"What Are You Doing for the Talent Show?"
Matthew 25:14-30, by Marshall Zieman, preached 11-19-2017 at PCOC

Our Scripture reading comes this morning from Matthew 25, and I invite you to turn there now.  We are continuing in our final sermons of the church year, taken from this chapter of Matthew. 

By the way, did you notice that there are new Bibles in the pews?  (Our reading is on page #807.)  You may be the first person ever to open that Bible!

As you’re finding this passage, let me ask you: when’s the last time you had the joy of participating in a talent show?   Do you remember what you did?  Maybe it was a hidden talent you displayed - like playing the clarinet or juggling or yodeling.  We’ve all been to talent shows - sometimes the talent is good, and sometimes, not so much.  Sometimes we're appalled; often we're surprised.  It's usually amateurish, but it's OK.  I wonder what kind of "hidden talents" we each possess?  You can tell your neighbor afterwards.    

Let’s hear Jesus teaching from Matthew 25, beginning in verse 14:

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.  17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.  20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’  21His master said to him, ‘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.’  22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘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.’

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave!  You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

By now you’re realizing this is Matthew’s favorite way to end a story - thrown into the outer darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth!  Have a nice day!

Now in our story, a talent was something the Master gave to his servants, probably referring to a Roman coin, worth about a year's wages.  So if you can, imagine the value of five years, or two years, or even a year's worth of your wages being dumped into your hands all at once; by any standard it's a pretty awesome responsibility.  What kind of control would you exercise with all those resources in your possession at one time?  Think of what you could do with all that chunk of change at once.

Jesus recognized the powerful control that material possessions have over us when he said: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  (Mt 6:21)  He sounded a solemn warning to his first disciples and to us in these words:  "For what does it profit…to gain the whole world, and forfeit your life?"  (Mk 8:36)

However, it's a serious mistake to assume that Jesus didn't want us to own anything.    The first followers of Jesus owned personal possessions (homes, boats, animals, and money) which they used in their service to him.  Simon the Leper, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and the host of the Upper Room      all had assests which they shared with Jesus’ followers.  In the early church there were people of wealth, like Barnabas and Philemon, who were known for their generosity and sacrifice.  Jesus' teaching assumed the ownership of possessions.  There seem to be more recorded teachings of Jesus on the place and use of material possessions than any other single subject.

We use the word "stewardship” to describe how we use our possessions and what they mean to us.  In both the Old and New Testament world, a "steward" was a servant - either slave or free -- who managed the master's household.  He not only supervised the other servants but was responsible for the purchase of household goods, for the care and education of the children, and even the master's business affairs.  He was important.

Nowadays we might use the word manager or trustee instead, but a steward is someone entrusted with a given responsibility or a given possession, and is accountable for it.   Therefore, every Christian is a steward; you are one; it's not a matter of choice. Everything that we are and all we have is a blessing from God.  The question is not "Am I a steward?" but "What kind of steward will I be?"

The drama of Jesus' parable of the three servants was right out of everyday life in the ancient world.  The key phrase which colors the whole story are the master's words of joyful congratulations to the faithful stewards.

In verse 21 we read: "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.”

To me it's the picture of your mom or a dad giving you a task to do when you were a kid – clean your room, rake the leaves, sweep the garage, weed the garden, wash the dishes...and they went away and when they returned - you'd done a great job and they were so pleased and happy.  You can see that look of pride on their faces, and feel your lungs swell inside of you!

That's the picture of what stewardship is supposed to look and feel like, and after awhile, what really stuck with you wasn't the reward you got, it was that feeling you got inside of seeing your mom or dad so proud of you – and remembering the words they said:  "I'm proud of you."  "You did a good job!"    "You are really growing up."  "I really appreciate how well you did that."

And on those times when you blew it, and didn't get your job done, what hurt the most wasn't the reward you didn't get, it was seeing that look of disappointment on your parent's face.  They wanted you to do better.  Now, sometimes your parents blew it, too - they weren't always perfect or even adequate or appropriate in their handling of praise and rewards.

What this parable does is show us the best of both parties - a good and faithful steward, and a master who invites the steward to come and share in his happiness. 

For the past month as we’ve colleced our financial pledges for next year, we’ve really been dealing with what Christian stewardship is all about.  Our goal is not to hang over us a heavy cloud of fear and judgment, but to teach us again to celebrate the trusteeship that God has entrusted to each of us.  Each Christian has to discover

his or her own stewardship responsibility.  Each of us makes our own commitment of faithfulness to God.  It’s important that each of us does this.

These final chapters of Matthew present the teachings of Jesus in the final days of his ministry.  He’s answering questions about his kingdom and the end of the age. 

The three parables in chapter 25 emphasize three truths about Jesus' return to earth:

  1. They must be ready for his coming, even though they cannot know when it will be (25:13).
  2. They must be faithful stewards in his absence (25:19).
  3. They will be judged, with all people everywhere, on their obedience and faithful service to Him. (25:31).

The test of how ready we are - is our faithful management and service.

I see two main points in our parable for today.  First, the Master wanted those talents used.  The talents entrusted to us are not to be horded, hidden or squandered. They are to be used.    The talents were given out according to the servants' abilities as judged by the Master.  It's the Master who determines how much is appropriate - the Master knows.  So immediately, the first two put their talents to work (they traded, or worked, or engaged in business).  But the one who received the one talent buried his.  After a long absence, the Master returns to settle up.  The first two servants receive the commendation of the Master and are given greater responsibility.  They receive the joy of their Master.  The one-talent servant doesn't receive any joy. From square one he didn't expect to find joy, and it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Although a talent was given to him, his false view of the Master prohibeted him from even using it.  He didn’t trust the Master.  And the Master couldn’t trust him. He is categorized as worthless, and in contrast to the other two, he is cast out into outer darkness.  Hint: Don’t be like him.

This leads to a final point.  When we use our abilities, we should rejoice!  Don't hide your talents, use them, and be glad about them!  Don't fear the Master, but joyfully serve him remembering that he said,  "Come and share your master's happiness!"

We know the phrase "God loves a cheerful giver."  The Greek word for cheerful is best translated 'exhilarated' - When we serve God, using the talents God has bestowed, it's supposed to cause us happiness and joy…and even exhilaration!

In this story, the number of talents one receives doesn’t really matter.  What did matter, was that you used them for the Lord.  In this week for giving thanks, let’s think about how we are using our talents for the glory of God.  Amen.

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