Who Is Hard-Hearted?

Delivered June 17, 2001 by Rev. George Antonakos.
as part of a series on the parables.

Theme: Our view of God determines our willingness to take risks of faith.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 25:14-29
and Psalm 27

This is the final sermon of the six-week series on selected parables. Follow with me as we read the parable of the talents. Matthew 25:14-29.

Again, the kingdom of God 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 two talents, he 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 masters 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 masters happiness.’ And 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 seeds. So, I was afraid. I 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 had not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. Well then you should have put my money on deposit with the banker, 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 abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has, will be taken from him.’
This is the Gospel of our Lord, thanks be to God.

So how has your investment strategy been going these days, for those of you who are investors? For a lot of us, it has not been good, has it? A few years ago, I had a financial planner meet with me and he asked, “Well are you a person who takes low, medium, or high risk in investing?” And I said, “Well I don’t really know. I have never really tried this before.” And so like a good Presbyterian I said, “I’ll do medium. I will take the middle road of investing.” Well things went well, this was back five years ago, and things were going very well. I started looking at my diversified portfolio and thinking well, these average funds that are just collecting 6% and 7%, we need to get rid of those. Let’s get them into ones that are collecting 20%. So I put everything into the high investment, high aggressive thing. That was not good. That was not good, because now I am paying for it. At least on paper. And I wonder how many of you, who have invested, are struggling in the same way. I talked to some people and they were kind of bragging that they have only lost about 15% or 20%. And as I think about investing, I think about this parable. Now lately my attitude is more like Mark Twain’s, where I am not so concerned about the return on my money, I am concerned about the return of my money. However, in this parable there are two types of people. There are Go people and there are Whoa people. This is the sign of the Go people, you know, they let the horses run. The Whoa people are very tight on the reigns. And that’s what we are dealing with today. An attitude, not about investing money per say, even though that is the symbolism, it’s an attitude of how we invest our lives. And how we value things. And to put it in context, Jesus was really responding in all of Matthew 24 and Matthew 25 to a question that the disciples had asked him at the beginning of Chapter 24 in Verse 3. “Tell us,” they said, “when will all of these things happen? When will be the sign of your coming and the end of the ages?” And Jesus, in Matthew 24 and 25, unfolds all kinds of stories and images about the future, about being vigilant, about the last judgment. And so the parables in this section have to do with contrasting behavior. The rewards and consequences that go along with good or evil choices. And even in the parable of the talents that I just read for you and we just saw, there is this verse that is repeated twice. “Come and share in your master’s happiness.” There is that sense of joy that will be for the faithful at the coming of the kingdom.

