27 Pentecost proper A28                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 22:15-21 Sermon                                  
November 16, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
163 "O Worship The King, All Glorious Above"
157 "Lord Of Our Life And God Of Our Salvation"
510 "Take My Life And Let It Be"
541 "Rise Up, O Men Of God"


TEXT: (vs. 14-15) "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.  To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey."

            Back in 1985, a movie came out entitled "Brewster's Millions."  The movie starred Richard Pryor, who portrayed a rather pathetic baseball player by the name of Monty Brewster, who had been flip-flopping between the major and minor leagues for a good deal of his career.

            One night, Monty Brewster got into a bar room scuffle, and wound up in jail.  The next day, a couple gentlemen came and bailed him out.  To his surprise, the gentlemen took Monty to an attorney's office, where he finds out that he is the sole heir to a rather substantial fortune.  The man who willed it to him was Monty's long-lost uncle, who had become one of the wealthiest men in the country.

            However, Monty couldn't have all the money up-front.  There was a stipulation in the will.  Monty's uncle didn't think he knew the value of money.  So in order to test him, Monty had the task of disposing of 30 million dollars in 30 days. If he were to accomplish this, then he would inherit the entire fortune which was worth 300 million dollars. 

            But there were certain conditions to which he had to adhere in spending the 30 million dollars.  At the end of 30 days he must not own anything. He also must not give the money away, and he must not destroy anything valuable.  He also cannot tell anyone why he is spending all this money; hence the reason everybody thinks he's crazy.

            Of course he doesn't have an easy time of it.  The whole movie focuses on how Monty Brewster goes about spending the 30 million dollars.  He makes terrible investments, he throws wild parties, he gambles and he spends money just about as foolishly as anybody could imagine.

            What makes the task even more difficult is that the attorneys are plotting against him.  They know that if Monty doesn't succeed in carrying out the stipulations of the will, then the 300 million dollar estate would be in their care, which would mean that they would collect a healthy share of it.

            Of course the movie is a comedy.  Monty finds himself very frustrated, because some of his foolish investments wind up paying off instead of failing.  His friends, who have no clue as to the will's stipulation, try to get Monty to spend his money more wisely.  And of course the attorneys are there working against him the whole time.

            The movie is very funny, and I've seen it on television several times.  It's one of those older movies that will often run on Sunday afternoons, when people are surfing the channels trying to find something to watch while relaxing.

            In this movie, Monty's uncle was trying to teach his nephew the value of a dollar.  The 30 million dollar lesson was intended to season him and make him wise, so he would learn how to properly handle an amount ten times larger.  I agree it was a strange way to do it, but you have to remember that this is Hollywood and Richard Pryor we're talking about.

            Nevertheless, I thought it was a good way to introduce the parable in our Gospel lesson for today.  So based upon our text, let's examine why that it's not how much we have, it's how we use it that is the important thing.

             The story begins with a very wealthy man.  He is going to be away on an extended leave of absence.  Before he goes, he decides to summon three of his employees in order to test their savvy in financial matters.

            He entrusts them with an enormous sum of money, which would be many hundreds of thousands of dollars by today's standards.

            A couple months ago, I explained in my sermon the estimated value of Biblical currency.  So allow me to repeat this information again.  As near as we can figure, a talent was worth about ten thousand denarii.  

            To put this into better perspective, the king's salary was somewhere around 800-1,000 denarii.  A decent salary for someone in the working force was somewhere around 300 denarii; and a good working wage was one denarius per day.

            So for a man to entrust three of his employees with a total of eight talents, we have to immediately realize that this was not chump change by any stretch of the imagination.  We're talking about a huge sum of money.  So how did he distribute it?

            The wealthy business man was obviously very shrewd when it came to his money.  And he would have also been able to size up his three employees as to their various abilities to handle it.  So with all the wisdom of Monty Brewster's uncle, he decides to test them.  What kind of people do you think these three employees were?

            They would have all had to be completely honest; that is, somebody that the employer would trust implicitly.  He calls them in, one at a time, and informs them of the task he wants them to do.

            Person number one would have been a very shrewd man, similar to his employer.  He knew the value of money, and he knew which investments would pay off.  He also would have known that this little exercise was a test of his ability, so he would have been all the more keen as to what he would do with his employer's money.  So his employer gives him five talents, knowing that this particular man would ultimately be a wise investment for him.

            Person number two would have been an intelligent and hard working person; however his business and investment sense would not have been like the first man's.  Still through his hard and diligent work, this second man was successful in his own right.  So his employer gives him two talents, perhaps not knowing exactly how things would turn out.  If this man were to fail, he would not have as great a loss as he would have if he had given him more money.

            Person number three, although an honest and dependable sort of person, probably lacked a lot of common sense.  This man was frightened of his employer too.  What would happen if he tried to do something with this money, and wound up losing it all?  What would his employer say?  Would he require him to pay it all back?  One talent was most likely more money than this third employee had ever seen.  He could never hope to pay it all back.

            And so he reacts out of fear and a lack of faith.  He takes the talent, buries it in the ground, and sits on it, awaiting his employer's return.  At least he could keep it safe, and he could give him back exactly what he had given him.  Besides, he didn't have to work at trying to make more money out of it.  He could just sit back, relax, and not have to worry about it.

