“We Can do Better!”
Matthew 25:14-30, November 15th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Listen now to this writing from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-five, verses fourteen thru thirty.”
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“Having heard with our ears, let us now open our hearts as we seek to learn the full meaning of this ancient allegory attributed to the teachings from the man Jesus.”
“We Can do Better!”
Have you ever taken a moment to look back over your day, or perhaps the past year, or even over the years of your life and ponder, how might I have done better? God bless you if you have done this with a desire to truly evaluate and judge yourself, with a willingness and a fervent desire – to do better! Sometimes… it seems that few of us ever ask this question of ourselves. Yet, surely, I am wrong to think this, for everyone, at one level or another is striving to improve their lives! You are, aren’t you? If not, you may be musing and wondering: “‘why’ do such a thing?” “Life is what it is, and I have done my best!” This may indeed be true for you and prayerfully, let us hope we all do. Yet, one cannot help but imagine what might be if we all ‘tried’ to do everything we do, just a little bit better! Whether we have a position of great responsibility or a lowly rank in our social structure; and it matters little whether you are a man or woman, child or adult, nor does it matter if you are black, brown, or white, nor gay or straight. What matters is what you do with what you have. This is how our Master will judge us!
Our scripture lesson is another of Jesus’ parables and again we are challenged to seek out the parallel meaning of his story about the three servants and how they handled some entrusted money that their master gave them to manage over a period of time. The results of such was mixed. Two worked to invest the money while one simply hid it away, too afraid or unwilling to put what was entrusted to him to good use. Clearly, Jesus was not and is not preaching to us about being investment bankers! But rather, is speaking of the attributes, the gifts, and talents which make up ‘who we are’ and the possibilities of what we ‘might make of ourselves’ for the greater good. It seems clear that Jesus’ message was to encourage others to use their God given talents and abilities wisely. For surely, there shall come a day… when we will need to make an accounting of our actions to our maker!
Having read through multiple opinions from Pastors and Theologians about this passage, all of them good reasonable thoughts, some of which may drift back into my consciousness as I write. Yet, I think, you and I, we can sort this one out together. In just a short time we shall enter our annual holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving. Together, we will begin the process of being reminded of all that we have to be thankful for. It is an easy and delightful time ‘if’ we set or get ourselves into a proper attitude! I have often started this process for myself and I recommend this to others, and we all need to endeavor to make this a regular process. Setting aside time at least every November is a great way to do so. Start by taking a glass and fill it half full, with a liquid. Now as you view the glass consider this simple question. Is the glass half empty? Or is the glass half full? The question is semantical yes, but your answer sets a tone, which displays your attitude. Try this when you are unsure of how you are filling. If the glass is half empty, then you have missed all those things in the bottom half that you ought to be – thankful for. If half full, well you may go on for hours talking about all that you are grateful for and possibly even excited about!
The tradition of Thanksgiving is simple, and a good example of our point here. It is a time when we remember, traditionally, the time of harvest when the settlers took ‘time out’ from their labors and feasted, giving thanks, and sharing their joy with others. Even if we come from different cultures and now find ourselves in this place and time, it still is an honorable holiday to set aside time to give thanks for that which we do have! Going back to today’s scripture lesson, it is reasonable to think Jesus was encouraging us, his listeners, to be grateful for what we have, even if we did not get the whole pie. Half still can be a lot. Therefore, let us use it wisely. In the parable account it was money that the servants were entrusted with. Note, they were not given the money rather it was entrusted, delegated, and/or assigned to them. We might ask ourselves what have we… been allocated or given? When we think in terms of a Fall harvest, thoughts of fruits and vegetables might come up. Even in the harvest itself – it is important to set some aside to ‘reinvest’ into next season’s crop. Therefore, there is work which needs to be done to collect some seeds from this year’s harvest to invest in the next. On perhaps a more practical note: what have we learned and how can we carry these lessons into our futures? Using our experiences as new tools or sources to be drawn upon.
Let us of get ‘out’ of our virtual field of corn or grain and bring this discussion back to our personal attributes and talents. We need to ask ourselves, “are we putting to good use the skill sets which we have been entrusted with?” My dear mother was a woman of tenacity and grit, yet she also was a good cook. She could make a stew out of an assortment of leftovers, a feast that would make a lumberjack grateful! She instilled in me some basics which have never left me. Kindness, compassion, and love, these were gifts which she did her utmost to pass to others though out her life. Not everyone received with gratitude what she offered, yet she made the effort. Perhaps there were those that only saw the glass half empty! What skill sets, gifts and attributes have you received from others who have influenced your life? How many of those indirectly or directly came from the Creator? How many inspirational moments have you felt the fullness of the Living Spirit of God touch your life? Either way, which of these have you been using for the greater good?
Have you a long list – or a short list? We are still talking about a gratitude list; a list of things you are grateful for. Now, let us not get bogged down in the unimportant details. If you have a strong set of biceps and are able to move things for others, like the lady next door that just had knee surgery, well that is most certainly using your gift ‘of strength’ for the greater good, out of kindness or compassion. If you have an eye for decorating a church, say for Christmas, that is a good use of your attributes. You can add to your list all day, and you will have only scratched the possibilities. And yes, if you have the skill set of an investment banker and you use that gift to help a church manage its financial assets wisely, that too is a good use of your skill set! How many things can you identify that belong on your thanksgiving gratitude list? As we acknowledge there are only eleven more days and the first of our holidays shall be upon us! We perhaps can add one more thing to be grateful for. We are being told a vaccination for the Covid-19 virus has been tested and has a high success rate attached to it. Perhaps by Thanksgiving or Christmas we shall know what this means for us.
Have you ever noticed that busy people are often asked to take on more responsibility and they usually accept the challenge? Not surprising really. As we review the parable once again, we see how Jesus draws the analogy that the trusted servants which did invest wisely, they are rewarded with more. Now the more can be more responsibilities and more abilities and energy to do more! While some of us stand on the sidelines and wring our hands together saying: “why don’t I get asked to do that?” Well. The answer maybe: you have yet to use the things you do have – wisely. Think of this in yet another way. Christmas is coming and believe it or not it shall be here sooner than you may be ready for. But consider some past Christmas where you went to great effort to purchase a gift for a friend, or family member and you find out, later, they never used it! How would you feel and what would your reaction be? What will you get them this year? Will it be less or more? I mean really, if you purchased one of the grandchildren an expensive gift, but they set it aside and never used it, wouldn’t you be a little disappointed and even be reluctant to do the same this year? Let us open up our gifts; cultivate them and then use them to serve God and the people of God!
In today’s allegorical story Jesus says “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’” /Matthew 25:23/ If Jesus would say these compassionate and kind words in the context of a parable, surely Jesus will say it to those of us who are willing to make an effort to use our abilities for the good of others.