But lets start at the beginning in verse 14. Jesus is talking about these things. And he says again, “It will be like a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.” There are about three parables that are called departure/return parables. Where someone goes away and comes back and they all seek to teach one very valuable lesson: That a servant who can be trusted only when his master is present, is not much of a servant at all. Sometimes, people are given surveys and they are asked if they would engage or not engage in certain behaviors. Would you cheat on your income tax? Would you cheat on your spouse? Would you steal money from your employer? And certain people would say Yes and certain people say No. Then the question is asked to them, now, if you didn’t get caught, would you do these things? And you know what? The percentages changed. People who said, “No I wouldn’t do that” on the one category, say “Yeah I might think about that if I didn’t get caught.” Well, who we are in our “I’m not going to get caught” thinking, is who we really are. And that’s what these parables are testing. They are testing who we are in our hearts. And so Jesus’ hearers when they heard this parable, heard a certain test of sorts going on, as these different servants were given different amounts. Now, one thing we have to be very clear about is how much a talent is. One talent is an awful lot of money. It was one of the largest values of money in the ancient world. It was a silver coin that weighed at least 57 pounds. That’s huge. That would be tough going to the bank with this coin. But it was worth a minimum of 6,000 denari or maybe 10,000 denari. Somewhere between 15 to 25 years of wages was one talent. And so even the third servant, who was given just one talent, was entrusted with a great deal. And there are a number of reasons why Jesus’ listeners would have had sympathy on the behavior of the third servant. First, to bury money in the ground was a common practice. Even the rabbi’s had laws that if you took a tremendous trust and you took care of it safely, even burying it in the ground, you would not be liable if anything happened to it. That was a legitimate way of dealing with these kinds of things. The second reason the people would have been sympathetic to the third servant was because the peasants who heard this would probably be biased towards someone who was so wealthy. And the third reason is that it was such a huge amount and it was not a small thing to protect it. Anybody who has ever baby-sat in their life, knows what I am talking about. You’re entrusted to take care of children and when their parents come home, if the kids are in bed and everything is fine, you feel pretty good. You feel relieved. The house didn’t burn down and nobody got hurt. This is important. So the third servant took care of this huge amount that was entrusted to him and even in the parable it says, “Here, here’s what’s yours, I give it back to you.” So all of these factors set up Jesus’ listeners and us to, when the masters happiness is exclaimed with the first and second servant, they expect to hear the same for the third servant. Because each was given according to their ability. But in verse 26, they hear this instead, “You wicked, lazy servant. So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seeds? Well then you should have at least put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I return I would have at least received interest. You should have done something with it. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten, for to everyone who has will more be given and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have even what he has, will be taken from him.” Those who have, get more. I was just thinking about this in relation to Ron Scates. He was once a youth director and then he became an associate pastor, and then he came to pastor this church for ten years and then he went on Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and you know what happened this past week. He made the cover of the National Inquirer. Really, I am not kidding you. His picture is in every checkout counter in every supermarket in this country. He is standing as kind of a backdrop to Angie Harmon and Jason Seahorn, whom he married at Highland Park. That is her home church. She is an actress and he is a football player and there right on the cover of the National Inquirer is Ron Scates. Now look, to those who have will more be given. You never thought he was going to get that kind of accolade. And it wasn’t even bad. To be on the cover of the National Inquirer and not have something bad said about you, that’s huge. So those who have, godly men and godly women, more will be given. But those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away. What was the problem with the third servant? Why has he lost all? His future is gone. What didn’t he have? Let me share with you two reasons why I think his future was lost. Because one, his view of the master was wrong. He perceived the master to be hard-hearted and hard-fisted. But you know what? The master did not take back that talent. The master didn’t just say, “Okay, just give it back to me.” He gave it to the one who doubled it. Who had ten. And there is nothing in the responses of the first or second servant that indicate that there was anything to be afraid of concerning the master. It is the servants’ view of the master that deprives him of his future, because he is frozen in fear and he says he was afraid. So the question is who is hard-hearted? Is it the master, or is it the third servant?

You know, so many times I have talked to people and they say, “I really do want to trust God. I really do want to surrender everything to God, but I am afraid that if I do, God will make my life miserable.” What an awful view of a God who sacrificed all, that we might have the kingdom of heaven. We don’t have to be afraid like the servant, but it was his poor view of his master that deprived him of his future. God is for us. God delights in the bold freedom of his servants who take risks, who venture beyond comfort zones. We can invest our lives, our whole selves freely, when our view of God changes from exacting master to generous Lord. Kingdom servants are not to be guardedly preserving things. God has not given us the spirit of fear, the scripture says, but of love, power, and a sound mind. You know, when I tell people that Central Church has made the decision to go to a third service in an interim period, people can’t believe me. They don’t believe me. “How could you do that? What if things went wrong? What if, …” What do you mean, what if? We didn’t, it just didn’t. Because they believe. They believe. So for this, you are to be commended. But the servant in the parable didn’t believe. He had a bad view of the master. A wrong view of the master. The second reason he lost his future was because he had also forgotten his master’s values. Another way of saying that is that he lost sight of his purpose. You know, that’s easy to happen in our lives, even for Christians. We can lose sight of our single-minded purpose to glorify our Father in Heaven. And this third servant was not interested in his masters concerns. He was interested in his own. He wasn’t a scoundrel, he wasn’t negligent by the standards of his day, he was just focused on guarding his own little world. Saving his own skin. And in so doing, he lost all. Have you ever seen a team play sports, where a team instead of winning they play not to lose? That happens. Sometimes you see it at a football game. First half everybody is so aggressive, they are going for everything, everybody is flying all over the field. They get ahead. They come out in the second half and they start to play, not to lose. You know what usually happens? They lose. And that’s exactly what happened to the third servant. He lost sight of his purpose. The Lord of the servants says, “At least try something.” “Don’t just sit on the sidelines, do something.” God has given you such a great gift of your life and everything, invest it in someway, small or large, but invest it on the kingdom enterprise.

