11/16/2014 Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 25:14-30.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Use It or Lose It!” That’s Jesus’ word to us this morning- and it’s not just muscle mass or money he’s talking about. You and I have been richly blessed with a multitude of gifts and talents. For me, an abundance of money is not numbered among my blessings. But a strong voice and a sharp mind, or should I say a mind that used to be a wee bit sharper when I was a little younger, are among the things I count as blessings. But these blessings, these gifts of a gracious God, are not trophies to be put on a shelf. Like all gifts, they need to be used. For what good is a voice that doesn’t sing God’s praises or tell the good news of Jesus Christ? What good is a mind that is filled with useless trivia and knows nothing of God’s word? Both good gifts are laid to waste if they go unused or are abused.
From last week’s parable of the ten bridesmaids and their lamps, it’s easy for us to get a false impression about how to use our gifts. For in that parable, the wise bridesmaids hoard what they have and refuse to share with their less prepared kindred. If we take our cue from them, then we are supposed to take care of our own needs and feel satisfied. For, the gifts we have are ours, for our own use, and are not to be shared as we have only enough for ourselves.
But today’s parable about the servants comes right on the heels of last week’s parable and the lessons are quite different. It is here that Jesus tells us that we have been given what we need. We have received gifts and these gifts are to use for the kingdom. There is no time to rest on our laurels; there’s work to be done until master comes again and settles all his accounts.
Today’s parable is about the man of the house who, before leaving on a trip, entrusts his servants with huge amounts of cash. The first slave gets almost five hundred pounds of silver, worth about a life-time of wages. This was an incredible sum for any master to hand over to anyone, let alone a slave. The other two servants also receive large amounts, indicating just how much the master trusts them.
You know how the story goes. Two servants take what is entrusted to them and do some wise investing. The blue chip stocks rise and they make a bundle. They take a risk and double the master’s money and when the master sees what they have done, he is well pleased. But the other servant doesn’t do anything with what is entrusted to him. He is scared. He is so afraid of what his master will do to him if he tries to invest the one talent only to lose it, that he hides what is given to him and never honors the giver by using the gift. This poor man believes that his security and safety depends on how he manages this great lump of silver, not on how generous and kind and merciful the master is with him and the other servants whom he gifted.
His fear motivates him to dig a hole and bury the money. It is kind of like stuffing your mattress with half a million dollars. With this he thinks the money is secure. And if it is secure, then so is he. But when the master finds out what he has done, the master condemns the poor guy, ridicules him in front of his peers, and takes away whatever authority he has. It may not seem fair. But when it comes to the gifts that a generous God entrusts to us, we either use them or lose them.
Of course, Jesus isn’t talking only about money here. He’s talking about faith, love, hope, charity, kindness, our abilities, our life, our work and our possessions – and using all of them for the kingdom. He’s talking about people and the way they live. Those who think they can pile up credits in heaven for themselves simply by hoarding the gifts God has given, had better watch out. For God gives gifts so they can be used – just like God blesses people so that they can be a blessing to others. There is nothing that God does that is so narrow that it involves only one individual. God’s concern is for all people and for the church as a whole.
Remember, God likes risks. If that were not so, he would not have sent his only son, his beloved son, to the earth to be crucified and die, in order that we might be saved. It was a risky thing for him to do and from a human point of view, we might even claim that it was a foolish thing to try. Yet, God did not feel the risk so great that he withheld from us the one who would take our sins and wipe the slate clean through his blood.
God wants us to be just as bold in our use of our gifts. That is what Jesus is really saying to his disciples, and to us. When we invest the gifts that God has given us and risk talking to someone about Christ, or when we serve someone who can never repay us, then we realize that all the talents that have been given to us are not for ourselves but for someone else. When we use the good things we have for someone else’s benefit, we find out why we have them in the first place.
There’s nothing that can go wrong if we only dare to step out in faith; setbacks and downturns can happen, but there are no crashes in the future. God has things well in hand. And our investment of time, talent and possessions is safe. That’s precisely why we can afford to risk everything. That’s why we can afford to risk name and reputation, fortune and fame, in our efforts to do God’s work. We can risk offending our guests by praying in a restaurant. We don’t have to be shy about telling our neighbors where we go to church, and we don’t have to worry about what the Joneses think; for we already know what God thinks. We don’t have to be scared of God’s reaction. And we should never be ashamed of our faith and keep it for ourselves.
So, instead of burying the gifts that God has given, use them. Instead of hoarding the gifts God has given and using them only for yourself and those closest to you, share them with others and use them for the sake of the gospel. Don’t be afraid. Let someone else benefit by your good fortune. For, Christ never kept anything to himself but emptied himself for us. Since he has done that, we have the luxury of risking all for the sake of someone else.
The formula is simple – use it or lose it! Risk your faith, your love, your generosity for the kingdom. Take the plunge, my friends. Be risky. And then watch and let God do the rest. For blessings and gifts can multiply when handed over to him.
As you use what God has given you, may the peace of God, which surpassed all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.