22 Pentecost Proper A28                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 25:14-30 Sermon                                   
November 13, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
501 "Soldiers Of The Cross Arise"
442 "Lord Of Glory Who Hast Bought Us"
390 "Drawn To The Cross Which Thou Hast Blest"
49 "Almighty God Thy Word Is Cast"


 TEXT (vs. 24-28):  24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.

             Paranoia.  I think that everybody has some idea as to what that means.  Basically speaking, it is used to describe the feeling that some people have when they believe that everybody is "out to get them."  This can range from someone's simple idea that someone they know "has it in for them," all the way to large scale conspiracy theories. 

            On a small scale, paranoid people can be described as quirky and eccentric.  And on a large scale, there have been many paranoid dictators, which have made life absolutely miserable for citizens in their regime.

            In the world of mental health, there are a whole variety of mental illnesses that include paranoia, like "paranoid schizophrenic."  Paranoia can be both irrational and sometimes violent when it happens in mental illness.

            I remember dealing with a woman a long time ago who was very paranoid.  And I'll tell you right now that it is not something easily dealt with.  I had to be very careful as to what I said so she wouldn't think I was against her too.  She would dissect every comment and look people would give her, and put the absolute worst construction on it.  And then I would hear her complaints and fears, which all were very irrational.  Finally I told her, "You can't go through life picking up rocks looking for snakes."  In other words, you can't go looking for the worst possible meaning behind your perceptions of other people.

            Paranoia is actually a Greek word.  "Para" means "alongside of," and "no-os" means, "mind."  So someone who is paranoid is operating "alongside of their mind," or in our term of reference, they're "out of their mind."  When a person automatically thinks the worst about other people, they aren't thinking clearly.  They're allowing themselves to be a slave to their paranoia.  It's like the old saying goes, "paranoia will destroy ya."

            Today, our Gospel lesson is a rather familiar parable Jesus uses.  Unlike a lot of parables, this one does not deal in comparing the kingdom of heaven to something else.  There also isn't a whole lot of mystery or lack of clarity connected with this.  It's pretty much straightforward.  The master in the parable is Jesus.  He's the one who gives us the time, talent, ability, and resources in our lives.  We are to use them to the utmost of our ability.  That's pretty simple stuff to understand.

            In the parable, the master calls three servants in to see him.  The master is very wealthy, so much so that the amount of money is measured in "talents."  One talent is worth a normal wage for one year.  Just for the sake of illustration, let's say that is about $50 thousand. 

            The master knows these three servants very well.  He has basic knowledge of the way they work and how they think.  So based upon what he knows and has observed, he gives them each an amount of money to see what they would do with it.  He was going to be gone for an extended period of time, and when he got back, he wanted an accounting of what they had done with it.

            The first man probably had a high ranking in the master's business.  He would have been a dedicated employee with a good head for business, so the master gives him a half million dollars at his disposal.

            The second man would have shown potential too, but probably didn't have the high ranking of the first man.  But based upon his loyalty and fortitude, the master saw fit to give him $100 thousand at his disposal.

            Now the third man obviously wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed.  He probably was one of these guys who clocked in, did his job, and clocked out again.  He might have been absent from work a little too much.  He might have done just enough work to get by, and no more.  He did what he had to do to get a paycheck, and didn't concern himself too much with his master's business.

            Of course the master knew what kind of employee this man was.  But he still wanted to give him a fair go.  So the master gives him $50 thousand at his disposal.  It was still a sizeable sum, but not so much that it would bankrupt him if it were to disappear.

            So by now you're probably scratching your head, wondering how this parable has anything to do with paranoia.  Where's the connection?

            Let's look at verses 24 and 25 of our Gospel lesson, where we find this third servant saying: "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."  

            This third servant had created his own picture of the master.  He took everything he saw, and put the worst construction on it.  He had created all sorts of irrational fears about him.  The perception he gives in verses 24 and 25 was not true in the slightest.  The third servant was the paranoid one, and his irrational actions prove that.

            This does not please the master at all.  In verse 26 the master asks him, "You wicked and slothful servant!  You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?"     If you notice, that's not a statement of fact.  That's a question!  In effect the master is asking the servant, "After all I've done for you, this is what you think of me?"  Now I don't know about you, but I would feel very insulted if somebody thought that about me.

            This is the type of irrational thinking a paranoid person does.  I don't know what prompted this, but I would guess that this third servant might have drawn his conclusions from seeing other masters operate, and simply concluded that his master wasn't any different.  He thought his master was as crooked and conniving as anybody else.  He couldn't see how kind his master actually was.

            So let's take a better look at the master.  In this story, the master does what he does because the time will come when he isn't around any more.  He's going to have to trust his business to someone.  So he devises this little test to see just how well his servants function in his absence.

            He gives these three servants a huge sum of money to manage as they wish.  And from what we can surmise from the conclusion, the first two servants were able to keep the money they had been given, plus what they were able to make with it.  That type of generosity and trust doesn't come from somebody who is a hard, crooked, and conniving man.  But the third servant just could not see that.  His paranoia was just too blinding.

