Sermon for CATM – “Questions of All We’ve Been Given” – October 4, 2009
When you think about your life, when you consider who you are, how you live; when you really think about it, what do you think of your life?
Now there are some common mistakes people make when answering a question like this. The most common mistake we can make is the one that others make when they look in at our lives from the outside.
One of those mistakes, one area we can stumble on when considering the quality of our lives, is to think about material wealth.
I recall when Barbara and I were first married and I was working long hours and she was working long hours and we were living very simply, I recall never feeling “in want”.
We had very little and we worked very hard for it, but when I would look at Barb, when I would consider my friends and family, I could never honestly say that I felt poor.
And when we first had children and Barbara’s unpaid work was raising the kids, and I was working four jobs to keep our heads above water, I never felt, for a moment, that we lacked anything important.
We had each other, we had God, we had our children, we had this church community which has always meant the world to us.
Talking to lots of people over the years, I’ve found that, other than feeling that periodic stress when there’s too much month left at the end of the money, material wealth doesn’t have a lot to do with the actual quality of life.
Quality is best measured in relationships, in how meaningfully our lives touch the lives of others. And HOW we touch the lives of others depends directly on what we do with what we’ve been given by God.
Our parable today, the third in our current series on the Parables of Jesus, looks at that question.
Here now the Word of the Lord: Congregation reads Matthew 24:14-30
Matthew 25: 14 "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.
As Jesus begins this parable, He may be alluding to or talking about his own departure, His own journey to glory via the cross.
15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
It’s interesting that Jesus talks so much about money in his parables. He really does. If money matters much less than relationships, why do you think Jesus uses money in His parables? [Money is very practical; it’s not philosophical so as to be hard to understand. Our attitude toward money reveals much about us: Luke 12:34: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.]
Jesus is talking here in this parable about different amounts of money, rather than ‘talents’ as we think of them. One talent, the largest unit of accounting in ancient Greek currency, is worth about what a day-labourer might make in 20 years.
One talent is a lot of money. Two talents is a lot of money. Five talents is a lot of money. In any case, the master entrusted what he owned to his workers, his servants, in a way that he knew they could handle.
Each was given something valuable, and none of them was given obvious instructions about what they were to do with the money. The master then went away.
16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Immediately two of the men grasped that they had been given the money for a reason. They had not been directed to bank the money or invest the money, but they understood by the nature of the gift that they had been given an opportunity to increase it.
The master/owner respected each of them and trusted they would know what to do with what they had been given.
Let me ask you this:
Do you believe that what you have, you’ve received from God? Do you understand that God owns everything on the planet and has given us the health and strength and intelligence to care for or steward what He’s given us?
Do you cleave to what you have, insisting that it is yours and yours alone? Or are you generous and open-handed toward others with your time, your energy and, yes, your money?
And do you see the potential in what you’ve been given? Do you have the gift of gab, as an impressive man with addiction problems that I met this week had?
Do you use it to build relationships and encourage people, to point people in some manner to what matters the most? Do you have a stable home life, whether you have a spouse and a family or you’re on your own?
Do you use that stability as a foundation for reaching out to those whose lives are teetering? Do you know God and have a strong relationship with Him? Do you use that enormous blessing to lead others to the fountain of life that is in Jesus?
Wrapped up in what you’ve been given by God is the opportunity that is before you.
Back to our three fellows. So two of these guys put the money to work (this probably means they invested in somehow) and they each received 100% on their investment. They each had a lot to lose, frankly, if their investments went south, but they each took the necessary risk and each was rewarded.
What did the third fellow do? [Dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money].
19 "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ’Master,’ he said, ’you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 "His master replied, ’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 "The man with the two talents also came. ’Master,’ he said, ’you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 "His master replied, ’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
So these fellows, after quite some time, face their master, who comes back in part to settle his account. The master has actually risked something, he’s given his money to those who work for him, who he’s trusted appropriately with his possession.
He’s entrusted something that truly matters to them. And He didn’t give the one who was able to handle more, the lesser amount.
He also didn’t give the one who could handle less, too much for him to handle. He gave each what he knew to be their capacity and within their ability.
Now let’s look for a moment at the attitude of all of the men involved here. It could just as well have been about four women, but here we have four men.
What is the tone or attitude of the first two men? [they are enthusiastic about showing their master what they have done. They are pleased that they have done well for the master.]
How does the master respond to their news? He is pleased. They have done well. They have proven that they could do it.
The master, it seems, knew that they could do it. Otherwise he most likely wouldn’t have trusted them in the first place and would have found others more trustworthy.
The master is pleased and praises the men. They have done well. He calls them good and faithful servants. Notice here that it’s the final product that matters to the master; there may have been many pitfalls, recessions, even errors in judgment and a learning curve for each of the men, but they kept going and in the end, the succeeded.
The most important thing is that they persisted. That’s what mattered.
And the master didn’t say to the one who had been given two talents and earned another two talents: “You could have done better…look at Joe over here who earned five talents.
