Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, December 17, 2018
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Good Stewards of God's Gifts

Matthew 25:14-30

 This is often called the Parable of the Talents.  The reason is that the units of money that the rich man gives to his servants are called talents, a talent being equal to 75 pounds of a metal, usually silver.  The translation I read this morning renders talent as “bag of money.”  Sometimes those modernizations can be very helpful, but I like the original language here.  

 Our English word talent comes out of this parable.  This was a very frequently used parable in medieval England, and the word talent entered the English language, meaning “a God-given gift.”  Usually, we use the word talent to talk about a natural ability.  A person who is born with a beautiful voice is said to have a “talent” for singing.  But, in truth, God’s gifts are many.  Life is a gift.  Our abilities are gifts from God.  Our time is a gift from God.  Our resources are gifts from God.  Obviously we work to earn the money we have, but it is God who gave us the abilities we have to earn it.  And of course, God’s grace is a gift.  

 And we are called to use these gifts wisely.  We call that stewardship; using the gifts God has given us wisely to give God glory.  This parable in particular calls us to practice good stewardship in light of the imminent return of our Master, Jesus.  

 Next Sunday is Christ the King Sunday.  That’s the Sunday of the year that in particular calls us to remember that Christ our King is returning, and we are to be ready for his return.  The Scripture lessons in the Sundays leading up to Christ the King are typically about stewardship and practicing it in light of the return of the King.  

 We heard earlier from 1st Thessalonians chapter 5 that talks about how the Day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return, will come suddenly, like a thief in the night.  In light of that, we have no sense of security, only a sense of anxious anticipation.  We know the Day is coming.  We know to expect his return.  So we have no excuse.  We are to live like we belong to the Day that is dawning, not to the “night” of this world that is passing away.  And part of what it means to be watchful is not just to be prepared spiritually, but also to be good stewards.  With that in mind, let’s look at the parable:

  A certain rich man was going on a long trip.  In the first century, travel was very uncertain.  People did take long trips, perhaps to see distant relatives, perhaps for business, or as was often the case for Jews, for a religious pilgrimage.  And a journey of a thousand miles could take months, even more than a year.  And this rich man did not want his wealth sitting idle while he was gone.  So he entrusted it to three servants.  The rich often had “managers”

who looked after parts of their business enterprises.  These managers could be free men, or in the case of this parable, educated slaves.  

 The master divides his wealth between them in proportion to their abilities.  The first two servants go about their work enthusiastically and they double what the master entrusted to them.  After a long time, he returns and they are rewarded.  They are each given two rewards:

 First, they are given greater responsibilities.  Using a little wisely has shown that they can be trusted with more.  And this establishes a principle of the Kingdom of God:  Use a little wisely and be trusted with more.  Use a little poorly and you will lose it.  

 I think we can see that principle work in many ways.  For example, if you’re blessed with a beautiful voice, and you sing regularly, your voice will become better.  But if you don’t use it, you’ll probably lose some or most of that vocal range over the years.  If you have money and you put it to good use, soon you’ll probably have more.  But if you just set it aside, soon you’ll have even less than you did because it will lose value from inflation.  

 The second reward for good stewardship is that they receive a share in the master’s joy.  

In light of the context, I think the clear application of the parable is that good stewardship of God’s gifts until our Master returns results in two things.  First, it means a greater responsibility for us in the fulfilled Kingdom of God.  When Christ establishes his Kingdom in the New Heaven and New Earth, we will have greater responsibilities if we demonstrate good stewardship in this life.  What will that look like?  I don’t know.  I don’t know what tasks Christ will have for us in the New Creation.  But I believe the greater responsibilities will fall to those who demonstrate faithfulness in this life.  And secondly, good stewardship of God’s gifts in this life means a share in the Master’s joy.  He will be delighted with us if we are faithful.  And that’s something I’d like to have.  I’d like God’s approval of my life.  I hope you do, too.

 But then, on the other hand, there is that third servant, the one who only receives one talent.  Maybe he was bitter about receiving less than the other two.  But that’s no excuse.  We are not equal in God’s gifts, but we can be equal in the effort that we put forth to use them wisely.  

