Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 17, 2015

Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

TIME FOR A LESSON ON TALENTS

  1. God gives different talents to different people
  2. God looks at the same criterion for everyone—faithfulness

 Text: Matthew 25:14-30

Introduction

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Fall Leaves in Wisconsin

What does late fall mean for you? When I traveled to Wisconsin last week for hymnal committee meetings, I couldn’t help but be reminded that for many people, fall is the time of year to rake the leaves off your front yard! Since we hope that winter rains come in good measure over the next few months, fall might be a good time to clean out your rain gutters! With Thanksgiving just a week and a half away, fall might be your time to clean your house in preparation for the company that you’re expecting; or it might be the time to tune up your car if you’re traveling somewhere for Thanksgiving. We could say this about any time of year, but the activities that take place in different seasons often dictate what is on our personal agendas.

At St. Mark’s, fall means Oktoberfest, a school-sponsored chili cook off, and planning for Thanksgiving and Advent. But at St. Mark’s, fall also means the annual stewardship program. The timing makes sense. As you think about your personal budgets for the New Year, it’s wise for us to have our stewardship program and to encourage you to plan your giving to the church as you think about the rest of your own spending. That helps the church to also plan a responsible budget. And that’s an important part of stewardship.

But stewardship is more than just spreadsheets, offering envelopes, and finances. This year’s St. Mark’s stewardship program intends to get us to think about the bigger picture of stewardship—the “time and talents” aspects of stewardship. And Jesus’ parable of the talents in today’s Gospel will highlight the emphasis of our stewardship program as we take some time for a lesson on talents.

I.

In Matthew 25, Jesus has three back-to-back discourses that all deal with the end of time and his final return. The first is the parable of the ten virgins, then there is the parable of the talents in today’s Gospel, and finally there is Jesus’ description of the final judgment as the separation of the sheep and the goats. It’s helpful for us to remember the larger context of today’s Gospel: It is not merely an isolated story about stewardship, but it is part of a larger discussion about being prepared for the return of Jesus at the end of time. 

Jesus begins, “[The kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 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.” Jesus describes the coming kingdom of heaven and God’s ruling activity in our hearts in terms of a master who directed his servants to manage his finances while he was gone. It’s fairly easy to see the connections. Stewardship is management; God gives us blessings for this life that are ultimately gifts from him, and he calls on us to manage them wisely. And after Jesus completed his saving work, he left this world and “journeyed” to heaven until he returns at the end of time.

Jesus described this distribution of wealth in terms of a talent. We may be talking about talents or God-given abilities today, but the talent that Jesus has in mind was a sum of money measured by weight. A bronze, silver, or gold talent had a sizeable difference in value. But in any case, they were valuable sums of money. Figure out how much you make in a year. Now multiply that by 28 years. That’s a ballpark estimate for what a silver talent was worth. And a gold talent was worth another 30 times that! Regardless of the kind of talent Jesus has in mind, each servant received a substantial amount of money to manage. The master gave different amounts of talents to talents to different servants based on their abilities, but no servant was given a meager amount to manage, either.

Jesus’ parable shows us how three different servants handled the amount of money entrusted to them. The three servants demonstrate two different reactions. “The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” The first two servants wasted no time. Perhaps the second servant could have spent some time complaining about the other servant who had been given two and a half times as much to work with as he had been given. The difference in value was not minor: If Jesus had silver talents in mind, the difference in value between what the two servants received was more than $4 million in today’s terms. But the talents that were distributed didn’t matter. The master gave those different talents to the servants to manage, and Jesus distributes different talents and treasure for us to manage.

But one servant responded differently. Though he had been given the modern equivalent of perhaps $1.4 million, his reaction was not faithful diligence but pouty laziness. He didn’t even take the time to make some interest with a deposit at the “Bank of Palestine.”

Fairness is an often-heard mantra of little children. “It’s not fair when mom and dad don’t make my little sibling do as many chores as I had to do!” “It’s not fair when the teacher always favors that other student over me.” And maybe there’s a part of us that’s inclined to think that God isn’t being fair with the way he distributes modern-day talents to us today. But sometimes mom and dad give different responsibilities to different children because of their age and development. And God says clearly in his Word that he gives different modern talents to different people with good reasons—perhaps reasons we simply can’t understand on this side of heaven, but for good reasons nonetheless. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Then Paul goes on to describe how all the different parts of the body—the eyes, the hands, the ears, the nose—need to do their part for the whole body to function properly. So when God gives different talents to different people, he is not playing favorites. He’s simply giving every person his or her unique and important role within the body of Christ to help the church to operate at its best.

