Just for the moment, let us believe that in 2016, Elizabeth Warren won her first term as president of the United States . And then let us assume that she then set about to fill positions for her cabinet and also handed out appointments for the various jobs in government that the president has the power to give. After all, that is how presidents have always rewarded their supporters.

So you go up to Elizabeth and request a government appointment. And when she asks why you should have the appointment, you tell her because you supported her. And so Warren asks you if you managed a campaign office, and you say no. You didn’t have the time. You had to work for a living. So she asks you if you knocked on doors or manned a phone bank, and you say no. You wanted to, but you had some other things you had to get done.

So then she asks if you even had a yard sign and you say you would have had one, but you didn’t want to drive all the way down town to the campaign headquarters to get one. So then she asks if you even voted for her, and you say that you would have liked to have voted for her, but you forgot to get your registration in on time. But you still wanted her to win. That should count for something. So Elizabeth says, “Let me get this straight. You didn’t work for me. You didn’t even vote for me, and I’m supposed to give you a cushy government job as a reward. For what? Not wanting me to lose?”

That sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? We all want good things to happen to us, but we often don’t want to do the work necessary to make those good things happen. I always wanted to make my living by making music. And so far, it hasn’t happened yet. And at the age of 59, it doesn’t seem very likely that it will. But then, have I gone knocking on the doors of any agents? No. Have I sent out CDs or tapes to any agents? No. Have I even walked into any clubs with my guitar and asked the owner to give me a listen and give me a chance? Well, yes. Once. And I got the gig for one Sunday afternoon. But there was hardly anybody in the audience except a few customers and some friends. But then, did I go out and distribute fliers? No. Get the idea? If I expect to be a working musician, I have to do something to make that happen. And I didn’t, so I’m not. But that’s okay. I realize now that I wouldn’t have wanted that life anyway.

About two thousand years ago, a guy named Jesus walked around a fairly obscure little piece of earth called Palestine. He taught something revolutionary. He called upon people to change their way of thinking. He told them that God wasn’t some magical cop in the sky who watches everything we do in order to reward us or punish us. He taught that God was a loving creator, the source of all love, and that the power to make the world a beautiful place in which to live resided in our own hearts. He taught that we were the hands of God on earth. He taught that we praise and worship God in our own loving kindness to one another. He taught that the path to God was not the performance of meaningless rituals and adherence to antiquated laws, but in every act of love and kindness we do.

He taught us that what connects us to God, what gives us peace, is love for our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? According to the Greek translation, it is the person next to us. This is the path to God. This is the path to enlightenment. There is nothing else to understand. There is no other mysterious secret of life. There is only love.

But it’s hard to live that way. Following rules and performing rituals, in all their complexity, is really a lot easier. And so even though Jesus taught us to love, many contemporary Christians are as committed to ritual and regulations as were the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ time. Evangelicals will tell you that true happiness comes from confessing Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, and in being baptized. But happiness doesn’t come from simply uttering those magic words. Happiness comes, Jesus taught, from faith in the creator-father-mother-divine spirit. And faith requires action. Faith is a verb. You show yourself to be a follower of Christ by doing what he taught, and what he taught was love. Here are the words that Matthew ascribes to Jesus.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.

See, I have made five more.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, “Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plantand gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”

When I first read this parable, I thought it very unfair. I mean, that poor third servant didn’t lose any of the master’s money. He took good care of it. And now he was being punished. I really thought of the master in this story as a royal son of a bitch. But I have to confess now that I didn’t really understand what Jesus was trying to teach us about life and living. I wasn’t putting the story into a context with everything else Jesus had to say. Jesus taught us that God had given us this life and all that gives us life. We repay God, render unto God the things that are God’s, when we love, nurture, and care for one another.
When we take this gift of life, and do nothing but survive, go about our day feeding and taking care of ourselves, we are doing nothing with that gift. This wonderful life we have was meant to be shared. We have been bestowed with amazing gifts. All of you have fantastic talents. You can write. You can make music. You can create beautiful works of art. But, just as important, you can give of yourselves. You can bring hope into someone’s life. You can reach out to someone in pain and give them comfort. You have the power to give someone a wonderful day, sometimes by doing nothing more than giving a smile of encouragement. When we take our gifts and make the world a little better place, we are repaying God with interest. We are taking the gifts we have been given and making them grow in others. We are putting our faith in action.

For if there is no God, then there is no reason to think of anybody but ourselves. If there is no greater reason for living other than survival, then we are fools to worry about anybody else, except those people who help us survive. When we reach out to the others in our tribe, those who can do nothing for us, we put our faith in action. And that is one of those elusive proofs of the existence of the divine spirit, because within us is that spirit of wanting to reach out and comfort others. We look at those kids in the “just send $20 a month” commercials and want to help them, even if we don’t. That “wanting to help” is the divine spirit within reaching out.

Now this part of Matthew was written when the early church was suffering a lot of persecution. And those people needed to hear that their suffering would not be for nothing. They needed to know that God saw what they were going through and would reward them for their faithfulness. Moreover, the church needed to tell them that it wasn’t enough to simply say that you believed in the teachings of Jesus. You had to follow them also. And that meant that you could not be a closet Christian, and avoid persecution.

A missionary in Afghanistan was bringing food and medicine to people there who were suffering. She never tried to convert anybody, but the Taliban had her executed anyway. They said her actions were converting people to Christianity. She was not a closet Christian. She was following the teachings of Christ, and she suffered for her loving kindness. She took the gifts God gave her and put them to work. She did render unto God the things that were God’s. And if heaven is a place, I feel certain she is there, not because she said she believed in Jesus, but because she was bringing love to people who sorely needed it.

We have all been given gifts of one kind or another. Some folks have the gift of just being able to sit and listen to someone else’s problems. That gift is more important and valuable than you might imagine. We can take those gifts and do nothing with them, keeping them to ourselves, burying them in the ground, returning them to the master unused. Or we can put them to work, making this sorry planet a better place to live. The choice is ours. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you say; it matters what you do. What you do shows what you believe whether you want to say you believe it or not. This may or may not be a good time for investing in business. But it’s always a good time to invest in love.