Taking The Risk

Second in “Share The Vision” Series,
Delivered October 31, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: Being faithful with God’s resources involves risk. God entrusts these things to us to use. To just try to keep things safe, to keep things as they are and just keep the machinery running is not a faithful option. We’ve got to keep our eyes on what God wants to do next and get involved.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 25:14-30

Sermon Notes are at the end.

People have all kinds of funny ways of handling valuables. You know we’ve got this picture in our minds of people who hide money under the mattress, but the fact is the reality of how people actually handle valuable things may even be stranger than that. I think of my grandmother. My grandmother believes that a certain amount of her money ought to be stored in her freezer. And so I would go over to her house and we would talk about you know “I would want to buy a new pair of drumsticks or this and that” and I would be trying to get some money off of her and she would go to the freezer, go inside, and come out with a crisp, cold five dollar bill. I think I am one of the few people in the world that associates you know getting money to spend as a teenager with unwrapping frozen pork chops. I mean they just stay together in my mind. But she also had some other funny habits with valuables. We would give her jewelry. We would give her scarves or handkerchiefs, you know, especially picked out for her, things that were really dressy and she would take those things and she would look at them and she would ooh and ahh and tell us how much she loved it, and then she would put it back in the box, seal the box and then put it in to her drawer in her bedroom. And so, to be honest, by the time she had gotten well up in years there were two drawers in her dresser that were filled with all these gifts that we had given her across the years. And I can remember one of the strangest things was unpacking the freezer, but one of the saddest things was unpacking these drawers and seeing the history of all these gifts we had given her over the years, birthdays and Christmas and any kind of holiday, and it was all sitting there as a history of what had happened, but none of it had ever been used and now she had passed away, and she would never get a chance to use it. And some of those things in new condition we had to just give away.

People handle valuable things in different ways. Some of those ways seem wise; some of those ways seem foolish. I think of this passage that we are going to be looking at today. It deals with this issue of how we deal with valuable things. Now this is a parable of Jesus, a special story that Jesus told that helps us to understand something about his relationship to us or his challenge to us. And this particular parable comes in a series of four parables. And it comes in a section of the Book of Matthew that has a fairly somber and severe tone. Now, there are a number of things that unite these four parables. There are a number of things that they have that are similar. The first is, is that each parable has an absent ruling figure who goes off somewhere. Each parable has that aspect. Another thing is that each of these parables asks the question of how are you to be faithful until that ruling figure returns? The next thing is that each one has a severe tone and the reason why the tone is severe is because each one of these deals with a separation. Each one of these deals with a separation between those who are commended because they did well and those who are condemned because they did not do well. And so it’s a fairly serious point in Jesus teaching and this parable that I am going to read to you now comes right in the middle of all of that. And so I want you to listen to the parable and kind of think of these issues that I just mentioned. It comes in Matthew 25 and I will begin at the 14th verse.

“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 five talents went out at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with 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.”

Let’s stop there just for a moment. First of all this idea of a talent. A talent is 20 years wages. It’s a huge sum of money. So the first guy is given 100 years wages to use. The next one is given two talents and the next is given one talent. Huge amounts of money. And so each one then responds to this challenge that the master gives them. The one with five puts it to work. The one with two puts it to work and the one with one digs a hole and hides his master’s money.

Verse 19: “After 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,’ ‘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 few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you have 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 in your master’s happiness!”

Now there is a surprise already in this parable. This guy who had been given five talents, 100 years wages to invest, to use according to his master’s wishes. The master comes back and gives him five more and then the master takes a look at that huge bundle of stuff and says, I have entrusted you with a few things and you have been faithful with that. Now, I will entrust you with something serious. What a mind blowing concept that this 100 years wages has now turned into 200 years wages, that this is small potatoes and they have been faithful with a few things and now come good and faithful servant. I will trust you now with something that is serious in its value. And the same happened with the one who had two talents. Brought it in, you’ve been faithful. Good, faithful servant. I will entrust you now. Come and enjoy, share your master’s happiness. Well let’s go on.

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you haven’t sown, 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 where I harvested where I hadn’t sown and gathered 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 ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have 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.’

There was a surprise earlier in the parable, but this is the big surprise for the people who are listening to this, because if you live in Jewish society and someone entrusted something to you of such great value, that you wouldn’t have any hope of repaying and you wanted to take serious care of that, then you were blameless in the site of the law if you decided to find a safe place and bury it. It you buried the treasure and then somehow it was lost, you were held blameless because you did the safest, the most secure thing with the valuables. But here in Jesus’ parable, forget that sort of thinking. The master had an intention for this money. This person in fear of the harshness of the master decides to just take care of it and he’s called a wicked, lazy, unprofitable servant.

