Sermon from 15th Nov 2020

Matthew 25:14-30 (EHV)

Jesus said: 14 “You see, the kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a journey. He called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to still another one talent, each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The servant who had received the five talents immediately put them to work and gained five more talents. 17 In the same way, the servant who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received one talent went away, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 The servant who received the five talents came and brought five more talents. He said, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

22 “The servant who received the two talents came and said, ‘Master, you entrusted me with two talents. See, I have gained two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

24 “Then the servant who received one talent came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter seed. 25 Since I was afraid, I went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

26 “His master answered him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I reap where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter seed? 27 Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers so that when I came I would get my money back with interest. 28 Take the talent away from him and give it to the servant who has the ten talents. 29 Because everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 Throw that worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may make the best use of what you have given us through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When reading or listening to Scripture, it can be helpful to take note of patterns and repetition. It can be helpful because it usually teaches us something important about ourselves or about God.

Similarly, it’s also helpful to take special note when a pattern or repetition is broken. It often points to something God is about to do which is unexpected.

For example, in Genesis we hear how God creates all things in an orderly fashion. As God creates all things, we keep hearing the pattern: “there was evening and there was morning, the first day; …there was evening and there was morning, the second day; …and so on. The pattern is established. We count off one, two, three, four, five, six, …and then God rests. It’s unexpected. It makes us take note. God did something important in his daily pattern, but then does something new on the seventh day. God creates something new by resting. The seventh day is therefore a holy one, a day of rest. The seventh day remains holy because the break in pattern sets a new pattern for us to receive and rest in.

Similarly, in Genesis chapter eleven, we have one of those lists of descendants which we often want to glance over. “So-and-so lived so many years before having what’s-his-name as a son. He had other sons and daughters and lived for this number of years. What’s-his-name lived so many years before having Who’s-ama-call-it” …and so on. They’re all fertile. They all have children. That is …until Abram. The problem is his wife Sarai is barren. They have no children. There’s no hope of furthering his line. The break in pattern makes us take note. Something important is about to happen. Then God steps in and acts. In chapter twelve, God calls Abram and gives him a promise which would eventually lead to the birth of the Israelites and the promised Messiah in Jesus Christ.

Jesus uses a similar trick when he tells his parables. He sets a pattern, and then breaks the pattern to make us take note. Something important is happening which will teach us about our own nature and the nature of God.

For instance, in today’s parable Jesus gives us another glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like by telling us about a man going on a journey. Before going on his journey, he hands everything he owns into the hands of three workers – each being given a portion in keeping with their ability. It also seems he didn’t even tell them what to do with it. He went away and they were to look after their master’s belongings.

Then comes the pattern.

The one who was looking after the equivalent of 100 years-worth of wages earns another 100.

The one who was looking after the equivalent of 40 years-worth of wages earns another 40.

The one who was looking after the equivalent of 20 years-worth of wages …buries it in a hole.

The break in pattern teaches us to take note. Something’s wrong with the third worker. He’s been given the task of looking after someone else’s property, but he seems to want nothing to do with it. He could have placed it in a bank where it could have at least earnt some interest (however little we would get these days), but he doesn’t even do this. Instead, he hides it in the ground. So, even though has the ability to make the property double in return like the others (since he was given as much as his ability could handle), he attempts to absolve himself of all responsibility.

The eager disciple of Jesus would now be straining to listen to what comes next. Something’s about to happen! God is at work here and we want to hear what he does!

Again, Jesus establishes another pattern when he tells us what happened when the master came back to settle accounts after being away for a long time.

The first worker brings the doubled amount to his master. The master congratulates the good and faithful servant who’s demonstrated he’s ready to serve with even greater responsibly. He enters the joy of his master.

The second worker brings the doubled amount to his master. The master congratulates the good and faithful servant who’s demonstrated he’s ready to serve with even greater responsibly. He enters the joy of his master.

The third worker comes…and now we find out why he didn’t want anything to do with what his master gave him to look after. There is indeed something wrong with the worker!

The third worker has somehow come up with the conclusion that his master is a hard, cruel and merciless man. He accuses his master of unfairly reaping and sowing what he hasn’t planted. As a result of his own view of the master, he was afraid.

