Monday, November 20, 2023

The talented. . .

Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28A, preached on Sunday, November 19, 2023.

Most of us reading the parable find the problem with the nobleman.  He gets his three trusted servants together and does not dole out the goods equally.  In this world of equity and justice, this is an obvious failing.  If you put in your will that each of your kids get a different part of the estate, your children are likely to presume that you love them differently, one more than others and two more than the third.  We cannot get past this inequity in the parable.  So we start with a chip on our shoulders.

A talent is not a skill or an ability but a weight of money.  A talent was the equivalent of nearly 20 years wages.  Even among the hourly workers, we are easy talking about more than a million dollars.  So to one, the nobleman gave 5 million, to the second 3 million, and to the third 1 million.  That sort of makes it easier.  The parable is not simply about the different amounts entrusted to the servants but is about the generous mercy of the nobleman – God.  God is the generous one.  No one gets a little but every gets a lot – all more than they deserve to be sure.

The first two put their master’s generosity to work right away.  They invest the money and trade with it and in the course of their business, they increased the money in multiples.  The third is worried.  What if I screw it up?  What if I lose the money entrusted to me?  Maybe the master is trying to trap me?  His worry turns to fear and his fears make him forget his master’s generosity.  Now his master becomes his enemy and the gift and opportunity became a burden.

So when the master returns, he rewards the faithfulness of the two while the third is taken away in chains and thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  We think the comparison between the different servants is about what they did with the money entrusted to them.  In reality, it has nothing to do with what they did with the money. It has everything to do with whether or not they knew the character, the heart, of their master.  The master in this is God.  And the crux of the issue is how well do you know God.  How well do you know your master.

God is not the stingy, greedy ogre we think Him to be.  He is not the unmerciful taskmaster who is always testing us, always trying to trip us up, or always waiting for us to screw up.  The Lord is merciful.  He is gracious.  He is compassionate.

He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This is His character.  This is the only thing that matters.  Our sins are no match for His mercy.  His goodness supplies us with all that we need for this body and life and for eternal life.   Long before He sent His one and only Son, we were in His debt – a debt that we could never repay.  Now that we know Him as the Father of mercy who has sent His one and only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer and who has bestowed upon us His Holy Spirit to bring forth this faith and joy, we are even more in His debt.

So the day of judgment is not the terrible day of account when we will find out what the bad news is, it is the joyful day that we already know.  Our account has been settled in Christ, paid for not with silver or gold but with His holy and precious blood.  God will not and cannot condemn us for our sin.  He has already laid upon Jesus the sin of us all, once for all time.

What we do with the things of this life is not some precondition upon which eternity hangs.  Because we have eternity, we are free to live fully in this life the treasure of God’s grace He has already bestowed upon us.  What we do with God’s gifts is a reflection of what we know about Him.  So, we give our time to the Lord in worship, in Bible study, and in prayer because we know His mercy and His love that endures forever.  We know the value of His gifts because we know the value of His mercy.  So, we give our abilities to the work of the Lord and not simply in pursuit of our own goals or wants.  We know what God has done and so it shapes what we do.  So, we give our tithes and offerings to the Lord because if God has given us eternity, why would we withhold from Him treasures that we cannot take with us.  We do not despise God’s gifts nor do we value them more than the Giver.  It because they flow to us from His giving love that we value them most of all.

What this parable is really about is whether or not we rejoice at the chance to receive the good things that come to us from God.  What this parable is really about is how we use what God in His mercy delights to give.  The answer is faith.  Faith receives God’s gifts and faith defines how use those gifts and faith rejoices in returning to God what He has so graciously given to us in love.

The truth is that there is little difference between despising God’s gifts and receiving them as if they were a burden or something casual and incidental.  The talent emphasizes the size of His gift but it also reveals the size of the heart that gives such a gift to us.  What we do with the gifts reflects either faith or unbelief.

Faith looks at God the master and God the giver and says “who am I to deserve such blessing?”  The highest worship of God is faith that receives His goodness, gives thanks for all His blessings, and lives a new life that reflects this goodness in our own lives.  God is pleased when we know who He is and when we trust Him.  In the Catechism it is put this way:  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  We thank and praise, serve and obey Him joyfully.

The day of the Lord will come.  It is the day of accountability.  Those who find the Lord a difficult master, who reject His mercy and gifts, or who view them as nothing special – they will receive what they have in life – alone to face the empty darkness of punishment that is reality apart from the Lord.  But to you and me, who have known the Lord’s goodness, who receive His gifts with faith and thanksgiving, and who use His gifts for His glory, we have only one thing ahead of us.  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

Thank you. In all my years, I do not think I heard a better sermon on the Parable of the Talents. That phrase, “no one gets a little but everyone gets a lot…” really got to me. Pure Gospel, pure joy. This is the joy that makes His yoke easy and His burden light.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart