1. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen. The message from God’s Word today as we continue our Stewardship Emphasis, “Bringing out the Best,” is taken from Matthew 25:14-30 (READ TEXT), it’s entitled, “Talents—The Joy of Investing Yourself.” Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Things aren’t always what they seem—including Jesus’ parables, or stories. What’s the point of the story of the talents? The easy answer is that Jesus wants us to use what’s precious for his work. That’s probably why the word talent has moved from describing precious money in New Testament Greek to describing precious abilities in American English. But there’s also a deeper meaning to this parable. A talent was the largest measure of money in Jesus’ day and equaled the total wages of an ordinary person from between 15 to 38 years. Yet two of the servants went out and risked that money by making investments. What if they had lost the money? What would their boss have said then?
3. But it’s the last servant, the one who does nothing with his boss’s money, who gets punished. Often you and I are most like that person. We may not take risks for God with our abilities, because we are afraid, first of all, that we may fail. The condemned servant says in v 25, “I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” By burying the money, the servant thought it was at least safe. But he was disobeying his boss. The servant had been given the talent to use it.
4. The servant was afraid, second, that he would have to work. In v 26 the boss says, “You wicked, lazy servant!” Does either adjective sound familiar? You or I won’t try to use a skill or ability that God gave us because we may fall flat on our face, and we don’t like to be embarrassed if we fail. Or we may simply be lazy and want always to receive rather than give. For those and other reasons we may not take risks with our abilities. As a result, they don’t get used very often. That’s our problem. God has given them to us to be put to use for him. When we don’t use our talents, our abilities, for the Lord, that’s sin.
5. Here’s an illustration to help us understand what happens when we don’t use our talents for service in the Lord’s Kingdom. It was New York City in 1964. Kitty Genovese, a young woman from Queens, was stabbed to death. But this was no ordinary murder. She was chased by her assailant, Winston Mosely and attacked three times on the street, over the course of half an hour, while 38 of her neighbors watched from their windows. During the entire ordeal, not a single one of them came to her rescue. They didn’t shout for help. They didn’t even bother to call the police. As one reporter noted, Kitty’s murder “came to symbolize… indifference.” Her death did prompt the adoption of our current 911 system and Good Samaritan laws. But do these systems and laws really address the “bystander problem?”
6. Two New York City psychologists – one from Columbia University and the other from NYU – decided they wanted to dig deeper into what they called the “bystander problem.” In a fascinating set of studies, outlined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, these two psychologists decided they would stage a series of emergencies of differing kinds and in different settings in order to see who would come to help. They found out that one single factor determined whether people responded to a need. What mattered was how many witnesses there were to the event. The more people who were around, the less people tended to respond. In one of the experiments, they had a student who was alone in a room stage a seizure. When there was just one person next door listening, that person rushed to the student's aid 85% of the time. But when the test subjects thought that there were as few as 4 others who also overheard the person having the seizure, they came to the student's aid only 31% of the time. The essence of what the two psychologists discovered is that when people are in a group, responsibility for taking personal action gets watered-down. People assume that someone else will respond to the need. Since no one else is responding, there must not be a problem. So in the case of Kitty Genovese, social psychologists argue that the lesson isn't that no one called despite the fact that 38 people heard her scream; it’s that no one called because 38 people heard her scream. If she had been attacked on a lonely street with just one witness, she might have lived.
7. I’ve often wondered why there can be such a lack of individual responsibility among Christians in relation to the mission of the church established by our Jesus. It becomes almost natural for people to come, sit, enjoy, benefit, receive, appreciate and profit, but never feel a sense of personal responsibility for responding to the needs within its midst. When they come, it seems like everything is cared for and everything is humming along. And if a need is made known? Well, there are so many others around that it never even enters their mind that there won’t be a response to meet that need or that things might depend on them. Whether it’s giving, serving, leading or inviting, there are others around to see it done. And that’s why it’s not being done.
8. The idea that they are the key – that what they do or don’t do matters – isn’t even on their radar screen. It’s not because they are hard-hearted or because they don’t care, but because they don’t feel like they have a personal responsibility to act. They don’t have a sense that there is a need for them, and them alone, to respond. They can be lulled into becoming like one of the witnesses to the death of Kitty Genovese. The result of that indifference was the death of a young woman. The result of Christian indifference to the cause of Christ will be the death of the local church.
9. But, thanks be to God that despite our indifference and faithlessness to serving in Christ’s Kingdom our Lord Jesus took on the risk of the cross for us. Heb 12:2 notes, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What did Jesus risk? First of all: to be crucified on a cross was considered a disgrace. His people, the Jews, would have to get over that shame before they could consider believing in him as the promised Savior. Jesus took a risk.
10. But, Jesus also took a risk with the rest of the world; namely, that we’re free to reject Jesus as the way in which God our heavenly Father restores our relationship of life forever with him. God forces no one to believe in him. When Jesus went to the cross, he knew that many wouldn’t believe in him as the God-man Savior. Yet Jesus took the risk, because it also was through this singular means that the Holy Spirit could work faith in the hearts of those who trust in him as their Savior and Lord.
11. As a result, Jesus calls us to be faithful and follow him. When Jesus returns as our Master, whether that is on the Day of Glory or the last hour of our own lives on this earth, we shall be gladdened to hear him say to us, “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” (vv 21, 23). Like the faithful servant and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are able to do what we know Jesus wants us to do with our abilities, even though it means taking a risk.
12. Dr. Chandrasekhar, a professor at the University of Chicago, in 1947 was scheduled twice a week during the winter to teach an advanced seminar in astrophysics. Because only two students were enrolled, most people expected the professor to cancel the class because he lived in Wisconsin and, after all, it was winter! But for the sake of the two students, he taught the class. He commuted 100 miles round-trip through backcountry roads in the dead of winter.
13. His students, Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee, did their homework. They benefited from Dr. Chandrasekhar risking his talents on only two people. In 1957, those two students won the Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1983, so did Dr. Chandrasekhar. For a faithful teacher, there is no such thing as a small class. For a faithful Christian, there is no such thing as too small a way to use a talent for our Lord.
14. There are many references in the New Testament that teach us the Holy Spirit gives us abilities (talents) to be used for God’s work. That’s what v 15 says the boss did. He put the servants in charge of what was his, “each according to his ability.” What are your abilities? God calls us to use our talents in all of our lives in service to others and to the glory of God. What happens then?
15. Jesus’ example and his words point us to the result. Jesus goes to the cross and serves for the “joy,” Hebrews says. The boss says to the faithful servants in vv 21 and 23: “Come on in and share my joy.” It is the joy of Jesus in which we share when we use our talents for God’s purposes.
16. How can you and I “bring out the best” in our talents, our abilities, for our Savior? Jesus is the way in which God the heavenly Father “brought out the best”—in person. When we seek to use our talents and abilities to build up Christ’s church, including helping our neighbors in need, we will receive the joy of investing ourselves. Amen. And now the peace of God that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.