(Readings: James 1:19-27 and Matthew 25:14-30)


            Well, we have taken the last month to discuss the things of the Spirit.  We have talked about our need for the Spirit and hung out our “Help Wanted” signs.  We have reflected on the Valley of Dry Bones and remembered that the Spirit can always breath new life into us.  We have talked about the day of Pentecost and asked the Spirit to fill us in that same way.  We have looked at the wisdom that comes from the Spirit and wrestled with how to walk in the wisdom of God even though it looks like foolishness to the world.  And, finally, we talked last week about the gifts that the Spirit has given us so that each one of us is an essential part of the Body of Christ, the church.

            Today, we are going to finish our focus on the Spirit with a reminder that all we have learned and discovered over the last month is important, and we are called to live it out.  There is no shortage of stories in the Gospels where Jesus tells us that we are accountable for how we live and what we do with those things that we have heard and the gifts that we have received.  The parable that we read a few moments ago is just one of those stories, and in it, Jesus makes very clear to us what it means to be accountable to our heavenly Lord. 

            In this story, Jesus tells about three servants, each of who had received an extraordinary amount of money.  In Jesus’ time, a talent was 15 years worth of wages for a laborer, so a rough equivalent would be a million dollars, so we might read (Matt 25:14-15): “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 million dollars, to another two million dollars, to another one million dollars, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”  The message is clear—the master, Jesus, entrusts a huge amount to all of his servants.  Even the servant with the least ability is entrusted with one million dollars, and then…the master leaves.

            Have any of you noticed that the master left?  If you remember, he ascended to heaven in chapter 1 of the book of Acts and he has not yet returned!  He has promised that he will return and this parable makes it clear that Jesus will return, but it also points out that we should expect for a long absence.  Verse 19 makes this clear: “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. (25:19)”  And, so here we are, just like the three servants in the story.  We are watching the last cloud of dust from Jesus’ truck settle to the road as he drives into the distance.  Here we are, sitting on a couple of million dollars.  What do you do?  What do you do if you have just been entrusted with a million dollars? 

Jesus gives us two options.  The first two servants don’t waste any time.  Jesus uses a word that doesn’t appear in our translation, but he tells us that “immediately” they got to work with their money.  These servants know their master.  They know that their master has entrusted  them with his property and they know that their master’s call is to make use of what they have received.  They are not afraid or timid or lazy.  They waste no time, and as a result they thrive.  They are able to double what has been entrusted to them.  The third servant, however, doesn’t quite get it.  He doesn’t understand who his master is, so instead of being free to use what the master has given him to excel, he is paralyzed by fear.  He is just stuck.  I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands, but how many of you can think of a time when you were paralyzed by fear?  A time when you were so worried about failure that you could not act at all?

A big reason for becoming paralyzed by fear is the feeling that those people who oversee you are going to punish you if things don’t turn out perfectly, and so we respond by not taking any risks, not stepping out in faith, not investing the gifts which we have been given, or, maybe, by going and digging a hole in the ground and burying our talent.  That is the safe road, isn’t it?  After all, we may not gain anything, but we don’t have to worry about losing anything!  At least, that is what we tell ourselves.  It turns out, however, that burying our talent in the ground is the most dangerous thing we can do!

The third servant’s misunderstanding of God cost him dearly, and it can cost us dearly too, because if we think of God like the third servant did, as a “a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;” (25:24) then we too are going to be paralyzed by our fear and are never going to step out in faith.  On the other hand, if we take to heart the words of the reading we shared at the beginning of worship,

Do not fear, for I am with you, Do not be afraid, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand. Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the Lord.  Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff.  You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them.  Then you shall rejoice in the Lord.

                God declares that we need not fear, but instead trust that God will not only be with us but also enable us to, as Isaiah said, “thresh the mountains and crush them and make the hills like chaff.”  Jacob’s people, the nation of Israel, are but a “worm,” a one-talent people, but that does not matter in God, because when we use our one talent for God, God blesses it and God works with it to bring about gain.  God is able to use a one-talent nation to thresh the nations and God is able to use one-talent or two talent or five talent people to bring about God’s kingdom, but the key is this: the master has given us the talent and he has walked away and he allows us to decide what we are going to do with our talent.

