Welcome, friends. Although we are socially distanced, let us be spiritually connected through our worldwide communion with all the saints. Click the video below and, by God’s grace, we will be linked with the blessing of Christ…
The following is an animated take on Christ’s parable of the talents…
And consider this song as we consider our own gifts…
May each of you use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
What would you do with a million dollars?… Maybe you would pay off some debts, finish some work on your house, or quit your job and take a vacation. Perhaps you might invest a good portion of it. However, your investment is only as good as your level of trust.
When I worked at a senior citizen healthcare facility, there was a resident with an apartment in independent living, but he still owned his house. During one conversation, the old man admitted to me that over the past sixty years he owned his house, he had secretly bored holes in every door jamb of the house and had stuffed away $100,000 dollars in cash! This dear resident had personally experienced the run on banks which began the Great Depression in 1929. He had zero trust for investment banking.
A “talent” in Christ’s day was a monetary denomination. A talent was worth 6,000 denarii, and one denarius was worth a day’s wage. So, in Christ’s parable of the talents, Jesus was talking about millions of dollars (in today’s money) with the master who gave his servants five talents, two talents, and one talent. (Matthew 25:14-30)
As Jesus was telling his parable, one of his chief points was to communicate that God is gracious and generous. The three servants responded their master’s generosity according to their view of him. Two of the servants regarded the master as gracious and generous, and so, freely took their talents and confidently invested them to create even more money.
The two faithful servants took risks and acted with the idea that they were secure in their relationship with their master. However, the third servant’s perception of his master was different. This servant discerned his master as stern, serious, and angry, so therefore, he did nothing with his talent – he was afraid.
The man was fearful because his view of the master was off. If we consider God as primarily an angry Being, then we will almost certainly not use the gifts he has given us, for fear of messing up and experiencing his wrath.
However, the truth is, God is gracious and generous. The Lord has mercifully gifted everyone and expects us to use those gifts and not hide them away in a door jamb! God wants us to actively display grace and generosity – which will require addressing our fears. If we want to hear the Lord Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then taking initiative is necessary.
Fear is perhaps the greatest block in preventing God’s people from being productive Christians in serving the church and the world. Beneath our fears are powerful feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and an inner conviction that we are not enough. Oftentimes, a low view of self can come from a low view of God.
Fear paralyzes our potential to serve God’s kingdom.
Being continually afraid, drains our energy and lessens whatever impact we could have for God in the world, diminishing our resolve to act and leaving us ineffective in service.
Fear destroys our dreams and godly desires.
We are meant to enjoy the gracious and generous God, and in our enjoyment of the Lord, godly dreams will be placed within us that God is pleased to fulfill:
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, NLT)
Our enjoyment of God gives us the security and confidence to act upon godly desires and produces a generous harvest of righteousness and peace. We then can share the bounty with others, as a way of giving back to God.
Yet, if fear gets thrown into the mix, it dilutes and destroys everything. Fear paralyzes us, and we do nothing, like the third servant in the parable. What is more, fear can force us into hiding, just like the servant hid and buried his talent.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers, the Israelites were immobilized by fear. God had a grand vision and a big dream for the people to enter the Promised Land. But ten of the twelve spies who came back after checking out the land were paralyzed by fear. “The land has giants, and we are like grasshoppers!” they nervously said.
Caleb and Joshua, however, had a different view of taking the land because they had a different view of God. They didn’t see giants – they saw a gracious and generous God who could easily take care of whoever might be in the land, and they wanted to act on the faith they had in a mighty and merciful God. The God of the other spies wasn’t big enough to handle the giants. Their low view of themselves as grasshoppers betrayed their low view of God. (Numbers 13:26-33)
We might wrap a lot of our fears in morbidly sanctified self-belittling. That is, we might feel good about feeling bad and wrap ourselves with a blanket of secret shame. As a result, those self-deprecating feelings stop us from exploring God’s dream and vision for us.
We could use some bold God-sized dreams! We can speak and act in the world with confidence because we serve a God who sees giants as gnats.
Some of the greatest fears that hold back people from exploring their faith is:
Fear of criticism – being afraid of what others may think or say.
Fear of taking a risk – being afraid of going outside the comfort zone of how something has always been done.
Fear of ourselves – being afraid to explore our vast inner world with its guilt, shame, insecurity, and mixed motives.
