081116 - Matthew 25.14-30

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27th Sunday after Pentecost                Sermon Text: Matthew 25:14-30

Let us pray: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

            Dear friends in Christ, we are fast approaching the end of the Church Year. Advent is only two Sundays away. We continue our waiting for our Savior’s Advent, not only the remembrance of His first coming; His birth to the Virgin Mary who laid him in a food trough, while angels sang on high: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14). But we also look towards His Second Advent, for He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

            Truth be told, I struggled with the text we have been given for our meditation this morning. The parable of the talents has never sat well with me. As I wrestled with the text this week, I came to understand why I never really cared for this parable. My own sinful flesh wants to turn this parable into an advocating text for works righteousness.

            While I cannot speak for you, I know I find it all too easy to put enormous emphasis on the talents in this parable. I could go into a theological excursion about the historicity of the word talent. I could tell you that originally it was a unit of measurement for weight. In Jesus’ time, the talent denoted an amount of currency – that of over 6,000 denarii, or 6,000 days’ worth of wages. Or I could speak about how we get our definition or meaning of talent from this parable; our time, talents, treasures, our mental and physical gifts and abilities, our earning power and personal wealth, and so on, are our talents. I could ask you to tally up in your minds the various “talents” that God has granted you. And when we have gone that far, we could go even farther and see this parable as a stewardship text – a demanding of God to give, to support the work of the Church. But where would that get us? We would find ourselves buried as that one talent the servant hid until his masters’ return. Except that instead of being buried by dirt, we would be buried by the Law of God. For by enumerating our talents, we would quickly see that we do not return to the Lord what He has given us. No, not even a tenth – or tithe do we return to God. Very quickly, if we went down this road, we would find out just how selfish and self-centered we are. Perhaps we would make excuses for ourselves. Or pledge to do better, now that we have seen the error of our ways. Yet is that why our Lord died upon the cross? Did He die so that you and I may feel the terror of His Law?

            Or perhaps we could skirt around the talent concept and focus our attention on the servants. Two of whom the master praises for their good stewardship of what he had handed over to them. We could compare and contrast them against the one who did what, in our economic times, seems to be the smartest; and placed it in the ground so that nothing could damage or ruin what his master had given him. He could not lose it on the stock market, or have the asset disappear when the bank closed. Or, I could employ symbolism between the faithful and unfaithful within the Church, and how on the Last day our Lord will draw up a reckoning. Many of us would be astounded if we knew just how many of those who profess that they believe in Christ Jesus and say to him: ‘Lord, Lord,’ [would] enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). Yet, He would respond to them: “I never knew you; depart from me,” (Matt. 7:23). Where would that get us? Again, we would be buried by the Law; and wonder and become very sorrowful as the disciples were on the eve of his crucifixion, and begin to ask ourselves: “Is it I, Lord?” (Matt. 26:22). Perhaps we would strike up a bargain with God, vowing that we will turn from our wicked ways and do as the first two servants of the parable, using what God has given us wisely and therefore increasing what He has given us to His glory. Is that what the Savior of the world is – a vengeful God who can be bargained with and coerced into forgiving us just because we, caught in our transgressions, beg of Him to do so?

            You know, as I struggled with this text, I realized: The devil is a tricky one isn’t he? His greatest triumph over mankind was to get Adam and Eve to question the Word of God. With four little words, the tempter laid the trap to which our first parents fell into. Four little words – “Did God really say?” Our flesh, laden with the sin of Adam still has this weakness. We wonder “Did God really say He so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)? “Did God really say that it is: by grace [we] have been saved through faith. And this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)? Surely He couldn’t have said such things, for there must be something else, something we need to do to receive His gift. That is how the tempter tricks you and I. He gets us to question the Word of God. He tricks us into reading into what God has said our own interpretation.

