Use it or Lose it

On a cold November morning, not too different from today, two farmers met each other in the local coffee shop. Their crops had been harvested and they had some time to relax and shoot the breeze.

After catching up on the usual small talk, Farmer Joe set his coffee cup down and turned to his friend.

“What are you going to plant this spring, Jake?… corn?”

“Nope, not going to plant corn next year… scared of the corn borer.”

Joe could understand that, the corn borer was pretty rough this past year. So he asked, “What about potatoes?”

Jake shook his head slowly. “Nope, too much danger of potato bugs.”

After continuing through crop after crop and hearing many similar answers, Farmer Joe finally turned to his neighbor and said, exasperatedly, “Well then, what are you going to plant?”

And Farmer Jake answered, “Nothing. I’m going to play it safe.”

Well, I don’t know of too many farmers who so scared about what might happen that they refuse to put their seeds into the ground. Farmers by nature are a people of hope and trust. As they plant their crops into the ground each spring, they do so in spite of everything that might happen. Too much rain… too little rain… too much heat… too little heat… bugs and pests… oil prices… weeds… hail storms… flooding up river… There are so many things that could happen, that might happen, that have happened in the past. And yet, with faith and hope and trust, they plant those crops.

They dig the furrows and place the seeds and then… they wait.

Only not really.

A good farmer doesn’t just sit back, but carefully tends that ground. They might spray for bugs. Or get out a hoe and walk the bean rows pulling weeds, like my grandpa… my Deda… did.

They watch.

They pray.

But they don’t just sit back and do nothing.

Then the time comes when the fruits of their labor pays off. The crop comes in. The harvest puts food on the table.

Unless you are Farmer Jake. Because if you just sit back and play it safe and never do any work… you will never have anything to show for it. Will you pray with me? (prayer for illumination)

Oh, Farmer Jake.

He is kind of like our third servant from Matthew’s parable this morning. The one who was so afraid of what might happen and what he might lose that he didn’t do anything.

Well… let me take that back. At least the servant put something in the ground. Farmer Jake didn’t even do that.

When his Lord and master came back home, and the servant returned exactly what was given him… the master was furious and the servant was sent to his death. Farmer Jake might not quite have that problem… well, unless his wife finds out that he refused to put a crop in the ground 😉

For a few weeks now, Matthew’s gospel has presented us with some difficult parables.

Starting back in chapter 21, Jesus is having a nice long talk with his followers. The topic: How they should wait. You see, Jesus is only days away from his crucifixion in Jerusalem. He is days away from leaving them. Days away from his death. And he wants to make sure they are prepared for what they are going to have to do while he is gone. Much like the Lord in this parable who is going away for a long trip… Jesus is trying to put his affairs in order, so that his wealth and his ministry is taken care of while he is gone.

So for four chapters we have had all of these stories about people who are waiting and preparing… even while their Lord and master is away. We talked about the sons in the vineyard and how they did… or did not do… what their father wanted.

We spent time learning about the wedding feast and how we have to clothe ourselves with the right stuff for the final day.

We heard the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids and the encouragement to prepare ourselves… to actively wait with full lamps for our Lord.

All of these parables have one central theme: Jesus may have died on a cross and ascended into heaven… but he is coming back! Like the bridegroom, like the master who is away, Jesus is coming soon… What have YOU been doing in the meantime?

And today’s parable is no exception. As the Lord leaves for a far off land, he entrusts to his servants care a precious fortune… what are they going to do with it?

What are WE going to do with it?

As we learn more about how we should faithfully wait for the Lord, I think there are a couple of important things to think about:

First, we need to look at who we are that this gift should be given to us at all.

According to the parable, the Lord’s fortune was divided up and given to each of these three servants according to their ability. William Herzog reminds us that the word used here could also be translated as power. They are given these gifts because of their power, their position, because of what they have already demonstrated that they could handle.

In other words… this is not a test. No master would be foolish enough to use this large of a sum of money for a test of faithfulness. No, he gave these responsibilities out based on what he knew that the servants could handle.

That is a phrase that we have often used around the church. That God never gives us more than we can handle. Our Lord and Savior knows us well… knows what we are truly capable of… and therefore, knows what to expect of us. Are you living out of the fullness of who you are? Using your gifts and abilities? Using your position in order to affect good for the Kingdom of God in this world? I know that some of you look at the things you have accomplished and are sighing a big old sigh of relief. You are thinking to yourselves… I haven’t done anything, I have nothing to offer. I’m tired and worn out and have no energy left. It’s good to know that God is okay with that.

