Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (November 13, 2011)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

I don’t watch much television, but I did catch a few moments here and there of the most recent edition of the show “America’s Got Talent.” It had the usual parade of musicians and magicians, singers and sideshow acts, comedians and contortionists. Some of the performances were compelling. Some were sensational. Some were downright nauseating.

What about you? What are your talents? Would someone be able to look at this gathering here and say, “Messiah Lutheran’s Got Talent”? I know about the talents that many of you have. I also know that there are probably some hidden abilities out there, too, that you may be too shy to reveal.

The truth is, every Christian congregation is gifted with numerous talents … and here we’re not just referring to the type that are fit for the stage or screen. God provides his Church with exactly what she needs in order to carry out her calling in the world. Each of you has the skills, the time, and the finances in order to contribute to the good of the cause here within our congregation and beyond. Even though you may think that your abilities and resources are insignificant, God has placed each of you exactly where he wants you and calls you to use your gifts to serve those whom he has placed in your life.

When we hear the word “talent,” we normally think of creative abilities. But the word in the Bible referred to a unit of value equal to a certain weight of gold or silver. And it was a huge sum. Think of it this way: to earn a talent, you’d have to work for about twenty years.

With this in mind, we shouldn’t limit our interpretation of the “talents” in our text to creative abilities and productive skills. Included in this priceless measure is a priceless treasure … the most priceless treasure you and I have been entrusted with: the Gospel … the message of the forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Christ on the cross of Calvary. That is the most important “talent” given to us. Like the servants in the parable, our Master Jesus calls us to invest his “talent” of the Gospel as we proclaim the saving message of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus.

So how are you using your talents? It probably depends on how you view not only your talents but also your Master’s character. It’s important to take stock of this. The Master will return one day to “settle accounts.” He will return to take stock of how you used the talents with which you have been entrusted.

Do you denigrate the gifts of God? Have you hidden them, buried them, refused to put them to use? Or do you trust that his gifts will gain a return on their investment? God’s Word will always do the work that he intends it to do. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

The way you use your gifts also depends on how you view the Master. Like the servant given the one talent, do you view him as a “hard man”? Is he harsh, stingy, mean, cruelly forcing his servants to do his will? Is that your view of God? This is not faith. This is fear and loathing. And what happens to the one who buried his talent? He’s called “wicked and slothful.” He refused to trust in his Master’s generosity and in the power of his talent to gain a return after being invested. The treasure given to him is taken away from him. The person who refuses to trust in God’s generosity in Christ is “the one who has not,” that is, the one who has no faith in the Master. When the Master returns to settle accounts, that unfaithful servant will be cast into the “outer darkness” away from the light of Christ.

What is your view of the Master? Instead of viewing him as a “hard man,” do you recognize your Master’s overwhelming generosity? Remember how much a talent was. It was twenty-years’ wages. So five talents would be a hundred years’ wages. Two would be forty. These are no small amounts. And yet the Master hands them over to his servants … and he commends the servants who put the talents to work by telling them they were faithful over a LITTLE. Five and two talents certainly don’t sound like a LITTLE! Even one talent is a generous trust.

Jesus says that the talents were distributed to “each according to his ability.” One temptation we have is to compare ourselves to others and become jealous of the gifts and skills that they have. We argue with God, “Why is that person so gifted and I’m not? Why did they get all the talent and I didn’t?” But who are we to argue with God about what or how much he has given us? As I said, remember in the parable how even one talent was a generous trust. And note well that everything about this is from God … the initial talents entrusted, the return on the investment, and the ultimate rewards. These are all gifts. You didn’t earn a dime, much less a talent. It’s all about grace. So stop comparing yourself to others. Rejoice in the person you are in Christ. Know that we all have, as St. Paul teaches us, “gifts that differ according to the grace given us” (Rom. 12:6) … “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

Those who put their talents to use are the ones who recognize the generosity of the Master and the magnitude of his gifts. They are the ones who know the importance of investing his gifts to gain a return for the glory of the Master. In the parable, the Master says, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” Faith which relies on the grace of God in Christ Jesus multiplies and overflows. God the Father gives us an abundance of love, mercy, and forgiveness through his Son. We have more than we need for ourselves. That means we can share that same love, mercy, and forgiveness that was given to us.

Here in the closing weeks of the Church Year, we remember that our Master will return one day to “settle accounts.” The prophet Zephaniah describes it as “a day of wrath … a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and destruction, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zeph. 1:15). St. Paul says it will come suddenly, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). And in Romans 14, Paul says, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).

So how’s your account balance? Have you always used your talents to the best of your abilities and for the glory of God? Have you always freely shared God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness out of the abundance which he has given you? Our account balance is in the red. We are terribly overdrawn. We must repent.

The Day of the Lord will indeed be a day of wrath for those without faith in Christ. But St. Paul says in today’s Epistle, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10). Jesus has already “settled accounts” for us. Our sins were credited to him at the cross. He paid our debt with his innocent suffering and death. His resurrection is the proof that our bills have been “paid in full.” His righteous life is now credited to us, applied to us in Holy Baptism, and received by trusting in his finished work at the cross.

Now, because we are united to Jesus in Baptism, everything we do … including using our talents for God’s glory … everything we do is done in Christ and through Christ. Jesus said in John 3, “whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). And so our Master will say to us on the Last Day, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” In the parable, this is a picture of slaves who are now welcomed as free men. They are now welcome to dine with the master at his table. Jesus has set us free from our slavery to sin, death, and hell. He now welcomes us to dine with him at his table … to feast upon his body and blood, the fruits of the cross with which he earned for us a place at the eternal feast in heaven.

And that is worth more than any amount of talents here on earth.


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