Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sermon: Matthew 25: 14-30 The Talents

Did you hear about the Church of Ireland church up in Eglinton, near Londonderry? A few weeks ago, everyone who was in church that morning was given something on the way out. Anyone know what it was? A crisp new £10 note. Now, please don’t be expecting the same thing tonight as you shake my hand at the door!

Some people think that the church is always out for your money, so why were they giving it away to everyone who attended? Was it a scheme to boost the numbers - come to church and make some money? Actually, it’s a fundraising initiative. But how can giving away money be fund - raising? It’s because six weeks later, the parishioners were to return their £10, as well as any profits they had made. Now, the six weeks are up, but I haven’t heard of the end result, how it all turned out.

The rector up there was interviewed by BBC News when the project was launched. And the idea for the scheme came directly from tonight’s Bible reading. Money being entrusted to others, and they’re expected to put it to work.

We’re here in the middle of Matthew 25, and Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time after his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Jesus has been with them for three years, but shortly, he is returning to heaven. One day, he will return, his coming is sure, but what should they be doing in the meantime? How should we live between the ascension and his return?

Last week, the parable of the virgins (bridesmaids) called us to ‘watch’. This week, the parable of the talents calls us to ‘work’. We’re introduced to a man who is going off on a journey, he’ll be absent, and before he does, he puts everything in order, entrusting his property to his servants.

It’s like the arrangements you need to make before you set off on holiday. Someone to water the plants and feed the cat. He entrusts his property to the servants - it’s still his, but they have the charge of it.

Now it’s here that we sometimes run into difficulties. This is the parable of the talents, and as soon as we hear that word, we maybe think of Britain’s Got Talent - a special ability or skill. But the talent here is an amount of money. The footnote says that a talent was worth several hundred pounds. one talent was the equivalent of twenty years’ wages for a labourer. It’s a huge sum of money. And the amounts are given to each of the servants - 5 talents, 2 talents and 1 talent. ‘Each according to his ability.’

In verses 16-18, we get a montage, just a little update on how each one was getting on. The first two, working hard, putting the money to work and making more. The last one, getting a shovel, digging a hole, and hiding the money in the ground.

When we get to verse 19, the master has returned, and it’s time to settle accounts with them. And these verses remind me of the boardroom scene in The Apprentice. Lord Sugar is trying to find a new colleague, so he sets them business challenges. Then in the boardroom, all is evaluated, explained, argued, and eventually, someone wins the series - having avoided the famous words: ‘You’re Fired.’

Well here, there’s an account. A reckoning. The first servant with five talents, he now has five more. He has doubled his master’s money. And he’s greeted with praise: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.’ (21).

Next up is the second slave. And it’s the same for him. He had received two talents, and now he has two more. The same response, the same welcome, in the exact same words greets him: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.’ (23)

The master is delighted with their work. They have been ‘good and faithful.’ They’ve done what he expected, they’ve pleased him, and he welcomes them into his happiness (or, as other versions put it, enter into the joy of your master). You see, it’s not about doing the same as someone else - one had five, the other had two - but they both were commended. They were faithful with what they had been given. They got on with the work they had been entrusted with, big or small, so that faithfulness in small things brings the reward of being entrusted with more.

Small acts of faithfulness are an indicator of being faithful in bigger things as well.

Have you ever had to give a presentation after other people, and as the time goes on, you get more nervous. you see how great theirs is, and you realise yours isn’t as good, and so you’re afraid of what will happen? Well, eventually, it’s the turn of the one talent servant.

Rather than saying what he has done with the money, he rounds on the master. ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ (24-25).

The servant had received this amazing trust, he was given twenty year’s worth of wages to use, and yet he turns on his master. He accuses him of being hard. So he buried the talent, and now he gives it back, untouched, unused, unloved. He thinks he’s being safe, making sure he didn’t lose it or waste it, but he never used it, didn’t put it to work, not even gaining interest from the bank.

Far from being faithful, the master calls him for what he is - ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’ What a tragedy - to receive so much from the master, and to bury it. He thought that it didn’t matter how he got on while the master was absent - he didn’t need to worry about working. but that slave loses even the little he has, and is thrown outside, into the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus is calling us to work faithfully as we look towards his return. So how are you getting on? The summer time is a great time to think about how we’re getting on; how we’re working in the kingdom. So take some time this week, or this month, to ask yourself these questions:

How do I view the master? If we were to ask you, what would you say Jesus is like? The last slave thought the master was hard, someone to be feared. Is your Christian life just a dull and dreary duty? Or are you filled with wonder as you recognise the master’s grace and generosity? Think of how much Jesus has given you, involving you in the task of being his church in this generation and passing on the good news to the next.

Ask yourself - What is the work I’ve been given to do? Just as there were different amounts of talents, so there are different jobs and tasks and opportunities for each of us. If you have children or grandchildren, then you’re seeking to teach them about Jesus - -not just when you read or pray with them, but in every moment. They’re always watching to see if you’re consistent! Maybe you’re on your own through the day - could you spend time in prayer for our church, or for a mission agency?

There are many, many ways you can serve in the church family - too many to mention, but there are always ways to help, and serve.

As we rejoice in the gifts that God has given us, so we’ll work for him with all our heart, seeking to do out best in his service. Look forward, imagine that moment when you hear the ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’ It will all be worth it, to discover his pleasure.

This evening, as you leave the church building, I’m sorry, I don’t have a tenner for each of you. But we each have something better - the grace of the Lord Jesus, the challenge to serve him, and the promise of sharing in his happiness. Better be far. So let’s go, and serve, to his glory, amen.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 8th July 2018.

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