This means his fear drove his words and actions. His fear made him think he was justified in hiding from both his ability and his responsibility. His fear stopped him from entering the joy of his master. His fear resulted in the master only receiving back what he first entrusted to the worker.

As a result, the worker was judged by his own words.

Despite the fact the master had demonstrated his generous and trusting nature (which is his true nature), the third worker’s worst fears and presumptions would be realized. His actions and words had revealed his fearful and selfish heart. He’s demonstrated he’s not ready to serve with any responsibility at all. He was judged by the master to be morally and socially worthless and his fear had made him hesitant and lazy. He won’t enter into the joy of his master, but would instead be placed in the outer cold and darkness where he will weep and gnash his teeth.

Here Jesus gives us this striking and shocking picture of what the kingdom of heaven is like to make us take note and learn carefully. The patterns, and subsequent break in pattern, teach us something important about ourselves and about God.

Therefore, as a Christian who has undeservedly received many things from God, including the love and service of our Triune God, are there times you wish to avoid loving or serving your neighbours, including the difficult ones? Are there times you hide the glory of God and what he does for you from others? Are there times when you attempt to ‘bury your head in the sand’ and ignore your part in passing on the peace and forgiveness of God to troubled people around you? Are there times you wish to cut yourself off from the world and avoid your own responsibility to forgive or pray for those who hurt you? Are there times when you receive the generous and gracious gifts of God but think you’re not expected to pass on the same grace and mercy to those you struggle with?

Similarly, how have your own selfish presumptions turned into self-fulfilling prophecies? How have your own assumptions about others restricted the way you love and serve? How have your own judgmental presumptions affected your relationship with others?

How have your fears restricted you from loving and serving? How have your fears blocked you from experiencing joyful obedience and faithfulness? How have your fears altered the way you look at those around you? How have your fears altered the way you see God? Like the third worker, how have your own fears become your lord and master who controls, cripples, and entombs you?

Now, this doesn’t mean our motivation for love and service as Christians should be because we’re afraid of being cast aside by an angry or vindictive God to weep and gnash our teeth. You see, this isn’t how the other workers saw their lord and master. They saw his true nature which loves to give.

The master in the parable is a giver. He intimately knew each worker and their abilities. He generously gave them what was his, entrusting his kingdom and future and reputation into his servant’s hands.

The first two workers simply did what they were able to do; and did so willingly. They put their master’s gifts to work and saw them multiply. The master then gave them even more.

But how much more generous and merciful is our giving and forgiving God!

God graciously gave you life and health and family and home and abilities and senses and community. He daily and abundantly gives you all that you need – in fact, he gives you enough to share with those around you. You share and care, not because you’re burdened by fear, but because this is how people loved and served by God love and serve our neighbours.

Yet, even though you prove to be selfish and unfaithful and fearful, God continues to give. He gave you his own dearly beloved Son. Instead of you being cast out, Jesus was the One cast out in your place to experience the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus, forsaken by his Father and rejected by his own people, didn’t moan and groan about experiencing a cruel and merciless God, but still kept on giving by caring for his mother and his disciples. He remained faithful to the task at hand for your sake. He granted paradise to a thief and prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!”

And the giving didn’t stop there!

Through faith God grants you adoption as children of God who belong to the kingdom of heaven through the waters of baptism. Through faith you believe the promise of life eternal in his kingdom. Through faith God gives you the innocent body and blood of his holy and precious Son for the forgiveness of your sins. Through faith you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so you may learn to love and give and forgive and care for your neighbours as God first loves you.

You see, there’s a pattern and repetition present throughout the whole of Scripture. There’s the repeated pattern of our disobedience and selfishness and fear and death. There’s also the repeated pattern of our Lord’s generous and merciful nature who sent his Son into this world to suffer and die for you and me. Even when the patterns are broken and our attention is drawn to what happens next, we see God at work.

When the patterns and repetitions of our own sinful thoughts, words and behaviours are broken by the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, God is at work in you and me. By the power of the Holy Spirit we too may not bury or hide God’s forgiveness, but freely forgive those around us.

By the grace of God, and through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, you and I have been rescued from slavery to fear, sin, the devil, and death. Through faith we’re free to love and forgive and serve as we’re able, no matter what our age or abilities are. Through faith we look forward to entering the joy of our master, which is why…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.