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LSB Proper 28A Sermon – Matthew 25:14-30

November 24, 2014

November 16, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

“I’m going away. You are in charge of this property until I return. Put it to use, so that it will benefit me. When I come back, I will evaluate your work.” That’s the command given to the servants by their master as he departs. Such instructions aren’t unusual. And Jesus says that this is how the kingdom of heaven operates. His parable uses an example that his audience experienced themselves. Some had been in the role of the master, others in the role of the servants. Now they learned about their identity as Jesus’ disciples from this example.

But like their own experiences outside of following Jesus, the disciples could recall how servants did not carry out their duties as the master expected. It is not hard to envision that Peter and Andrew had seen their father Jonah or that James and John seen their father Zebedee give instructions to the hired fishermen. Knowing basic human performance levels, there were times when the nets were not properly gathered or the boats not properly moored. That would be cause for the master to rebuke his employees.

The same type of action occurs in Jesus’ story about the kingdom of heaven. He talks about the master’s assignment of duties to his servants: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went away.” But the servants do not all act as their master had instructed. Two prove to be faithful followers of their master’s instructions: “He who received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.” Then there is the other servant: “But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” There is no putting the possessions to use as the master had commanded.

So when the master returns and settles accounts, the servants receive different evaluations. The two servants who report what they had done and turn over the talents that had been gained by putting the master’s property to work are commended: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” But the servant who had buried the talent and not put it to use is condemned: “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest…. Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.”

This parable is told by Jesus to His disciples. Just like the parable about the wise and foolish virgins, this story is meant for the Church to hear. Jesus is revealing what the Last Day will be like. His followers are meant to understand their identity and act accordingly. They are servants of Jesus. And their master has gone away, ascending to the Father’s right hand after His death and resurrection. But two items of importance are to be noted: (a) Jesus will return and (b) Jesus has entrusted to His disciples things that belong to Him for them to use until He does return.

So Jesus’ parable is a warning against complacency and idleness. Because He has given this warning, there is no excuse for His followers if they fall into such inactivity. The servants in the parable who put the master’s property to work provide the example for Jesus’ disciples to imitate. But the servant who buries the talent in the ground is the example for His disciples to avoid. Hearing about this “wicked and slothful servant” should bring to mind the statements of judgment and warning that were spoken in other portions of the Scriptures. Zephaniah spoke such judgment in Israel’s history: “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will He do ill.’” And Paul warned about the fate of similar people: “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

So what has Jesus entrusted to you to put to use? There are several answers to that question. It is true that Jesus has entrusted you to put His Word to use. By hearing what He says about Himself and His work, salvation is granted to you. That is what makes you one of His disciples. It brings you into the relationship of having Jesus as your beneficent Lord. This is freely bestowed to you. Your identity as one of Jesus’ servants is dependent upon His work done for you. His death and resurrection has purchased you. The call of the Gospel has brought you into the number of His saints. That identity is reaffirmed each time that you make use of the means of grace: baptism which initiated you into the kingdom of heaven, absolution that cleanses the conscience, and meal that puts in front of you the atoning sacrifice of Jesus offered for you.

But Jesus’ parable is focused on other possessions that have been entrusted to you according to your ability. They aren’t salvation or His Word. Those gifts are granted to each believer in equal measure. But other items are given in different measure to Jesus’ disciples. These include spiritual gifts, opportunities, skills, even literal property. Your Creator has granted these to you. Your Redeemer allows you to exercise them according to His will. Your Sanctifier guides you in how to do so.

There is no necessity for Jesus to entrust these items to you. He does not need any of your work. But it is a matter of His gracious choice to do so. He has chosen to entrust these items that come from Him to you. Out of His infinite wisdom, He has done so. But what your Lord grants to you is not overwhelming. In the parable, it is made clear: “To one he gave give talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” Jesus sets up His servants for success. It isn’t really a burdensome matter. What Jesus entrusts to you is given in an amount that you can handle. As you listen to the guidance that the Spirit provides in the Scriptures, you will be led to use these items properly. And utilization of them will achieve the end that Jesus desires.

So Jesus’ story exhorts you to use what He has entrusted to you. There are various ways to use them. Each congregation of Jesus’ disciples provides some opportunities. Earlier this year, there were those “Time & Talents Worksheets” distributed for every member to fill out. That was an attempt to put to identify and use some of the items that Jesus has entrusted to this group of disciples. But it didn’t work out the way as intended. And that should bring up questions about how well the Master’s possessions are being employed in this place. Is there an air of complacency? Is there a streak of idleness? If so, then the Lord’s parable is giving a needed warning and corrective.

Another event that takes place during today’s Divine Service is the collection of the 2015 Commitment Cards. These concern the use of the monetary gifts that the Lord has entrusted to us. Those monetary gifts are granted in different measure to each one of you. But the opportunity is granted to each of you put some of them to use, so that the Lord’s work can be carried out in this place and in other locations that our congregation supports. Is there hesitancy in doing so? Is there thought that they can’t be put to use? If so, then the Lord’s parable is meant to sway your hearts and minds.

This week, several parish leaders will be conferring with one of the organizations that exists to assist congregations with how members think and consider the items that the Lord has entrusted to them. Next year, there may be a more directed effort to wisely use the gifts that have been provided to this group of Jesus’ disciples. Underlying this entire process is recognition that the parable Jesus tells is meant for His people to hear and incorporate. Putting the master’s property to work is part of your identity as Jesus’ followers. You are called to be “good and faithful servants”. And that includes carrying out the instructions that Jesus has given to you.

The “wicked and slothful servant” condemned in the parable is ultimately judged as “worthless”: “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” That verdict is spoken against him. But it isn’t rendered just for his lack of action. There is something even worse found in him. The servant’s failure to do anything with his master’s property was ultimately a matter of unbelief. What he knew about his master had no effect on what he did. And the master’s address to him points it out: “You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” The servant’s knowledge about his master did not lead him to do anything. In fact, it was as if he did not care about what his master had instructed him to do. That is not faith at work, but a dead faith which is even worse than not knowing anything about God at all.

But that is not to be your fate. You have been given to know what the Lord has done for you. You know your identity as His servants. His gracious will is to be carried out: “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” That hope is in the work that your master has done for you—dying and rising to life again and calling you to follow Him. There is trust in Jesus’ will for you—that the way of life He establishes is good and for your own benefit.

Such saving belief and knowledge in Jesus drives away any sort of complacency or idleness. So when Jesus entrusts you with His property according to your ability, your action is not to bury it in the ground. No, that would be an utter rejection of Jesus and His way of life. Instead, the action is to put it to work, trading with it, allowing it to gain more. That is your belief in Jesus governing what you do: faith active in love and obedience. This is what your Lord wishes to see. And when it is so, you will hear Him say to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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