So if you don’t have the financial resources that someone else has, don’t fret. Give as you are able to give, and then see how you can use your other talents to assist in God’s kingdom. Or if you don’t have the organizational abilities that someone else has, don’t wonder if you aren’t important in the church. Your creativity or compassion is just as needed as another person’s management skills. Or if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket and don’t have a voice that meshes with the choir, don’t worry that you’ll be asked to be our first monotone soloist. Make a joyful noise in worship, and proclaim the praises of God by greeting our guests and by making St. Mark’s a warm and inviting place to gather for worship. God gives different talents to different people by design, so enjoy your place in that design and bloom where you’re

II.

Some Christians in the first century wondered if Jesus was going to return within their lifetime. A few Christians today have wondered if Jesus is going to return in our lifetime, with a rare few unsuccessfully trying to pinpoint a date. For nearly 2,000 years the Church has waited for Christ’s return, and only the Lord knows how many more years will be added to that statistic. But it’s no surprise that there is a long time between Christ’s first and second appearances in this world. There was a long time between the departure and return of the master in Jesus’ parable. And just as Jesus will return to judge all people, so the master finally did return and analyze the work of his servants. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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!’ The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ 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!’”

God distributes different talents to different people, but he looks for the same criterion with everyone: faithfulness. The difference in the straight-forward investment results of the two servants was several million dollars, but their faithfulness was identical. Both had gone to work right away, and both doubled their master’s money. Even the words that the first two servants used to report their work to their master were nearly identical; both gave credit to the master and the talents he gave them for the results they could report.

But then there was the servant who did nothing with his $1 million plus talent but hide it. When he reported what he hadn’t done, there was no hiding the master’s disappointment. “The man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

The servant had a role in the master’s work, but he rejected the part he needed to play. The master would have even been happy with the interest gained from his $1 million plus investment if that’s what this particular servant would have done with his talent. But a lack of love for the master’s work led to a lack of effort for the master’s business. The servant sounds much like Adam in the Garden of Eden, blaming God for his sin. The servant blames the master for his unjustified fear: “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.” But the master was certainly justified in his anger. The good blessings that this faithless servant once had were to be revoked immediately and given instead to one of the servants who had been faithful. The safety and security of being a servant in this master’s household was also revoked from the faithless servant who was kicked out into the outer darkness that matched Jesus’ common description for eternity in hell.

It can be quite easy to look at the actual talents of others with a degree of envy. The local pastor wishes he had the talents and resources of the other pastor across down or down the road. A church member wishes that he received the same recognition as someone else or that she had the abilities of that other person who seems to play a bigger role in the church’s life. But then again, this has never been God’s criterion—to see who has the greater level of talents. If God distributed talents in the first place, why would he judge us for not having what he never gave us in the first place? And why should we question God’s distribution plan? When we become concerned about comparing our modern talents, we only hinder the work God has given us. And those envious attitudes reveal the thinking of a sinful heart that wants to take over our faith and turn us into the faithless servant who only complained in unbelief rather than served in faith.

But this is why today we first and foremost give thanks to God for the faithfulness of his Son, Jesus. Jesus accepted his assignment from his heavenly Father—an assignment not to take on a sum of money, but to take on our human flesh and to set aside the riches of heaven for the poverty of this world. Christ Jesus fulfilled every task and assignment from God the Father perfectly throughout his entire life. And in an ironic role reversal, Jesus, the perfectly obedient servant, endured hell’s outer darkness and gnashing of teeth on the cross where he endured the punishment for sin that less than perfect servants like us should have endured.

Now the risen Lord Jesus, who will one day return, extends his nail-scarred hands to you and not only provides you with faith in his perfection for you, but he also provides you with the right set of talents just for you to play your own unique role in his kingdom. There’s no need to fret about what those talents are or to compare them to other, because all he looks for you now is gospel-inspired faithfulness. Maybe you’re not an all-star Bible teacher, but you might have what it takes to teach God’s little lambs in Sunday School. Maybe you’re not the future chairman of one of our ministry boards, but you might have what it takes to encourage a straying member, or to tell your neighbor that Thanksgiving would be a great time to come to church with you. Whatever your talents are, they are far greater in value than you might suspect, because they come from the God who valued you beyond measure, and a God who inspires you to serve him faithfully just as his Son has faithfully rescued and served us. That’s a lesson on talents that makes our time serving God a joyful privilege that we are more than happy to experience. Amen.

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