Sermon 15 November 2020


Sermon: Parable of the bags of Gold

Waiting for the Lord’s return, working for him, faithful with all he has entrusted to us.

We are at the time of year in the Anglican calendar when we look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus. As a teenager I found this time of year and these passages of the Bible quite frightening. I would wake up in the night and the house would seem empty and I would be convinced the Lord had come and left me behind. This fear came from two sources; one a fear that I was not good enough and the second a lack of assurance that I was truly forgiven and accepted by my heavenly Father through the death and resurrection of his Son. Today I look forward to his coming again, but I want to be ready and that is what these readings from Matthew 25 are all about.

Last week we looked at the 10 virgins waiting for the bridegroom to come. They needed to ensure that they did not run out of the oil of the Holy Spirit – ensuring they allowed the presence of God to flow freely in their lives. This week we come to the 3 servants who were issued with various sums of gold and now await the return of their master.

Before we look in more detail at the parable and how it speaks to us, I would like to first do a bit of cultural interpretation.

Some versions of the Bible use the word talent which is a translation of the Greek talanton which was the largest denomination of currency in the Roman Empire. Often we have interpreted this as meaning talents or gifts and skills and although that may be part of the modern interpretation of the story it was not how Jesus’ listeners heard it. For them it was about a financial responsibility.

The second point to make is that in Jewish culture at the time burying money was considered to be the safest way of caring for money. If someone buried money, they could not be held responsible whereas they could if they invested it and it was lost they were held to blame.

We begin the story with the rich man going on a journey, leaving his servants with the responsibilities of looking after his finances. They were expected to keep his business going while he was away. It says that he distributed HIS money according to the ability of each of his servants. I want to make clear that he did not give the servants his money, he entrusted it to their care. The master knew their capabilities and so gave them responsibilities according to what he knew they could manage. We see this in the workplace today – where people are given responsibilities according to abilities (at least in theory).

When Jesus told this story, he might have been applying it to the spiritual leaders of Israel during his time, but it is equally relevant to his followers who await his Second Coming. Jesus has entrusted us with the responsibility of continuing the work he begun; of bringing in the Kingdom of God. Not all of us have the same abilities or the same level of responsibility but none of us have nothing. All of us have some responsibility given to us until the Lord comes again.

The first two men took their responsibility seriously. They were risk takers.

Once when Tudor and I met with a financial advisor to talk about how we wanted to invest an ISA he asked us what level of risk takers we were. Surprisingly Tudor came out as much more of a gambler and I wanted a safe pair of hands to keep our money secure. However, both of us wanted some return for our money. Most people do. It is the same with the Lord when he entrusts his work to his servants.

The first two men in our story knew that they had a responsibility to make the money left in their care grow. The story doesn’t tell us how they invested the money but only that they did. And they doubled what they had. When the master returns, he called his servants to settle accounts. He rewards the first two servants in the same way.  “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!” Just because the first servant was given more, and he makes more he is not rewarded more generously than the second servant who made less. The master rewards them both because they have both worked hard, taken risks and have been prepared for his return. They truly were “Good and faithful servants!”

One thing that drives me is to increase my intimacy with Jesus, to as it were hear him say to me “Good and faithful servant!” I long to see his hand at work in and through me. I want my faith to be more than something hollow and formulaic. If I am to do this, I need to step outside my safety zone. Mike Pilavchi tells us: You have to get out of the boat so you can know the intimacy of walking with Jesus.

In this parable the second servant could so easily have looked at the first servant and thought – he is better than me, and maybe been a bit jealous. He could have sat back and let the stronger, more able man take all the responsibility, but he didn’t he took what he had been given and did all he could to grow what he had. In the kingdom of God I think that we sometimes look at other church members or even other churches and say to ourselves “they are so much more gifted / resourced / skilled than I am, let’s just let them grow the church and I will just maintain what I have.

God has always given his people work to do. In Genesis before the Fall (Genesis 2:15) the Lord took man and placed him in the garden to work it and take care of it. Similarly, he places us in the world with work to do. As John Proctor says; “The church is not called simply to be, but to obey” – to do what the Lord asks of us. And if we want the Kingdom of God to grow and to flourish then we must take our responsibilities seriously and find ways to invest well all that the Lord has given us, whether it is 5 bags, 2 bags or only 1.

In the parable, the first two men both doubled what they had been given. And if you only draw one other person to faith you will have done that. Sadly we don’t always see this growth in our spiritual lives or in our churches. This is because we are like the third man. We are afraid, paralyzed by fear. We assume that the Lord will be angry with us if we get it wrong because we don’t really understand the nature of the Lord and his graciousness.

In the Message version of this passage the third man says: ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’ So often we too have a false understanding of the Lord and of his call to us. He does not demand that we succeed but that we try. We will not disappoint him by trying but we will if we bury what he has given us.

Like this man we are frightened to take risks, we have a negative image of God in our heads. Too often, we want to protect our reputations, we are scared of not being liked or being rejected. In this country we won’t lose our lives for sharing Christ, occasionally some people may get into trouble in the workplace, but most of us will probably only be looked at in a strange way. Sadly, our reputation often matters more than others’ salvation.  

