Saturday, May 27, 2017

Parable of the Talents - Part III

Read the Parable of the Talents Part I or Part II.

We come to the Parable of the Talents, Round III.  We have looked at the first two servants and the acronym TURN.

Trusted—each of the three servants was trusted by his master.  They were entrusted with money in accordance with their ability.

Urgency—the first two servants acted at once and put their master’s money to work.  We noted that they were the master in their relationship with this money.  They put it to work and it did not get a day off.

Return on Investment (ROI)—the first two knew that their master was demanding and expected a return.  They were wise and demanding with their investments and produced a fantastic return for him.

No Fear—while fear is real and risk is real, the servants were not immobilized by fear.  Wisdom, not fear governed what they did with their master’s money.

We have looked at how fear governed the decisions of the third servant.  He tried to blame his master for his decisions, but it was very simply his fear that impacted a terrible decision to bury his master’s money in the ground.

He was a trusted servant at the beginning of the parable.  His master knew that he could manage and produce a return on one talent of money.  He was not being set up to fail, he was trusted and expected to succeed, even if success was only putting the money into a savings account. Fear governed his actions.

The end result was that two servants were deemed to be good and faithful and invited to share their master’s happiness and one was labeled wicked and lazy and given the boot.

At the heart of this parable is what I have been describing as Tom’s Tweet on the Parable of the Talents.  It is the question never asked but answered by all three servants.  It is the question always before us as disciples of Jesus Christ and a generous God who is in the gift-giving business.

What did we do with what God gave us?

If you made it through rounds I & II you know that acting with urgency and producing a return are essential.  You know that fear offers nothing good in the way of return on investment.  You understand that what we are given by God is a trust.

You also understand that love precedes trust.  We do not do our best with what God gave us to earn his love.  We already have his love.  His love for us was poured out in the blood of Jesus.  Love preceded trust.

It is now time to go fully into application mode.  So what do we do?  Most of the time, we are not handed bags of money, but we are trusted with much—very much.  What do we do?

For this third homily on the parable, I want to look at what we do with what we are given in these areas:  time, talents (or gifts), treasure, and the gospel.

Let’s start with time.  Believe it or not, we all receive the same amount of time each day.  We have 1440 minutes in each day.  Whether you count your day from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. or midnight to midnight, the math comes out the same.

Now if you are staring at the microwave for the last 45 seconds of you breakfast burrito, that single minute seems like an eternity.  If you are in the middle of doing twenty things and making good progress on all of them and look at the clock, you might think, “Where did my day go?”

We have the same amount of time but to some, time drags on and to others it is so fleeting.

Why do some people get so much accomplished and some seem to get nothing done with the time trusted to them?  Is it motivation?  Is it force of personality?  Is it heredity?  Is it our socialization?  Is it an incentive program?  What is it?

I will suggest to you that it is purpose.  It is plain and simple purpose that produces results.  It is purpose that puts our time to good use.  Much as the first two servants were the master in their relationship with their master’s money; we are master with the time given to us.

Understand we are not gridlocked by our calendar, but we budget our time to important things—things that God has purposed us to accomplish.  That means that we can say “no” to many, many other things.  We decide—wisely decide—what to do with each minute of our lives.

The psalmist declares to the Lord, “Teach us to number our days.”  This was not a request to switch to Julian dates.  It is a request for wisdom that values our time in these vessels of clay.  Every minute counts.

I spent time as a counselor in prison and can tell you that some count minutes but don’t make their minutes count.  Some count days but don’t make their days count.  I sent many an inmate client out of my office in a bewildered state because in the middle of his story, I said, “Time’s up,” and sent him on his way.

Some, after a time, learned to talk about the things that were important instead of just running their stories over and over again.  Sadly, people who just count minutes instead of making minutes count are not all in prison.

We have a world of people ignorant that our time on this earth is so fleeting.  James would say that we are but a mist, here for a moment and then gone.  But we are to be numbered among the wise.

Our time matters and we desire to use it to produce a return for our Master.  So do we pack our calendars as full as possible?  No, we live every moment with purpose.

If we jam pack every day with activities, we might miss out on some very essential things that God purposed us to do.  You might get your kids to soccer and ballet and baseball and FFA and even to the lock-in, but are you just meeting the schedule or bringing them up in the way they should go.

