Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pentecost 27 Sermon -- Matthew 25:14-30 (LSB Proper 28A)

November 16, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The master in Jesus’ parable thinks very highly of his servants. Though he goes away, he does not put others that he does not know in charge of his possessions. He relies on his servants to maintain his belongings, to put them to use. And the master knows that his servants will be productive with his money.

This is how Jesus depicts the kingdom of heaven: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his abilities. Then he went away.” It is serious matter to be entrusted with something. It brings a number of requirements, a responsibility to have these things accomplish their purpose. But the master in the parable believes that his servants will meet these expectations, for he entrusts his possessions to them as they are able to meet these responsibilities.

In the same way, Jesus entrusts His Church with His possessions. The Twelve who heard this parable would be exactly like those servants. Their Master would hand over to them His authority, His teachings, His ability to forgive sins, His power. And as the Twelve received these things, they were to put them to use, to ensure that their Master’s belongings would achieve their purpose. That is the basic message of Christ’s story.

But as you hear the parable, you must also see the positive and negative results of what the servants do. It is clear that the first and second servants understand their charge: “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.” These two servants fulfill their duties; they meet the responsibilities that their master had given them. You know that because you heard what their master said to them: “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.”

The servants who fulfill their duties are commended and praised by their master. His possessions were not entrusted to them in vain, but achieved their end. His judgment about their abilities was correct; he knew what they could accomplish and it was so. But this was not the only reaction that the master would have about his servants, for there was one who did not meet his commands.

You heard about the third servant: “He who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” This servant shirked his responsibilities. Rather than putting his master’s possessions to work, he kept it unused. His master’s money was given to him in vain. No benefit was gained from his master’s trust in him. And though he had the ability to trade with the silver, for his master knew him well, the servant did nothing.

For the third servant, the master’s response is much different. Though he makes excuse for what he did—“I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground”—the servant is condemned. The servant returns his master’s money—“Here you have what is yours”—but that was not the intended result, not what his master wanted to happen: he didn’t want just his coin returned, but profit with it. And his master’s anger rages against him: “You wicked and slothful servant! Did you know that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my arrival I should have received what was my own with interest.”

The master’s judgment is final for this servant, a point you should note well. It is a lesson that the Twelve would learn and see take place as one from their own midst would be condemned. Even Judas suffered the fate of the third servant: “From the one who has not, even what he has will be taken from him.” Though he was numbered among the Twelve and went out with them earlier in Christ’s ministry and did great things, he lost that place and title. But the warning is not only for Judas, it is for all who are abandoning or shirking the responsibilities that the Master gives.

That is the message of the parable. For Jesus’ disciples, His servants, there is no place for apathy or complacency. In the story, each servant received the charge according to their ability. And so it is for you. You have been entrusted with the Holy Spirit and what He brings—Christ’s teaching, Christ’s forgiveness, Christ’s sacraments, Christ’s way of life—and you are expected to work with them, to make use of them. They are given for your benefit, so that you may know Jesus and receive salvation in His name. But they are also given, so that others may benefit from your working with these divine possessions.

Because of Christ’s work—His perfect obedience, His innocent suffering and death, His glorious resurrection, His ascension—you have been given the place of His servant. As you have been brought into the Church through Holy Baptism and being taught the words of Christ, you have been made His disciple: He is your Master and you are His servant. In fact, you can know that it was through the use of what Christ entrusted to other servants of His that you have been made His servant. You have benefited from the work of Jesus’ “good and faithful servants.”

But the question remains whether you will be like the first and second servants or the third servant. All three of them had the same status. All three of them were entrusted with their master’s belongings. So also you have been entrusted with some of Christ’s possessions, each according to his or her abilities. Jesus has handed over things to you for you to put to use. As you do so, they accomplish their purpose. This is your identity, what you are. And as such, apathy and complacency have no place in your life of discipleship.

That is what this story of Jesus tells. And it is the same warning that the words of Zephaniah gave: “At the same time, I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will He do ill.’ Their goods will be plundered, and their houses laid waste.” Like the third servant and Judas, these people of Jerusalem were also given the place of a servant. They were the Lord God’s people, entrusted with His covenant, recipients of His teachings, eligible to participate in the sacrifices. But they shirked all of this; they abandoned these things and rejected them and their use.

The complacent, apathetic people of Jerusalem, Judas, and the “wicked and slothful servant” of the parable are all warnings for you. They are examples to avoid. What they had was taken from them in judgment. Their Master’s possessions benefited neither them nor others because of their inaction. And their fate was disastrous: “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness! In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Those are words of your Master Jesus that you should hear now, so that you need not hear them later. They describe a fate that He does not want for you, but that does come to the complacent and apathetic.

Your Lord wants you to be commended like the first two servants. And the way to that is by using what He has entrusted to you to accomplish a great end: your salvation and others’. This is what you heard from St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Putting on armor is not done in vain, but to prepare for action. And that is your Master’s desire for you, what He equips you for, and what He entrusts to you.

Everything that Christ has handed over to you has a purpose. At the very least, it is meant for your salvation and your growth in faith and works—like money gaining interest. Perhaps if you have been given the ability, it is meant to bring others into salvation or to acquire other gifts of the Spirit for the good of the Church. But either way, according to your abilities that Jesus knows, you have been entrusted with the Holy Spirit and what He brings. And as you use them, as you participate in the Spirit and His gifts, what Christ desires for you will be accomplished. But complacency and apathy will prevent you from fulfilling your purpose, for then the Holy Spirit and His gifts will not be at work in you.

That is what this parable of Christ teaches. You have been given a special status as His servant. And with that status, you have been entrusted with His possessions. And you have been given the good and proper desire to hear these words: “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.”

It is no mystery who will hear these words and why they will hear them. As the Spirit handed over to you has made it known again on this day, so let it be for you. Be faithful to the One who has faith in you, His servants, while He is away. For He has entrusted you with His possessions, the very things which bring eternal deliverance to those who use them. And as you do, then His words will be true for you: “To everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.”—even the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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