Fear snatches away God’s dreams for us. If you once had a dream and you think that dream is dead because of your sins and bad habits, you are misguided. Dreams evaporate because of fear, by being duped into believing that we are not enough, and never will be. So, we end up doing nothing.
Fear ruins our relationship with God and others.
Living a spiritual life, meanwhile always looking over our shoulder to see if God is going to sneak up on us and rap our knuckles with a ruler, is no way to live. I think the hardest people to get along with are those who have a low view themselves. Because they do not like themselves, they do not like others. They continually wonder if God is upset with them about something. The man in the parable blamed God for his own lack of investment. Yet, blame shifting is really our own fear and insecurity seeping through onto others – it helps no one, especially ourselves.
God wants us to bloom with the talents given us. God wants us to shine and succeed. God is on our side, has our backs, and wants us to live a good life.
Fear sabotages our service.
“I can’t!” is the cry of the person locked in fear. I cannot stand up in front of people, meet strangers, sing, serve like that other person can or love like Jesus did. I cannot because I am afraid, and I only have one talent!
Perhaps you have observed that God typically uses tongue-tied people, worriers, and those with a sordid past – and not superstars – as servants commissioned with a set of talents. The less a person has, the more God shows up and shows off with generous power and gracious ability through that person.
Nothing sabotages serving more than being afraid, worried, and believing we have so little. Give God a chance! Step out. Take a risk. Act on that dream.
Once in a small village in India, a farmer brought to the open-air market a whole covey of quail, with a string tied around a foot of each bird. The other end of the string was tied to a ring on a central stick. The quail were all walking in a circle because of the strings on their feet. As the day went on no one seemed interested in buying the farmer’s quail.
Finally, an old man came and bought every one of the quail. After he bought the quail, the old man told the farmer to cut the strings and set all the quail free. So, the farmer did. But none of the quail flew away. They kept marching around in a circle as if they were still tied to the string. Finally, the farmer had to shoo them away to get them to move, and even then, the quail landed somewhere else and just started marching in a circle again.
God has freed and forgiven us. Yet, we can so easily remain tethered to imaginary strings and march around in vicious circles of fear, afraid to venture into the unexplored world God has for us, to spread our wings and be free.
God loves you. God has wonderful plans for you. God created you with your unique personality, gave you unparalleled experiences, and gifted you with uncommon abilities. God wants you to tap into that passion and dream placed down deep in your heart to serve the world.
What would you do with a million dollars? You already have it. Now, go and invest it.
We prepare for things we really care about; we anticipate things that are important to us. This was the point of Christ’s parable about ten bridesmaids. (Matthew 25:1-13)
People who really care about hunting make careful preparations for the season and anticipate opening day. Those who care about Green Bay Packers football look forward to game-day, plan for special food to eat, and set aside normal activities to watch them play. And, of course, weddings are events which take lots of preparation because families care about the upcoming marriage. Since I have raised three girls, I can testify first-hand that wedding plans begin in third grade for many females.
Some folks show up to things late and unprepared because they simply do not value the event enough to be ready for it. Casual hunters and fair-weather football fans go home when it gets too cold because they are not adequately prepared for the conditions. Quickie weddings happen in Las Vegas when two people are not prepared to have a marriage for a lifetime. People drop out of impromptu events when there is no fun or gets too hard. However, if they really care about it, they prepare for it, have patience through it, and persevere in it when things get tough.
The true test of authentic commitment comes when things are not easy and it takes blood, sweat, and tears to see something through. A Christian is one who professes Christ as Lord and Savior, and backs the words up with a resolve to live into their baptism; to avail themselves of Holy Communion; to plan and prepare for both personal and public worship; and to make it their aim to love God, one another, and neighbor.
There are few human events more freighted with emotion and preparation than weddings. Parents invest a lot of time, energy, resources, and love to have a meaningful wedding for their kids. There is also the potential for disaster at a wedding. Since I have done my share of weddings, I can tell you that a lot of things go sideways in the preparation process and even at the wedding itself. I have seen bridesmaids pass out, grooms forget the ring, and families fight like cats and dogs in the narthex just as the bride is ready to come down the aisle. All kinds of crazy stuff can happen with a wedding.
At my own wedding, the bridesmaids were literally sown into their dresses by the seamstress just hours before the wedding; one of my groomsman did not show up because, I later found out, he was in jail; and, we were married on the hottest and most humid day of the year – 100 degrees – which did not go so well for a bunch of women trying to have their best ever hair day.
