Thursday, January 31, 2008

Matthew 25:14-30 - Sermon - Theology of Children's Books 4 of 4


The Giving Tree
Matthew 25:14-30
02/03/08

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. Yeah right, we are all created equal. That is a wonderful thing to write and for it to be the basis on which this country was founded, but it is not true. Maybe we are equal in the eyes of the law or government and it is a Biblical foundation that we are all equal in the eyes of God, but are not all created equal. I can turn on the TV on any given Sunday and know I am not equal to any of those playing on the field, links, court, or track. Two teams will meet tonight in a small game called the Super Bowl and they every player that straps on a uniform has more football playing talent in their pinky toe than I do in my whole body. I can throw a football but that doesn’t make me a Tom Brady.

God loves us all the same and Christ died for each of our sins in the same way, but we are not created equal. The fact is that God has created us special and unique in our own personal ways. We each have been given a unique fingerprint and a one of a kind set of DNA but let’s face it, there are some people in this world that can do some things that we can’t. We are not created equal because we are not created the same.

In today’s scripture we hear the familiar parable of the talents. We have all heard this parable before and we know what it is telling us. It is telling us how to live our lives. It tells us that God has created us and given us all unique talents in life, each to our own abilities. Since God has entrusted us with such great talents then we need to do something with them. In The Giving Tree, we find a tree who slowly uses all the talents he has been given to help the boy he loves so much. Well all have heard this sermon before. But I want to go a little deeper.

First of all what is this thing called a talent. After the writing of the King James’ Bible, those who spoke English started to refer to a talent as the special abilities and gifts of an individual because of this parable. That is how we most commonly use the word today but that is not how this parable uses it. Here, a talent is equal to 6,000 denarii. One denarii is equal to one days pay. That means the master is giving his servants 16 ½ years of pay. If you want to convert that into today’s dollars, using an 8 hour day and being paid minimum wage, 1 talent equals over $250,000. That is a quarter of a million dollars the master is entrusting to these servants. That is a lot of money. So this means that to one servant he gives $2.5 million, to another $500,000, and to the third servant $250,000. We are talking about some serious cash here. But how do you put a price on the talents we have been given. The point is not in the amount of money or the amount of talents we have been given, but rather that the master entrusts a lot to these servants.

The lesson we learn though is how the servants then use what was given to them. The first two take theirs and double it, but the third takes it and buries it in the ground. Then the master comes back and requests to see what they have done with what he has given them. He sees what the first two have done and says, well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness. When he sees what the third servant has done he states, you wicked and lazy servant. He takes away everything the servant had and throws him out in the utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now I am not sure what utter darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth looks like but it doesn’t sound like a place we would like to hang out.

Now here is where we tend to get mad. It isn’t right for the master to lay into the third servant. I mean did he really do anything wrong. He was just being conservative with the talent he was given. He didn’t trust his own abilities in the market place and wanted to make sure he could at least give the master back his money. What provokes this master to get so mad at his servant that he completely throws him out without a dime to his name? The answer lies in the servants actions, or the lack there of. But why does the third servant do what he did? In the Jewish code of that day it states that when a person buried money, it was an appropriate way of guarding the money and the way of saying that you do not have any responsibility for it. When the third servant buried the talent, he was casting off what the master was giving him. But why, why would he basically throw away such an awesome gift that he received. It would be like the Giving Tree shaking off all its apples so they would rot on the ground instead of giving them to the boy to sell. To bury a talent is to waste it.

Fear, fear is what drove him to this decision. We understand this when the servant faces his master again and hands the talent back. The servant actually blames the master for this decision. He quotes the master’s reputation of being harsh and reaping where he didn’t sow, as the reason why he didn’t do anything. It was out of fear of losing it all that he didn’t even want to step out and do something with what he was given. It was fear of not being able to give anything back that he decided to do nothing.

For four hours he held the cylinder, waiting for rescue or an immediate death. After digging up what appeared to be an unexploded WWI bomb, David Page held on to it, afraid that letting go would detonate the device. While holding the bomb, the terrified 40-year-old from Norfolk, England, called an emergency operator on his mobile phone. He even used the call to issue his last words for his family. "The woman police operator kept saying it would be okay," said Page, "but I kept saying to her, 'You're not the one holding the bomb.'" First responders rushed to the work-yard in eastern England, and army bomb disposal experts finally arrived. But the drama came to an abrupt end when the "bomb" was identified. It was part of the hydraulic suspension system from a Citroen, a popular European car. What David was holding was a piece of junk. There are times we find ourselves frozen with irrational fear.

Fear can paralyze us. You can feel it inside you, building up until it moves into every cell in your body and you can’t move. Charles Allen in his book Victory in the Valleys writes about a 5-year old boy named Johnny. One day Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn't want to go in alone. Johnny didn’t like the pantry and replied "It's dark in there and I'm scared." She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, "It's OK--Jesus will be in there with you." Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: "Jesus, if you're in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?" I am sure you have plenty of stories like little Johnny, when growing up there was no way you were heading into that basement, opening that closet, or looking under our beds. Yet those are childish fears and we tend to grow out of them, but once we grow up we have more imbedded fear. As adults we enjoy fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of being alone, fear of not being accepted and fear of what the future will hold. These fears hold us back many times in our lives. They may paralyze us from using the talents, the abilities, and the gifts that God has given us.

