July 2, 2011

Sermons I am Proud Of-Pt3

In the thrill and fun of Canada Day, and a wedding I missed my Friday blog post. This sermon was written for October 3rd 2010. Rather I should say re-written for October 3rd 2010. I had written a different sermon on the same passage early in the week but I just disliked it so much. It felt wrong, somehow incomplete. No amount of editing or tampering could fix it. So finally on Saturday morning I decided to write a new sermon. This is that sermon. It focus on the story of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. Enjoy.

Talent shows have come a long way. From their humble beginnings at school gymnasiums and summer camps, places where the word ‘talent’ is often only ever so politely applied, they have become a television sensation. Shows like American Idol, So you think you can Dance, and Americas got talent; along with their international counter parts have made millions upon millions of dollars. Each time one of those or other like shows puts out a casting calling thousands of people line up for hours on end to display their ‘talent’ for the world to see in the faint hope of earning more than 15 minutes of fame, at the same time avoid the shame most earn.

And talent is what we are going to talk about today. Now just to set you at ease, I will not subject you to what could only be politely called singing or dancing. I won’t even attempt to juggle the worst you will have to endure from me is the odd bad joke. Instead we will be taking a look at the 3 guys that originally ‘got talent’. We find their story in chapter 25 of the gospel of Mathew. Jesus is teaching his followers what living in the kingdom of God is like and this is one of the parables he tells to that end.

According to Jesus the kingdom of God is a lot like a wealthy land owner who went away on a journey, leaving three of his servants in charge of some of his wealth. The servants are given large sums of money, with the implication that they should put that money to good use. One servant was given 5 talents, one was given 2 and the third was given 1; their master then left for what was described as a long time. The first two servants took the money they had been given and doubled it, the other took the money and quite literally buried in the ground for fear of losing it. When the master returned to settle accounts with his servants the first two were commended for their faithful service, they were promoted given more responsibility and they in Jesus words entered into their master’s joy. The third however was rebuked quite severely, the responsibility they had been given was taken from them and given to the servant who had 10 talents then finally he was ultimately fired and tossed out of the masters presence.

In this parable, like in a lot of Jesus’ parables, we find some people doing what was right and we find some people, or in this case person doing something wrong. So we are going to take some time today and figure out what the servants did right and see if we can emulate it, and we will try to figure out what the servant did wrong and see if we can avoid making the same mistake. However since I’d rather end on a positive note let’s talk about those two things in the reverse order.

However before we do that lets all get on the same page with who these servants are and just what a talent in this parable really is. A talent is a very large sum of money. The TNIV decided to translate the word talent into ‘bag of gold’ and the Message calls five talents $5000. But even the $5000 may be too low as a modern equivalent. 1 Talent was roughly equal to 6000 denarii. 1 denarii was the going rate for one day of work. That means for a person to earn 5 talents, or 30,000 denarii, they would need to work non- stop for 82 years. According to stats Canada in 2008 a family of four, with one income earner earns on average 61k annually. 82 years of strait work at a rate of 61k a year equals roughly 50 million dollars. While saying 1 talent is equal to 10 million dollars is probably incorrect, this should give us a good idea of just how large these sums of money are.

And once we get a good idea of how much money a talent really is it helps to give us a good understanding of who these servants just might be. I want to suggest that these three men or women are the most trusted servants in the master’s house. These people are not just anyone, they are the servants who have already gained a good stranding with their master, and they have already proven themselves in some shape or form to be faithful stewards. These are the people who know of their masters business dealings, they know his accounts, they know all he has achieved and now he is giving them additional responsibilities, responsibilities that are within their abilities to perform.

Just one more thing before we move on. I hope one has thing becomes clear. The difference between being given 5 talents, 2 talents and 1 talent is not as significant as some would state. Yes the servant who received 5 talents is given five times the amount of money as the servant who was only given 1. But when you are talking about trusting someone with as much money as 5 talents or 1 even talent I think it is safe to assume the trust and confidence level in both of those people is quite high. The person who received 1 talent is still being entrusted with a great deal, it would be a mistake to assume the master already had grave doubts about this servant. Now with those things in mind let’s move forward. Let’s analyze the actions of these three servants and see what we can learn about the kingdom of God. 

