Sermon: "Generosity"

5th in the "The 5 "G's" of Discipleship" series.
Delivered October 14, 2007 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Theme: Christ followers recognize that everything they are and have is a gift from God, and use their resources to participate in the restoration of the world through building God's Kingdom.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Matthew 25:14-30

I often use stories in my preaching and sometimes people ask me at the door, "Was that true? Was that real?" Here is how you can tell. If I say I experienced something or it was my friend then I am telling you a true story. If I am telling you a story that I heard, I will say something like, "Well we have often heard" or "I have heard another pastor say" or whatever, because sometimes I will tell a story out of my own life and people ask me at the door "Was that real?" I try to make it clear one way or the other in the sermon. This is a real story I am going to tell you right now. I have a friend that inherited a million dollars. Because of school, because of work, because of other responsibilities, he couldn't remain located in one place, one town to see all of the details through. He hired a lawyer in order to administer the estate, to submit the proper paperwork, to move the money in to a nonprofit status and all so that the maximum amount of money could be protected and be useable for the future. Now my friend didn't know that things had gone wrong until one day quite a time after this when he got a notice from the government that not only did he have to pay taxes on the full amount, but he also had to pay penalties and interest; federal and state taxes. What had happened was the lawyer that he had hired and had made all these plans about how to use the money, move it around and stuff like that, did nothing. He didn't steal it. He didn't spend it. He simply did nothing at all. And so what happened was that my friend lost half of his inheritance to taxes, penalties and interest. Of the other half he lost half of that from the stock market turning down and of the final amount that was somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000 all of that went to legal fees, to the original fees he paid the lawyer who did nothing and to the legal fees he paid another lawyer to sue the original lawyer. It went to court and the judgment came that the original lawyer owes $650,000 to my friend. He has been found guilty. He is being held responsible for having done nothing when he was employed to do something and he will have to pay as soon as they find him.

This is the final week of our series on "The Five G's of Discipleship". This week is on generosity, but to be honest the actual subject of this is good and generous and faithful stewardship, but that was way too long for a sermon title so we called it generosity. Because that is the ultimate fruit of it; is a generous and open lifestyle. But the idea behind it is this idea of stewardship. We are stewards of God and what steward means: a steward is a person who is employed to manage another person's property, particularly a large house or estate. That would be a steward; the person employed to manage another person's property like that lawyer was. And the idea behind it is that Christians are given the world, we are given time, we are given health, we are given money, we are given abilities and we are given energy and all of these things are given by God, all of these ultimately belong to God and we are to then invest these things generously in to God's purposes in the world. In other words, we are supposed to be investing this in eternity.

But the idea of stewardship is not real popular with Americans, because we think of our lives in terms of our rights; the rights that we have. We have the right to do what we want with what we earn. We have the right to use or abuse our bodies anyway we want. We have the right to spend our time doing whatever we want. We have the right to give lip service to stewarding the earth and protecting it, but then we also have the right to not actually do that if it's painful, costs anything or is inconvenient in any way. The thought that anyone, even God, has the right to actually expect something from us goes against the grain. To imaging that the universe was created in such a way that there is someone who has the right to expect a certain return on his investment in us is something that we just struggle with. What's the fun in that? What we want is a "me first" religion where we are forgiven and then there are no expectations. We want a "me first" church where all of our desires are catered to. We want a "me first" job where we can do just what we want to do and no more. We want a "me first" life where all of our resources: time, talent, energy, money, where all of our resources are for our use for any choice we choose no questions asked. That's what we want.

But does that kind of life really work? You know it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to look around our society for examples of people who have lived that kind of life and we have to ask ourselves, do it work? Are they happy? Are they content? Are they fulfilled? Do they come across as being human in the way that we are really called to be? It's from another generation, but perhaps one of the most astounding examples of a person who lived exactly the "me first" life was Howard Hughes who was a billionaire back when a billion dollars was a lot of money and he had political influence. He could date just about any woman he wanted. He controlled massive parts of the business world. He was on the cutting edge of aeronautical research. He was famous and yet by the end of his life he was a drug abusing, confused, maybe insane person who couldn't even care properly for his own body.

Other examples are probably not nearly that stark, but there are people all over our culture who have gone the "me first" way, but when we look at their lives does it really bear the scrutiny to say that this is the way life is meant to be lived. Because what we are going to read in a moment is where Jesus describes what life if like and it's a life of stewardship. It's a life of being accountable and that's a very different worldview.

