Sermons

In Which I Encourage You to Gamble

 

“In Which I Encourage You to Gamble”
Matthew 25:14-30
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
November 16, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

I want to know about the servant who invested all five talents but ended up losing two of them in a stock market crash. What happens to him? What does the master say to him?

I’m wondering this because I have made some pretty large investments of love in my life that did not pay me back. I have made investments of trust in my life that did not pay me back. I have made investments of kindness that did not pay me back. Not all my risks brought reward, not all my ventures have got me to the top of the class, to the head of the department, to the front of the line, to the experience of bliss, to the big fat bonus. Some of my investments fall flat, some of my dreams get thwarted, some of my courageous acts and courageous words turn out to be embarrassing.

This is the untold side of the parable, and it is the side where most of us spend most of our existence. Risking and investing and getting no return. Or not enough return. Or just enough return, but we had hoped for more, you see. Most of us are stuck somewhere between shovel and success. Not quite ready to dig a grave for our dreams, but not really clear on how to make our goods multiply.

The parable sets up two extremes like a fork in the road, offering two directions you might take. You can be the one who risks or the one who fears, the one who creates or the one who buries, and it is obvious which route the wholehearted and brave are supposed to choose. But choosing to risk doesn’t mean you’ll have ten talents to show for it right away. You may lose some money or some time, lose energy, lose hope, lose confidence along the way. The market for investors is never steady. The pay-off for engaging is never certain. You may indeed experience loss. You’ll gain some things back, while others are plain lost. For example, the guy who stole your time and money—he’s probably not bringing it back. But sowing seeds of hope today can sprout a hundredfold tomorrow. Some dreams die, but others rise up in their place. The stock market of living goes up, then down, down, then up.

We are often in limbo between investment and burial, licking our wounds from the latest loss, contemplating giving up, then mustering up the bravery to go at it again.

It’s an unfortunate read of this parable to think it is saying life is about profit, product, outcome, and success. I think it is a better read of the parable is to say life is about the living of it. The risking, the trying, the leaping out in faith—the journey itself is the thing of the value, not the end result.

The master commends the servant not for his profit, but for his faithfulness, his goodness, his trustworthiness. Arguably faithlessness sometimes looks like, feels like failure. Even when the revenue is down, faithfulness can still be intact. What this parable reveals is that it isn’t failure that keeps us from investing our lives in meaningful ways—it is the fear of failure that limits and restricts us.

The guy who buried his talent—why did he do it? He was scared of the master. He says, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” We know these callous, ruthless characteristics the servant names are not true about God, but as soon as the servant says it, the master becomes what he fears. Suddenly, the master morphs from a genial, giving man into a condemning, greedy one.

Does God himself morph to match our fears about him? Of course not. But, we will often interpret our experiences as if God were exactly what we believe him to be. If we think God punitive, we will see punishment in everything. If we think God merciful, we will see grace wherever we look. So what if this isn’t a parable about what God is like, but a parable about what we are like depending on who we believe God to be? The servants who believe their master is good and that they therefore have freedom and the capacity to use their ingenuity act accordingly. The servant who believes the master to be greedy and insatiable cowers accordingly.

Those of us who believe in a God who wants us to use what we’ve been given, even if we have a track record of failures and mishaps, know that at the end of it all, we’ll find the investment was worth it and God is infinitely pleased. Those of who believe in a frightfully vindictive God will do as much hiding and cautious avoiding of the real world as possible, paralyzed by fear-based interpretations of reality. Every misfortune will seem to be the hand of God, ready to strike, if that’s what we are looking for. But if hope is able to wriggle its way into our hiding places, if mercy makes its way to the heart, if our vision of God is able to transform and expand, then the shackles of fear fall off, and we begin to live our lives.

You know, as the pastor of a church, I really wish I could promise every person who walks in the door: “All your investments are safe here! Give of your time, your talents, your resources, and no one here will ever use you. You won’t get hurt; you won’t be disappointed. Invest 5 talents, and you will receive double.”

But as much as I want to, I can’t promise it. I do believe this is as good a place as any to start investing your life, but there is no guaranteed interest rate, not here, not anywhere. Any time you give of your life, give of your love, give of your trust, you make a gamble.

