November 13, 2005

26th Sunday after Pentecost

"Jesus Saves, We're Called To Invest"

(Matthew 25:14-20)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


INTRODUCTION:

A few years ago I read that Emory University had posted the new tuition rates on a bulletin board in the administration building. Every department and every school had a significant increase, except for one. Because Candler School of Theology was so heavily endowed, their tuition stayed the same. Someone noticed the significant difference between the school of theology and the rest of the departments and in red ink above the school of theology's tuition rates they wrote:

Jesus talked a lot about the use of money and possessions. Sixteen of the 38 parables are concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. (1) Since Jesus and the Bible talk so much about money and possessions they must be an important issue in the Kingdom of God.

Why is that? The passage for this morning addresses that. Matthew 25:14-20 (NRSV)

[14] "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;

[15] to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

[16] The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.

[17] In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.

[18] But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

[19] After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

[20] Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.'

[21] His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

[22] And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.'

[23] His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

[24] Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;

[25] so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'

[26] But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?

[27] Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.

[28] So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.

[29] For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

[30] As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

So, just what is this talent that Jesus is talking about? A single talent alone was a huge sum of money, equal to 6,000 denarii or 20 years worth of wages. According to the U.S. Census, the median income in America is $40,668. That would mean that in today's market 1 talent would equal $813,360.00. So, the one talent man received over than of a million dollars. That means the other two received $1.6 million and $4 million to invest for their master. "Each according to their ability."

So, we're not talking about paltry sums here. This was and still is a significant amount of money. Which means that the master had a significant amount of trust in the abilities of these three men. You just don't hand over a million dollars to a stranger who hasn't been tried and trusted.

So, the scenario is that two invest and double their money. And one simply buries it in the backyard. The first two are praised and rewarded but the one talent guy who buried the money is chastised and Donald Trumped, "You're Fired!" So, what's the deal. The master didn't lose any money.

In my studies this week I found out something very interesting. In our Lord's day, burying a treasure wasn't considered to be such a bad thing. It might not have been an admirable thing to do, but lot's of people did it. But according to one source, the one talent servant's actions were devious and conniving. He figured if his master was going on a long journey, there was a chance he might never come back. If the servant put the money in the bank, he would have to register it in the master's name. And when his master didn't come back, the heirs could claim it. However, if he buried it in the backyard, there wouldn't be any record of the money. And if the master didn't come back, the servant would have it for himself. If the master came back, the servant couldn't be accused of dishonesty because he could produce the talent. Unfortunately, he was busted and wound up with less than nothing. (2)

So, what does this passage teach us?


I. LOSE IT TO GAIN IT:

A. FIRST it teaches us that we have to LOSE IT TO GAIN IT. So, what do I mean?

We know Jesus Saves. The little play on words doesn't really have anything to do with money. But it has everything to do with our relationship with God, through Christ.

In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said, "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." We know that the only way we can gain our life, gain freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, and receive the daily strength we need to live for God is by surrendering our lives to God through Christ. We have to LOSE IT TO GAIN IT.

Our baptism and our faith enable and empower us to do the things Jesus wants and calls us to do. It even enables us to use our financial and physical resources; our money and our possessions.

There was a certain man who had a late conversion in life and asked to be baptized by immersion. Since United Methodists accept all forms of baptism, the Pastor arranged to use the baptistery in the local Baptist Church. After coming up out of the water, the man's eyes got real big and he said, "Good grief, preacher, I forgot to take my wallet out of my pocket. It's dripping wet."

"Praise the Lord," exclaimed the preacher. "We could stand a few more baptized wallets around here."

B. When the Emperor Constantine was converted he insisted that all of his troops accept Christ and be baptized along with him. And so they did. In one mass baptism, every one of Constantine's troops were baptized. But they weren't totally immersed, they held their sword arm out of the water, withholding it from God so their killing wouldn't displease God. They pledged it, instead to Constantine.

When we're baptized, whether it's through sprinkling, pouring or immersion, all of us is baptized. Not just a part of us. It's sort of like the old Willie Nelson song, "All Of Me, why not take all of me."

When we accept Christ, when we're baptized, we surrender all to Christ. We can't withhold anything. That includes every aspect of our lives, including our wallets. And like the servants in this parable, we are entrusted with the talents God has given us, "each according to their ability." And that word talent is used in both the modern understanding of our gifts and abilities and the ancient understanding of a large sum of money. God gives us both. We're simply the stewards or managers of what God has given us.


II. USE IT OR LOSE IT:

A. We have to surrender our lives to Christ in order to receive the abundant life and life eternal. We have to LOSE IT TO GAIN IT. But we also have to USE IT OR LOSE IT.

