On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He gave His disciples one of the most memorable lessons they ever had from Him. They were in a situation where they were working through some issues. I’ll talk about them a little bit later. Jesus started washing their feet. As He washed their feet, He said to them, “Do you understand what I’ve done? If I, your master, leader, and Lord have washed your feet, have I taught you not to wash the feet of one another.” What He taught us there was that service, even though it’s legitimate in many different ways and is encouraged, definitely needs to be something that is modeled within the context of community. When we think about it, the example Jesus gave was, I need you to know how to serve one another. That was something that was very important to Jesus.
Service is not only something that we are invited to do because it’s what Jesus modeled. It’s something He also taught us to do, particularly as it relates to serving one another. I think sometimes in a church, it may appear that needs are being met, there’s more than enough people who are doing things, there’s pastoral staff, but the truth is the church is only as great as those who volunteer and serve within it. There’s a constant churning that occurs as well. Every three years, people are constantly moving in and out. There are these continual new opportunities, but our conviction is what Jesus taught us. He taught us that the true blessing isn’t serving but also serving one another. On top of that, there’s a unique context that occurs because it’s in the context of serving. We often engage in relationships that we would’ve never thought we would have with people we probably wouldn’t normally come into contact with. Typically, not by choice. We end up forging friendships that can become vehicles of God’s grace at work in our lives.
Our conviction as a church is that our greatest asset is not our pastoral staff. It’s the people that make up the church. It’s their heart for Jesus, as evidenced in the way in which they serve one another. Secondly, we truly believe that one of the healthiest ways to function as a follower of Jesus is to engage in community life so we can build relationships. Relationships can have value to us when we come into situations where we need to encourage one another and be encouraged. Keep all of that in mind because when we talk about re-engagement, we’re talking about the idea of being open to using the things that God places into our lives uniquely. I’m going to go ahead and pray. Then we’ll get into this little teaching together. I hope that we will learn some things together.
I want to invite you into this moment. I know there are other things that are going on in the day. We have other things planned today, but here at this moment and at this time, we’ve come into your house. What are other issues there may be that are flying around in our lives? I suppose there’s not one of us that doesn’t have something we’re not anxious about in some way. Perhaps, Lord, we came in heavy or afraid. It took a little courage to get to your house, but we’re here. We’re here in a place where your name is loved. I asked that we would get the full benefit out of this time, that our hearts would be stilled, and we would focus our attention so that we can hear your voice as even as we look at your words. We could also hear your voice for our life. We need that. We really do. Give us peace and openness. This is what I ask for all of us, including myself. In Jesus’ name. Amen Lord.
The Parable of Talents was one of the stories Jesus told. A parable is a story. Jesus told stories or parables, some of which have made their way into our language. I think everybody’s heard of the prodigal son, the idea of something lost being found, the good Samaritan, and other examples. These are stories that Jesus told. The terms themselves become very familiar to us. When we say, “Someone’s prodigal,” they’re lost or wasteful. When we say, “A good Samaritan,” someone does a good deed for someone. The Parable of the Talents is one of the stories Jesus told. It’s what we’ve been looking at during this ReEngage mini-series. We’re in the second part of it today.
The Parable of Talents is recorded in Matthew 25. It’s a story Jesus told using the illustration of a talent. We think of talent today as being gifted or they have a talent. We say someone has a unique capacity, “Oh wow, they’re really talented. They have a talent for singing.” Whatever we might say, “Talent for art.” The word itself is connected to Jesus’ story. Originally, when Jesus used the story as an example, a talent was not how we know it today. Talent like a gift, entrustment, or capacity people have, we all have something typically. A talent in Jesus’ day was a coin. It was an amount of money. The money was many times the value of the metal. It was dependent on the quality of the metal and sometimes the size. When Jesus uses the illustration of a story about talents, then He’s talking about money that was given by a man to his servants, to manage on his behalf. A talent being the sum of that money. In Jesus’ day, one talent was an extensive amount of money. It could be as much as 10 to 15 years of a common day laborer’s wage. We say, “Oh, it’s just one talent.” That was a lot of money. Five was an extensive amount of money.
When Jesus tells the story, he says, “The kingdom of heaven, which I liken it to the kingdom of heaven. I would liken it to a man who goes to a far country and calls in his managers or his trusted servants and he says to them, ‘I want you to manage my affairs and the entrustment of funds while I’m away.'” He appears to have been an investor and wants them to invest and take care of that money. He doesn’t say how long he’s away. In Jesus’ story, as He’s talking to the people and telling the story, He’s trying to use it as an illustration about how we’re supposed to be when He’s away. What do we do with our lives? When Jesus tells parables, unless He says, “This is specifically what this represents,” it’s not really intended for us to plugin, “Oh, this is who this character represents. This is who this represents. Oh, that’s God.” No. He uses a story, especially if he doesn’t say specifically this means this, to illustrate a larger principle. Oftentimes, when He tells these stories, He’s trying to get us to look at things in a different way than we would not normally look at if it was just like someone instructing us. We listen differently to a story.