            We are actually living out this parable today.  The wealthy man who went on a trip represents Jesus Christ.  Jesus left when he ascended into heaven, and he has not yet returned.  Before Jesus left, he distributed his wealth to his disciples.  We have his teachings contained in the Bible.  We have his sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.  We also have the Holy Spirit; about which Jesus explains in John chapter 16 verse 7, "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you."  In addition to these wonderful riches that he gives to the whole church, he also provides for pastors, teachers, deacons, singers, organists, and many, many other talented people to care for the people and things of his church.

            As it was with that employer and his three employees, Jesus gives each of us the gift that is just right for us.  He gives all of us faith, forgiveness, and everlasting life.  In addition, he gives each of us individual skills that help us care for one another.  Each of us has one or more special talents that the Lord has chosen just for us.  He wants us to use them to care for his people, which are his church.

            Remember the theme of my sermon today:  It's not how much we have; rather it's how we use it that matters.  And as we consider that, we need to see this whole parable of Jesus as a challenge for us.  It's a challenge for us as individuals, and it is a challenge for us collectively as a congregation.

            It's at this point that I'd like to share a personal experience with you.  When I was in Australia, I was called upon to minister to a small group in the state of South Australia, which was about 1,600 miles away from where I lived in Queensland.  This was a remnant of an established congregation that had been in the city of Adelaide.  They would provide for my travel four times a year to conduct a communion service with them, which was held in one of the member's homes.  Otherwise, we provided them with video tapes of our services in Queensland.

            The first time I met with them, they proudly informed me that they had somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 thousand dollars in certificates of deposit.  I told them that it was nice they had it; but then I challenged them.  I asked them what they were doing with it.

            They weren't doing anything with it.  It was just sitting there.  Certainly it was earning interest, but that was all.  It wasn't being put to use for God's kingdom.  And I could continue to make my four trips a year and send them videos, and never touch the money they had in CD's.

            I shared with them the parable of the ten talents, which is our Gospel reading for today.  Then I asked them, "When Jesus returns, what is he going to find?  Is he going to find us sitting here with this money buried in a bank?  Are we going to say to him, ‘Here Lord, here's your money,' and hand him the CD's?  Is that what the Lord really wants?"

            The end result, is that the congregation was able to take just the interest from those CD's, and buy a church building.  And then they were able to fund a seminary student each year to come and conduct ministry in their midst.  They went from sitting on a buried talent to taking their talents and putting them to use in the Lord's kingdom.

            You know, we're not that much different than that servant with the one talent.  We have fears about investing our time and treasure in the Lord's work.  In our fear we become like that third servant.  We are satisfied to be "pew potatoes" (that's the theological counterpart of a couch potato).  We are satisfied to show up for an hour or so every week and then go home thinking we have done our duty. In our fear, our gifts grow stale through disuse.  Our relationship with God remains broken. Those God-given skills lie rusty and dusty through disuse.

            It is tempting to be "safe."  Unfortunately, the idea of being safe also demonstrates a lack of faith.  And so we are ever so tempted to just sit back and enjoy things the way they are.

            So we need to be challenged.  Think about Jesus and what he has done for us.  He has come to us in our apathy and complacency, and he has touched our lives.  The Holy Spirit has come into our souls, and has given us the gift of faith.  When Jesus comes into our lives, it is as it says in John chapter 1 verse 16:  "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another."

            We know how the forgiveness of the Gospel has touched our lives.  Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we have been blessed and given a treasure that far exceeds the value of the talents expressed in our Gospel lesson for today.  Heaven is a certainty in our future.  So what are we going to do with this treasure?

            The temptation is to just sit on it, and try to be safe.  We don't want to go forth in faith and trust that God will bless our efforts in furthering his kingdom.  We like things the way they are.  Unfortunately this does not work in carrying out our Lord's commission to go and make disciples of all nations.

            The worst thing we can do is nothing, and yet that is the way that most people want to do things.  Getting up off our talent buried in the ground seems like such a leap of faith.  But we can be assured that God will indeed bless the investment we make in furthering his kingdom.

            I'd like to close this morning with a little poem by Steve Payne entitled "Let's face it, God doesn't care."  It goes like this:

            God doesn't care what kind of car you drive - God cares that you are willing to drive people who don't have transportation.

            God doesn't care about the square footage of your house - God cares that you welcome people into your home.

            God doesn't care about the clothes you have in your closet - God cares that you help to clothe the needy.

            God doesn't care what your salary is - God cares if you compromise your character to obtain or increase it.

            God doesn't care what your job title is - God cares that you perform your job to the best of your ability and in a Christian manner.

            God doesn't care how many friends you have - God cares that you show friendship and unconditional love to all people.

            God doesn't care in what neighborhood you live - God cares how you treat your neighbors.

            God doesn't care about the color of your skin - God cares about the content of your character.

            God doesn't care why you resisted the call of the Holy Spirit for so long - God cares that you finally came to faith in Jesus and accepted His grace.

            Certainly God doesn't care how much you have - God cares how you use it.  And so, may we always faithfully put our talents to work in his kingdom and to his glory, for Jesus' sake.