Now the people listening to Jesus knowing the huge sums of money involved would not have viewed this as an economics lesson from Jesus. They would have known that he was talking about big things, spiritual things, when he talked about these talents. We think of it usually when we hear it within a church culture, we think of it in terms of what God has given us in terms of personal abilities and passions and money and how we use it for service, but it’s bigger than that. The focus here is on the greatness of what God has given his people beginning with Israel. So the first thing that people would have thought of is how has Israel been unfaithful with the incredible gifts of God? And so you would have thought of the fact that God gave them His Word. God gave them prophecy, led them through the wilderness. He led them into a promised land. He protected them. He gave them his presence in the temple. And yet they took all of this and instead of becoming God’s servant to the world, to proclaim the glories of God to the rest of the world, instead they started to look at all of these gifts and think “you know we are special because of what God did for us.” And so by this time in Israel’s history they were actually looking down at other people “because God had done all of this for us. So that gives us an excuse to look down at other people.” Without profit in God’s sight.

It wasn’t just a nation; it was also the leaders of the time. The Pharisee’s in Jesus’ day were a particular group of people who took all they had read in the law and added to it all kinds of ways that they envisioned that would make you a better Jew, a better follower of God. And so they had gotten to the point at this place in their history where to be a good Jew according to their definitions meant you couldn’t be poor, because if you were poor and had to go to work for a living, you couldn’t possibly obey the law the way they felt you had to be. So you had to be independently wealthy in order to have the time and leisure to do all the many things that they envisioned were necessary. So they had taken all the goodness of God, the love of God, shown to Israel and had piled so many regulations on top of it that no one could respond to the good news.

Every disciple there would also be thinking of themselves. Because they knew from other things that Jesus was saying around this parable that Jesus was going to go away for a time. They might not have known all of what it meant, but they knew that they were going to be on their own in a special way and that they were called to be faithful and so that means that this word to the disciples and then to the church becomes Gods word to us. How are we to be faithful until Jesus comes again? What are the dangers we might face? How are we in danger of burying Gods riches given to us? That’s a question we need to ask.

Now, there is a lot of ways we can bury the riches. We can put them inside the drawer unwrapped, unused. I think the first way is by being too busy. I know that I suffer from this as much as anybody else in this church. When people are out in the concourse and say, “Hey John, how are doing? How are things going?” One of the first things that I am likely to tell them is that if you give me two minutes I will tell you how busy I am. But the issue isn’t how busy, it’s whether we are doing the right things and sometimes we are so busy with work that we are not doing the right things towards our family and towards God’s call in our lives. Sometimes we are too busy with the family for us to respond to God’s call on our lives. Man, some of our cars are a mess inside. Have you noticed? Why is it? It’s because we live there. We are in that car six hours a day, running to this and running to that. We have 14 scheduled things going on and we are circling around doing it all day, because we are so busy. And if we cut something out of our lives we wouldn’t be just like the people next door and that would be wrong. What if God nudges your life and says, “I want you to do something else for me.” Do we have the room to respond or are we too busy? Sometimes we are too busy with the church to do what God calls us to do.

What’s another thing? We can also hide and bury the gifts that God has given to us and not use them his way, out of ignorance. We have this incredible experience of forgiveness with God. We have the experience of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives and being across time rooted in this absolute conviction that we are worth something to God, that God loves us, that our lives can be different because of that and we take the incredible riches of that experience and the protection and power of God, and we enjoy it and forget how incredibly real that could be to other people and we don’t even share it. We still have to take it for granted. Oh, we have experienced it. We’ve gotten used to it, but there are people who are thirsty for that sort of experience. People who are hungry for meaning in their life that can only come out of being rooted in relationship to the God who made them and not recognizing the worth of this in their lives, we start to take it for granted and hardly even notice the gifts that God has given us.

It reminds me of the people on Antiques Roadshow. They have this plate that they have been using for an ashtray for 20 years and the guy looks at it and he says, “An ashtray? Don’t you realize that this plate belonged to a king in England and that this plate is worth 15,000 pounds.” What is it that God is doing in us that’s worth it, that’s worth more than we imagine, and we are not sharing it and we are hiding it because we are not even aware of how valuable it is?

Another one. Fear. Fear can stand in the way of us using our gifts for God. Now there is a lot of fear so I am going to go through several of these.

