Sermon: Hide It Under a Bushel? No!

November 19, 2017
Matthew 25:14-30

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!
Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!
Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

That’s one of my favorite verses of “This Little Light of Mine,” which we’ll sing at the end of the service. It’s based on one of Jesus’ quick analogies, that nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on a lampstand so that it illuminates the house.

Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine!

That story is found in the fifth chapter of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, which for all of its challenges and demands is a more comfortable part of Matthew’s gospel. But now we’re in chapter 25, after Jesus has argued with his theological and political foes in the Temple, and has turned to warning his disciples of what may come next. This is the judgmental part of Matthew.

As a result, nearly all the contemporary commentators I read this week have a lot of trouble with this story. So did people at our Bible studies. It’s hard to avoid the truth that the master in this story is more than a little harsh. He goes away and leaves his slaves in charge – an appointment they can’t refuse – and on his return demands an accounting. The first two have produced 100% returns on the investment. Nearly anyone with experience in finance will tell you that there are only two ways to get that kind of return. The first is to let the investment work for a long time, and that might be what’s happened in this story. The length of the master’s absence isn’t clear.

The second is that the first two servants got those returns through fraud or some other criminal activity. In modern financial law enforcement, routinely high returns, above the market average, draws the attention of regulators. At least it should.

So either Jesus told a story about con artists, or this story is in the realm of financial fantasy. I’m inclined to think that it’s the latter.

Like the story of the sower, where the seeds produced impossible crop yields, part of Jesus’ point was that the treasures of God grow. They’re supposed to grow, and to grow beyond expectation or imagination.

What they’re not supposed to do is rest unused.

That’s the difference between the first two servants and the third. The first two accepted their responsibility and labored at it. Jesus didn’t tell us what they did, but their efforts are clear and the results apparent. Great things happened.

The third servant, however, hid the treasure away. That preserved it, yes: but it was supposed to grow.

You might think that there was a major difference in how much each servant received. It’s true, there was: but it was a difference in fortunes, not in small change. A talent in the first century was a measure of weight, and in this case, it was weighing money. A lot of money. A talent of money was about fifteen years pay for a laborer. So the third servant, by a modern reckoning, had investment capital of about half a million dollars.

He probably could have done something with that.

That’s Jesus’ other point, I think. Christians are supposed to be active with the resources God has assigned us. And Christians are assigned the stewardship of incredibly valuable gifts. The spiritual force within each one of us, given by the Holy Spirit, is indescribably precious. And it does no good to anyone, including ourselves, if we hide it away.

Hide it under a bushel? No!

Better to let it shine.

Karoline Lewis writes: “At the end of the day, judgment in this parable means an acute awareness of God. An awareness of God’s presence. An awareness of God’s promise to God’s creation. An awareness of God’s justice. An awareness of God’s insistence that a commitment to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world really, really matters. It means believing that God meant it when God called you.”

Let me repeat that:

“It means believing that God meant it when God called you.”

Hide it under a bushel? No!

Better to let it shine.

I’m going to end this sermon with a song: not one I’ve written, but one by Bob Franke. He wrote it in honor of people with disabilities. I think you’ll also hear in it Jesus’ summons to bring the light out from under the bushel, and to let it shine.

At this point, Pastor Eric sang “What You Do With What You’ve Got.” Which is actually by Si Kahn, and Pastor Eric is terribly embarrassed that he gets those two brilliant songwriters mixed up. Here’s a recording of Si Kahn singing his own song:


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

This recording does not include Pastor Eric’s performance of “What You Do With What You’ve Got,” as that requires a particular permission to record and distribute that we do not have.

Image of Martin Luther as reformer by Hans Stiegler – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on November 19, 2017

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