Today’s text is from Matthew 25. Note: This is an adaptation of a sermon given at Garden Park Church.
When I graduated seminary, Elise and I took a weekend trip up in the Yosemite area of the California mountains. I found us a nice bed a breakfast and our weekend was gloriously filled with nothing. While that sounds boring, as people accustomed to always doing something, we were thrilled with forty-eight hours of nothingness. We splurged ate ate out, we watched cable television in our room, and we spent hours in the hot tub watching the sunset. Kaiaini was with her grandma and we had the chance to unwind after three crazy years of ministry and graduate school.
On our way home, we passed a casino that we remembered seeing on the way up and a gradual conversation emerged about how neither one of us had ever gambled before. We had been in a casino a few times before, Elise’s grandparents lived near one and frequented the diner located inside, but we had never actually spent anytime in the casino gambling. We decided it would be worth the time to stop and go check out the casino, it is a famous one in California and we didn’t drive by it too often so it would be a fitting conclusion to our trip. We stepped inside and immediately experienced a cacophony of noise, lights, and smells. Truth be told, we were almost overwhelmed.
We spent about five minutes walking around the casino looking at all of the different slot machines and tried to figure out how to play by watching other people. As we were getting ready to leave, I casually mentioned that it might be fun, and we decided to give it a try. We went to the closest ATM, pulled out $20 and split it evenly. I took my ten dollars, and at three different slot machines was able to ten dollars worth of quarters in under five minutes.
Elise took hers, walked up to a random machine, deposited a quarter, hit the flashing button, and won $200 dollars. She was hooked. And so was I. The emotional high was overwhelming, and for poor seminary students, $200 was an extraordinary amount of money. She kept playing off of her winnings, believing that she could win more with as easy as it was. Within ten minutes she was down to $80 and we had to force ourselves to walk away. We had recouped our losses and were still able to walk out with something, granted it wasn’t the $200 we had just a few minutes before, but it was something.
On our way home, we talked about the thrill. I remember commenting, “I can see why people become addicted to it so easily, I really want to go back and see if I can win something.” The final hour of our trip flew by as we talked about how thrilling it all was, not just the money, but there was a hotel attached to it that was known locally for it’s amazing food. The lights and sounds were engaging. It was easy to see why people spent their days at this casino.
But we also realized something else: this $80 was free money that we weren’t sure what to do with. It wasn’t a lot, it might by us a month’s worth of diapers, maybe a nice date night together, but what we needed was real money. We knew that we would be moving somewhere soon (Garden Park wasn’t in our known future yet), and we figured we would need a down payment on an apartment or something, and $80 just wasn’t going to cut it.
We also realized that because of our current financial situation, we hand’t been as faithful in tithing to our church as we would have liked. We gave what we could, but we knew we often fell short, in fact, more often than not we didn’t give anything.
And somehow, it was decided. We pulled into our apartment late on Saturday evening, woke up early Sunday for church like usual, and gave all $80 to the church. Our first time tithing in a long time was money that we won while gambling away money that we didn’t have in the first place.
We’ve all been given something. We have all been bestowed, by our Creator, with something that we can use to bless others. Jesus tells us a parable to prove the point, the story that we read together earlier.
In the story, we find that three servants have been summoned in front of their master with task: watch some of his money while he is gone. Steward it well. Invest it responsibly. Manage and care for what is his while he is gone, so that he can reclaim it when he returns.
To one, he gave five bags of gold. A talent in the story is a weighed amount of gold, not a skill or ability. To one, he gave two, and to the third he gave one. If we recognize that a talent is a way to measure gold, we quickly see that the master entrusted his servants with a lot of money. A talent of gold (or bag of gold in the TNIV) is roughly 180,000 days wages. In a modern telling of the story we might say that the master gave one servant $114 million dollars, to another he gave $45 million, and to one he gave $22 million. All told, the three servants in charge of just over 181 million dollars.
