November 19th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents), Galatians 6:1-10
Today we complete our series on Living Generously, and we focus on the whole, interconnected community of people that contribute to the planting, sustaining and tending of Gospel seeds that makes God’s Kingdom grow toward an abundant harvest. We all have a part, and need to do our part, to bear fruit for the Lord.
I’m confident that the Parable of the Talents is one that is familiar to many of you. I know it’s one that I’ve heard many times over the years in church and in Sunday school, especially when the focus is on stewardship. So it’s probably no surprise that you are hearing it again today as we conclude a stewardship series. But there were some surprises for me this week as I studied the passage again. As I have shared before, when we are trying to understand the parable stories which Jesus told it is important to look for the elements in the story that surprise. These surprises are often the key to unlocking the truth that Jesus was sharing.
So here is a pop-quiz for you:
First, in Jesus’ day, a talent was an amount of money. Was a talent equivalent to what a worker could earn in A) 1 year, B) 20 years, C) 100 years? (B is correct, somewhere in the range of a million dollars today)
Second, does the word “talent” as we use it today to mean an ability or skill, have any relation to the word “talent” used in the Bible to refer to a sum of money? (Yes; those who took the risk and put your hand up are correct. Over time the “talent” that initially referred to a sum or weight of money began to be used to speak of wealth in general and then used figuratively to represent the wealth of ability and aptitude. This parable influenced that shift in the meaning of the word, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)
There’s your trivia for today! For me, though I’ve heard before how much money a talent was, it surprised me yet again to think about the amazing, risky generosity of the owner to hand over control of that much of his wealth to his servants! The owner entrusts his property to them – 100 years worth of income, 40 years worth of income and 20 years of income respectively to each of the 3 servants. I believe Jesus wanted those who heard this parable to also be surprised at the generosity, and at the responsibility, in this story about God’s Kingdom.
Another surprise in the story for those who were listening to it in Jesus’ time and who followed the Old Testament laws, is that they would know that the Hebrew Bible taught against making a profit off of others (like the first 2 servants did) or collecting interest from your money (as the owner suggests the third servant should have done). So for those listening, the surprise that Jesus seemed to be advocating something contrary to the Law of Moses, would have been a clue that he was not talking about money at all. He wasn’t giving a lesson on managing financial investments. It is about the riches of a heavenly Kingdom being distributed to God’s servants according to their ability.
God has given us SO MUCH! We have material blessings, but in addition we have much, much more. We have been entrusted with this earth and all its beauty, its minerals and plants and creatures. We have been entrusted with God’s Word, the Bible. We have been given the many promises it contains, including the promise that we are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others; we are given the Light of Christ so we can be a light to the world. Through Jesus Christ we have been given the gift of forgiveness and of salvation, and entrusted with sharing that Good News with others. We have been given the church, the community of God’s people, which is to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world. We have been given abilities, talents to help us do that, along with spiritual talents/gifts. We have been given the gift of time in which to accomplish these Kingdom tasks. (In the parable, Jesus says the owner returns after ‘a long time’)
So after we understand this is not just about money, and then begin to appreciate the incredible generosity of the Giver, of God, we have to move to the basic question which the parable asks: the question, “What will we do with what God has given us?” The two servants that are praised and rewarded at the end are the ones who have actively done something with the riches that the owner entrusted to them. They immediately set about putting it to work.
Again, to look back to the time that Jesus told this parable, the group of people who would have been thought of as the servants of the owner, the servants of God, would have been the Jewish people and particularly the religious leaders, the scribes, the priests, the Pharisees. And there was Jesus, the Son of God, the Owner of this world coming after a long time, to see for himself what the chosen people had done with their knowledge of God, the promises and the blessings entrusted to them. The people of Israel, like the wicked servant, had in fact hidden its riches. They had kept it to themselves, created barriers and obstacles for others to sharing in the blessings, keeping it from all who were considered outsiders and sinners. They buried the light of God which had been intended to be a light for the Gentiles.
As Jesus tells this story he is getting very near to the great climax of his mission on earth. He is about to give his life as a ransom for many, for all people of every nation, to add even more riches upon those who would choose to be servants of His Kingdom. So as the disciples listened to this story, and as they shared it with new believers in the days and years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it put that critical question before them. What were they going to do with the riches of the new promise in Jesus’ blood, the new gift of salvation through the cross of Christ, the new opportunity to bless others with the blessings given to them? The owner was, in one sense, leaving again.