            So this third man acts according to his irrational thinking.  He goes and buries the talent in the ground, and basically forgets about it.  He is keeping it for his master, and that's the least he felt he could get by with.  So he was not just paranoid, but lazy too!  He never thought that his master might give any of it to him.  All he could see was a hard and cruel master that didn't exist.

            The master is especially upset with the servant's laziness.  If the servant thought that his master was such a hard taskmaster, then why didn't the servant at least deposit the money in the bank where it could have earned at least a little interest?  But the servant couldn't even be bothered with doing the very least he could with it.  Just bury it, forget it, and give it back when the master returned.

            The question I have for you today is quite simple:  how do you use what you have?  That's something that each of us needs to be continually asking ourselves.  We need to think beyond the boundaries of dollars and cents too.  God has blessed us in varying ways and in varying degrees.  How do we invest what God has given to us as his servants so that we might be a blessing to him and to others?

            Let's consider the greatest treasure that the master has given to us.  Through Christ, we are the recipients of God's grace, or his undeserved love.  What Jesus has given to us cannot be measured in dollars, cents, gold, or silver.  He has shed his holy and precious blood through his innocent suffering and death.  He did this to redeem, or to buy back the likes of you and me, who without him are lost and condemned creatures.

            We have the treasure of forgiveness for all of our sins, which is ours only through faith in Jesus Christ.  There isn't enough money or wealth in the entire world that could ever buy that for us.  In fact, it is utterly detestable to even think that God's grace is for sale.  In Acts chapter 8 verse 20, Peter says: "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!"  

            Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is the ultimate gift we could receive.  So now what are we going to do with that gift?  Are we going to put it to work for the benefit of God's kingdom?  Or are we going to be like that lazy servant and bury it in the ground someplace?

            Right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says in Matthew chapter 5, verses 14-16:  "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

            Isn't this something we learned at a very early age in Sunday School?  "This little gospel light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...all around the neighborhood, I'm gonna let it shine...hide it under a bushel?  No!  I'm gonna let it shine...don't let Satan blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine...let it shine 'till Jesus comes, I'm gonna let it shine."   

            It's simple, isn't it?  But somewhere along the way, that old paranoia sets in.  "Invite somebody to church?  Oh my, what will they think of me?  I can't say anything to anybody about church; they might not like me.  Oh, I don't know what I would do if this person or that person were to walk through the church door, the roof might collapse!  I prefer to keep my faith private.  I might make a mistake if I talk about the Bible to anybody.  My faith is far too personal for me to share." 

            There are so many excuses and rationalizations people use for taking what God has given to them and burying it in the ground.  The third servant tried to rationalize too.  He said in verses 24-25: "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground."  But as the master points out, this excuse is nothing more than a paranoid reason to be lazy.

            Verses 29-30 conclude our Gospel for today.  Here the master says: "For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

            What we have before us is the reward of faith.  Because of our faith in Jesus, God has guaranteed us an eternal reward in heaven.  God himself has given this gift to us through the Holy Spirit.  It's the gift that keeps on giving; and the more we share it, the more we have.  God uses each of us to be a blessing to others.

            Unfortunately, there will be those who reject God's gift.  They don't want it in their lives, so they bury it in the ground with the hope that nobody will find out.  Ultimately that gift is lost, and so is the reward.  When people are cast out like that worthless servant, it is because of their own choice.  They have succumbed to Satan's lies and paranoid tricks.

            But Jesus has something great in store for the faithful.  He has saved you and me.  But he didn't just save us and stop there; he saved us for something.  He has given us one huge gift to invest, which is our faith. 

            We certainly have a whole variety of different things at our disposal we can use to God's glory, some more than others.  But it doesn't matter what we have, it's what we do with it that counts.

            I'm going to close this morning with a story.  It's one I've told before, but I don't think it hurts to repeat it.

            When I was a vicar in Princeton Minnesota, our congregation had a number of people in the nursing home.  So every month, I'd go and visit these people. 

            There was one lady in particular that I'll never forget.  Her name was Marie.  She was so crippled up with rheumatoid arthritis that her entire body was pretty much locked up.  She was in a permanent fetal position, and they would roll her over from side-to-side on a regular basis.  Her muscles were so atrophied that she looked like skin draped over a skeleton.  But she was very bright and alert, and we always had a good visit.

            One day as we were talking, we were visiting about various things in the church, and what people were doing.  She lamented that she couldn't do anything because of her condition.  So I told her that she could always pray, and that was one of the most important things she could do.  There were always things she could take to the throne of Grace.

            So she did.  After that day, she had a list of things she prayed about.  And she was never bashful about what she was doing, and who her Lord was.  Even in her condition, she refused to bury her talent in the ground.  Every day as she lay there, she knew her reward was one day closer.  And she wanted to share that with those around her.

            As I think of her, I can't think of any good reason that any of us should have for not taking our talents and putting them to use in the Lord's service.  From the least to the greatest of gifts and treasures, we always need to remember that it's not what we have that matters, it's how we put it to use for God's glory.