The first servant took his five bags of gold, his $114 million dollars and doubled it. “Here, you gave me $114 million, I’m giving you back $228 million.” The second did likewise, his $22 million became $44 million. The third is a telling example of trust misplaced: I hid it, I buried it, I was scared, just take it back.
The response of the third servant is actually a common response, in fact, in my experience, it is the most common of the three the servants. The people of God, entrusted with something special since the very beginning, have often tried to hoard it, hide it, or keep it a secret.
The early people of faith have always tried to downplay the importance of the gift that they have been given. Abraham, afraid of Pharaoh, lied about his wife and claimed that she was his sister. The Jewish people, in the early stages of their community were charged with being a light to the Gentiles but often neglected and ridiculed them. Jesus charged his early followers with the call to be a city on a hill, a refuge for the poor and hurting, and a safe haven for those experiencing conflict or fighting; and yet we fully realize that we have often been guilty of just the opposite.
If we are honest with ourselves, our actions are much more like that of the third servant than the first two. We know that God has entrusted us with something special but we rarely seize an opportunity to share it, to double it, to expand the riches and pleasure of God.
Our problem with what we have is twofold: we either don’t use it for God’s glory or we compare it to someone else and feel inadequate. God has placed you right where he wants you to do something great for him, if you would only be willing to step out in faith and use what he has entrusted you with.
So to the first group, those struggling with using what they have for God’s glory, I urge you to consider the fate of the third servant. Given the opportunity to use what he had been blessed with, we see that he failed to invest anything, and paid dearly for it. Discipleship, the formation of our souls, hearts, minds, bodies, and actions to look more like Jesus, at it’s most simple form is the idea that we can use anything in our lives to bring glory to God and advance his Kingdom. Discipleship is rarely, if ever, about doing or adding something new to our lives. Instead, it is much more often about using what we already have more intentionally to share the love of God with those around us. Discipleship happens not when we flood or daily lives with new, exciting, or different opportunities, but when we seize every opportunity in our daily life to bring someone into the presence of the God who loves and creates them. Buying food is a discipleship act when we buy food that honors our bodies. Sharing a meal together is a discipleship act when we create a space and invite others to experience a God who loves them. Prayer is a discipleship act when we pray for our friends who don’t know Jesus and petition God to reveal his true nature to them. Many of us are involved in mentoring relationships, support groups, volunteer opportunities, rallies, social causes, or community events and all of these are chances to be involved in the life of someone else and draw them close to Jesus, but only when we do so intentionally and with the belief that what we have been given is for the sake of God and his Kingdom.
To the second group, those busy comparing what they have to those around them, I caution you that the quickest way to experience unhappiness and ineffectiveness in what God has called you to is by comparing yourself to someone else. It’s a common game, and easy enough to play, but it is met with dire consequences. In seminary, it was common to hear future pastors say, “I watch all of (fill in the blank famous pastor’s) sermon and want to teach/preach/lead just like he/she does.” While there is something that can be learned by looking at those who have gone before us, this is far different than owing and celebrating what God has given you. You, yes you, have just what you need, just for this moment, to help someone encounter the power and presence of the resurrection of Jesus.You don’t need to be richer like Warren Buffet, better connected like President Obama, popular like Tom Cruise, or as good looking as your pastor (hopefully there’s laughter here) you just need to know that you have enough, for this moment, to make a difference in the life of someone around you today.
As we conclude our eight week summer series on the parables of Jesus, we pause and stop to reflect on the many ways that the parables challenge and call us as the people of God into greater levels of faithfulness. Here, Matthew 25 urges us to be people that accept what we have been given and then commit to using it, all of it, no matter how much or how little, for the glory of God. This week, as our country is divided in many areas of war, political stances, and the outcries of injustice on streets across America, may we be people who stand with the oppressed and rejected, like Jesus did, and look after the widow, orphan, and forgotten. May we be people who above all else promote peace and justice, reconciliation and hope, forgiveness and grace in the name of Jesus and use whatever we have, whenever we need to, to advance Christ and his Kingdom.
Adapted from a recent sermon at Garden Park Church.