Jesus says, this man went away, called in his servant, and said, “While I’m away, I need you to take care of these funds. To you, I’m giving you five talents.” It is a big amount of money. “To you, I’m going to give two. To you, I’m giving one.” Jesus says he gave each one of them according to his perception of their capacity and ability. He goes away. When he comes back, he calls them in for accounting. “What happened when I was away? How’d you do?” The one with five says, “I think you’ll be happy. I had the five that you gave me and I doubled it. The five is now 10.” “You did great work,” he’s told. “Excellent. I’m really pleased with you. Enter into my joy in favor. I can entrust you with even more things.” “To the one who had been given two, how did you do?” “I didn’t make 10, but I doubled what I had and turned it into four.” “Excellent.” In Jesus’ story, the same exact blessing that was given to the five is given to the one with two. No difference. “Enter into my favor. I’m very pleased with you.”
In Jesus’ story, it was the servant that was given one that garners all of our attention. I want us to look at the answer that this particular servant gives for why he did not fully utilize what he was entrusted with. Or at least utilize it in a way that was displeasing. The one who received the one talent came in and said, “Lord, I knew you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. I know you’re a shrewd businessman. I understand that. I’ve watched you all these years. I was afraid. I didn’t want to lose what you gave me.” Remember, he’s not making an excuse, he’s giving an explanation. “I was afraid and I hid this money in the ground. I knew it would be safe there and it wouldn’t be lost. I took no risk with it at all. I didn’t even put it into a bank. Here, I’ve got it all, every cent, all back. It’s all yours. I lost nothing while were away.”
His lord answered and said to him, again, this is the language Jesus says of this angry businessman, “You wicked and lazy servant. You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered. You see, at least you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers and at my coming, I would’ve received back my own interests. Therefore, take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 for everyone who has more will be given and he will have abundance, but from him who does not have will be taken away, even what he has, will be taken away. Cast him out.” Look at the way that the parallel passage describes this event. Listen for some of the words here. The wordplay caught me. Let’s see it in a slightly different way. The servant was given 1000, so he’s describing a talent as 1000. “Master, I know you have high standards and that you hate careless ways, that you demand the best and you make no allowances for error. I understand how you are. I was afraid that I might disappoint you. So I found a good hiding place, secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound, down to the last cent.” The master was furious. That’s a terrible way to live. It’s criminal to live cautiously like that.
Look at this phrase. “If you knew I was after the best, then why did you do less than the least? If you knew that I was after the best, then why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would’ve been to invest the sum with the bankers where at least would’ve gotten a little interest. Take the 1000, give it to the one who risks the most.” Then the next phrase catches our attention. “And get rid of this and play it safe, who won’t go out on a limb. Get rid of this, play it safe who won’t go out on a limb and throw them out into utter darkness.” Jesus’ audience will understand all of that story. Wow, there’s so much here for us. What are the principles for us? I’ll tell you one that stands right out. Number one, what matters most to the Lord is faithfulness. Faithfulness is more important than giftedness. There’s no way around it. In the eyes of Jesus, faithfulness holds preeminence to giftedness.
That is not how it is in our culture. We, and I include myself as part of the ‘we,’ worship the gifted. We admire the gifted. Did anybody watch the Super Bowl? The gifted athletes and entertainers, ahh. The gifted bold and beautiful. We buy their books and read what they write. We watch their movies and follow their lives in, I’m talking about as a culture, detailed ways to amuse ourselves. We vicariously follow a celebrities life and times. We buy their jerseys and wear them. I do. Why? Because they’re skillful. Or we think of them, “They’re a winner.” So their name on our back says something. I’m not speaking down to anything. I’m simply saying we admire the highly intelligent. Some people admire people who have intellectual prowess. We might admire someone from a TED Talk. I’m saying it’s the fact that we might buy their business programs. The beautiful, the powerful, the achievers, the gifted. We understand that. It reminds me of how much we are immersed in entertainment. We almost feel like Russell Crowe is Maximus in Gladiator. Are you not entertained? Clearly, we live in a culture that is mesmerized by it. When I think about this, I often find myself thinking, “Wow, Lord, at the core, I think the reason we are drawn to people we admire is that at the core, no matter what anyone else says, take Jesus’s word for it.”