You made it to the gym and then paid all the bills and worked in the oil change on the car.  Put the clothes in the dryer before you left the house.  It seems like the washer and drier are always running. The truck can wait until next month for service.  You even updated your Facebook.  

Wow!  Thirty birthdays in one day seems like a lot.  You don’t even remember who most of these people are.  You’re getting a lot done but are they the things God made you to do?

Purpose is more important than scheduling.

Next, we look at talents or gifts.  These are the raw materials that God gave us and expects us to refine into skills that produce a return.  I think the first two servants were better gifted than the third with some raw ability, but they still had to put these talents or gifts to use to produce some skill.

Some gifts are intellectual.  Some are athletic.  Some are artistic.  God packed a whole lot into us and as we work out our salvation, we should discover what these gifts and talents are and put them to work.

We put these gifts and talents to work.  We put them to work.  Much as the first two servants put their master’s money to work, we put our talents to work.  Have you ever noticed that when you put your gifts to work, it’s not like we are working?

When we do the things that God hard-wired us to do, it doesn’t seem like work, like labor.  We are putting what God gave us to work.  We leverage these talents and produce a good return.

Now we might break a sweat or have some sore muscles at the end of the day or our brains might get tired if you work in an intellectually challenging environment, but if it is what God made us to do, we are very much putting our talents to work.  These gifts and talents labor for us.                                                                                                     
Not everyone has the same package of gifts and talents.  Some are better wired to work with small children.  Some can see music in a financial spreadsheet.  Others can listen to the conversations of twenty people and find and share the common thread.  Some find great joy being locked into a laboratory for weeks searching for a cure for cancer or the common cold. 

But some talents are never tapped.  They are never leveraged to produce great things.  They are safely tucked away inside of us.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. once said, “Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.”
That’s a quote that hits both time and talents.

The term for what Justice Holmes described is called tragedy.  All the potential is there but is never put to work.  We are people who use what God packed inside of us to produce a good return.  We put our gifts and talents to use and our Master is pleased.

We put our gifts and talents to work at once, and quite often work doesn’t seem like work.

Let me touch briefly on Spiritual Gifts.  We who have professed Jesus as Lord and have received the Holy Spirit also received special gifts.  These gifts when put to use produce extraordinary returns.  Many of these gifts are named in the Bible, but we don’t view these lists as all inclusive.  The biblical enumerations were not meant to say “these and no others.”

Surely pastor, teacher, evangelist, and prophet fit the bill, but it is likely that God gifted some with gifts such as music or leadership or writing or even listening.  God put something in you—or called it to life—when you received the Holy Spirit.  This is a gift that goes beyond your God-give talents that were there from your human birth.  These are gifts that have be given to you are called into service since your spiritual birth.

Here’s the thing.  Whether it is a God-given talent that we were born with and honed over the years or a Spiritual Gift that manifested itself when we were baptized by the Holy Spirit, we are to put these gifts and talents to work to produce a return for our Master.  We are to put them to work at once.

Let’s talk treasure.  Not all of us are trusted with bags of gold, but most of us are.  We don’t carry it in bags but we have this thing called an income.  It might be because we work or because we invested wisely or it might be because somebody said you get paid just for breathing.

In this country, you might get paid because you have a job or you might get paid because you don’t.  Compared to the rest of the world, what income we have—wherever it comes from—is like a bag of gold.

But, I’ve got bills!  I get that.  You are probably going to have bills next month too, and very likely the month after as well.

But, you also have a trust.  You have some income and what you have is a trust.  We could talk about the tithe and how that is trusting God back with a tenth of what he is trusting you with, but that’s really all I’m going to say about that.  If you missed the money sermon last year, then read it online.

that what we have been given in money or property or stuff is a trust.  We still are called to answer the same question.  What did I do—or will I do—with what God gave me. 

Sometimes we use money to produce a monetary return.  We start a business.  We invest wisely in other businesses and industries.  We put our money into a very low risk account.  We stick our monetary necks out a little on something with a little more risk but potential for a greater payoff.

Whatever we do with our treasure should be governed by wisdom and not fear.  Not all investments of our treasure produce a monetary return.  I will be very up front with you here.  We are not going to make any money on that playground for which some of you made special offerings.

