Monday, October 15, 2018

Talents—The Joy of Investing Yourself, Matthew 25.14–30, Stewardship Emphasis Oct. ‘18

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.

Money—"The Problem with Money,” 1 Timothy 6.17–19, Oct. ’18 Stewardship Emphasis

1. Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The message from God’s Word this morning we begin our Stewardship Emphasis, “Bringing out the Best,” is taken from 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (READ TEXT), it’s entitled, “The Problem with Money,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  
2.  A wealthy Texan liked to give special gifts to his dad on Father’s Day. One year it was lessons on hang gliding. Another year, the father received the entire collection of Willy Nelson’s hits. But last spring the rich Texan felt he had topped all other years. He bought a rare kind of talking bird. Besides speaking five languages, this bird also could sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. The talented bird cost $10,000, but the Texan felt it was worthy every penny. His dad would never forget this Father’s Day gift!  A week after Father’s Day he phoned his father. “Dad,” he asked, “how did you like the bird?” “Fine,” the father responded. “It was delicious!”
3. The problem you and I have with money is not with money itself. It is with what we do with that money. Like the rich Texan’s father with the bird, we fail to see all the possibilities to use money in God-pleasing ways. Instead, we see money as something to consume. When we learn what we have missed, we realize that the problem with money is not really with money, but with me.
4. C.S. Lewis once said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” In today’s prosperous America, we’ve made hoarding just as easy, and the danger to our souls is just as real.  A new article in The Atlantic by Alana Semuels lays out the grim details. In 2017, Americans spent $240 billion on jewelry, watches, books, luggage, telephones, and related communication equipment—twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars as in 2002. During the same time, the population grew only 13 percent. Spending on personal care products also doubled.  To hold all this stuff, we’re supersizing our houses and storage facilities. Last year, the average size of a single family home in the U.S. was 2,426 square feet—a 23 percent increase from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, two decades ago there were 26,000 self-storage units around the country. Today there are 52,000 of them!  All this acquiring of stuff, Semuels says, is because online retailers such as Amazon have made buying stuff so easy, and because the global economy has made stuff so cheap. I’m sure that’s partly true, but I think the cause is deeper.
5. Too many of us, and this includes Christians, have bought into the lie that the pursuit of happiness necessarily includes the pursuit of stuff. “We are all accumulating mountains of things,” says Mark A. Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. And what about the harm of all this sludge to our souls? I’m uncomfortably reminded of Jesus’ parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. This man had received an abundant harvest, and what did he do? He built bigger barns to store it all and said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But what did God say to him? “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The man couldn’t even enjoy all his earthly treasures.  And just so we wouldn’t miss the point, Jesus administered the sobering said: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The problem wasn’t that the man was rich—many of the Lord’s choicest saints have been abundantly blessed with the world’s goods. It wasn’t that he had stuff, but that his stuff had him, and that he wasn’t rich toward God.
6. In this time of material abundance, a lot of worthy churches and ministries face a chronic shortage of funds. Why is that? According to, Christians today give only 2.5 percent of their income; during the Great Depression, it was 3.3 percent. The average giving by adults who attend Protestant churches in America is about $17 a week, and 37 percent of regular church attendees and evangelicals don’t give any money to church.
7. We are tempted to think that if only we had enough money, we could really live. In the words of Paul in the second half of v 19, we think that money will make us able to “take hold of the life that is truly life.” But we leave God out of the picture. We’re like the little girl who was given two dollars by her father. He told she could do anything she wanted with one dollar, so long as she gave the other dollar to God on Sunday at church.  She nodded happily and started skipping toward the candy store, holding the two bills tightly in her hand. But she tripped and fell. Then the wind blew one of the dollar bills into a storm drain at the curb. The little girl rose to her feet, looked at the dollar still in her hand, then at the storm drain and said, “Well, Lord, there goes your dollar.”  That little girl had the same attitude toward money that you and I often have. We see what money can buy for us, and it becomes more important than God. Usually our love for money isn’t as bold or brash as the little girl’s. But it’s there. We make money into a false god, a little idol, which becomes more important than God. That’s sin.
8. It’s also foolish. To depend on wealth is to hope in something uncertain. That’s why Paul writes in v 17: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.” Riches are uncertain for two reasons. First, what they buy may not bring happiness. Have you ever bought an expensive meal, a smartphone, or a TV that you thought would make you very happy . . . and it didn’t? I have. What money buys can disappoint us.
9. Second, wealth is uncertain because it doesn’t last. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the newspapers carried stories in following days of persons who committed suicide because they were wiped out financially. Money can be stolen or burned or taken away by a lawsuit. If we depend on wealth to provide hope for our future, we are foolish.
10.          Instead, Paul says in v 17 that we are to place our hope not on the uncertainty of wealth but on God, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” What does God give us? Everything . . . but everything starts with Jesus. Because God supplies all our needs, Jesus came to pay the debt we owe to God because of our sin. In Matthew’s Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:12), Jesus uses the word debt—what we owe—to describe our sins. Those debts are like a big minus sign in our account at God’s First Bank of Heaven. But Jesus comes through and puts a big plus sign in that account by going to the cross. By putting his body and soul right in the middle of our negative, our minus sign, Jesus makes our relationship with God positive. Our sins are forgiven, wiped out, the debt paid off.
11.          When we acknowledge that in faith, we are empowered to use our resources to be rich in good deeds. You and I are called to be stewards, or managers, of wealth. “But wait,” you may be saying, “I’m not rich.” No? If you or I make more than $25,000 a year, we are in the top 1 percent of income in the world. In the eyes of billions of other people, we are rich.  That’s why Paul really is talking to us when he urges in v 18: “Command [those who are rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” That is God’s will. It also is the way to be really rich, to be really blessed.
12.          For people who are willing to share their wealth with others, money may become a foundation for the future. Paul writes in v 19: “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” It is, of course, true that we cannot “buy our way” into heaven. But when we are cheerful, generous managers of what we like to call “our” money, then we are reflecting God’s great gifts of love toward us.
13.             Then, in the area of money and other financial resources, we are “bringing out the best,” which is our theme for this year’s stewardship emphasis. We rejoice that the heavenly Father has brought out the best by giving his Son, Jesus, as our Savior, and so we respond by “bringing out the best” in ourselves by the way we manage the money he has loaned us for this life. Thus, the money problem has been solved.  Amen.  Now the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.