Although he didn't die, the bullet did paralyze him. From then on he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Years later, in 1983, Wallace’s perception changed when he genuinely converted to Christianity. At the same time sincerely repented of his earlier views on race matters. In his last term as governor of Alabama, he appointed black officials to state offices. He even reached out to Arthur Bremer, the man who had tried to assassinate him in 1972.
Wallace once wrote to Bremer in prison, telling him three words he would never have said during his run for president. He told Bremer, "I love you.” Then on September 13, 1998, George Wallace died at age 79.
At the time of his death, then Alabama Governor Fob James, Jr., said, "Governor Wallace was prepared to do battle where he thought it necessary at the time and where he thought it was right, and then he had the courage to change and say, 'There were times I was wrong.’”
The day before Wallace’s funeral there were an estimated 25,000 mourners. Furthermore, there were almost as many blacks as whites who walked reverently past his coffin in the Alabama capitol building. That’s the most remarkable part of George Wallace's life. It was how his perception changed. In his early days, he had a nasty reputation for standing for some wrong ideas. But, by the time of his death, even his enemies had to admit George Wallace was willing to take the risk of change.
So, where do we see God working as we wait for Christ's ultimate return? Where do we see God working to bring wholeness and restoration to a broken world? Where do we see God working in our daily lives? Is it through a simple conversation with our child? Is it in making friends outside of our social circles? Is it in changing our perceptions?
What if our perceptions need to be changed in order to see where else God is working? What if God is working in the places that we don’t perceive God to be? If all we see in this world is chaos, brokenness, and pain, then we should change our perceptions. As we wait with one another for Christ’s ultimate return, for the Parousia, we should change our perceptions.
We should change our perceptions to see that God is acting. We should change our perceptions to see that God is using those times to transform, support and encourage one another. We should change our perceptions to bring communities together. We should change our perceptions so we can take risks in carrying out God’s great love.
One of my favorite phrases about risk comes from Martin Luther. He said, “If we are going to sin then sin boldly!” In other words, what Luther was saying was we should take risks to live out the Gospel of God’s grace even if it’s in the wrong way. If it’s wrong we then "pray boldly" to receive God's grace even more profoundly.
So, don’t be mistaken. Changing our perceptions isn’t the same as the power of positive thinking. It is not looking at the bright side of situations. This is acknowledging what is present but also understanding this isn’t the end. There is more to come. What will be coming is the joy we get to enter into being with the Christ Jesus.