 That third servant did not.  He just dug a hole and hid the money.  Now that was not irresponsible.  Burying money was actually common in Jesus’ day.  They didn’t really have

banks in the way that we do.  And there was hardly such a thing as a secure lock or building to keep things in.  So, often in times of turmoil, people buried their money so they could come back later and find it.  For example, if a foreign army was invading, many people would bury treasure till the danger was passed.  And to this day, archaeologists occasionally find treasure troves of buried coins.  The money was safe.  But safety isn’t what the master wanted.  He wanted it to be used wisely.  

When the master returns, the true feelings of this third servant come out:  “I was afraid I’d lose your money.  And I know you are a hard man, harvesting where you did not plant.”  The third servant did not have a high opinion of the master.  I think it would even be fair to say that he hated his master.  He acted out of fear, not love.  He thought his master was greedy and exploitative.  He figured that he had everything to lose and nothing to gain.  If he lost the master’s money, the master would be furious.  But on the other hand, if he gained something with the master’s money, the master would take it all, and he’d have nothing to show for his hard work.  

I think the parable begs the question:  Did he have the right opinion of the master?  I would say not.  The master’s treatment of the first two servants reflected a different reality.  He gave them a share in his joy, and he trusted them with more.  

But to that third servant he said, “You wicked, lazy servant.”  He was wicked, evil.  It was a wicked evil to misuse the gifts he’d been given.  In the same way, it’s a wicked thing for us to misuse or abuse the gifts God has given us.  It’s a wicked thing to abuse our bodies.  It’s a wicked thing to squander our resources.  It’s wicked thing to neglect our abilities.  It’s a wicked thing to have the gospel, the words of life, and let them go to waste.  

The third servant was condemned by his own words.  He was judged by his own poor opinion of the master.  And he was thrown out from the master’s presence.  He did not love his master.  He thought only of himself.  

If we love Jesus, our Master, what does the Bible say we will do?  Jesus said, if you love, you will obey my commands.  And one of the things Jesus wants us to do is to make the best use of every day we have until we die and go to be with him or he returns to take us to himself.  

I would also say the third servant never really knew the master.  If he had known him, he would have had a higher opinion of him.  He would have known that he had a master who delighted in sharing joy with his servants.  

I think this parable has a very challenging message for us.  We are the servants.  Jesus our Master is gone, but he’s coming back.  How are we being good stewards until his return?  

I want you to see that there are three things that are condemned in this parable.  

The first is fear.  The third servant refused to act out of fear of failure.  He was afraid to take risks.  You know what: Failure is always an option.  It’s always a possibility.  Not everything we do for God is going to work.  Not everything the Church tries is going to succeed.  But that can’t keep us from trying.  I think a lot of churches sit on the fence because they’re afraid to try something for fear it will fail.  But this much we know:  We fail at everything we don’t try.  We have to have the courage to try new things for the Kingdom.

The second thing that is condemned is laziness.  I think we know that God does not want us to be lazy.  But the problem is that ceaseless activity can be just as pointless as laziness.  If we just keep doing and doing, we can wear ourselves out.  I have a pastor friend who said to me one time, “Part of your job is to spend some time every week just thinking.”  In other words, thoughtless action can be just as pointless as laziness.  What we need is thoughtful action.

And finally, the third thing condemned in this parable is “keeping the status quo,” keeping everything just like it is.  I think a lot of churches are deeply invested in the status quo.  They don’t want anything to change.  The problem is that change is inevitable.  Things are going to change.  If you do nothing, things still change.  Part of good stewardship is managing change so that it is good change.  

We need to be able to try new things.  Jesus told us to put new wine in new wineskins.  And I think the meaning of that is that we always need to be searching for new ways to build the Kingdom of God.  If what we’re doing isn’t working, we need to do something different.  We can’t let fear control us or prevent us from seeking our Master’s joy.

I think this parable has a lot to say to the church.  We often think of this as a parable aimed at individuals.  But a lot of churches are acting just like that third servant:  Bury the treasure of God in the ground so that everything will stay exactly the same.  New ideas might not work, so don’t try new things.  It’s not a strategy that works, and it’s not a strategy that results in God’s joy.  We must have courage and act thoughtfully to be good stewards.

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