Sermon for November 15

First Reading       Judges 4:1-7

Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Gospel Reading Matthew 25:14-30

Sermon: “Richly Blessed by God – Now What?”

This intriguing parable has inspired many stewardship sermons, but today, I’d like to offer you a different way of looking at this familiar story. Like all parables, it tends to resist simplistic interpretation. Unlike some parables, this one seems to invite us in to assign roles to the various characters. It describes a wealthy man going on an extended absence and before he goes, entrusting his enormous wealth to three servants in proportion to the ability of each. Now a talent represents a large amount of money – nearly 20 years of the standard daily wage of the time. In terms of current measures, even the less trusted servant was given a trust of a quarter million dollars! Two of these servants go and do as the master has instructed, they put the resources to work and by the time the master returns, each has doubled his share. The one given 5 bags (or talents) has earned 5 more. The servant given 2 bags, earned two more. But it is the third servant who gets the most attention in this parable. He is fearful and perhaps a bit lazy. Instead of working with what he was given, he goes and digs a hole and hides his master’s wealth.

Who might these folks represent? Suppose that the Master is Jesus. How might that influence how we look at the story? That would make the servants his followers then, wouldn’t it. The Master has ascended into heaven … but … He’s coming back! The question then becomes one of how we are to behave in the meantime. Perhaps we might think of Paul’s words to the Ephesians where he writes (Ephesians 4:7 NIV) “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Or perhaps Peter’s words to his churches:(1 Peter 4:10-11 NIV) “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. [11] If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

So then we must first understand that God gives different gifts and roles in various proportions to each person. We sometimes speak of this as our calling or vocation. The great author and Christian apologist C S Lewis says it this way: “The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a maid,  become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord.” This does not, of course, mean  that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose  symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow.”  (C  Lewis, The Weight of Glory). It isn’t that  one person’s gifts are better than another’s, it’s about a belief in the  uniqueness of every child of God, and the acceptance that God has a role for them to play – be they Beethoven or a Janitor.

If we continue this thought then and look at the reaction of the master to his faithful, hardworking, risk taking servants we find some thing that most of us have experienced at one time or another: The reward for work done well is more work to do! Note the Master’s words are identical to both faithful servants: “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!” Please note however that the point is not about being over-worked or always being at the centre of  things, it’s about the servants development and growth, not ‘resting on our laurels’; It’s about finding joy in our service, knowing, learning and developing our discipleship.

As comforting and useful as this analogy is however, it seems not to be the main thrust of the story. As I mentioned earlier, the parable gives the most attention to the third servant. This is the part that makes us squirm a bit. We like to be all self-congratulatory about being good, hard working disciples. But if we are honest, then we must admit the possibility that we might at least sometimes more resemble the third servant. The fearful, distrustful, lazy servant. One who has been entrusted with the riches of God and chooses for a variety of reasons not to exercise them.

It would be useful at this point to pause and consider just what these gifts might be. Our loving and gracious God rarely hands us sacks of valuable coins and says go the work with that. However, to each of us individually, and all of us collectively as the Church, gifts abound, don’t they. God gives us first loving grace, forgiveness and peace. What returns have those gifts brought to God’s kingdom? A good and faithful servant we learned is hard at work using the Master”s gifts in the expectation of his return.

Scripture tells us that we are loved with an everlasting love, and given the rights and privileges of being sons and daughter’s of God, brothers and sisters of Christ! That is a precious trust indeed. The parable would ask us the uncomfortable question – What have you done with that? Oh the excuses start to come quite automatically – I just haven’t found the right opportunity yet; what would other people think; I’m not good with people… you can fill in the blanks as well as I can.

Interestingly, the servant is not criticized for making mistakes, nor for failures or any of the other sorts of things that we might normally fear. No – the servant is punished because he didn’t even try. The master’s trust was returned to him in mint condition – completely unused – it was not put at risk at all, just buried. Not even the nominal return of a bank deposit. Oh no, you see, banks can be robbed or fail. Better to take no chances at all if fear and distrust is your motivation. If however faithful trust and love is the motivation, then the response is different. It was in fact the servant’s opinion of his Lord that is the real problem here.

Listen to what He said about his master: (Matthew 25:24-25 NLT) “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

A harsh man! And that part about harvesting and gathering what he didn’t plant or tend? What’s that all about – is he saying that the master was dishonest? A crook? No, that doesn’t seem to fit – Particularly not if we are thinking of the Master as our Lord. Could it be that the Living Bible captures this servants thoughts when they paraphrase it this way: ‘Sir, I knew you were a hard man, and I was afraid you would rob me of what I earned, so I hid your money in the earth and here it is!’ In other words, did he think so little of his master that he didn’t care to take any risk at all, particularly when he knew he would only have to turn it all over to the master anyway? If he couldn’t enrich himself, why bother?

Sisters and brothers in faith, siblings in Christ: It is both sin and tragedy to not even try. The loss is doubled. Not only are the opportunities of the moment lost, but so is the growth in experience and skills that we would have gained had we made the attempt. It is a plain fact that we must exercise skills and gifts in order for them to be of any use. For example, it is one thing to read of God’s love and forgiveness, it is quite another to extend love and forgiveness as well as receive it. We are told to bless and pray for neighbors and even enemies – but we only learn by the effort of trying to do it. Our efforts may not always be successful. But God honors the process of our learning.

Our God is gracious and faithful – never the harsh, critical over-lord the third servant imagined. That servant lost his share because he didn’t use it. He was perhaps a spiritual ostrich – they have wings but cannot fly at all. What we use, we develop; what we don’t, we eventually lose. We respond and grow into Christian maturity through the intentional efforts of answering the challenges set before us. At the end of each part of the journey is the Joy of hearing the masters words – “well done, you have been faithful with a few things, I will give you charge of more.” It is a joyful cycle of increasing competence and usefulness in the kingdom.

You see, we will all meet our Master one day face to face, whether it is at the end of our earthly lives or when he returns to claim his own and the end of the age. Either way, we need not fear. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 NIV

[9] For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. [10] He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. [11] Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” We await that time with joy and eager expectation, never with idleness or fear. Christ has called us and given us unique tasks to do. Let’s give thanks for the charge we have been given and offer the returns of our labors in gratitude.

This is the essence of what it means to be servants of God. All that we have is a gift of God to be used for the glory of God. In the end, we keep no material things at all – only the spiritual ones based on the love of God for us and the love we return to God and God’s creation. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:17 NIV “…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” This is our best and truest purpose in life – to live our lives and use our God given resources to the glory of God. Anything else is less than it should be. As so many others have said before – We are blessed to be a blessing – The gifts of God are given to be used, put into practice, invested and compounded to the glory of God. That is when we will hear those wonderful words – ‘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!’