The church isn’t a place to earn rewards, but if it’s a loving church—a faltering but loving church—then the church is a place to have your fears purged and your life awakened.

Here is what I would say to those who have given and sometimes gained but sometimes lost: Keep investing. Keep risking. Keep putting yourself forward and your heart front and center. Keep taking off the armor and walking about unarmed. Keep opening your life. Not because you’re bound to succeed and risk is bound to pay off. But because you believe in a God who will be pleased if you do. Because you believe you will be most pleased with yourself if you do. Because investing might not pay off, but burying yourself will never pay off. Because your melancholy and your pessimism do not define you. There may be seasons where the despairing voices in your head can be real and unrelenting, but they are not the voices that guide you. You are steered by a deeper wisdom and you are haunted by a deeper hope. You have the whisper of resurrection countering all shouts of despair. You have the image of the risen Christ forever rising from your heart.

At the end of it all, your hope will come true. The God of mercy will be there to greet you with joy, and you will look down at your hands and to your amazement, you will be holding ten talents instead of five. How did this even happen? You will marvel at the multiplication, because in the daily grind of life on earth, you could not know what was accumulating unseen.

But the one who predicts a god harsh and exacting and demanding will never be satisfied. This one will never find mercy because he knows not how to recognize it. He will bury his life in the ground; she will tuck away her giftedness out of sight; he will hide from God and hide from people; she will dig a hole for the biggest and best of her dreams. This one will recoil in fright, will imagine a god terrifying and ruthless, a god who reaps what he did not sow and gathers what he did not plant, a god will steals from the poor to give to the rich. This fear-filled one will see himself as a victim of unfairness, irreparably handicapped by tragedy and incapable of change, incapable of courage. This one stays buried and small, and likewise his god stays small and punitive.

But you and I will not stay buried and we will not stay small, because our God is big and our God is love and our God values our faithfulness and our lives, even when our report card comes back so-so. We trust this, and therefore we live.

May we be a people who risk, even when the odds are against us. May we be a people who invest, even without guarantees. May we be a people who believe our God to be Mercy and Love. May we be a people of ever-resurrecting courage. Amen.

How to Use a Kerosene Lamp

 

“How to Use a Kerosene Lamp”
Matthew 25:1-13
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
November 9, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

How To Use a Kerosene Lamp:

Step 1: Be sure the wick fits snugly in the burner sleeve.
Step 2:Trim the top of the wick with sharp, heavy scissors so it is even with the top of the burner sleeve. (Snip off loose threads and cut off the corners of flat wicks evenly.)
Step 3: Fill the lamp font to no more than seven-eighths capacity. Read more →

The Great Tribulation, the Slaughtered Lamb, and the Communion of Saints

 

“The Great Tribulation, the Slaughtered Lamb, and the Communion of Saints”
Revelation 7:9-17
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
All Saints Day
November 2, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

I’ve been thinking about this heaven scene from Revelation and I hate to go old-school Baptist preacher on you, but I want to make three points about this passage. Not points, really. More like observations. I want to make observations, and it just so happens, there are three of them.

Observation #1: This lovely vision of John’s depicts the end of suffering. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more hunger, no more thirst. The sun and the scorching heat will no longer strike them; the Lamb will lead them to springs of the water of life. It is a beautiful picture of hope, but for who? Read more →

The Heart of Discontent

 

“The Heart of Discontent”
Philippians 4:11-13
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
October 26, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

As you know, I have some contemplative leanings. I enjoy silence, solitude, and stillness. I resonate with Centering Prayer, mindful breathing, and wordless communication with God. I’m a little envious of Quakers and Buddhists.

But despite all that, it is often not very serene in the inner life of Kyndall. When Paul says he has learned the secret of being content in all things, I feel as if I don’t have a freaking clue what he’s talking about. I’ve been given no such secrets and consequently it is a raging mess inside of me most of the time. I am a swirling, turbulent river rapids with desires and questions and tensions all tumbling over one another. My soul rides this little raft, trying to stay upright, trying not to drown. Read more →

Highs and Lows

 

“Highs and Lows”
Philippians 4:4-8
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
October 19, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

Recently a friend of mine said that suffering and joy exist on the same continuum, that to the extent you shut out your suffering, you also shut out your joy.

