Sunday, November 13, 2011

Risk Management - Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:15-30
14 "For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.
15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.
17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.
18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.
19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.'
21 His master said to him, '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.'
22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.'
23 His master said to him, '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.'
24 He 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,
25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'
26 But 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?
27 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.
28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.
29 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.
30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

It is very easy to look at the third servant in our parable today from a judgmental perspective. We have the advantage of being the audience to Jesus' little story. The point is very clear and we can act much like David did when he was confronted by Nathan about his own sin in parable form. We can be righteous and see that clearly the servant needed to invest the money but if we stop and think about it, the story goes against our own sensibilities. The one we should really feel for is the third servant. He did what was safe. He did not risk his masters money and gave it back to him the exact way he received it. This is what we do all the time in our culture, risk management. I do not know one person who does things without first determining the risks and weighing their options. Actually I have to take that back, I do know people like that and I call them irresponsible. Since our natural reaction would be to act like the third servant what is Jesus trying to get us to see in this parable?

With great gifts comes great tasks. Or you may have heard it said from a super spider somewhere, "with great power comes great responsibility." if something is given to you there is an association of tasks that thing comes with, whether it is an object, trust, or a person, like a child.

In this parable there is no explicit task laid out for the servants. The master does not leave instructions saying, "Make sure to take this money and invest it in the bank." There is a parallel parable in Luke 19 where a king gives out some money and tells them to engage in business. So why does Matthew leave that out of his parable? I think the connection here is what the servants know about their master. The servants were aware that they were being given the role of steward over this money. This means they were to act to the money as the owner of the money would act. The third servant betrays his own disobedience to this call when he acknowledges that his master is one who makes profit from nothing. His own public profession about the character of his master stands as his condemnation.

In this passage the word talent is used. In Jesus' time this was an actual measurement of worth. It had to do with weight and was an incredible amount of money. It is not a coincidence that this word is the same word we use for gifts and skills a person may have. The traditional view of this passage is that it is about the gifts God gices us to serve him and the world. This view has led to the word entering the English language to mean just that. The meaning of our word has its start right here in this passage.

How many of you have seen the Lord of the Rings? In this story a small and insignificant creature known as a Hobbit comes into possession of a ring which has great power. When it comes to light that this ring is the key to an evil tyrant coming to power again it is debated who should take on the task of carrying it to a place where it can be destroyed. The little hobbit takes this task on because he has already been given the ring and carried its burden. Along the way things do not go as planed and the hobbit gets separated from his party, taking a very difficult route to his goal. For some time in the story he is not sure whether they are going to make it. In the end he gets there and completes his task with the help of his friend and an unlikely companion.

The tasks which God gives to us are rarely ever defined. Many theologians even debate whether Jesus knew the exact way his own end would come or if he just had a general sense. When God called you to follow him you are probably aware that this did not come with a very detailed how to manuel. Even the Scriptures take incredible work to discern and much time must be spent in prayer and listening to make major decisions in life. In my own life, though I have a job description for my call at this Church, I have no idea how God is working to use me here. But one thing I do know is that with great gifts comes great tasks.

We also need to keep in mind that what the servant is given is not theirs. They are a steward to take care of what belongs to someone else. They are not to act on their own accord but how they think the one they represent would act. In the same way we are called as ambassadors of Christ. We represent him on earth while he is gone.

My freshman and sophomore years in college I had a string of roommates who drove me crazy. One in particular was worse than the others. In an attempt to be generous with my possessions, I told him he could use my computer and my mini fridge but to always leave me room to use them as well. After two different occasions of him abusing his privileges I revoked them. One day while I was writing a paper he stood looking over my shoulder, pacing back and forth. He kept getting closer and closer to me. Finally I said, "Do you need something?" and he said, "I was wondering if you can finish because I really need to write a paper that is due tomorrow." It was so infuriating to me that he took my statements about using my computer to mean that he should have priority, as if the computer was his. A few weeks later I came home to stick some leftovers in my fridge and found my items from the fridge sitting on top of it and the shelf from the inside taken out. When I opened it I found out that he had taken my stuff out to make room for a very large piece of meat he had wrapped in newspaper. These things are pretty petty in the scheme of things and in and of themselves can easily be overlooked but it really bugged me that his attitude was so selfish. He viewed my generosity as license to do whatever he wanted with my things. Sometimes I have to remind myself this is how I often act with the things God has generously given to me.