The master knew what they had to work with and was fair, just and reasonable in his expectations. Then the master says: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things”.
That is a critical Kingdom principle. It is how a person ends up with lots of responsibility. They have been tested over and over again, and though never perfect, they have shown that they can handle responsibilities given.
When the need arises, those who have done well with what they’ve done so far are the ones who will be trusted with next steps. Here’s a sobering thought: all of life is a test.
At work, bosses are observing who is doing well and really showing interest and promise. Among friends, people are observing: “Who among my friends really cares for me?” At church it’s observed who are the really committed ones, who demonstrates through their actions that they really care about this community? [Pause]
Now what, really, have the first two men done? [I’m asking]. They have been faithful. It’s not that they’ve been wildly successful.
Even if they had not done so well, they would have received high marks for trying.
Faithfulness is what God can use to further His purposes; faithfulness in fulfilling first our personal objectives for growth, and then, after a time, faithfulness in fulfilling God’s broader Kingdom purposes.
Notice, it’s not about perfection. It’s not about ‘always getting it right’. It’s not about never making mistakes. It’s not even about ‘not screwing up big-time, ever’. It’s about being faithful. And about being trusted.
Elsewhere Jesus says: Luke 16:10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much”.
Now we come to the last man.
What reasons does the third man give for doing nothing with what he had been given? [Judged the master as a hard man, an unjust man to be feared; he is motivated and immobilized by fear].
Now, by now we understand that this parable is not really about a master and his three servants. It is about God and you and me. The first two men were entrusted, as you and I are entrusted, with important things.
When we’re in right relationship with God, we will, quite naturally, be led by the Spirit of God to put what we have been given to good use.
We will stumble and err along the way, but in the end we will, by God’s grace, be found faithful with what he has given us.
And we will discover to our delight the reward intended for us all along by God.
Now the third man…he does not sound like or seem like he knows God at all. He seems like he’s managed to be clueless as to the nature of God.
He may be like those who have questions about God, questions about evil and the unfairness of life, about suffering and pain.
It is, of course, a good thing to have questions. But it is not good to forever let the answers provided by God’s Word and by those who defend it go answered, to reject good answers to hard questions.
If we keep rejecting answers given about, for example, human failure to exercise free will properly as the primary reason for evil in the world, we will end up, unavoidably with a faith that never matures, or with no confidence in God at all.
We will not understand who is responsible for what, and in our ignorance we will either blame God, or we will doubt He exists or that He is good. Either way, we will not know God. We will not be in relationship with God.
If we have thoughts of God at all, they will be like this third man’s thoughts: ‘God is hard, He is unfair, He is unjust’. Instead of love, fear will rule our thinking about God, and we will make no productive use of what He has given us.
We will think we are doing well by burying the gift of life in the sand.
The third man was given something. Perhaps we can equate what he was given to a mustard seed of faith, to borrow from another of Jesus’ sayings.
He was given something he could handle which would have, if properly and faithfully exercised, blossomed into something great. The potential was all there.
The master was the same master that the other two men had. The money he received to invest was just as good as the money the others received.
There is no getting away from the fact that this parable is one of the most difficult parables of Jesus, and it should leave us a bit unsettled, because each of us needs to ask ourselves, what am I doing with the things I’ve been entrusted with by God?
Our answer to that question, asked along the way to our final destination, can help us get back on the right road if we have taken a detour, if we are stuck at some point in our discipleship, if we are not really living as we know we ought to be living.
Friends, you and I serve the One who has reached out to us with compassion and love, offering us a gift that no one else could ever offer. He has offered, and is offering, to make all things new.
The new birth that comes from repenting of our sins and believing that Jesus died for our sins is a gift that God renews in us each day.
Often times I realize that I’ve been wasting my gifts, compared to what I could be doing with them, and how I could be better listening to God. Perhaps you feel that way as well sometimes.
In the end, God calls you and me toward greater faithfulness in just how it is we love Him and serve Him.
He wants, more than anything, to be able to say to each one here: “Well done good and faithful servants…come and share your Master’s happiness”. So it’s important to take God and His word seriously.
It’s important to receive the free gift of salvation through repentance and trusting in Christ, AND it’s important to understand that all that we have is given to us by God for the purpose of being a blessing through us to others. What we do right now really matters. And what happens on the final day matters.
In what state will He find you on that final day? Where will you be, on that final day? When He asks: “So, what have you done with what you’ve been given?” Where will he find you?
Will you quiver with fear, having buried the gifts He has given you for the blessing of the nations, or will you be found in Him, having invested your gift?
Will you stubbornly refuse to enthusiastically throw yourself into God’s purpose for your life, thereby inviting accusation and the resulting fear, or will you commit your whole existence, every part of it, to God, acting upon His promises to you found in His Word.
That is the question that Jesus asks each one of us today through this parable.
Play: Shadowfeet video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4KiGN1j1No&feature=fvw