Make it Count
I have preached this sermon before. Actually I am starting to feel that way as I’m half way through my seventh year of ministry. I usually preach from the lectionary. The lectionary I use is called the Revised Common Lectionary. I know just what you came to hear this Sunday, nerdy preacher talk but I always get questions and I thought I would answer a couple today. There are different types of lectionaries, some daily, some weekly. The one I preach from is a weekly lectionary specifically for preaching. It is a three year cycle and has Year A, Year B, and Year C. Each year focuses on one of the synoptic gospels, Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark and Year C is Luke and the Gospel of John is sprinkled within all three years. We are currently in Year A and that is why most of my sermons have been in the gospel of Matthew. Each week I am given one Old Testament text, a Psalm, an Epistle (a letter) and a Gospel text.
Like I said this is a three year rotation and since I have been preaching for seven years now I am starting to hit the same passages, some for the third time. Now at my last appointment I only preached once a month therefore there are tons of texts in the lectionary I didn’t hit before, so it is still exciting to me. This text though, I’ve preached on at least twice and once for you all last February. When I saw this text in the line up I thought, “ahh man, I just got done doing a whole sermon series on stewardship and membership vows. I talked about all the stuff this parable talks about already. I have to confess I was a little worried on how I was going to bring anything new to you today.
We have all heard this parable before. A master is leaving on a trip and hands over five talents to one servant, two to another and one to another. He returns and finds that the one who had five made five more, the one who had two made two more and the one who had one, still had his one. The one who didn’t do anything with the money he was given was thrown out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, which isn’t as happy of a place as it sounds like.
My usually sermon on this parable would go like this. God gives us talents as well and we need to use them. We don’t need to have the third servant syndrome and do nothing with what we have been given. We need to take our gifts, our talents and bless God by using them. If so, we will be pleasing out master and we will see a huge return on our investment. I am sure you all have heard this sermon before, because I preached it already this year.
I am sure that many of you have also heard about this parable being lived out. There have been churches who have done similar types of ministry. I think you all actually did something like that here. The minister who pass out $100 to everyone and they would have 90 days to take that money and multiply it by using their God given talents. The result is a windfall of money came back and God did amazing things in that congregation. Once again, you have done that or at least heard of that. It’s nothing new.
As I sat at my desk this week, looking over my resources for inspiration I started to think about how bad the timing is to speak about windfall profits and good investments. I mean a parable about making 100% returns on your investments is really not something we want to hear right now. The news is full of enough talk about our economy being sucked into a black hole, or since it is more debt on top of debt maybe it should be a red hole. Then of course you have our current church finance situation. We need a smidge over $32,000 between today and Dec. 31st to make it this year. Add on top of that the fact that I just talked about money for three weeks and I am kind of tired of preaching on the subject.
What do I say today? What do I bring to a piece of scripture I’ve preached about already three times in my life? How can I bring something to you today and you all receive inspiration and knowledge? There I sat at my desk as Wednesday rolled by, then Thursday. Finally on Friday, a day I don’t like to be thinking about what I am preaching on because it is my day off, I sit down and just start typing. What you are hearing is what came out.
I thought about heading in a whole new direction but it didn’t pan out. There is a guy named Michael Budde, who works at DePaul University, who says we should interpret this parable differently. We usually say that God is the master and we are the servants. He said it should be translated that Jesus is the third servant and the devil is the master. Now this does put a little twist on it. If you do that we can talk about bad economic standards. The devil is asking his servants to give back to him a 100% return and the only way the servants could do that is if they took out high interest loans on such HUGE amounts of money that they were given. Now this sounds good but the third servant if your remember says he buries his talent because he is scared of the master. If we translate it that way then Jesus is scared of the devil and that isn’t right. So it was back to the drawing board.
Then it hit me, instead of getting more complicated how about get simpler. What is the essence of this parable? Why is it in our Bible? Why is it in the 25th chapter of Matthew? The 25th chapter of Matthew is a very eschatological chapter. It deals with the end times. If you remember last week’s text it was about 10 Bridesmaids and only 5 were let in to the wedding banquet. The sermon next week is about the judgment of God. In between is this parable.
This parable comes near the end of Jesus’ ministry. In the 26th chapter of Matthew Jesus has the Last Supper and is arrested and you all know what happens after that. This is the last three parables that Jesus shares with his disciples so it has to be very important. And it is because within this story we learn about the two simple but important keys to our relationship with God.