At the core, we are worshiping being beings. We will find something to worship. It’s in our DNA, our soul DNA. We will find things. People will. If people exclude God, they’ll find something else to worship. Whatever consumes us. Whatever we admire. Whatever draws us. Whatever we pour our energies into, that is what we worship. One of the things about worship is why Jesus says, “actually it’s a big deal what we worship.” Because we become like the things we worship. That’s why the Lord says, “Worship me.” We become like that, which we worship. It was one of the reasons why God said to His people, Israel, when He was trying to create a nation out of which would come Messiah, The deliverer of the world. He said, “When you go into these foreign places, don’t carve out stone and wood images, and then worship those images as if they’re your God. Don’t do that. Don’t ever try to think that I could ever be contained as something you can create. Those 10 commandments were not designed to be constricted, they were designed to be life-giving.”
Here’s the thing. “How could people worship things that they carve out with their own hands and worship it as if it were God?” We do the same. It’s just different versions. Ours just move and have dimensions to them. This is the same thing. What we will worship, we become. One of the things about Jesus is He was never overly impressed with greatness, outwardly. He was neither anti-wealth nor pro-wealth. He didn’t say, “You’re superior less important to me.” He was not pitting people against people. Jesus often would say, “Have compassion on that wealthy person.” He would say because when it comes to following me, they’re going to have a harder road to get there because they have so much that in some ways it’s created a veneer and a false safety zone around their life. In fact, what it’s saying is they can get out of things, but in the end, it’s not who they are.
He said, “Also blessed are the poor.” Where did that come? He wasn’t saying that there aren’t inequities and stuff. First off, he said, “First, the kingdom is available to everyone, rich and poor.” So all of a sudden, now we’re on equal standing in that regard. Then He also would say this, “Blessed are you because you have less that can keep your heart closed to me.” He would say it, and people would be shocked. He would notice things that other people didn’t notice. People noticed the great things. He noticed it too. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Yeah. Yeah. “Whose image is on this coin?” “Caesar’s. Render to Caesar which is Caesar’s.” I thought, “Okay.” Unimpressed. He would notice someone else that no one else noticed because He saw things differently. What Jesus honored over giftedness was faithfulness.
In this parable, we’re reminded that it was not how much, but how faithful we are with what we’ve been entrusted with. The question does prevail, are we being faithful with the things that God entrusts to us? I think many times we all forget that we had the same opportunity to hear those same words. What does faithful look like? I’m talking about the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done, my good and faithful son. At the end of our day, well done my good and faithful daughter. You did well.” It’s not the amount that we leave behind in the bank account or the possessions we temporarily possess.
I was saying this in the last service, “statues are built to the great, to the hall of fame, and people sit around them at lunchtime, birds sit on the statues, and life goes on. I have no problem honoring achievement, but Jesus was unimpressed. It will pass like the vanity of every age and ultimately fade away, crumbled to the ground, and generations long beyond it will forget it completely. Lay for yourself treasure in heaven where moth and rust don’t corrupt, thieves cannot break in and steal it away. The economy tanks, you still have something of wealth because you’ve invested in things that cannot be taken from you. Be rich towards God, be rich towards God. Love God, love others. There is true wealth. That’s what He taught us.”
Why is this man here? Having such a struggle? So much of this parable is about the one servant, isn’t it? Is he okay? Is he a bad man? Well, he is called ‘unfaithful’ at the end of the story, at least in that one particular version there. He is called that by the angry ruler who in the height of his fury, as Jesus is describing him, Jesus says, He starts calling him. “You wicked, you lazy, you unprofitable servant, you stole my money.” But if we look closely, he’s not a thief. He’s not dishonest. He’s not mean-spirited. He’s not manipulative. He hasn’t hurt anyone. He’s being so responsible in the sense that he’s careful not to lose his master’s money. He certainly cannot be accused of being reckless. But what does he lack? We can say he lacks a few, but the one thing he lacks is courage. He’s afraid to risk because he’s afraid to lose His fear. Fear can do this to all of us. It has gotten the best of him.
That leads to the second piece here, which I think is important for us to remember. We need to be careful not to let our fear take hold of us and start to dominate and overwhelm us. The things that we fear cost us. “Why didn’t you do something with that?” “Because I was afraid. I was afraid I would disappoint you. I didn’t want to do that so I didn’t even want to try. I didn’t want to try because I thought I would fail. So better than failing, I felt, if I could just keep what you gave me, that’s good enough. It’s all back. Every cent of it. I didn’t lose anything.” “But you didn’t even try. I can live with risk. I can even live loss if I knew you were trying, but just to bury it! Not even put it into play?”
Fear is powerful. Fear will keep us from a lot of things. Fear costs us a lot in this life. One of the things I’m constantly trying to remind myself of and hopefully all of those who are affected by our church’s sound is that we echo the words of Jesus. Let us challenge our fears and seek to be courageous, more courageous than we would’ve been. Fear steals away so much. We empower the negative. We meditate on it. If we start nurturing the negativity, then we start to see shadows everywhere. If we’re not careful. Fear begins to define us. I think it was Mark Twain, who said, “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” I think that’s true. I’ve been through some terrible things in my life. Some of them even happened.