That's what happened in the parable. The first two, the five and the two talent servants invested the money entrusted to them and they were rewarded. The one talent man had it taken away. Like the title says, Jesus Saves, Were Called To Invest. We have to USE IT OR LOSE IT. Let me explain.

Once upon a time there was a young woman who seemed to have a lot of talent as a writer. Her teachers in grammar school and high school told her that she was so clever with words, had such a vivid imagination, and could tell stories so wonderfully well that she could easily become a good and maybe a great novelist. She really didn't believe them. I'm no different from anyone else, she kept saying. I don't want to be different from anyone else. Writers are different, so I'm not a writer.

Her family agreed. What will people say? They asked when she told them that maybe she ought to be a writer. Who do you think you are they said that you should be a writer. What do you know about life.

Some of the young men she dated thought she was a genius. She didn't want to be a genius, she just wanted to be like everyone else. So she dated boys who didn't think she was a genius and laughed at the suggestion that she ought to be a writer. Yet deep down in her heart she knew she was talented, she knew she could be a great writer and thought that maybe she should be.

In her quiet moments she even kind of wanted to be a writer. But her family and her new boy friends just laughed at her. So she gave up any thought of writing. She married and had a couple of kids and felt very unhappy and unfulfilled and divorced her husband and became an alcoholic. Maybe I should have been a writer she said finally. But by then it was too late. (3) You have to USE IT OR LOSE IT.

There was an American businessman by the name of Wilson. He was tired of the Great Depression, rising taxes, and increasing crime and in 1940 he sold his home and business and moved to an island in the South Pacific to get away from it all. Balmy and ringed with beautiful beaches, it was a paradise. Sounds like the perfect setting doesn't it. You know the name of the island? Iwo Jima.

For those too young to recall, Iwo Jima, was an island where the fiercest fighting between American forces and the Japanese took place in the Second World War. You have to USE IT OR LOSE IT.

B. Now compare those two stories to the life of Booker T. Washington. Washington started life as a black American slave. At the age of sixteen, he walked almost five hundred miles from his slave home to Hampton Institute in Virginia. When he got there, he was told that classes were already filled. But that didn't stop him. He took a job at the school doing menial jobs: sweeping floors and making beds and anything they wanted just so he could be around the environment of learning.

He did these jobs so well that the faculty found room for him as a student. He worked his way up at the school, became a famous teacher, the first black faculty member at Hampton Institute. He became a writer and the author of "Up From Slavery." He was a popular public speaker. And he eventually founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he brought George Washington Carver to teach and do all his research which changed and improved farming techniques.

Booker T. Washington USED IT and we all Gained from it.

Basketball coach John Wooden may have said it best, "Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do!"

The same holds true in our giving and in the use of our gifts and graces in the life of the church and in service to Christ. We can't let what we can't do get in the way of what we can do or what God can do through us. That's why I always talk about proportional giving when I talk about tithing.

Maybe your finances are in such a shape that you can't tithe. Or maybe you can't even give because you're out of work and there is nothing to give. That's OK. God knows your heart. God knows what you want to be able to do, so don't let the fact that you can't give what you want to give keep you from doing what you can. Continue to invest yourself.

You see, you can support the church and invest in God's work with your presence, your prayers and your service until you get back on your feet and you can support it with your gifts.

If tithing is the issue for you, then challenge yourself, as a spiritual quest, to grow 1% at a time until you are tithing. Don't be a one talent servant. Invest yourself in the Church.

"Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do!" You have to USE IT OR LOSE IT.


CONCLUSION:

Do you remember Jack Benny? He always did the same routine over and over again. A robber comes up to him and says, "Your money or your life?" There is no answer. Then the question again: "Your money or your life?" Benny still doesn't say anything. The robber says it a third time: "Your money or your life?" Jack Benny finally answers: "I'm thinking, I'm thinking."

That's really what stewardship is all about. It's definitely what stewardship campaigns are all about, to get us thinking about our relationship with God through Christ. It's not really about your money or your life. The truth is, if you've given your life to Christ, He already has your life. And if he has "all of you" then "all of you," including your money is invested in Him.

You see, the church isn't an organization you give dues to. The church is the body of Christ made up of disciples who have surrendered their lives to Him. The Christian faith is a cause we invest our lives in because we've been given new life. We have to LOSE IT TO GAIN IT and once we've gained it, we have to USE IT OR LOSE IT.

Remember Jesus Saves, We're Called to Invest in a life that honors Him and brings glory to God.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

______________________________

Bibliography

1. William H. Willimon, Remember Who You Are, (The Upper Room, Nashville, TN, pp. 27-28)

2. Adapted from The Parables In the Olivet Discourse by Hampton Keathley IV. It may be viewed at http://www.bible.org/docs/nt/books/mat/mat25.h.

3. Andrew M Greeley

4. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), March 1998

Other References Consulted

www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)

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Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

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The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

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