Let's go the book of Matthew, Chapter 25 and we are going to begin at Verse 14. Let's pray: Lord, as we go in to your word open our eyes, open our hearts that we might hear and that we might respond in faith. For we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'

"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

"'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

Today's parable comes in the section of the Book of Matthew where Jesus is talking about the end of the age, the end of history as we know it and he talks about it in five major discussions, five major images and each section contains a warning. In the first section, Chapter 24 at the very start, it is signs of the end of the age and the warning there is do not be deceived. There will be many false Christ's, do not be deceived. The next section is that the day and hour is unknown and the warning there from Jesus is to be watchful, self-controlled and ready. Chapter 25 begins with the parable of the ten virgins; the warning there is be ready even if it is a long wait. The parable of the talents that I just read; the warning there is be faithful with what is entrusted to you, and then Chapter 25 ends with the sheep and the goats and the warning there is to serve the poor and the oppressed.

Behind this whole section of teaching by Jesus is the reality that this world is not all there is. There is a world coming that is every bit as real as the world we live in now. But a big difference is that it will last longer; it is eternal that this world will end. And a faithful and wise and good life lived out today is a life that is lived out in the understanding that right now we make investments in eternity. Now this parable is familiar to many of us. I want to remind you that a parable is a story told to make an invisible truth understandable by appealing to something else that we understand better. And so there are a lot of words in this parable that are important. Certain phrases I want to highlight as we move through it. The first one comes early. Chapter 25, Verse 14; "He entrusted his property to them." The parable begins with the master entrusting property to them. What's behind that, the truth behind that is that there is something real and valuable that is entrusted to us, that God hands over something of value to us in our lives. There are some things that won't happen in this world unless we respond. God sovereignly decides to do things this way. God chooses in this world to work decisively through people. And so this whole parable begins with setting that stage. He entrusts valuable property, talents, money that is worth years of wages to these people.

The next phrase that I want to point out is that he gives out these talents each according to his ability. Not everyone in the story, not everybody in reality has the same abilities. We don't have the same gifts. We don't have the same calling. But that is okay, that is the way we are made. No one is rebuked in this story for having less ability. The rebuke comes from something else entirely. The next phrase that is important is where it says, "So the one who received the five talents at once, went at once and put his money to work." Put his money to work. This is the key point of faithfulness for the servants or stewards in this story and it is what is true about us. It is taking what we have, however, large it is, however small it is; taking what we have and putting it out to use for the master, for the owner. That is the critical phrase here that defines the person who had five and the person who had two. But one servant hid his master's money; he was afraid. He doesn't steal it. He doesn't even lose it. He simply does nothing at all with it.

Now at the end of the story two of the servants are commended. They hear from the master, "Well done, good and faithful servant." It's an amazing thing to hear, particularly when we think about the fact that Jesus is telling this parable for us to understand the dynamic between us and God where God himself would be saying to us, with all our brokenness and frailty, "Well done, good and faithful servant." But one, the one who buried it, who did nothing with it is rebuked. And what does this passage say is the opposite of good and faithful. It's when the master says to the servant, "You wicked, lazy servant." The servant is guilty and held to be responsible for doing nothing at all with the resources entrusted to him. And so, what Jesus is telling us is that we are held responsible. We are guilty if we do nothing at all with the resources entrusted to us. There is a day of accounting for all people for what we do and what we don't do in life and that's true even for Christians. There are people who are going to be freely forgiven by grace who have made an investment in to eternity, who will hear from God "Good and faithful servant", but there are people who are going to be forgiven by grace, but will see the whole of their lives burned up like so much trash.

I am going to read to you a passage from something I call "famous passages we generally like to ignore." 1st Corinthians, Chapter 3 beginning on Verse 10. This is Paul speaking:

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

The Apostle Paul talking about us. In Jesus' own words, in Chapter 25, Verse 29 this is what Jesus says here; "For everyone who has will be given more and will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." Verse 28, "Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents." If in this life we are faithful with what we received, then even in this life we are likely to be given more to be faithful with and then in the life to come there will be even more to be faithful with. The parable talks about 'you have been faithful with little things, few things,' merely money, merely you know the amounts of money here are gigantic, but it is merely that. Now there is more important stuff. But what is also said here is that if we are not faithful with what is given, the little things that are given in this life, then that impacts a future. To do nothing at all is to have it taken away.

I don't like saying that. I wanted to have a sermon on how joyful it is to be generous and we will have that sermon on another occasion when I use another passage. I am using this passage and the passage forces a certain direction, because this parable ends with this conclusion; take it away from the one who did nothing with it and give it to the one who already has ten. We see this pattern in Jesus' own life. Think about the parables themselves. The parables with stories; sometimes they were very hard to understand. Who got the explanation? Was it the people at the back of the crowd who had the least investment, who had no idea what Jesus was saying, no? It was to the people who drew close to Jesus, who were struggling with it and trying to understand, trying to follow, who came up to Jesus and said "We still don't understand Jesus. Explain it to us." Those are the people who got the explanation for the parables. The people who already had faith and had already begun to follow.