I am thinking of a couple of stories that in my experience illustrate these points. For instance, we tried to start a homeless shelter up in Sunbury, and in fact we did. But at the time, we only had $10,000 contributed from a number of sources and we found a property that was worth $100,000, so Greg Knepp and I, vice president and president of this little enterprise of starting a homeless shelter, went to the bank and said, “You know this is all we have, but we want to buy this property.” It was a little eight room motel. The banker said, “Do you have anymore beside the $10,000?” I said, “No, but we have a lot of people who are willing to commit.” Low and behold, they were Christians, and they said, “Okay, we think we can do this.” So it came time to sign on the dotted line, we were the officers signing. And I looked at Greg and I said, “Where’s the rest of this money going to come from?” He looked at me and he goes, “I don’t know, but I think God wants us to do it.” And so we signed. The next day, or the next week a pastor who was also on the board, came to the board of directors and they said, “I was just talking about this new homeless shelter, somebody came up out of my congregation and said, here’s $10,000 put it towards the shelter.” In the weeks and months to follow that story just kept getting repeated, so much so that the mortgage was paid off within 5-6 years and an addition was built to the property, thousands of people were helped, and hundreds of churches had a vehicle through which they could obey the Lord’s command to help the homeless. I was floored. I was flabbergasted. It wasn’t our faith necessarily, it was just we believed that we should risk for God.

The second story that I want to share with you is another situation where I was on another committee and I went to a church and invited them to receive $100,000 so that they could partner with the Presbytery to bring in a new pastor. For 100 years, this church and another church had been yoked parishes. It meant they shared a pastor. The Presbytery went to them and said, “Look, we believe you are in a good location, we want to give you $100,000, you’re going to have to split the yoke, but we believe there will be growth here. And we want to give you this money over a three year period if you will just go with this partnership.” They had already decided to vote, and set a 2/3 majority on any change. And then the debate started with the congregational meeting. What if we are worse off three years from now? What if we spend all this money but we are no further ahead than where we were? What if, what if, what if? And they ended up, defeating the motion to receive $100,000 to try something different by 5 votes. Later it was discovered that one of the most vocal critics was the treasurer. He was sitting on $400,000 that the congregation didn’t know about. I came away from that and I thought boy this sounds like a parable I read somewhere. God is saying, “I’m here, I am gifting, I have given you everything. Do something with it, don’t just sit there.”

You know, there is one other reason why I think this servant lost his future, because he lost sight of eternity. The parable says, “After a long time the master came.” You know when a long time goes by and you look at the actions of all these different servants you can’t tell from day to day what’s good and what’s bad. We think we are doing okay. Can you imagine the first and second servant coming along and talking to each other, “hey, how you doing?” “I’m doing fine.” “What’s going on with your money?” “Oh, I just doubled it the other day.” Third servant comes along, “Hey, how are you doing?” “Oh, I’m doing fine. I’ve got things exactly where I want them. No problems here. Things are right where they need to be.” He was in a very dangerous place. He was in a very dangerous place, because he thought he was fine. He lost sight of eternity. How do we serve God best and secure our future? When we see him as good. When our purpose is harnessed to his and when we keep an eternal view in mind. When we do this, not only will we please our Master, but we will be blessed servants, as well.

Let us pray. Our Lord we thank You for Your word and we ask that You would seal it to our hearts by Your Holy Spirit. And that You would help us to re-evaluate our life’s purpose. You would help us to cling closely to You and to see You again as good and loving. Help us Lord again to be willing to risk, to step out in faith and thereby please You. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.