Sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 28)

Text: Matthew 25:24-26, 30
The servant who had received one thousand coins came in and said, "Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not plant, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground. Look! Here is what belongs to you.' "You bad and lazy servant!' his master said. … "Throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth.'
St Paul's Lutheran Church, Caboolture

Risks, opportunities & possibilities

After hearing a sermon entitled, "God's money managers", members of the congregation were invited to take an envelope. In each envelope there was twenty dollars. 350 envelopes were handed out, that’s $7,000 – each person could return as much or as little of this investment as they wanted.

Periodic updates were given during the following three months to see how people were using "God's money" and what their returns were looking like. Then a special service was held in which people got up and shared exactly what they did and how they made their money grow (or how it failed to grow in a few cases). A total of $37,000 was returned to the church. Here’s how some of them used their ten dollars

  • One woman snipped her houseplants and bought potting mix with her $20. She sold 100 small plants at $3.50 each for a profit of $330.
  • One young man bought dog treats with his $20 and offered to walk dogs along the beach. He made a $300 profit.
  • One elderly lady crocheted a rug using her money for extra wool. She sold raffle tickets for five dollars at her retirement village and netted $375.
  • One family gave a concert. The father and son played guitar, the mother played piano, one daughter played flute, and the other daughter played violin. They used their $20 for refreshments and charged $5 per person. They raised $401 profit.
  • The pastor didn't use his $20. Instead, he offered to say nothing at the next congregational meeting if an individual or a group of people offered him $1,000. He returned $1,350 plus $20.
  • The Church Council of this congregation took a risk handing out $7,000. However, if they didn't take the risk then they would not have received the return they did from their investment.

    The gospel reading from Matthew isn’t all that complicated. It’s all about risk, trust, opportunities and investment. Jesus tells about a man who left his servants in charge of his money while he was away. He made them responsible for varying amounts. To one he gave 5,000 coins, to another 2,000 and to the third 1,000. When he returned the first two servants reported they had invested the money and returned double the amount that they had been given. "Well done, good and faithful servants," the master said. … "Come on in and share my happiness".

    The servant who had been given 1,000 coins was afraid that he would lose the money if he invested it. He had buried it in the garden and now returned the same as he had been given. The rich man was unhappy and angry. The servant had wasted an opportunity to use what he had been given. He calls the servant "useless" and has him thrown out into the darkness.

    So what is Jesus saying to us today?

    Like the servants in the parable, he entrusts us to take care of what is precious to him.
    Our lives belong to God.
    He has given us life, people whom we love and people who love us.
    He has given us the world with all its wonder and beauty to live in.
    We belong to God. Referring to the sacrifice Jesus made for us to rescue us from sin and death Paul says, "You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price" (1 Cor 6:20).
    He has given us gifts and abilities – given them to each of us in varying degrees.
    The greatest gifts he has entrusted us with are the Gospel, baptism, Holy Communion and the fellowship of believers we call "the church".

    Jesus is like the man who went away for a while. Jesus will return and he will want to know what we have done with what he has entrusted us.
    He will want to know how we have treated the world in which we live – the soil, the trees, the rivers, the animals.
    What have we done with knowledge – have we used it to the benefit of all people or to bring more misery into the world?
    He will want to know what we have done with our bodies.
    How have we used a smile, a kind word, a touch of reassurance to brighten someone’s day?
    What have we done with the lives for which he died on the cross?

    Jesus will return and want to know what we have done with the Gospel of forgiveness and eternal life. Have we received, treasured it - and then buried it?
    He will want to know if we have used the gospel to challenge and change the lives of people in our neighbourhood, family or wherever?
    Has the newness that God has given us through the cross of Jesus made any difference in our attitude to our work, how we spend our money, how well we get on with others – our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters?
    Has the Gospel moved us to serve others less fortunate?

    When you think about it, God has blessed us with so many gifts – by far too many to count. God has not been stingy by any stretch of the imagination. The idea, that God will call us to give an account of how we have used those gifts, challenges us to think about things like –
    What gifts has God given to me?
    How am I using those gifts?
    What possibilities and opportunities has God given me to make a difference in someone’s life, to make in investment in their future in this world and in the world to come?
    Or have I been like the third servant, and refused to take a risk, to get out of my comfort zone, and simply hidden away what God has given to me, missed the possibilities that God has presented to me?
    And what about all the times I have said or thought,
    "I could do it but I’m too busy" or
    "I don’t want to be bothered" or
    "Let someone else do it".
    You’ve heard of "couch potatoes" – "couch potatoes" are people who like to do nothing but watch TV. There are also "pew potatoes" – people who believe that there is nothing better than watching other people do things in the church.

    Let’s be clear about this one thing - it was not the size of the return that the rich man was concerned about, after all, he would have been satisfied if the third servant had simple put the money in the bank and let it earn interest. Jesus is talking about attitude -
    our willingness to do as God wants us to do,
    our eagerness to risk all that we have been given for the sake of the Kingdom just as Jesus risked all of himself for our sake. The man is condemned to the darkness because he was unwilling, reluctant, even unenthusiastic about using what he had been given.

    This story is about possibilities.
    This story is about opportunities.
    This story is about being entrusted.
    This story is about a generous trust.
    This story is about the owner sharing the joy of using what is his, of reaping its benefits, enjoying its profits.
    It’s a story about being creative, ‘having a go’, and looking ahead.
    It’s a story about someone putting into your hands something really important, really precious and saying, "See what you can do with that!"

    This story is telling us that to do nothing, to take no risks, to not use what God has given, to not use the opportunities and possibilities that God has provided - that is a sin. This parable is a lesson about our attitude and responsibility - about stepping out with God's treasure in our hands and risking it all for the sake of others - for the sake of God.

    This story of Jesus is a wake up call. Jesus is coming again, there will be a judgement, and we are expected to be faithful workers for Jesus. We all need a shake up every now and then. We can get so complacent, lazy, unenthusiastic and unwilling. It’s easy to become a "pew potato". We are happy to sit back and watch the others use their gifts to further God's Kingdom.

    Jesus intended to stir us up and get us thinking and re-evaluate how willing we are to step out and to invest what God has given. This parable tells us that Jesus is deadly serious about how we either use or ignore the possibilities, the opportunities and the generous trust that he has placed in us to be good managers of what he has given us.

    I can say quite confidently that there is no one here or anywhere who is the perfect manager of God's gifts. That’s because of our sinful nature.

    Jesus died for "pew potatoes" and for all those who are reluctant to use what God has given them in his service. There is forgiveness for even a lifetime of making excuses and sitting back and letting others do everything. Jesus died for people like you and me. We pray it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer – "Forgive us our sins". We hear it every Sunday – "Your sins are forgiven". The Gospel of forgiveness is great. We have been comforted with the knowledge that our God forgives and still loves us. But in saying that, this is not an invitation to go back to sleep.

    More than ever, as the chosen and rescued people of God, as people who have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, as people who have been made new and live in a new relationship with God and the world, we have been given an important responsibility – to honour the investment God has made in us and to use what he has given, and to invest and reinvest in his kingdom and the lives of others.

    Three quick points in conclusion.

    You are God's chosen and saved people. He has equipped you with gifts and provides you with opportunities. Have a go.  You won't do it perfectly.  But in the name of the Crucified One and under the cross, he will say to you, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

    © Pastor Vince Gerhardy
    13th November, 2005

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