The first key is that everything is from God. I have said that over and over again during the stewardship campaign so I am not going to continue with it too long. But we need to remind ourselves constantly that the master gives us everything and he gives it generously. A talent is equal to over 16 years pay. That is millions of millions of dollars that the master hands the servants. That is the type of God we worship, a generous God who gives us everything.
The second key is to make it count. We need to make it count, this life, our God moments we stumble upon, we should make it all count. I love the movie Rudy. My buddies and I use to watch at least once a month in college. If you don’t know the story, Rudy is a guy who is 5 foot nothing, 100 pounds of nothing who wants to play football for Notre Dame. He first has to get into the school and it takes a ton of hard work to do that. He gets in and then he has to try out of the football team. He doesn’t make the starting team but the coach sees his heart and places him on the practice team. Day in and day out he is beaten to a pulp by the huge starters. After many years on the practice team he gets a chance to dress for a game. Then in the last seconds he is sent out to play defense for two plays and actually gets a sack. In the movie the crowd is going nuts, and Rudy is running around the field like a man possessed, almost too excited to stand still. When the clock hits zero his fellow players carry him off the field. He has been the only player to be carried off the field since 1975. It is a scene in the movies that makes me cry like a hungry baby every time.
What is special about that movie is that Rudy always dreamed of that moment. He worked for years and went through so much pain for only twenty seconds on a football field, wearing a Notre Dame jersey. All that time, all that effort and when Rudy had his chance he didn’t waste it. He showed his character by putting everything into his two plays. He knew this was his only chance and that he had to make it count.
This parable simply tells us to make it count as well. We have been given a huge gift, one that is almost incomprehensible. The gift we have is remarkable and that is why we have to make that gift count. We cannot sit idly by and let it go to waste. We have to use that gift and share it. But what is the gift that he left us?
Sam Wells is the Dean of Duke Chapel and he has a great perspective on this subject. He says that “it shows what’s wrong with the ‘You’re all very talented’ interpretation of the parable. This isn’t a story about what God the Father does in creation – dishing out good looks to one and basketball skills to another. Rather this is a story about what Jesus gives his disciples before he leaves them. It also shows us what’s wrong with the ‘get money and give money’ interpretation. Because even the most dyed-in-the-wool capitalist would have to agree that the notion of Jesus preparing to leave the disciples and saying, ‘Here guys, I’m giving you a few million bucks – that should see you through for a bit’ is absurd.” (Duke Chapel Archives)
Jesus gives us a gift that is more important than the skills and talents we have. He gives a gift that 700 billion dollars cannot buy. He gives us himself. Jesus simply tells his disciples, look, I am going away but I am intrusting to you everything I have. Use it and use it wisely. Don’t bury it in the ground but offer it up and it will come back 100% and more. The gift I am giving you is salvation.
To quote Sam Wells again, “This parable is not fundamentally about you. It is about Jesus. It is telling us that Jesus is not a cunning manipulator, who gives us mysterious talents and then lies in wait to see whether we fail to use them properly. No, Jesus is a boundlessly generous friend who goes away and gives us far more than we want or need to imitate him in his absence. If we assume he is a generous friend we will experience the miracle and abundance of life in the Spirit.”
The simplest interpretation of this parable is that we need to make this gift count that we have been given. Like a Christmas gift we are tired of playing with we cannot push this one to the bottom of the toy box. We have to keep this gift of salvation in the forefront of our mind because it is all we need. Jesus tells his disciples and he tells us that we have all we need. We have the promise that there is nothing we can do to separate us from God. We are told that we are forgiven and always loved. There is nothing that happens in our lives that God is not there walking with us through and there is nothing we can do to earn our way into heaven. That is a gift, a life transforming, altering, turn your world upside down, change everything about you gift. We are simply told to share that gift with others.
When we comprehend in our deepest hearts what this gift is how can we bury it? I mean all the love that is shown. All the grace that is given. All the care, compassion, support, trust that is expressed has to tell us that we serve a loving God. We do not serve a master who has a hard heart. That is why we need to make it count. We need to make every moment in our life count because our Savior did for us. We need to share this gift with everyone we meet and tell them what this gift has meant to us. We don’t need to cram it down their throats, or use scare tactics to make them listen. All we have to do is say look at my life and how it has been transformed by this giving God. That can happen in your life as well. If we do that, we are making it count, and we will get a return of 100% or more. Because when we truly share this gift, we are sharing Christ, and the Holy Spirit is doing all the work.
So may you truly understand the gift that has been given. May you feel it deep into your soul and realize you have everything you ever needed. May you make it count in this moment called life and not bury it. We have been given a tremendous gift, one that we simply say thank you to. We do that this morning by having all of God’s people say…Amen.