The fact of the matter is a lot of stuff that happens we’ve just envisioned it. We’ve nurtured it. We’re stuck in it. We’re afraid. What are we afraid of right now? What would surrendering that fear to the Lord look like? Are we anxious about anything? I’ll tell you a Psalm that I found great strength in, a little piece. Psalm 112 says, “For the righteous will never be moved and be remembered forever.” Check that out. He is not afraid of bad news. His heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady. “Steady me Jesus. Steady me. Steady me right now. I am afraid.” He will not be afraid. He will not be afraid until he looks with triumph on his adversaries. “What are those?” I think, for us, the adversaries are the things that could be spiritual things certainly. There are also the problems that we face. Challenges we face, things rooted in our past, things that have to do with our present, things that have been formed inside of us, we’ve had before that we can’t get free of. What are the things that are opposing us? The things that terrorize our mind, the things that are crippling our resolve, the things that are causing us not the risk, not to love, not to trust God? Those are the things we’re talking about. What things are we afraid of?
What does God want us to do with that? How does He want us to trust Him? How does He want us to be courageous in this? Many times, the Lord wants us to face things that part of us wants to run away from. He wants us to play it when we want to bury it. He wants us to put it into play and we want to keep it safe because this happened to me before. I go back to that one way, it’s rendered. “I was afraid I would disappoint you.” The truth is, all of us have been called to have more courage. If you look in Jesus’ story, did the owner get the money back from the one talent? Yes, he did. So what was really the issue? It was his use of it that was the issue. It’s a reminder that if we want the Lord’s blessing and approval, we need to use what He gives us to His tribute, faithfully and earnestly. I say, “Let us remember that.” What the servant was saying was, “Does it really matter? It’s just one. I gave it all back to you.” He’s saying, “No. The one matters. It does.” It means even the little things matter to God. Little service matters to God. Big, small, seen, unseen, noticed, applauded, not noticed, unnoticed, not applauded, passed by, 521, whatever, all of it is important. The final thought here is, we have all been called to serve, give, and bless. Every one of us with something we’ve been given. No question.
I went back at the very beginning, Jesus on the night of his betrayal. We talked about how Jesus, on the edge of the cross, is listening to them. Do you know what prompted him to wash the feet? What prompted His washing their feet was that they were arguing. They had been His disciples for three years. He had poured His life into them. He had invested in them and now it was crunch time. Everything was about to go down and He knew it. He saw it. If He ever needed them to show up, it was then. In life, sometimes we need people to show up. When He needed them to show up, in that room, they started arguing. They were arguing about who was the greatest and who was sitting where.
When they came into a house, sometimes they would come into the house and wash the feet of guests. People in those days had open shoes and would walk on roads that were dirt. So their feet would get dirty. They’d come into a house, sometimes the owner would give them the most modest portion of hospitality to provide some type of a basin. There would be a servant if the household could afford one to work there, who would wash the feet of the guests that came in. Well, there was no host, no one to wash feet, and no one had bothered to say, “I’ll do it for the other.” What Jesus did while they were all arguing is did what none of them were willing to do for one another. He took up the base and while they were having this argument he started washing their feet. They asked, “What are you doing Lord?” He said, “You let me finish this. You cannot do this. This is not my way. He that is great needs to serve.” What was He saying? There is nothing so menial that you can do for one another. If I’m doing it, don’t ever tell me this is so menial that it has no meaning.
When Jesus came, He modeled serving and giving. That’s the core of the gospel. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. The Son of Man came to give for God. He gave His life as a ransom for many. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. “Do you understand what I have done?” Jesus said. “Do you understand what I have done?” If I, your Lord and master, and that’s what you call me. You’re right. If I am willing to wash your feet, don’t ever say to me, you can’t wash the feet of your brother. This is too low for you. Giving and serving and blessing. Let’s pray.
Lord as we’re here, even on a weekend like this when we have this time for volunteering, serving, and putting our gifts into play. If there’s a need, sometimes the real value isn’t the service itself. It’s what it does to our character. It’s the connections that you’re trying to make inside of us, Lord. It’s humility. Sometimes it’s the humility that in and of itself becomes an offering of blessing beyond the point in which we are expressing community life together and feeling needs together. There’s something about the heart that is connected to who you are when you decide to serve and give. I ask that you would allow this to be in our hearts. As we close our time this afternoon together, I pray that you would bless us as we think about what it means to use our gifts in any way to honor you together. This is what I ask, in Jesus’ name. Amen.