            How many of us, at the end of our days, when we stand face to face with our master , are going to say: “Here you have what is yours (Matt 25:25)?”  How many of us are going to come before God and tell God all about what we did not do, what sins we avoided—how we didn’t drink or didn’t do drugs or how we didn’t cheat or how we were not as bad as the guy down the street or around the corner, and God is going to say, “That’s good.  Now what did you do with your talent?” and then we are going to reach down into a dirty bag that we have recently unearthed and offer back the great gifts God has given us—unused. 

            The story of the other two servants is a much more exciting story.  It is the story of servants who know their master’s heart and passion, servants who knew that they had been given a gift for a purpose.  Those servants were not held captive by fear, but instead trusted that they had received the gifts they needed, given by their master who knew their abilities, so they could then step boldly into the world to use those gifts, because the master who knows them intimately would not lead them awry. 

            You know how the story goes.  Trusting in their master’s trust of them, the servants were able to double what the Lord had entrusted to them.  So, on that same day when the third servant stands before the master with a dirty bag, the other two servants come before their master with twice what they had originally been given.  I want you to envision the expression on the master’s face when he declares these words (25:22, 24): ‘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.’  That face, that expression, is what we are living for.  My friends, we have a master who wants us to enter into his joy.  He doesn’t care which servant brings back the larger stack of money, the first and second servants both receive the exact same welcome despite a six million dollar difference in returns!  In fact, the master is not really concerned with the money at all—he glibly refers to five million dollars as a “few things” that the servant has been faithful with so that he can now move on to more important matters.  The master is simply looking for faithful servants

            God, is not looking on a return in investment because God needs to show a quarterly earnings statement.  Instead, God is looking for people who understand what has been given to them.  God is looking for men and women who recognize that they have been entrusted with great things.  Even those of us who have been given the least have been given an abundance and we are called to live out of that abundance to reach the world.  The first and second servants recognize what they have been given.  Their first statement to the master is “Master, you handed over to me five talents” or “Master you handed over to me two talents.”  They have eyes to see what they have been entrusted with, whereas the third servant, instead of looking at the reality of what has been given to him, has had his eyes fixed on the lie he had told himself about the master.  His words are not words recognizing what has been entrusted, but instead his words seek to justify inaction and laziness.

            So, at the end of the day, the story tells us this—we have all been gifted, abundantly, but also gifted according to our ability, so we are without excuse.  If we choose to hide our gifts in the ground—ignore the call of God on our lives—then we have nothing but weak excuses on our lips when we stand before our master.  My hope today is that I can dispel some of the fear that may grip us as it gripped the third servant.  My friends, we need to know that God knows us and God has given us what God knows we can use successfully for the Kingdom of God.  There is no reason to let fear paralyze you—you have a good master who longs to see you succeed.  We also have a master who is not just looking for a people who try to avoid doing what is wrong.  I hope you do avoid the wrong, but God is looking for what we have done.  In fact, there are two other parables in Matthew 25, and this is the point of all three of these stories: we are called to be people who live out our faith in our actions.  Nothing less is the life of faith following Jesus.

James spells it out clearly (1:22-25): “22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

When I think about people who have understood that their gifts, talents and abilities entrusted from God and that they will be accountable for how they used those gifts, one of the first people who comes to my mind is Eric Liddell.  You may remember Eric if you have seen the 1980’s film “Chariots of Fire” that was made about his life.  Eric was a gifted runner—one of the fastest in the world—but he recognized that his ability to run and everything else in his life was entrusted to him by God and, for him, running was all about bringing God glory.  He used his races as a venue to bring people together so that he could explain the Gospel to them.  He refused to run, even at the Olympics, on Sundays because he believed that to be a betrayal of God’s call to Sabbath.  The movie quotes him in this way: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  The real-life Eric Liddell went on from winning gold at the Olympics to serve out the remainder of his life as a missionary in China—including his final years in an internment camp during World War 2.  It only recently came out that Liddell could have left the camp that became his final home, but he chose to give up his spot to a pregnant woman—and ended up dying in that camp.

These is much to mourn in Eric’s early death, but much to celebrate in a life lived recognizing that the five talents in your pocket are not yours—they have been entrusted by God and, as Eric would have quoted Hebrews (12:1) as saying—“let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

My friends, whether you find yourself with one talent, two talents or five talents in your pocket, you have been entrusted with much.  May we take what God has given us and may we run the race.  Amen.