The first is fear of failure. We are afraid that if we take a risk, that somehow it’s not going to work out and God’s going to be angry and that’s very much like the attitude of this third servant. The man who had received one talent and says, “I know that you’re harsh and unpredictable so I was afraid and went out and hid your talent.” We can be afraid that if we do something or if we give something, that all of it’s going to come down crashing down on us and we start to confuse security with service. God isn’t calling us to security. He’s calling us to service. But we start thinking that if we get everything predictable and do everything just right and make it nice and secure that is what God wants in our lives. You know, we start to act like we have to keep the gospel safe. What an incredible idea, that what God is doing in the world, somehow we can flub it – “you know, so we’ve got to get real cautious because we go out and witness the wrong way, the whole kingdom of God is going to come crashing down on us.” Or if we give a little bit more than the absolute minimum then our whole life is going to fall apart because God isn’t going to pay attention to any of that.

There is so many ways that fear can come out and we are fearful of failure and I share that fear. I really believe that one of the reasons that God called me to Central Presbyterian Church is not so that I can help you take bigger risks, but so that you could help me take bigger risks. I have been challenged amazingly in this last year of having fellowship with you. Man, there is a part of me that would just like predictable church life. And there is none in this church. It’s true. Without a called pastor in a time of enormous transition the leadership of this church started this service. In that time they reorganized the whole way that the session, the elders of the church relate to one another and changed the number of people on the Session, as well. Big changes. All of those could have led to failure, but they were willing to face that possibility in order to do what they believed God was calling them to do and that is a challenge to me. It’s part of our philosophy of ministry that we embrace change for the sake of ministry, and we are willing to thoughtfully experiment even though we might learn our lessons through our experiments failing. It’s part of our DNA.

Another fear. Fear that God is going to be hard on us. This is the fear of this guy. “I know that you are a hard man harvesting where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.” Do you ever carry around in the back of your mind this sense that if you really sell yourself out to God and do what His call is on your life that you are going to be miserable because you have done it? This is the bread and water sort of mentality of following God. To follow God means no joy and minimum rations and that’s not true. I saw it playing out one time in a conversation between three women who had a relationship to Inner Varsity Christian Fellowship and one of them was the wife of a staff member and she was saying that she was trying to talk her husband in to quitting staff because she had come from a rich family and she wanted the kind of experiences she had. She wanted these experiences for her children. And so she wanted them to go to Europe. She wanted them to go to other countries, experience other cultures, maybe learn other languages. And what astonished me in that conversation was that the two other women there had just come back from a summer in Belize and during that time those women and their children had been horseback riding in the Belizean jungle. They had been snorkeling in the keys off the coast of Belize. They had gone to Mayan ruins with their children. And I just couldn’t believe the disconnect, the thought that somehow by giving your life to God that God was going to cut out all of the perks and all that would be left would be the absolute minimum of grunting by. God isn’t like that and yet it is so easy that whenever something good happens to wait for the other shoe to drop.

Another fear. Fear of change. Like it the way it is. Okay God, maybe you do want to change things. Maybe changing things would make us more effective in this world, but I don’t want to. This is probably the worst fear that churches carry around with them. In doing some of my academic work a few years ago, I was interviewing a pastor of a Presbyterian church in Baton Rouge. Now this church theologically is very, very similar to us. They believe in the authority of scripture. They believe in the need of people to hear the gospel of Christ. Their definition of what it means to live in an obedient life is just like the one that we would use here and yet they were down to about 30 people and most of those people were over 75 years old. And so as I talked with the pastor about the dynamics that had led them to that point, he told me about a critical conversation that he had with them a number of years earlier, because they were talking about how they wanted to have young people at their service. “Why don’t the young people come? You know, we don’t have any children in our Sunday Schools? Why don’t we draw families anymore?” And he sat down and talked to them and he said, “Do you really want them to come? Here’s what it is going to take. You are going to have to change this. You are going to have to move that. You are going to have to do this differently” and the leaders of that church heard that and consciously said back, “Okay then. We will die as a congregation. Are you willing to be our pastor and take care of us until there are so few people here that the church has to close?” Would not change. I can’t by any stretch of the imagination envision that as good stewardship, a good response to the leadership of God. And yet churches make those decisions consciously and unconsciously.

There is a final thing. It’s not just the fears, one other thing that comes up in this passage is that this servant is called a lazy servant. The final reason that I want to talk about that could make us hide these incredible, valuable things that God has given us is just flat out laziness. It’s not that we fear the consequences or fear you know the change in particular, it’s just that all of this requires more effort than we are willing to give. We want just enough of Jesus to feel secure and safe, but the whole idea of sacrifice, the whole idea of discipleship is a foreign language and so I think of that as Lazy Boy reclining chair Christians, you know? You just want kind of a good Christian show on the television and “Oh by the way honey, get me another cup of ice tea, you know. I want to take it easy.” And some of us want our spiritual lives to be lived like that. Just enough effort to get inside the door and then after that find the best, most comfortable place possible for the rest of your life.