We are not going to sell day passes or season passes.  It is not going to make any money but it will pay a dividend.  

We are not going to sell lunch tickets for Chewy Tuesdays or Pop Tarts and Peanut Butter.  We spend money on food and spend time in preparation and delivery, but we don’t make one cent in profit.  We do produce a fantastic return on investment.

We take some treasure—mostly money but also some in-kind donations—and we invest it in meals for kids.  Our return on that investment is in smiles, hugs, and an affirmation that along the way something reached these children and they know God’s love by our actions.

We used our treasure to let our light shine before men so that people could see God’s love in action and in so doing, bring glory to God.  That’s paying a good dividend!

But we won’t make a cent on the whole deal.  That said, it is a fantastic investment of our treasure.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Don’t bury your treasure in the ground thinking it will be safe.  The only way that treasure is safe is when it is put to use in this world so our account is credited in the age to come.

That doesn’t mean that you should not have a savings account or an IRA or some cash or gold in a safe place.  It doesn’t mean that you should not have money for emergencies.  It doesn’t mean that a little buffer in your checking account is not a wise thing.

It means that you are the master of your money and you tell it where to go.  If you do this wisely, you will fare well in this world and have treasure in the age to come.  You are master over you treasure and you put it to work in accordance with the God-given purpose that you are living.
We consider the treasure that we have a trust from God and we wisely put it to use.

That covers the standard time, talents, and treasure framework that typically you will find attached to this parable or attached to a Stewardship Month or series.  It’s good to know and good to apply, and it is just part of the equation. I would say that’s the warm up part.  We are just getting warmed up.

What’s left?  Our commission and the gospel, that’s what.
Of all the things that God has trusted to us—from the macro level, that being the earth, to things such as time and talents and treasure—nothing really compares to our commission and the gospel.

Am I saying that the gospel is a greater trust than the stewardship of the earth?  That’s a pretty big trust.

Yes.  That is what I am saying.  Heaven and earth will pass away.  We are told that God will give us a new heaven and a new earth.  That’s no excuse for bad stewardship of the planet entrusted to us, but we must understand that the gospel is an invitation to eternity.

Our commission to take this gospel across the street and across the planet is bigger than 5 bags of gold.  This is the biggest trust that God has placed in us.

If one day someone comes up to you and says on behalf of the Lord, I am giving you these five big bags of gold; I want you to respond: “Thank you very much.  I will put them to work at once.  This is the second biggest trust that I have been given.”

Our commission and the gospel are the biggest trust we have been given.  Remember that a commission is not just a command.  It comes with authority.  In this case, God-given authority. 

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

If we do a really good job at putting our time, talents, and treasures to use and bury our commission in the ground, what have we done?

Should we expect to hear a Well done, good and faithful servant from our Master.  Our time, talent, and treasures are sort of like practice for putting our commission into effect.

These are the few things that we have done well with and produced a good return.  The gospel is something greater that we have been trusted with to put to work—to bring to a blind and broken world.

Our commission and the gospel makes us partners with our Master.  In the parable, the master said, now come and share my happiness.  Come and be a part of what I am all about.

Jesus called his disciples friends because they would be about his Father’s business.  They were family now.  So are we.  We are on the friends and family plan.

We should be wise and produce a return for our Master with the time, talents, and treasures that he has entrusted to us.  We should produce a good return with what we have been given.  Sometimes those returns last a lifetime.

But putting the gospel to work is playing in the big leagues.  That’s where we produce returns that last for eternity.  That’s where our hearts should desire to hear, Well done good and faithful servant more than anywhere else.

We conclude where we began some time ago, with the question that is never asked in the parable but was answered by all three servants.

What did you do with what I gave you?

My rewording to make it applicable to us is, what did we do with what God gave us?  I hope that each of us is living in such a way that we will receive a well done for what we did with our time, talents, and treasures.

Most of all, I pray that we hear well done good and faithful servant with what we did with the ultimate trust given to us—the gospel.

More than all the bags of gold that we could manage, the good news that God really does love us is news that we are called to put to work at once.

When we answer the question, what did we do with what God gave us, I pray that we can say we produced a good return on the time, talents, and treasures that he gave us; and that we put everything that we had into our commission and never gave the gospel a day off.


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