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Sermon and Select Prayers for Ordinary 33 - Year A
Matthew 25:14-30
"A Story of Three Servants"

READING: Matthew 25:14-30 SERMON : "A Story of Three Servants" Rev. Richard J. Fairchild a-or33sn 699000 Sources: The Sermon approach and some wording is from a "Sermonshop" note of November 17 1996 by Robert Stuart ( who was at Chestnut Street United Methodist Church in Portland, ME. CALL TO WORSHIP AND PRAYER OF APPROACH Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs they return to the earth on that very day their plans perish. Rather, confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hearts that he is risen from the dead - and you will be saved. Let Us Pray -- Gracious Lord Jesus - we come before you today to hear the stories told of you and to learn from all that you said when you walked among us. We pray that our trust be ever more firmly in you - in the one who made heaven and earth - and in the Spirit that makes us one. Forgive those things we have done amiss, O Lord, and make us into the people you would have us be. Help us to regard all people as our family - and to worship and adore you in deeds and in words - both in this hour and in the hours to come. Amen SERMON: "A Story of Three Servants (The Parable of The Talents)" O Lord, we pray, speak in the calming of our minds and in the longings of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen. Turn with me to Matthew 25 - verses 14-30. I am going to work through this passage today, and I want you to follow along with me. CITE VERSES 14-15 For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Note - The Kingdom of God is like -- purpose of the parable is to tell us something about God and about how things are the world that God blesses eternally -- things in the story are meant to be noticed and thought about. It does this by telling us stories about things we understand and experience each day - things that we may be familiar with. - In parables there is usually an unexpected twist. There is - as it were - a riddle - something that confounds us - and it is from this fact that these stories get their name. - The number of the servants in today's story isn't important, but the fact that the master entrusts them with his enormous wealth is important. All that the master owns is in their hands - each in a different amount. And that matches our experience doesn't it? The good things of this earth - the wealth - the power - the ease and comfort - are distributed widely - and unevenly. But that is not what this parable is about when it speaks of coins or, in the more traditional translations, talents - which was a measure of silver equal to about 15 years of income for a common worker of the land - or carpenter in a shop Rather it is about the unique wealth that God distributes to his chosen people - to his servants - to you and me - the wealth of the Torah, as the Jews understood it, the riches of the gospel as we Christians understand it. God has given to each of us a measure of all that he has! Some have more, some less -- but each has - more than enough - an incredible abundance in fact. The first servant receives ten talents - was equivalent to 30,000 shekels of silver, or 60,000 denarius - which was the common wage paid for a day's work. In today's terms that would be enough funds to cover more than 165 years of labour. The third servant - the one talent person - the person we often think of has having a very little - but still having something - had the equivalent of 15 years of work free living given to him. Each of us has more than enough given to us by God! More than enough faith, more than enough love, more than enough forgiveness. We have been given everything - we have been given the precious gospel of God's grace and mercy - of his healing purpose - of his divine power - each according to what God knows we can do with it. God knows our abilities - as the parable states that the master knew his servants abilities - and God knows that even the least well endowed is endowed with an incredible amount. And then what happens -- CITE VERSE 16-18 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. Note - As soon as the master was gone - the first servant, the second servant, and third servant take action. The first two immediately invest the money - they spend it in other words - in the hope of receiving even more than they first had - they take a chance in other words and engage in some sort of venture - a venture in which - as we all know from the laws of business and high finance - there is always a chance of losing everything. And they don't delay about this. They immediately leap into action. As does the third servant, the 15 year man - the one who has been blessed with over 6000 denarius. He takes his precious treasure - and he does what the rules of the day suggest that he should do - that he ought to do - he carefully buries it - keeping it safe till the day of his master's return - he does the equivalent of putting his funds into a safety deposit box rather than into mortgage funds or mining stock. What's so wrong with being cautious? Discretion and deliberateness are virtues, not vices? As we find out when the master returns and each servant is asked to give an accounting for what has been entrusted to him, the third servant regards his master as a harsh man - not one who would take kindly to any form of loss - and so he deems it better to preserve his own safety and security by keeping the money safe rather than to risk everything by risking the loss of the money. It was an accepted financial practice in the day of Jesus to safeguard precious things by burying them - hidden treasure - like that of pirates - kept safe until the day it is needed. The one talent servant does nothing unusual by burying the money. He shows only what can be regarded as a high degree of caution. Indeed we may think that he is too cautious - but overall we can't really fault him -or can we? The twist or surprise - the part of the parable that confounded the original hearers of the tale - is in fact in the fault that the master finds with the one talent person. To pick up the story -- from verse 23 where the second servant is being commended for doubling what the master had entrusted to him. CITE VERSES 23-30 (or 19-30) 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.' 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 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? 