The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus, you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life. John Ortberg

When I worked at Lee Abbey in Devon, Mike Edson the then Warden, used to challenge us to expand our boundaries, to overcome our fear of doing new things. He would say that we don’t have to take massive leaps but push the boundary back a little at a time. Some of those small steps might feel huge but we don’t take them alone – we are supported by the Lord himself and our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is one of the roles of the church community. Many people are far more gifted than they realise and but lack of opportunity and doubts have choked the passion and motivation.

So maybe God is asking you to share your faith story with others and that feels a huge step – so start by telling friends in church or a Zoom group. Start to push back the boundary. No Risk, No Gain.

Story of person who was willing to cross Niagara Falls in a wheelbarrow on a tightrope.

An Acrobat, A Wheelbarrow, and a Challenge of Faith

Can you imagine a tightrope stretched over a quarter of a mile and spanning the breadth of Niagara Falls?  The thundering sound of the pounding water drowning out all other sounds as you watch a man step onto the rope and walk across!

This stunning feat made Charles Blondin famous in the summer of 1859.  He walked 160 feet above the falls several times back and forth between Canada and the United States as huge crowds on both sides looked on with shock and awe.  Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, another time on a bicycle,  and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet!

On July 15, Blondin walked backward across the tightrope to Canada and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.

The Blondin story is told that it was after pushing a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded that Blondin asked for some audience participation.  The crowds had watched and "Ooooohed" and "Aaaaahed!"  He had proven that he could do it; of that, there was no doubt.  But now he was asking for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow and take a ride across the Falls with him!

It is said that he asked his audience, "Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?"  Of course the crowd shouted that yes, they believed!

It was then that Blondin posed the question - "Who will get in the wheelbarrow?'

Of course...none did.

If we really want to get to know God better and to grow in our faith, we need to trust him. Using what God has entrusted to you is risky, indeed trusting God to help us can sometimes feel like a white knuckle ride, however, if we want to grow in Christ, to be obedient to his call and to get to know his amazing character then we must be prepared to DO something, to take a risk. No risk, no reward.

Corrie Ten Boom describes a time when fear overwhelmed her: I prayed to dispel my fear, until suddenly, and I do not know how the idea came to me, I began to pray for others. I prayed for everyone who came into my thoughts - - people with whom I had travelled, those who had been in prison with me, my school friends of years ago. I do not know how long I continued my prayer, but this I do know - - my fear was gone! Interceding for others had released me!

I urge you to take seriously the fact that one day Jesus will return again and there will be a day of accounting. The delay we sometimes feel in his Second Coming is not meant to be empty like waiting for a bus, but a time of opportunity to put to use the ‘talents’ he has entrusted to us. Our faith is not something safe, unchanging and without risk to be stored in a safe place, it is like our muscles; there to be used and exercised if they are not to atrophy and become useless.

If you have a problem with the punishment handed out by the master to the man who hides his money in the ground, there is a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which might help us to understand. Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.

Finally I want to end with a quote from John Piper It was becoming clearer and clearer that if I wanted to come to the end of my life and not say, “I’ve wasted it!” then I would need to press all the way in, and all the way up, to the ultimate purpose of God and join him in it. If my life was to have a single, all-satisfying, unifying passion, it would have to be God’s passion.

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The Message Version

The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26-27 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

CEV Contemporary Version

The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country.

 

 

 

Quotes

It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfilment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose. Rick Warren

You cannot fulfil God's purposes for your life while focusing on your own plans. Rick Warren

If you're alive, there's a purpose for your life. Rick Warren

If you want your life to have impact, focus it! Stop dabbling. Stop trying to do it all. Do less. Prune away even good activities and do only that which matters most. Never confuse activity with productivity. You can be busy without a purpose, but what's the point? Rick Warren

Life is about letting God use you for his purposes, not using him for your own purpose. Rick Warren

The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose. Rick Warren

Gifts and abilities, no matter how magnificent, are either limited or enhanced by character. John Wimber

Instead of focusing on the great men of God, I prefer to focus on the Great God of men. John Wimber

It was becoming clearer and clearer that if I wanted to come to the end of my life and not say, “I’ve wasted it!” then I would need to press all the way in, and all the way up, to the ultimate purpose of God and join him in it. If my life was to have a single, all-satisfying, unifying passion, it would have to be God’s passion. John Piper

The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus, you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life. John Ortberg

I prayed to dispel my fear, until suddenly, and I do not know how the idea came to me, I began to pray for others. I prayed for everyone who came into my thoughts - - people with whom I had travelled, those who had been in prison with me, my school friends of years ago. I do not know how long I continued my prayer, but this I do know - - my fear was gone! Interceding for others had released me! Corrie Ten Boom

Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead. He is called out... The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity... out of the realm of the finite...into the realm of infinite possibilities. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. John Wesley

It was becoming clearer and clearer that if I wanted to come to the end of my life and not say, “I’ve wasted it!” then I would need to press all the way in, and all the way up, to the ultimate purpose of God and join him in it. If my life was to have a single, all-satisfying, unifying passion, it would have to be God’s passion. John Piper

You have to get out of the boat so you can know the intimacy of walking with Jesus. Mike Pilavachi

Faith is the refusal to panic. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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