Well… our Lord certainly understands your natural abilities and the realities of your life… but our Lord also knows the realities of God’s life and power. And when we let him into our lives, amazing things happen. We find energy and gifts we didn’t possess to begin with. We find strength that we didn’t know we had. We find that we are put in positions we never would have dreamed of before… all because of God’s ability and not our own.

You may have a lot to offer. You may have nothing to offer. But either way, if you let God work through you… the seeds that he plants in your life WILL bear fruit.

Second, we need to look at what the gift is that has been given.

I have heard this parable interpreted and used in a thousand different ways. I’ve heard people talk about gifts and abilities being given to us as Christians. I’ve heard scholars talk about the resources and money that we have been blessed with and how we should use it. It’s sometimes described as the spiritual gifts bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit, or the responsibilities we have for our family and friends and faith. But whatever this thing is, everyone agrees that it is an abundant gift. It is priceless.

One single talent was a gigantic weight of money. It equaled 6,000 denarii. One denarii was roughly equal to a day’s wages… so if you do the math, each one of these talents was about twenty YEARS worth of pay.

In today’s terms a talent might be thought of as nearly a million dollars.

Now… this is the kind of money that most people never saw. Especially not at once.

But the Lord and master in this story has eight times this much to divvy up among his servants. One hundred and sixty years worth of pay… and he is leaving it to their hands.

This is a lifetime’s worth of money. It is costly. And being given all at once, you wonder what the Lord and master could possibly have left. This could very well be everything that he has.

We tend to get overwhelmed when we think about how much God expects of us. We feel obligations to family and work and the church. We want to have things that make us comfortable and entertain us. We want to fit in with the culture that is around us. And when we take care of those things… there really isn’t a whole lot left. Especially if we are thinking about money or energy or gifts and abilities.

This week, two different possibilities of what this costly, priceless, abundant gift could be were introduced to me.

The first is time… the second is love. What if this gift that has been given is time? The time that we have to wait for the Lord. Some of us have more time on this earth that others. But we all have been given some time with which to serve and love the Lord. What are you going to do with that time of yours? How are you going to fill your days? Will you take risks and live it to the fullest? Or are you going to bury your head in the sand and waste the days that you have been given?

That right there is a list of questions that might keep us occupied for weeks as we think about the ways that we live our lives.

But that second interpretation is the one that really has caught my attention. What if this expensive, costly, sacrifical gift that we have been given is love?

Each one of you are present in worship because you know that Christ laid down his life for you. Each one of you could probably recite with me John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, Jesus Christ, so that whosoever believes in him should have eternal life. God’s love is costly. God’s love is abundant. God’s love is sacrificial. God’s love is bigger than we can possibly imagine.

Each and every single one of us has received the love of God through Jesus Christ. But what are we doing with it? Are we multiplying that love in the world? Are we sharing it with our friends and family, neighbors and strangers, people far and wide? Or are we sitting on it? Are we hiding it? Are we refusing to step out and take a chance? Are we afraid of the people that God is calling us to love?

William Loader writes: “the tragedy is that many people are afraid of losing or endangering God and so seek to protect God from adventures, to resist attempts at radical inclusion that might, they fear, compromise God’s purity and holiness.” As the church, we sometimes shut our doors to addicts, to immigrants, to unwed mothers, to gays and lesbians, to republicans, to democrats… to whomever it might be – because we are afraid that loving those people and letting them into our lives might tarnish our reputation and might water down the gospel.

But as Loader goes on to write: “Sometimes we find that God is pulling in great profits in areas which we had deemed beyond God’s interests… ‘God’s mercy never ends’ is a way of saying that grace has capital, love is rich. We need to encourage people to stop putting God under the mattress. As we begin to trust allowing God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change. There are rich pickings, so to speak, and the harvest is ripe.”

As a church, we believe that God has placed us in this community and that God has a job for us to do. Our Lord and Savior… our master… wants us to reflect the light of his love to this world.

It is a task that might seem overwhelming. It might be difficult. And it is a little bit scary. We aren’t always sure what that is going to look like or what it might ask of us.

But God has chosen us.

God has seen what this church is capable of and has called us… in this moment… to be faithful.

Are we going to multiply this gift of love?

Are we going to faithfully serve our master?

Or are we going to bury our heads in the sand, much like that talent was buried and be content to wait for him to come back?

Farmer Jake was afraid of what might happen and he put nothing into the ground. And when the time of harvest came, he had nothing to show for himself.

Let us plant God’s light.

Let us tend God’s light.

And let us look forward to the day when that light of Christ spreads far and wide across this community and this world… all because we were not afraid to act. Amen. And Amen.

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