Monday, November 21, 2011

Proper 28 of Series A (Matthew 25:14-30)

“For to everyone who has more will be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, perhaps the most important detail of our parable for today was a detail that you missed. In fact, I would guess that most of the people who first heard this parable missed that detail as well. In this parable, Jesus is clearly the master. And what does Jesus say about this master? “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” The most important lesson of this parable is the declaration that Jesus is departing, going on a journey. He will soon leave His disciples and the crowds, His followers and His enemies, behind. Many thought that He was going to establish an earthly kingdom, that He was going to reign from Jerusalem forever. But His kingdom is not of this world, and so He must depart, He must go on that journey. This message is distressing, but the parable of the talents has another important lesson to teach: Christ will not leave His people without giving them great gifts.

In fact, that is why He departs; without going on a journey, He cannot give to His people the gifts they need. His road leads to a hill outside Jerusalem; in the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, He will be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, by whom this world was created, will be handed over to the powers of this world, religious and secular, the Sanhedrin and Pontus Pilate. He will depart, He will go on a journey, for He will die, hanging upon a Roman cross. There, in the moment of His departure, He will win for you and for me every good gift. For He died bearing your sin, your guilt, your shame. He died to pay the penalty you owe, to take the punishment you deserve upon Himself. Jesus died for you! And on the third day He returned from His journey through death and the grave when He walked out of the tomb, triumphant over death forever. Jesus died to pay for your sin; He rose to give you life!

On that first Easter, the disciples once again thought that Jesus was ready to set up shop and stay, to rule this earth forever. But He had another departure yet to come. The parable of the talents first of all points to Calvary’s cross, and then forty days beyond Easter to a mountain in Galilee. There Jesus ascended, going on His journey; He would no longer be visibly present to His Church until the day of His return. That’s the message of the parable of the talents: Jesus departed so that He could return. He departed on Good Friday to return on Easter Sunday; He departed on Ascension Day to return on the Last Day. Even though you cannot see Him, you have the promise that He truly will truly be with you as you wait, to the very end of the age, sustained by His gifts given to you through the Church: forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Word and the Holy Sacraments.

Those are the most important gifts, the gifts that will sustain His people as they eagerly await His return. These are the foundational gifts, won by His own blood. These gifts make you a Christian, part of His body, they give to you the guarantee that when He returns, He will take you to be with Himself forever. These gifts sustain you as you wait, giving you strength to face the days of anticipation. But those are not the only gifts that He has given you. “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. They he went away.” He has given to each and every one of you unique abilities and gifts. He doesn’t give each person the same gifts, or even the same amount of gifts; our God is anything but boring. These gifts come in endless variety: the ability to speak well, a caring heart, skill at business, a strong work ethic. The list can go on and on; when you stop to think about it, God has blessed you with a multitude of gifts. But these gifts are not your own; they do not belong to you any more than the talents belonged to the servants. They were entrusted to take care of the talents, to watch over them, but most of all, they were to use them. The talents were not given to the servants to make them rich. They were given so that they could put them to work for their master. The gifts God has given to you are not to be used simply for your own good. Faithful servants use their gifts to spread the Gospel.

Jesus tells us, “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.” The faithful servants put the money to work, using them to gain more talents for master’s bank account. We do the same, only we deal with people. The gifts and abilities that Christ has given you aren’t to be used to simply make you wealthy or bring you power. Instead, they are to be used to gain your friends, your family, your neighbors for the kingdom of God. He has given to you the faith, fed you with His Word and Sacraments, and has even given to you unique abilities to take that same Gospel to others. He uses your gifts to bring the Gospel to people that a pastor or missionary may not have the opportunity to reach, you are His tools to bring people into contact with Christ. He uses your abilities to provide opportunities to speak of Jesus, in every situation you find yourself in. What a privilege, what an opportunity, what a responsibility!

The Master receives faithful servants with joy. “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” The numbers don’t matter; it doesn’t matter how many people you serve, how many times you share the Gospel, or how many believe. Remember, it was never about you in the first place. The talents belong to Jesus and so He does the work through you. You come into the joy of your Master only because of grace, for you have remained faithful to the one who redeemed you by His blood. The servants don’t keep track, for they are saved by grace alone, not by their works.

This is a great picture of the Church: the community of believers, washed in the very blood of the Lamb, fed on the forgiveness of Christ every week, going out into this world looking for opportunities to speak about the salvation that is found in no other Name that Jesus Christ. But you and I know that we often fall far short of that glorious picture. In fact, you and I all too often imitate the third servant in our text. “But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” He was selfish; he kept his master’s gifts all to himself. How often do you simply use the gifts that God has given to you for your own good, and not for the spread of the Gospel? How often do you bury the gifts of salvation in the ground, making sure that no one can tell if you are a Christian? Do you hold onto the Gospel selfishly, thinking that others don’t deserve it? Or do you through fear keep it hidden away? The faithful servants are wisely prepared for Christ’s return; they are using the gifts given to them for the work of the kingdom. The third servant is complacent; he doesn’t believe that the master will return.

But he’s wrong; the master does return, as Christ Himself promises that He will return. It’s no good pretending that Jesus won’t come back; instead, you are called upon to be ready, to watch and wait! The first two servants are brought into the joy of the master not because of anything they have done, but because they didn’t despise the gifts given to them. The third servant, however, has buried the gifts given to him through laziness and rebellion, and now something quite different than joy awaits him. “Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Those who despise the gifts of God will find themselves separated from Him forever.

If we are honest with ourselves, that is what we all deserve, each and every one of us. We have all despised the gifts of Christ, we have shown that we consider them of little worth by burying them or simply using them for our own benefit. Our focus has been inward toward our own comfort and sinful desires rather than outward at those who desperately need to hear of redemption from sin and from death. Today we confess together, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And the Master is merciful. He loves you and wants to forgive you again and again, even when you despise those very gifts. He hears your confession, and He forgives. The same gifts we so often hide away from the sight of others are given over and over again in abundance to forgive such selfishness. Jesus Christ died and rose again for all of our sins, even the sin of laziness and rejection of His gifts. His grace overflows to us, as Jesus Himself says: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” Having received such lavish grace, you go out with joy into this world and use the gifts He has given you for the work of His kingdom, relying on His forgiveness for every missed opportunity, every failure to confess the Gospel, every instance of selfishness. Then, on the Last Day, when God settles accounts with you, He will not look to you and see how much your talents earned, nor how often you buried them, but all He will see is Christ’s righteousness covering you, and He will declare with a smile: “Enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

No comments: