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.
Therefore, many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So, from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Therefore, Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts, they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. (NIV)
Effective ministry and service is risky business. Just ask Jesus. The Jewish ruling council (Sanhedrin) was deeply disturbed by all the hubbub Jesus was stirring. Rather than celebrating the healing of many people in both body and soul, the rulers were anxious, worried, and afraid. They feared the worst: The Romans will obliterate both temple and nation.
Wherever you find a group of folks living in continual fear that something awful is going to happen, there you will find a strict code of conformity and no allowances for difference. After all, rocking the boat only draws attention. If anything, or anyone, deviates from established protocol, the voice of fear says, the entire religious system and even its people will be destroyed.
Well, my goodness, Jesus was anything but a conformist to the status quo. He frequently operated outside of established religious norms. Thus, Christ was viewed by many religious leaders as a loose cannon that was making too much noise and needed to be silenced before something terrible happened.
One of the problems with living in the fearful worry of what horrible thing may occur is that we play an ignorant game of prognostication. We simply do not know the future. We can predict. We can become full-time pundits. Yet, when all is said and done, the future is not ours to see. Only God is privy to standing above time and space.
Churches, Christian organizations, and really any institution whose chief focus is keeping everyone in line out of a fear of losing influence, power, privilege, money, devotion, buildings, or people will likely experience a self-fulfilled prophecy of doom. It is necessary we define our ministries, services, and actions by who we are and not by what we don’t do.
Today’s Gospel lesson chronicles the forward progress to the ultimate suffering and death of Jesus. Within the Apostle John’s account, two streams run parallel with one another. There is a group of Jews who observed Jesus, listened to his teaching, saw his miraculous works, and believed in him. Alongside them is another group of Jews who experienced all the same events and heard all the same words of Jesus – yet responded in a quite different manner by plotting how Jesus might be arrested and killed.
Fear can take such a tight hold on some that premeditated murder is planned and executed without any moral misgivings. Worry can worm its way so deeply into a group that verbal assassinations seem both justified and necessary. Anxiety can overwhelm an institution to such a degree that rationalizations for unethical behavior are rife. People cease to be looked at as people. They are referred to as threats, demonized as monsters who are trying to take away a way of life.
Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke to his fellow religious leaders, perhaps without even knowing the truth and deep import of his prophetic words: “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Indeed, not only did Jesus die for the nation of Israel, but on behalf of all nations, and all people.
The implications of Christ’s death are magnanimous. The extent of his atonement for the people includes redemption from the bondage of sin; reconciliation between us and God; satisfaction of God’s wrath against the sin of the world; and, victory over the demonic realm, death, and hell. With all this incredible work of restoration and renewal, fear and worry take a back seat. Courage and confidence take the wheel.
Merciful Jesus, you are my guide, the joy of my heart, the author of my hope, and the object of my love. I come seeking refreshment and peace. Show me your mercy, relieve my fears and anxieties, and grant me a quiet mind and an expectant heart, that by the assurance of your presence I may learn to abide in you, who is my Lord and my God. Amen.
Then he [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (NIV)
When I was a kid, every evening after supper and the news, I watched a show called To Tell the Truth. The show featured a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience. This central character was accompanied by two impostors who pretended to be the central character. The celebrity panelists questioned the three contestants; and, the impostors could lie but the central character was sworn “to tell the truth.” After questioning, the panel then attempted to identify which of the three challengers was telling the truth. The host would conclude the show by saying the famous line, “Will the real ______ please stand up!” The four panelists on the show often missed the real person, mainly because they had certain expectations of what the real person’s occupation or experience would be like. And their expectations did not match the real thing.
People in the first century had expectations of what the Messiah would be like. Their assumptions centered mostly in a manly Savior who would enter history and beat up the Romans, establishing the kingdom of God on earth with strong leadership over everyone. And that was why they missed the Messiah because their expectations did not fit the real Jesus.
It is imperative we do not miss Jesus because we have certain expectations of who he is, and what he should do, based on our own experience, or on what we want, rather than what God is doing.
God is at work bringing all things under Christ’s authority. The kingdom of God expands and develops when people follow Jesus through genuine humility, confession of sin, and reception of grace. Satan and his demons are quite displeased when this happens because they do not want Jesus on the scene to bring deliverance.
The devil had his own aspiration to do away with Jesus so that Christ could not accomplish the mission of redeeming the world back to God. Wiley old Satan wanted the violent storm to kill Jesus. However, Christ’s authority and power overwhelmed the “natural” act.
The real Jesus is, in truth, beyond our expectations. The emphasis in the story of deliverance from the storm is on the person of Christ. The people were surprised that even the wind and the waves obey him! They were afraid because of the furious storm. But Jesus was sleeping, not the least bit fearful. The disciples woke him, and the original text of the story has just three short staccato-breathed words expressing their abject fear: “Lord! Save! Dying!” Jesus seemed to lazily awake and chided them for little faith, for their inability to recognize who he really was. The disciples’ expectations of Jesus were way too low!
Many people believe that God hears and answers prayer. Yet, sometimes our faith can be so small that, when God answers those prayers in ways far superior to our expectations, we are slack-jawed astonished by it. Matthew’s Gospel records several instances of people being surprised by the real Jesus:
When Jesus had thrown out the demon, the man who couldn’t speak began to talk. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” (Matthew 9:33, CEB)
Everyone was amazed at what they saw and heard. People who had never spoken could now speak. The lame were healed, the crippled could walk, and the blind were able to see. (Matthew 15:31, CEV)
When the followers saw this [Jesus withering a fig tree] they were very surprised. They asked, “How did the fig tree dry up and die so quickly?” (Matthew 21:20, ERV)
They were surprised to hear this [how insightful Jesus is to the human condition]. Then they left him alone and went away. (Matthew 22:22, GW)
But Jesus said nothing in answer to Pilate, and Pilate was very surprised at this. (Matthew 27:14, NCV)
The real Jesus is more marvelous, wonderful, powerful, and awesome than we know. Jesus will take care of us; he will not let his people be destroyed. When we truly grasp the real Jesus, and how much he loves us, there is no room for fear, only faith.
Even though the disciples’ faith was small, Jesus still responded to it with grace because even small faith is faith. Grace is undeserved help. Our Lord helps anyone who approaches him, whether with little faith or big. Our small faith is no obstacle for Jesus in delivering us from the storms of life.
I am wondering if you are presently experiencing a violent storm in your life. Please know that Jesus can bring peace.
Perhaps you have a besetting sin that dogs you every day. Jesus can deliver you.
It could be that depression follows you like a lost kitten wherever you go. Jesus can bring new life and fresh joy to your life.
Maybe there is a relationship you have lost hope over. Jesus can restore it.
Perchance you think your neighbor, co-worker, or family member is too far from God to ever know Jesus. By now you know the response. Our expectations of Jesus are much too small! We can pray big prayers because we serve a big and powerful God who has the authority to command even the wind and the waves!
When the real Jesus confronts the world, he confronts injustice and the darkness within human hearts. Some people are crushed by their awareness of sin, disobedience, and guilt. Therefore, they respond by hungering and thirsting after true righteousness. Others respond by trying to domesticate Jesus in serving their own ends.
The Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as both a powerful and compassionate God. Christ has authority over all things, and uses that authority to bestow grace, even in the face of the smallest of faith in his followers. Jesus cares about people and seeks to deliver them from the dominion of evil.
So, may we participate with Jesus in his agenda for this world. May we submit to his rule and authority. May we exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people as Jesus does. May we identify the real Jesus to stand up.
Lord Jesus, Son of God, I believe all things are possible through you; help my unbelief! Take my small and seemingly insignificant faith and use it to calm the storms in my life and demonstrate your authority even over the wind and the waves. Amen.