I put in the words 'Parable of Talents' in to Google Images and Thought what the heck
I Didn't know there was a kids booked dedicated to the story. Too funny.

Like I said a little while ago let’s start with the servant who received the 1 talent. But first why don’t we highlight what is NOT this servant’s error. This servant did not err in knowledge of his master. He says as much while he is explaining why he buried the talent entrusted to him. The servant says this; “Master, 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.’ He knows exactly who is master is, and the business track record he has. But this knowledge gave him no confidence; instead it filled him with fear. I would be willing to go as far as to say that the servant is even blaming his master for his own failure. It is almost as if he is saying, Master since knew you are such a great business man I was too frightened that I would down, if only you were less successful I would not have been so intimidated and I would have performed flawlessly.

Lack of knowledge was not the servant’s error. The servant’s error was he was unwilling to try. I want to be clear on this. The servant didn’t try and fail, thus earning scorn from his master. Nor was he caught in shady business deals being shame on his master’s name. No the servant knowing full well who his master was, and what he was capable of erred by doing nothing. Doing nothing is this servant’s problem. Let me suggest that by the Master’s answer, you should have put my money in the bank so it at least could have earned interest, that any action on the part of this servant would have been better then taking no action. If the servant had tried to be faithful with his master’s money but instead of doubling the money like the other two servants only managed to achieve earning ½ a talent I think the master’s response would have been much different.

I want to suggest that we often act like this fearful servant. We all have some idea of who God. We have at least a vague understanding of God as creator and sustainer of the universe. We have some idea about God being good and powerful. We know that God needs nothing from us, and we have at least heard it said that sooner or later God will right all wrongs, and judge the world. So we worship God, we praise God, we learn about God, and we being to develop a sense of what he is calling us to do with our lives. But sometimes this worship, this praise, and this knowledge about God and his purposes for us twist in our minds. And instead of allowing it to guide our steps and lead us to take bold action for God it makes us fearful.

We begin to say or think things like, what can I do? What if I let God down? God is so great, and I am so small. God can’t be calling me to act this way, I’m not good enough. We keep going until this fear mongering snow balls getting bigger and bigger until we like the servant with 1 talent find ourselves paralyzed with fear unable to act. As fear clouds our mind we reject the skills, talents and spiritual gifts that God gave us to work at the tasks he assigned. So instead of acting we sit, we worship more, we praise God for how awesome he is, and we learn more about what he did in the lives of others, continuing to refuse to believe he wants to do anything with ours. In short we bury ourselves in the ground. We so fear failure we refuse to try. If we try we might fail. If we fail to try, there is no option left open to us but more failure. Like the servant with one talent, God would not have equipped you, us, this church if he thought we were incapable of using what he gave us. We must not make the mistake of the servant with 1 talent we must act, we must try.

Failure to act was the third servant’s error. But let’s turn to happier things, and figure out how the other two servants entered into ‘their master’s joy’. Again before we dive right into what I think these servants did right, allow me to talk for a moment about what I think is a common miss-applications of this parable. This parable is the favourite passage used to try to get faithful people to do more and more work. I suspect this story has been used near countless times over the years to try to round up volunteers, or as fodder for pulpit guiltings. Because as we read the story the application seems clear; God gave you talents, skills, and spiritual gifts so you better get out there and use them every time you’re asked to or it is gnashing of teeth for you buddy. But here is why I think that is a misapplication. The contrast Jesus sets up is not between two servants who achieve a lot and one who achieves little, but between two servants who achieve and one as we have said who does nothing. I think when we use this passage to guilt busy people into additional service we are doing damage to passage, and no favours to the people we are bullying.

