Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 18, 2018
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Using Our Gifts

Matthew 25:14-30

 The basic principle of this morning’s message is stewardship.  What is stewardship?  Well, it begins with this premise:  We do not really “own” anything.  Obviously, we understand that such and such belongs to you and such belongs to me, and if you take what’s mine or I take what’s yours, someone’s going to call the police.  But at the end of the day, we do not really own anything.  It’s only ours for a time.  The Bible says in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  Ultimately, everything belongs to God its creator.  We are simply entrusted by God with things for a certain time.  

 The second basic element of stewardship is that God has entrusted us to use the things of this world wisely.  That was the very first commandment of God.  When God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, before all else, he told them to rule over the creation and take care of it on God’s behalf.  

 This parable is part of a series of parables dealing with the expectation of Christ’s return.  In chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, there are repeated warnings about the need to keep watch for his return.  But now, a new dimension is added:  Don’t just watch for his return, but use what has been trusted to you wisely until he returns.

 The parable begins with a man leaving on a long journey.  I think it’s pretty natural to see this man as a representation of Jesus.  Usually, in the ancient world, a long journey would mean a pilgrimage, a sacred journey to a holy place.  Very few people would make long journeys for business, and it’s not like there was much of a tourism trade.  And again, we can then see the parable being about Jesus.  Jesus is about to make a sacred journey to a holy place as he ascends again into heaven.

 Before he goes, he entrusts gifts to his servants.  And again, we can see this as a picture of Jesus giving gifts to his servants at Pentecost.  This is just a few days before his crucifixion, so only 50-some days till Pentecost.

 He entrusts each of them with a certain number of talents.  Now that word talent has a certain meaning to us, but it was a different meaning in Jesus’ day.  A talent was a unit of weight.  It varied from time to time, but it was about 75 pounds.  It was typically used for large quantities of money.  A talent could be a talent of copper or silver or gold, but usually silver.  A silver talent would equal 6000 denarii, the minimum daily wage of the time.  So each talent represents up to 20 years of labor; a lot of money.  Our English

word talent meaning a God given ability or gift comes into our language from this parable.  

 All three of them were gifted by the master, each according to his ability.  After all, if the master gave too much to the one with the least ability, then he might have an excuse when the master returned to say, “You expected too much of me.  I was overwhelmed.”  

 We don’t all have the same talents.  Some of us are more talented than others.  But we all have some talents.  We all have gifts from God.  The real question is not, “How talented are we?”  Rather the question is, “How do we use the talents we have?”  Are we wise in our use of the gifts God has given us?  

 We should probably also note here that the master does not give specific instructions about how these talents were to be used.  He doesn’t tell the servants, “Go out and invest in this or that or do this business.”  He simply trusts that they will make good use of what he’s given them.  Stewardship requires wisdom, not just blind obedience.  Sometimes we have a gift from God but it’s up to us to find out how best to use that gift.  Wise stewards have initiative and imagination and creativity.

 Well, two of the servants were wise.  They immediately went to work and by the time the master returned, each had doubled what had been entrusted to them. 

 But the third simply dug a hole in the ground and hid the money.  Now it was not uncommon to keep money safe by burying it in the ground.  All the money of that day was in coin form, so it’s not like the paper was going to rot.  People often buried money in turbulent times.  If your nation was about to be invaded, you might well bury your money.  Treasure troves of buried coins are still found in many parts of the world today.  Often it’s the best way of knowing what kinds of coins were in use in certain places at certain times.  So the money was safe enough.  But safety is not what the master was looking for!  As the old saying goes, “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what a ship is for!”  The master wanted it to be used, not kept safe.

 Eventually, the master returns.  He rewards the first two servants for their faithfulness.  They receive two specific rewards.  First, they are given greater responsibilities.  The implication is that if we are faithful with little things in this world, then in the world to come, we will have greater responsibilities.  The second reward is a share in the master’s joy.  He’s happy with them.  And they’re happy that he’s happy!

 Then comes the third servant.  He hasn’t done a thing, but he blames his master for it:  “I know you are a hard man.”  The word “hard” means grasping or exploitative.  The third servant saw nothing to be gained for his hard work.  If he used the master’s gift well, then the master would simply take it away from him when he returned.  And if he used the gift poorly, he would be punished.  Nothing to gain, so why bother trying?   And maybe he was a little bit spiteful that he received less than the others?

 It begs the question, “What is the master really like?”  Is he generous, or is he exploitative, taking advantage of others?  It seems from the way he treated the first two servants that he is generous.  He trusted them, and when they lived up to his trust, he trusted them even more!  

 It seems the third servant did not really know the master.  Or perhaps he just hated him.  Or it could be that he was just lazy.  Whatever the reason, he acted self-centeredly.  He only thought of himself.  

 And in the end, he was punished by his own words:  “If you really thought I was so exploitative, you should have at least put my money on loan with the bankers so that I could earn some interest.”  Interest rates in the first century were high, sometimes 10% or more!  Even though, technically, Hebrew people were not to loan at interest.  At least not to other Hebrews!  

 The point of the parable is that we have no excuse not to use the gifts that God has entrusted to us.  We all have gifts according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, as we talked about last Sunday.  We are rewarded by God’s joy in us and by greater responsibilities if we use them wisely.  It’s not about how many gifts we have, but about how we use them.  

 So today, we’re going to do a little exercise about gifts and using them wisely.  We have envelopes, and each envelope contains $10.  And each of will receive one to take and use wisely.  The task is for us to use what has been trusted to us to further the work of the Kingdom of God.  

 “How should we do that?”  Well, as I said, wise stewardship is not about blind obedience.  There’s a certain expectation of using our own creativity and initiative.  Feel free to get together with other folks in this exercise.  You can get together with family or friends, with your Sunday School class, with another group in the church.  Pool your resources and use them wisely.  

 I spoke with some other pastor’s that had done this same exercises in their churches, and they reported some ideas that other folks had come up with and done.  Someone bought window washing supplies and washed the windows in their neighborhood.  Some folks got together, bought the supplies, baked and sold pies.  Others bought yarn and crocheted or knitted, then sold the items they made.  A Sunday school class designed a church t-shirt, had it printed and sold it.  A men’s group did a car wash.  Probably not the best time for that, but maybe you could buy snowshovels instead.  Another Sunday School class bought games and activities for kids and offered free babysitting to the community on a Friday night.  Someone else took pictures, framed and sold them.  

 Those are just some suggestions to get your own creative juices flowing.  If you make money with whatever you do, you can bring it back and give it to the church.  But that’s not all you can do with it.  You can use it in some other way that serves the Kingdom of God.  And I would also say that you don’t have to think that you have to make money at all with this $10.  You can simply use it to serve others.  

 You won’t have to give an accounting of what you’ve done with it.  After all, part of this whole exercise in stewardship.  But I do want to hear from you.  I hope that either in word or in writing you will share how you and others used the gift you received to building up the Kingdom of God.  

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