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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Note - What is the problem here? Why is God so good to those who double what he has given to them, and so mean to those who simply keep what he has given them safe for his return? What has gone wrong? I think it begins in the attitude of the third servant. "Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest where you do not plant and gather crops where you haven't scattered seed. I was frightened." - The Servant was Afraid -- and because of his fear nothing was produced for the master. The servant was entrusted with substantial, if not astonishing wealth - and did nothing with it. He was afraid. Quoting Marianne Williamson, NELSON MANDELLA, in his Inaugural Speech in 1994 said this about fear. The kind of fear that the one talent servant seemed to have had. The kind of fear that keeps us from risking the treasure that God has given us - from sharing the gospel with deeds of love, and of power, and of commitment: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. The fear that Mandella - or Williamson if you will - is talking about may help us understand the slave who hid the talent in the ground. Psychologists understand the dynamics of fear--of fear of failure and of fear of success. The third servant's fear and Mandella's intuition of fear are, however, deeper than those psychological dynamics. It is profoundly spiritual in character. His fear is rooted in the cosmic conflict of good and evil. It is the human propensity for sin in action. It is a refusal to act, to share ourselves/lives {i.e., all our energy, stamina, health, strength, emotional well being, creativity, knowledge, wisdom, ability, gifts, graces, and even all our material possessions} in response to and in accordance with God's gracious kingdom creating, community building presence. This refusal to act is the spiritual decision to NOT let that mind be in us that is in Christ Jesus. It is the decision to NOT have our lives disrupted by discipleship, by obedience, by becoming like Francis and Theresa, like Schweitzer and Ghandai and Bonhoeffer and King and Mary Bethune. What we are afraid of us is all that will be required of us if we dare to be faithful. You know how it works, the "I won't go to the meeting so they can't ask me to do anything" mentality. We have been given so much my friends. God has given each of us riches beyond measure - even to the least of us - he has given more than enough. We are beautiful - we are gifted - we are in communion with the power that made the universe and we have the message and we have the ability that we need to do all that is asked of us. The profound meaning of the master's anger, and the heart of Mandella's understanding, is powerfully and rivetingly captured in this exchange between Jonathan Kozol and a young male resident of the South Bronx: *Boy* "Sometimes I wish I could turn back the calendar to 1980. I have a lot of thoughts like that at night. I wonder how powerful God is. He must be wise and powerful to make the animals and trees and give man organs and brain to build complex machineries, but He is not powerful enough to stop the evil on the earth, to change the hearts of people." *Kozol* I ask what he means by "the evil on the earth." *Boy* "Evil exists," he says, not flinching at the word. "I believe that what the rich have done to the poor people in this city is something that a preacher could call evil. Somebody has power. Pretending that they don't so they don't need to use it to help people--that is my idea of evil." In Jonathan Kozol, *Amazing Grace,* p. 23. What goes wrong - is attitude - is fear - and it leads, as the boy in Kozol's dialogue, suggests, to evil. And - because we believe in a God of justice - a God who judges rightly - it leads to a bad end for the cautious - the fearful - servant - the servant who did not dare to act. Someone asked this week, when this passage was being discussed - what would have happened if there had a been a fourth servant in this parable - one who had received 1 or 5 or 10 talents - and gone out and invested it - and lost it. What would have the master said then? What judgement would he make upon his careless servant. The answer my friends is that Master would have commended him for trying. That he would have forgiven him for making a mistake, that he would have smiled upon him for his sincere attempt to do what was right and good with what he had been entrusted with. But there is no need for a fourth servant in this parable for us to understand it. Because you see, if you use what God has given you - it can do naught else but multiply. It is only when you do not use what God has given you - but keep it hidden away inside your heart - where no-one can see it - where no one can benefit from it - that there is a problem. I would like to conclude today with another scripture reading - from Matthew as well - in the 28th chapter, verses 18 through 30 - the last words that Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending into heaven - or, in the parlance of today's parable of the three servants, before going away on a long journey: Jesus came to his disciples and said: "All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me. Go to the people of every nation and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have commanded you. And lo, I will be with you always, even until the end of the world." We have been entrusted my friends with all that we need to accomplish God's will. We have been given great riches - resources greater than we can possibly need - so that we can produce fruit pleasing to God. God will not judge us for trying and failing to produce that fruit - he will only judge us if we do not try. PRAYER OF DEDICATION Gracious God - you know our needs - and you have ever met them. In trust and in joy we now offer to you those things you have asked from us -- those things you first gave us - our tithes and offerings - our heart and spirit - our body and soul. Use them in your service - and may your name be glorified forever and forever. Amen. BENEDICTION Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ; and may God create in you a new Spirit, may the Lord save you from all your troubles, and The Spirit lead you in the way of holiness and of power and of love - both now and forevermore. Amen copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2005 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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