In our story the servants are given a task but it is not specified what they would receive in return. If we take the third servant's perspective on the master to be true, it might be that they expected nothing. They may have fulfilled their tasks simply out of obedience. In Luke 17 Jesus says, as servants who have done our work we should not expect praise and adoration but should say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty". The faithful servants are given much for their efforts but what they are given are more tasks, more responsibility. The master now knows he can trust them to act on his behalf and so they will work even bigger projects. The third servant, because of his actions, has what is given to him taken and he is cast out.

Jesus is surely telling us about our place in the kingdom. This parable is at the end of a discussion about Jesus' return to earth at the end of time to usher in the Kingdom of God. We are the servants and Jesus is telling us that nothing we have is ours. Everything we have been given is from God and belongs to God ultimately. We are stewards over these things acting with them as we believe God would act. The closer we know our master the closer we will act to his will with what we are entrusted. This means the talents we have, the money we have, the jobs we have, the families we have and the relationships we are a part of all around us. All the things God has entrusted us to are his.

The weird thing in this parable is that it seems the only risk is not to use what we have been given. There is no mention that the investments of the first two servants could have returned void. Both of them received back twice what they invested.

I think most of us today would love to have an investment which is a sure thing. Many have lost much of their retirement from the crashes that have happened in the stock market. There has been some recovery but the future is still unsure. With the uncertainty in the Euro and the increase of unemployment here there is still a risk in all monetary investments. There has always been risk in investing. There is always the chance an investment might go bad no matter how secure it seems. Even gold means nothing if food is scarce.

With this in mind, who can blame the third servant? As I stated before, I think that most responsible people today would have made this decision. It is better to give the master back exactly what he gave me than to risk loosing it. Even though there is no mention of a possible loss for the third servant loss is possible. When you get to the heart of it, the loss he foresaw was a selfish one. He feared what the master would do to him if he lost the money. It was motivated by self preservation. And if you look at national trends in giving to non-profits this is the same attitude which has driven America. I am new here so I don't know what has driven giving here but I know churches I have worked for in the past have been struggling as people tighten up what they see as unnecessary giving.

The most interesting thing I have ever heard about stewardship was a sermon by John Ortberg at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California When the recession hit really big he preached a sermon about where you find your security. He said that people should give more in times of less financial security if they truly trust Christ. His reasoning was that tough times remind us our security is not found in money or things, because they can be taken from us at any time. Our security is found in Jesus and this reminder should cause us to hold more closely to Jesus and less closely to money, so giving should go up in recession.

Jesus knows well that investment into the Kingdom is a sure thing. This does not mean we get what we think we should get back out of it. It does mean that if we use what God has given us faithfully, for the purpose of building his kingdom, God will use it to bring about returns for the Kingdom. You may never see the returns or understand them in this life but I believe it to be true. I heard a respected Pastor one time say that he has never seen a church close its doors because it risked all its money in mission. I have never seen a church like this either. The churches I know that have closed their doors have usually focused their money at inward concerns. The only risk is to not use what we are given.

This story really is about doing the task assigned to us. Each parable, I believe, has a overarching point. The one point that stands above them all here is, that we are to be faithful with the tasks assigned to us. Whatever it is that God has given you to do, you must be faithful with it. It is so easy to become like Francis Chan showed us in the video last week, safely holding onto the balance beam of life. God asks us to be faithful to use what he has given us to its fullest.

What is our task though? Each of you has a specific gift for the building up of the church so I can't assume to know what your task here may be but I do know what the task of the church is. If we flip from our passage three chapters forward we find Matthew write out the task Jesus gave to the church when he left, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.". This is our task. (Show video from igniter:

You never know what kind of impact you may have by taking the gift you have received, the gospel, and going forth with it. Get out there. Get involved in your community and with people who don't go to church. Be intentional about building a relationship with them that which love them in Christ. Make them disciples of Christ and teach them to obey all he has commanded. Remember the giving of the gift is the assigning of a task, the gift does not belong to you and the only risk is to not use what God has given to you so go therefore and make disciples. Amen.

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