If we are to relate to one of the characters in this parable we would relate to the third servant. We have sympathy for him because the reality is many of us have the same fear when it comes to our Master. We fear God because we don’t trust what the Bible tells us about God. We hear the negative image of God, one of judgment, wrath, and scorn. We get fixated on this fact that we may never be able to live up to the expectations that God has for us in our lives. We think that we are unworthy of any type of love that comes from God because our history and the wrong things that we have done. To focus on the judgment of God, leaves out the gift that was given to us on the cross. It is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that a more powerful force comes forth. It is out of the ability and talent Christ had to live the perfect life and die for all of our sins, which enables us to be in the presence of God once again. You are right in thinking that you cannot do it alone. There is nothing you can DO that will earn you a seat at the heavenly banquet. There is nothing you can DO that will make your sins go away in the eyes of God. Christ has taken care of that already, that is already done. When we realize that, then we know the true nature of our Master.

If we don’t fear our Master then we fear failure. We fear that we will use the talents in the wrong ways or some how waste them. Yet that is not the case. Thomas Edison filed an impressive 1,093 patents with the U.S. Patent Office, and behind each one of those 1,093 successes lay hundreds and sometimes thousands of failures. Edison mastered the art of recovering from failure with lessons in hand and sought to pass it on to his workers. Near the end of his career, a former worker, Alfred Tate, wrote the following letter to his former boss: “Above all you taught me not to be afraid of failure; that scars are sometimes are as honorable as medals.”

In the gospel of Matthew, we get another reference to talents. In Matthew 18, we receive the parable of the unmerciful servant and in this parable we hear something else about talents. There a servant has a 10,000 talent debt. The master calls his servant in and asks him to repay it, but the servant falls on his knees and begs for mercy. In this parable the master has mercy on the servant and forgives his debt. Now remember if a talent equals over $250,000, 10,000 talents equal $2.5 trillion dollars of our money. The master in that parable doesn’t get upset at the servant but forgives him. We should not fear failure because we are a forgiven people. Even if we abuse our talents and we incur a ten digit debt, we can know we’re still forgiven. We have a fear of failure because we forget about the scars that remind us we are forgiven, the ones found on the wrists and side of Christ.

A Christian musical group, Sixpence None the Richer, had the opportunity to perform on "The Late Show with David Letterman." The lead singer of Sixpence, Leigh Nash. was given the rare chance to be interviewed by Letterman after the band performed. Letterman's first question was why they chose Sixpence None the Richer as their band's name. This gave Nash the opportunity to share C.S. Lewis' story, in the book Mere Christianity. The story tells of a father who gives his son a sixpence so the son could by him a present. When the father received the present, he was none the richer because he originally gave the sixpence to his son. The analogy is to God who gives gifts for us to glorify him. God is not richer because of our presentation since he originally gave the gift.

What we have is truly not ours, it is God’s. Psalm 139:13 says, for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. God knows exactly who you are and with what talents you have. God knows your fears, your dreams, and your purpose for why you are here on earth. God knows what is expected of you and what is holding you back. The Giving Tree has such compassion and love for the little boy that through out his life he gives everything he has. It doesn’t matter how young the tree was, it gave the boy limbs to climb on and swing from. It doesn’t matter how old the tree got, it gave him a stump to sit on. No matter how young or old we are God has given gifts to use. Just because we are young and may not understand all our talents doesn’t mean we simply sit back and wait to use them. Just because we may be able to retire from our careers but we cannot retire from God’s work. We still have talents God demands we use. In the end the Giving Tree was a stump but he gave his all for the boy, every talent he possessed he gave away. That is our goal, that is what God requires of us.

There is an old saying that you cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. In order to do great things in the name of God we must step out on the greatest gift of all, faith. That means that we trust God with what we’ve been given. We should not fear failure because we are forgiven. We should not fear acceptance because God made us, knows us, and loves us for who we are created to be. God knitted together each of us for a reason, with our own abilities and talents for a reason. God has entrusted you with these things because God wants you to do something with them. God wants you to glorify him by using them. To do so will please the master and he will say, well done good and faithful servant, come and join your master’s happiness.

What this parable and children’s book is doing is telling us how we are to live our lives. We are to see the skills, the abilities, the talents we have been given and not bury them but use them. We are to let go of our fears. It takes work, it takes risk, and it definitely takes faith. The third servant in this parable was paralyzed by fear and laziness and never trusted in the forgiving nature of the master. Who we are made to be: that is up to God. How we use what God designed: that is up to us. We can use our talents in many ways. Some benefit the world. Some benefit only ourselves. Some are of no benefit to anyone. You have been entrusted with many talents by your master, the question is, are you going to let your fears paralyze you or are you willing to risk it and end up a stump, all for the glory of the One who entrusted them to you?

Amen

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