To change up the metaphor a bit, we could ask the question, what were they going to do with their sack of Gospel seeds? When a farmer plants seed, there is a purpose for that seed. The farmer wants to see it grow, he wants to harvest some sort of crop or fruit from the investment and the effort in planting. But there are risks involved – what if there is too much rain, or too little rain, what if there is a storm or a fire or some vandalism in their field? But the farmer knows that if he is unwilling to take the risk and just keeps the seeds in the bag, then it’s a guarantee that there won’t be anything to harvest… so the farmer must take the risk and plant the seeds into the ground.
In the parable, it is the servant who is too afraid to take any risks, that is chastised. He thought he was protecting himself, but in the end, he loses out on any harvest at all and any part in the joy of the Master. He misses out on hearing those words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
What kinds of risks do we face to living generously and spreading freely our seeds of time, talents and treasure? What are the risks that might keep us from investing our Kingdom blessings into Kingdom work?
There is the risk that giving money away means less for yourself, it means giving something up, sacrificing something. It means trusting in God’s provision for the future. Also when we give financially to a mission or ministry, we usually have to give up control of what happens to our money and trust others to manage it. The AB women took a risk of spending money on the White Cross gifts that are going to the Milwaukee Christian Center, and they must trust that those who work there will use those things wisely for those in need. They must trust that those who receive the gifts will value them, too. Our congregation sent a couple hundred dollars worth of loose coins to Rainbow Acres in Arizona and must trust that it will be used to provide loving care for a disabled adult. We have to trust that God will oversee the use of ministry funds and that God will deal with those who may misspend ministry funds.
There is the risk of failure. Some here today took the risk of singing into a microphone, risked a missed note or a fumbled word, yet trusted that God would take their voices, take the time and effort of choir practice, and use that to bring out an offering of worship and praise from us all. If you take the risk of giving your skills and abilities to work that God has directed you to, then the success or failure is in God’s hands. We must trust God that the outcome, whatever it may be, will bring Him glory.
There is the risk of being rejected or being hurt. You may share your story of faith with a friend and be brushed off, or share a kind word with a stranger and be called a bad name in return. Jesus said that we should not expect to receive any better treatment than He received. We may need to risk our security at times to go where Christ leads. But Jesus promised to be with us always, and to never leave us alone.
We risk not getting credit for what we give or for what we do in the church or the community. In God’s system, we don’t always get to harvest what we plant. We sent off 43 Christmas shoeboxes. But our boxes will be added to hundreds and thousands of other boxes and then sent to faraway places. Some pastor in foreign country will be the one who gets to hear the words of thanks from the child who receives it. And it may be yet another person who prays with that child as they come to know Jesus Christ. That’s how the system works. We do what we are directed by God to do; we do our part. It enables others to do what God is directing them to do, to do their part.
Amazingly, that is what God himself did. Jesus came to be a sacrifice for us, to offer us forgiveness and eternal life, but then He entrusted that message to his disciples. Those disciples entrusted the message to the next generation of believers, and the next, and the next, and now the message is entrusted to us. It is all a risk and we are risk takers in God’s Kingdom work. We need to pray and listen to God’s directives. We need to respond obediently to plant seeds, to share resources, to give time and talent, to take leaps of faith.
There is a harvest coming. It’s called the Day of the Lord, the moment Christ calls us home, the moment the trumpet sounds and we all stand before the throne of God. That means for those of us sitting here this morning, the harvest has not yet come; it is still Seedtime. Right now is the time to plant. The sooner the seeds are planted, the more seeds that are planted, the greater the potential for growth and for an abundant harvest.
In the story we have been following of Frank and his family, the seeds sown by the wise words of his friend Re are beginning to take root in Frank’s heart. With a deep sense of gratitude to God, he makes some changes in his life and with his resources to be more generous. He takes some risks to invest in helping others and trusts that God will use what he is giving for God’s Kingdom work. Let’s watch the video as Re shares the final message of the series.
Video – #10 Teaching Moment, “Living Generously” RightNowMedia
The present time is Seedtime! Time to make decisions on how to plant your time and talents and resources. It is time to decide if you love God enough to give your first and best; to decide if you trust God enough to take risks. How will you will scatter that Gospel seed into the world, or sow seeds into the work of this church and other Christian ministry?
I encourage those of you in this congregation to complete the pledge card for next year that was put into your mailbox. It invites you to pledge your money, your time, your talents, your prayers, to the work that God is doing through this community of faith. Let us respond now, in song, that is also a prayer:
Closing Song: “Make Me A Servant”