            God did say and says to you today, that He so loved the world that He sent His Son, to be born of a virgin. God’s son, the second person of the Trinity, humbled Himself to take on human form. Jesus, both true man and true God was given to the world to be mocked, scourged, and killed, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. God sent His Spirit to the writers of Scripture. The writers did not write what they wrote because it sounded good, or seemed to be what God would want us to do or say or hear. No, the writers were inspired by God to write what they wrote. The Scriptures are God-breathed – that is, that it is God who is the author, He used human writers to write what He wanted written. So yes, God did say and says to you today that it is by His grace that you have been saved, through faith which He has given to you. It is a gift from God, and there is no need to add or do something else to receive this gift.

            And if there is nothing we can add or do to receive grace, why then would we go about trying to work in a personal significance of the talents or a comparing and contrasting of the servants in the parable our Lord proclaims today in our hearing? For Christ did not die so that you and I may feel the terror of His Law, He died because through His death, He became the redemption of the world. Through His death upon the cross, we no longer need fear the wrath of God. His Son, Christ Jesus, took upon Himself that wrath, and hung forsaken by His father upon the tree. He became sin – that is all that goes against God’s good and wise Law – for you. God’s Law shows us our need for a Savior; that we are by nature sinful and unclean. Christ Jesus took our sinful and unclean nature and bore it upon the cross. He carried the sin of the world with Him into death, where He was buried. Yet He was without sin, and so the wages of sin, death, could not hold Him. There in the empty tomb lie our sins – buried. The Savior of the world, who willingly went to the cross, is not a vengeful God who can be bargained with and coerced into forgiving us just because we, caught in our sin, beg of Him to do so. He freely forgives us. There is nothing we could offer to Him to forgive us. For everything we have He has given to us.

            That is the meaning of the parable of the talents. Everything the servants were given was the master’s. Our Master gives us everything. As we profess in the first article of the creed and it’s explanation: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

We also pray in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. And the explanation: What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

He gives us also our faith, for by His grace we are saved through the faith He gives us.

            So no, the parable of the talents is not about the quantity or quality of our talents. The parable is not a compare and contrast between the servants. The parable is a literary tool Jesus uses to show His disciples, His followers, you and me, that all that we have is His; our possessions, our time, and our faith in Him. The parable also stands as a warning. For if we, like the one servant, do not trust in Our Lord, if we refuse to see Christ Jesus as our Savior, if we cast off the gift of faith in Him that He has given to us, and see it so unimportant that we would be willing to bury it and go about our merry way, when He returns, we would only see the harshness of God – because without a Savior, we stand condemned by the Law, with no hope of salvation. If we forsake the gift of faith in Christ, we renounce the gift of salvation that God has bestowed to the world through His Son. We then, could only expect a hard man, a harsh master to return, just as the servant saw his master. If we were left to our own devices, we, like the servant who buried the treasure, we would be dead in our sins, lost to the outer darkness of our transgressions.

            But we have not been left to our own devices. We do not stand as the one servant, condemned because he did not trust in the Lord. We have been given the gift of the Savior. He has marked us as His own. We belong to Him, as the apostle Paul states in his first letter to the Corinthians: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). We have been purchased with the blood of God’s own Son.

You see, your Savior does not want anyone to be this third servant. Because He loves you so, He warns you, and me, just as He has warned His disciples and followers throughout the ages. He wants every person to be reconciled to Him, and therefore has given His warning to the Church by means of the written Word of God. Only our Savior alone can lead us and inspire us to greater faithfulness, as we cherish the thought of His great faithfulness to us.

For it was for our benefit that Christ came into this world. He came to save the world, and He did. He desires all men to be saved. His Word is truth. He asks nothing for the gift that He handed over when He hung upon the cross, crucified for our transgressions, forsaken by His father for our sins. I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him – and neither can you. No one can believe in Christ Jesus of their own will or determination. The Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified, and kept us in the true faith – that is Christ Jesus, God the Father Almighty’s only Son, our Lord, who came down from heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

             He will come again. Rest assured of this blessed truth, for we need not fear His return. We have been given the talent, the gift of faith in Christ, solely by the grace of God. We need not bury it, but trust that God will use that which He has given us to further His Kingdom and bring us into eternal joy with our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

And now the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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