The fact is, it’s real easy to be a good church member without being a good Christian, without being a good disciple. If you think about it, in most churches to be a good church member simply means that you attend, you give a little bit and stay out of newspaper scandals. Okay? That’s what it takes. But that’s not what it takes to be a good disciple. In March, I wrote an article that talked about William Wilamen. Wilamen was a few years ago at least the campus pastor at Duke University. I am not sure right now and one day he got a call from a parent, a very angry parent. The daughter of this guy was supposed to head to graduate school and had just decided to throw it all away and go do mission work with Presbyterians in Haiti and this is the conversation they had. The parent calls and says,

“I hold you personally responsible for this. It’s absurd. She’s received a BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University and now she is going to go dig ditches in Haiti. I hold you personally responsible. You are completely irresponsible for having encouraged her to do this. You ingratiated yourself with her. Filled her head with all that religion stuff and that’s why she is doing all this foolishness.

Wilamen struggled to keep his ministerial composure. It was quite a struggle. “Weren’t you the one that had her baptized?” And the parent said, “why yes.” “And then didn’t you read her Bible stories and take her to Sunday School and let her go on trips with the youth group?” ‘Well yes, but…” “Don’t but me. It’s your fault that she believes all that stuff and that’s she gone and thrown it all away on Jesus. You are the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.” “But all we ever wanted was for her to be a good Presbyterian.” “Sorry, you messed up and made a good disciple.”

A disciple is the one who believes all this stuff about Jesus and lives like it. A disciple is one that’s willing to take some risks and what God promises us in this kind of parable is that God will reward the one who takes those risks in order to serve the master. Someone who lays their time, their personal ability, their money on the line, time, talents and treasure to be used by the king and by the kingdom. God will honor that servant. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

As Christians we have received incredible things from God. Grace. Forgiveness. The love of God. The experience of the Holy Spirit. Material blessings. A sound mind. Health. Friends. Family. There are so many things that we can thank God for and so we can’t receive all of this from God and sit back and do nothing with it. Free forgiveness and free grace doesn’t mean freedom from responsibility. That’s what this parable teaches us. We have responsibility.

Part of the Share the Vision campaign is a vision for service. And so one of the things that we would like you to wrestle with before God is not just with how you are going to handle your money and whether you will support or how much you will support what we are doing in building a new ministry area. We want you to also struggle with what it means to invest yourself in God’s ministry. So next week we are going to have a mission fair right outside the doors and so next week after the service we are going to have you go out and sign up to take the risk of just doing something different. 25 ministries in the Baltimore area, across the next few months. Is there something you can do that you haven’t done yet? Make a commitment of yourself to have this experience and to take this risk to get involved, because God doesn’t just want one part of our lives. He wants us to free ourselves up for his service. So next week, we will have an opportunity for you to kind of wrestle with that a little bit and then sign up for a new experience. Take a risk and do some new ministry.

On the final day, the issue will not be how good a church member you are. The issue will be with Jesus Christ himself, how good a disciple you have been. Are you a faithful servant? If God has given us good things, we can’t bury it. We’ve got to step out of the comfort zone. We’ve got to lay some things on the line and take some risks because God has promised to reward the risk takers. I don’t want any of us to be like my grandmother and take all of the wonderful, valuable things God has been giving us and like my grandmother put it just unused in a drawer where it will sit there until we die and its too late for us to use it. I don’t want that to happen. Instead, I have a vision of us being the kind of church where God can see a need in the church or God can see a need out in Baltimore or God can see a people on the other side of the world that needs to hear the gospel and God can say, whom shall I send? Who will go for us and God will have a whole chorus of voices in this church saying, “Here I am God. Send me.”

Let’s pray: God, you know the struggle it is for us to be available to you, but we have received so much from you. Help us now to take the kind of steps that will help each of us be good and faithful servants. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

This parable is about how some people dealt with valuables entrusted to them.
It comes in a series of 4 similar parables:
Each parable has an absent ruling figure who is going to return at anytime.
Each deals with the question of how to be faithful until that return.
In each the tone is severe
Each has a separation between the characters
How are we in danger of burying God’s riches given to us?
By being too busy
Of failure
Fear that God will be hard on us
Fear of change
It is too easy to be a good church member without being a good disciple!
A disciple is one who believes all this stuff about Jesus, and lives like it!