But let us move from the incorrect to what I think is the better understanding of why these two servants earn their master’s praise. They earned their master’s praise because they were faithful in the work their master gave them. Now you might be thinking I took an awfully long time to say what should be blatantly obvious. The master even says that they are a good and faithful servants. But let’s unpack what faithful in this parable looks like.

You might be surprised to notice that a faithful servant is not what I would call a wildly successful servant. Yes both servants took the money they were given and doubled it. But let’s reflect on this for a moment. The two servants who worked had what was described as a long time to achieve the results of their work. Now I don’t know what a long time is in this parable, I don’t know if we are talking about months, years, or decades. But it is a long time. In this parable the servant with 5 talents took a long time and they earned 5 more; likewise the servant with 2 talents took a long time and earned 2 more.

Now adamantly I don’t know a lot about investment banking but taking a long time to double my investment while not bad is hardly spectacular. Spectacular would be reporting that the servant with 5 talents took it and earned 50 more, or 500 more. But that is simply not what we find. We find servants who take a long time and double what they started out with. Which means this isn’t a story about ever expanding ripples in a pond, or exponential growth, or even multiplying your success, instead it is about simple addition. It is taking 5 and getting 10, taking 2 and getting 4. It is about these two servants working diligently everyday slowly using what the master entrusted to them and gaining a little more ground all the time. I don’t think this type of faithfulness receives the attention it deserves anymore.

In our day in age we want spectacular results and we want them right now. That is part of the reason so many people can’t stick to diets or gym exercise. After only a few weeks we want to see dramatic results, we don’t want to step on to a scale only to learn that after what felt like herculean effort we only lost 2.5 lbs. That is also why special exercises like p-90x or turbo jam that promises a whole new toned and fit you in 90 days is just so attractive. We want spectacular results and we want them right now.

This attitude is hardly confined to weight loss. We can attach that same desire for spectacular rapid results to our spiritual lives or to the ministries we’ve been called into. It is not uncommon for new Christians to tackle developing their spiritual life with a zeal and energy that just can’t be sustained. Likewise I am not sure if any seminary has ever graduated someone who didn’t feel in their heart that God was going to use them for great world changing things. Of course the desire for spectacular rapid results are not limited to new Christians and new ministers, any one of us can feel this way at any time newness just tends to bring it out of us.

Also it is important to point out that there is nothing wrong with being excited, the problem comes when the excitement starts to taper off, or we run in to a difficulty we didn’t expect or the results are not coming at the pace we wanted and like our grand plans for diets we get frustrated and quit. We so want our lives to visibly change, or we so want the ministry we are engaged in to be unquestionably successful that when those things just don’t seem to be happening we just don’t know what to do, and we may even begin to question our original zeal and desire in the first place.

We can so want to do great things for God it can be so heartbreaking to feel like we are failing. If that sounds like you now, or has sounding like you in the past let me suggest something to you. Let God be great and you be faithful. Let God worry about greatness and you stick to being faithful at the things you are called too.

Besides who said we need to measure greatness in units of a thousand or more. Who says the mother who spends hours each morning in prayer for her children is doing anything less great than the mother who in the midst of a very busy day remembers from time to time to whisper out short but meaningful prayer for her children. Or who says the person that travels internationally sharing the gospel is doing anything less great than the person who is slowly getting their neighbour warm to the idea about going to church to explore their faith. Or who says the person that is only able to give 1 hour a week to volunteer to mentor a teen is doing anything less great than the career youth pastor in a downtown mega church. Greatness is not measured in miles, it’s measured in inches. Likewise being a faithful servant is not about achieving rapid spectacular results, it is about continuously working with the skills, talents and gifts God has entrusted to you at the task he assigned you.

The parable of the Talents is a rich story filled with imagery. And as we read it we find servants, like us serving a master, like us. Let’s learn from their mistakes and avoid doing nothing for fear of failure, and let’s emulate their success’ faithfully carrying out the tasks God has given us day by day. Let Us Pray.