Think about the resurrection. What a different New Testament we would have if Jesus would have decided to confront in his resurrected body the people who least believed in him. He would walk in to the Pharisees get together and say, "Hey guys, were you wrong." But it didn't happen. The people he appears to and gives his resurrected presence to are the people who had already believed and who had already begun to follow, to those who had faith was given even more, the proof of his resurrected presence.

This is the final truth of discipleship. We are not our own. We are already under contract. We are servants. We are stewards and we will be held accountable for what we do in this life. So it means that we can't fall in to the mistake of defining our maturity by how many religious experiences we collect, to always be on the move to find some new input that is going to fulfill us. That is "me first" religion. David Goetz in "Death by Suburb" puts it this way,

"You need to move from the pursuit of religious significance in your life to simple obedience in the things of God."

One promises self-fulfillment, the other actually delivers it, but not in the way you expect. God is not going to define our maturity, so we can't define our maturity by the sheer number of conferences and great input and beautiful music; we can't just run around to different churches trying to get the absolute best of what each has to offer. That's not the measure; the measure is obedience. Simple obedience; being a servant, being a steward, being accountable, investing in eternity.

Now that investment is going to look different at different times. So I want to just run a few pictures of people who make vastly different kinds of investments in to eternity. We start young. You want to get them in some good habits there and then we have got people working giving ACTC, helping homeless people with food, helping homeless people there as well over at Helping Up Mission, helping the homeless by building homes with Habitat for Humanity down in Sandtown; investing in eternity by just using carpentry skills. Then, we work with kids overseas with Operation Christmas Child, children here with Woodberry Crossing and Hope Springs working with the AIDS community and then also working there helping all kinds of different ways using different skills, even with the people who work on our building these children making investments in eternity. Job training, evangelizing youth ministries.

There are all kinds of ways and its not particularly spiritual looking stuff all the time. It might be with your neighbor, it might be your next door neighbor, it might be with somebody in your family, it might be here at church, it might be that you are investing your time in eternity in all kinds of ways and you need to be investing your gifts and skills through your job, through your church, through your neighborhood, gifts and skills invested in eternity. Through the church, through other Christian organizations, through other good things investing your money in eternity, because we are stewards. I like the word steward. This has been a hard section of scripture. It builds to a climax that is very in our face, but I like the word steward because it means so much. As a pastor I can be called a leader, a pastor, a discipler or a teacher, an elder; these are great labels and they have all kinds of wonderful meaning, but steward is the word that stirs my soul, that I am a steward that God has entrusted gifts to, because this goes to the core of my humanity. This goes to the core of what it means to be human. Being steward is close, if not dead center, in what it means to be human.

Genesis, Chapter 1, I am going to read Verse 27 and 28:

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female, he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth subdue it, rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over ever living creature that moves in the ground."

We are not stewards because we are Christian; we are stewards because we are human. It is an essential part of who we were created to be. People created in the image of God to be God's presence, to be God's ambassadors, to be God's agents to affect his will in an entire part of creation. To rule, to have dominion and that includes creation, that includes the ecology, that includes finance, that includes human society, that includes the mystery and wonder of the gospel. We are stewards of that as the church and it's part of who we are as humans that we were created to be this way. There can be no other way of being human.

What Christianity does is reconnects us with God, restores that relationship so that we once again can live as faithful and good stewards, to be human in its best possible sense. God isn't creating a new kind of humanity, he is creating the kind of humanity we were always created to be, a new humanity in Christ, the way it is supposed to be, because the sad thing is is that Adam and Eve never heard "Well done good and faithful servant" from God, but Jesus tells us in this parable some incredible news. We can hear that one day from God. We can hear from God himself who created us and saved us, we will be able to hear "Well done good and faithful servant". What a wonderful fruit of grace in our lives. Jesus promises that we can, so our challenge is to do well with whatever we've got. It's going to be different. It's going to be all over the map, great gifts, little gifts, great opportunities, little opportunities, but let's do our best with what we've got. Let's invest in God's eternity.

Let's pray: God, here it is. Here we are and we have all kinds of different gifts, all kinds of different abilities, different measures of faith but Lord now grant that wherever we are we might be faithful with what we have so that you might entrust even more to us and so that we might here "Well done good and faithful servant". For it is in Jesus' name that we pray. Amen.

© 2007, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145