Yet, we got married anyway. The wedding happened because it was important to us. I think it is interesting that Jesus chose to tell a parable using a wedding to tell us what the kingdom of God is like. Weddings in Christ’s day were just as prone to mishap, maybe even more so, than weddings today.
In ancient Israel, a couple would become engaged but not set a wedding date. The groom took the time to busily prepare a home for himself and his bride to live. It might take days, or weeks, or months, even years. It is this imagery that Jesus picked up to communicate his point of being prepared for things we care about.
No one knew when the groom would be finished with preparations. (Note: Jesus the bridegroom is busy making preparations for a great wedding feast at the end of the age when he will come back and take us to be with him forever, John 14:1-4). When the groom was ready, he left the home he had prepared and went to the bride’s house. Then, the two of them, along with their wedding party, would have a grand procession through the streets of the town, almost always after dark, and then back to the home of the groom. So, oil lamps were important to have ready and on standby.
Here is the parable of the bridesmaid’s setting: The groom has left his house and begun his trek through town. He might come right away, and he might not, depending on what route he takes. The bridesmaids (or virgins) have their oil lamps ready. Five of them have plenty of oil, and five of them do not. The groom took a circuitous route, so the virgins fell asleep waiting. At midnight, the groom finally showed up at the bride’s house. Five virgins were ready and five were not ready.
The five bridesmaids without enough oil went to find or buy some more, while the five virgins with plenty of oil joined the celebration. The procession returned to the groom’s house, posthaste, before the five bridesmaids who were not part of the procession finally caught up to them at the house. They knocked on the door and expected to get in. But the door was shut and was not going to be opened. The marriage happened without them.
Bottom line of the story: The five foolish bridesmaids were not ready because they did not care enough to be prepared. This, at face value, might seem harsh. Yet, in Christ’s time, not having the oil needed for the lamps would be akin, in our day, to half the bridesmaids showing up at the wedding at the last minute in jeans and t-shirts without having done their hair and expecting to stand up with the bride. No bride or groom and their family in our culture is going to roll with that kind of behavior because it is deeply offensive.
As in all of Christ’s parables, the characters represent the people listening. The five wise and five foolish bridesmaids point to the various characters who were following Jesus. Those folks consisted of both faithful disciples of Jesus, as well as wedding crashers who were not there because they valued and respected Jesus.
Jesus told us to keep watch, because we do not know the day or the hour when he will return. So, the big question for every professing believer in Jesus is: Are you prepared? We are to maintain constant vigilance, being always alert for Jesus to show up. It is one thing to profess Christ; it is quite another thing to live each day doing God’s will and being prepared for Jesus to return. In short, Jesus wants more than fair-weather Christians.
We cannot assume someone else will give us oil, or simply rely on another person to have everything we need to live the Christian life. Each one of us must listen and learn from God’s Word for ourselves; cultivate a life of prayer; serve the church and the world in ways God has called us to, without relying on someone else to do the work I should be doing.
For those whom Jesus is the most important person in their lives, you will see preparations to serve him every day. It is my personal practice to rise each morning by 5:00am. I light a candle and spend some quiet unhindered time reading Scripture, reflecting on it, and praying. Throughout the day I pause to intentionally connect with God in prayer and worship (Yes, even a Pastor must do this!).
I get up early in the morning regardless of how I feel. I engage in spiritual disciplines even when it does not strike my fancy. I go to work and do what it takes to get myself in a position to be a blessing to others, despite the times when I am less than 100%. I do it because God has called me, and I care about that.
Let us come back to Christ’s message of the parable: We prepare for things we really care about, and we anticipate things that are important to us. For the first three hundred years of the church, believers in Jesus met in cramped places with few resources other than the Holy Spirit of God. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, everything literally changed overnight. Emperor Constantine built St. Peter’s Basilica and instituted state-funded support for bishops. Suddenly, Christianity was cool. At this point, the church began a moral and spiritual slide into worldliness and decadence.
It seems throughout the history of Christianity that the church flourishes most when it is under some sort of persecution or adversity. And when it is not, it flounders and lapses into worldliness. Sometimes, the primary values and goals of Christians are ensuring that we get our way through politicians, as if our hope is ultimately tied to political elections. Instead, our goal must be to live for Jesus, no matter the circumstances. In fact, the church’s faith grows more genuine when it is proven through great trials.
The return of Jesus is a future reality which needs to be constantly on our spiritual radars. Jesus wants us to watch and pray, to be prepared, because it could be today that the bridegroom shows up at our house!