This is a lousy arrangement if you ask me. I’d rather not watch any more of my friends suffer. I’d rather not feel my pain, rather not see the human meanness and the senseless misfortune that exist. But for those who have suffered immensely and come out on the other side, you know how it is, that suffering and loss can deepen all human experience, that enduring the hurt inexplicably opens new wonders. Read more →

The Fear of Resurrection

 

“The Fear of Resurrection”
Philippians 3:2-16
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
October 12, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

“Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” Paul sounds so dramatic, but it is because he feels protective. He wants the church to stay intact, but there are meddlers afoot, out to convince the people that not everyone belongs. These meddlers are preaching that some folks don’t have it quite right, and in order to belong, they must first get circumcised—or they must eat kosher or they must quit smoking, or they must get their act together, or they must wear their hair in tighter buns. That is to say, these “evil workers,” as Paul calls them, want to draw lines in the sand. They want to say who gets to be in and who gets to be out, and if someone who is out wants to get in, here are the requirements. Read more →

No-shows and Nobodies

 

A Sermon for Covenant
“No-Shows and Nobodies”
Matthew 21:23-32
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
September 28, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

Likely you understand the disappointment of someone making a promise to you but not following through. A friend tells you they are going to do a thing, and then they do not do it, and it hurts. For all these years, all these centuries, the religious leaders had been saying they were preparing for the coming of the Messiah. But then he came, and they turned up their noses. Read more →

Open the Door to Mystery

 

“Open the Door to Mystery”
Hebrews 13:1-3
Covenant Baptist Church
September 21, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

I was fascinated by this concept as a child. If you ever watched Touched by an Angel, you may know what I mean when I say I used to wonder if a stranger seemed extra kind or somehow sparkly, could they be an angel in disguise?

As I’ve grown older, this passage has come to mean something more magical and more fantastic than the possibility of dining with literal angels. What I understand when I read this passage now is that by opening the door to a stranger, we are opening the door to God’s mystery. Hospitality is Christianity’s form of a gateway drug into the extraordinary. If you open your heart, if you open your home, if you open your life and your soul and your family to unexpected people and unexpected visits, you might just encounter the likeness of God. You never know who you will meet or how they will change you or what message from the heavens they may bear. This is why it is much safer (and far less magical) to keep your doors shut and your hearts closed and your eyes downcast or at least glued to the television. Don’t let anything new or unusual weasel its way in to your soul, or you just might get pulled into an adventure. Read more →

Set Mercy Loose

 

“Set Mercy Loose”
Matthew 18:15-35
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
September 14, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

Let’s begin with what is infamously known as one of the “church discipline” passages of Scripture—the “if anyone sins against you” instructions—and let’s begin our interpretation by recognizing that the first order of business is discerning what a “sin against you” is. The church universal has gotten this woefully wrong on many occasions. Perhaps like me you’ve heard (or even witnessed) horror stories where unwed pregnant women are made to “confess” their sins before the whole church, where couples are made to give detailed accounts of their marriage problems or teenagers forced to admit to their wild parties. That is, this passage has been used as a tool to shame and humiliate and control.

I have also heard horror stories on the other extreme—where sin, that is, evil—is not taken seriously enough. I’ve heard about abused women being sent by their church back into dangerous homes. I’ve heard about church leaders covering up for priests who have molested children. I’ve heard about meddlers being allowed to destroy families and churches by stirring up lies and rumors. I’ve heard about pastors who have allowed known sex-offenders to work with the church’s children. It happens all the time that the most insidious and addictive behaviors of those in power go unconfronted and unmonitored and unaddressed—allowed to breed in secrecy—while the mistakes or mere quirks and differences of those on the fringe of a group get frowned upon, spat upon, made a spectacle of, and ostracized. Read more →

The State of Our Union 2014

 

“The State of Our Union”
Philippians 1:3
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
September 7, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus

(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.) 

This is my “State of Our Union” sermon and I can tell you it is true that I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Covenant Baptist Church, you have been so special to me these last three years. I’m in a perpetual state of gratitude when I think of you because I feel so lucky to have found you or been found by you, whichever the case may be. That may sound a bit mushy, but I mean it. Read more →