The parable of the talents…..


We are closing in the on the holidays already which doesn’t seem possible.  Soon we will be in the season of Advent in the church, a season of waiting and anticipation of Christ’s return. 

Like last week’s scripture, today’s scripture is about what we do while we wait for Christ’s return.  Today’s scripture is titled, “The Parable of the Talents.”

At this point in Matthew’s gospel Christ is in his final days.  He has returned to Jerusalem for the last time.  His final parables in Matthew’s account are about what we are to be doing while waiting for his return.

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

 A talent was a measure of weight in biblical times.  The master of the estate was incredibly wealthy.  A talent is about 75 pounds of precious metal.  75 pounds.  An ounce of gold today is worth around $1,300. 

If you do the math a talent or 75 pounds of gold today is worth around $1.5 million dollars.  That is one talent, the first servant got five and the second servant got two. 

What does scripture say that the master of the estate did after giving this large amount of money to his servants…….He went away.  He didn’t give them any instructions.  He just gave it to them.  It seems apparent that he trusts them to be wise with it.

Helluva nice guy isn’t he.  What if I were to tell you that the master in this parable is Christ, he left but not before giving a bounty to his people?  What if I told you that the servants in this parable were you and I? 

That we have been given a treasure or a talent in the form of intellect, knowledge, life experience, talent, time, our ability to earn and a ton of his grace to boot?

And what if I told you that someday we will have to account for what we did with our God-given talent?  I will come back to that.

The master of the estate, he just left.  No directions, no instructions.  The servants were free to do what they would with what they were entrusted with, much like we are.  I want to talk about this for a minute.

Our God, the God that we serve limits himself in this parable and he does this often.  He limits himself so that others have an opportunity to lead and flourish. 

Christ, being of the same spiritual substance of The Father, came to this earth in the same limited manner that we exist, in flesh and blood.  Bound by time and space among other things. 

He limited himself as a penniless, itinerant carpenter turned preacher who emptied himself of his divinity to take on our broken condition.  He goes beyond limiting himself, he completely emptied himself.

He lived like the poorest of the poor with the poorest of the poor and spent his time with the lowest of the low.  Now, Christ did heal people, he performed miracles, he brought people that were dead back to life. 

But he lives his time on this earth consistently restrained.  And why would he do that………Is it because he hands the keys to the kingdom over to us, to each one of us?  That he wants each one of us to be about his work.

Is it because we are in his final days in the book of Matthew and he is making sure to make his point that he is leaving and these are the expectations for those who profess to know him?

God calls us to lead in one form or another.  Leadership isn’t about titles, we are called to lead our families, our church, our community, our school and many other things.

We weren’t made to sit on the sidelines idly watching the world go by.  Here is another window into my cynical and twisted mind.  In my experience in different leadership positions those that sat idly by, not only did they not help, they consistently attacked, smeared and hurled insults at the ones trying to get things done. 

Enough of that.  We are called to lives of service.  He are called to lead, we are called to be in ministry and we are called to be the light in this world.  We don’t retire from Christian service.  As long as there is air in our lungs we are called to be of service to the church.

After leaving his servants to do what they would with his money, the master returned.  “The one who had received the five talents had gone off and traded and made five more talents.”  He had doubled his master’s money.

“In the same way, the one who had been given two talents made two more talents.”  He also had doubled his master’s money.  Pretty impressive, do you know how much time it would take to double your money – legally?

“But the one who had received one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”  After a long time the master, or Christ in this example, returns.  He is anxious to see what his people have done with what he has entrusted them with.

The one given five talents had pleased his master, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”  Enter into the kingdom and splendor of God’s presence.

The one given two talents had also pleased his master and is greeted the same, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

The servant given one talent had to give his account of what he had done with what he had been given.  This servant’s response appears to be more of a reflection on his own character than the nature of the God we serve.

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid and I hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.” 

The third servant, the one given one talent sat idly by.  After many years, maybe even a lifetime he had not been about his master’s work.  I envision this servant shrugging his shoulders as he hands the money back and then goes on the offensive about how it isn’t really his fault.  It is the master’s fault, it is God’s fault that I didn’t do anything productive with what he gave me.

The master was not happy.  “You wicked and lazy servant!  You knew, did you that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received it with interest.”

“Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten talents.  For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 

“As for this servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

A warning parable about the accounting we will have to do when Christ returns.  Everyone is gifted whether they think they are or not.  The gifts we are given vary from person to person, no one gift is better or more important than another.  Those gifts are not to be wasted or to sit idle.

In this season of Thanksgiving, as we approach Advent and the celebration of Christ’s birth, let us be about God’s work in this world.  Let us feed, clothe and minister to the poor.  Let us be the church.  Let us be the light, the city on a hill that give sight to the blind and ears to hear for those that need to know our God.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

 

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Lord the Lord you God………..


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  I’m sure that today isn’t the first day that you’ve heard that statement, that sentence.

It appears multiple times in scripture, it appears in song.  What does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and all your strength?  What does that look like?

We are still in Matthew’s Gospel, the disdained tax collector that went from exploiting Jewish people to trying to save them.  At this point in Matthew’s account, we are in the last week of Christ’s life.  He had made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

He was spending his last week in or near the holy temple.  Three prominent groups in Israel at that time, the Herodians I talked about last week, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were taking turns questioning Christ in an effort to trap him in front of large crowds that had gathered for the Passover.

Today’s scripture occurs at the end of a long day for Christ.  He had been teaching and preaching, he had given the parable of the wedding banquet, talked about paying taxes and spoken about the resurrection.

Christ had silenced the Sadducees, they were a conservative group that only accepted the Law of Moses.  Much less is known about the Sadducees as compared to the Pharisees. 

The Pharisees, this religious group mentioned often in the bible, heard that the Sadducees had tapped out and they decide it is time for one more go around.

They offer up one of their best and brightest, a lawyer to question Christ.  An expert on religious custom and law up against a man with no formal training or education.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” the lawyer asked.  Christ’s response can be found in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy, it was his response to the devil during the temptation.

It is part of Jewish daily prayer called the Shema.  Christ’s response points to what our whole lives and being should be about.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Considering all his exchanges with these religions and political groups it would be easy to come to the conclusion that he was anti-Jewish or anti-establishment.  That is not the case.

Christ is an orthodox Jew, he believed in the law.  But he didn’t come to this world to beat people up with rules, he came to fulfill the law, to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies that a promised one was coming.  The promise of the Messiah that would take away the sins of the world.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

How do we love our God and neighbors like that?  Do we do love them like we should…………..How do we do those things?

Reading scripture, writing a sermon.  Those things are expected from a pastor.  What I often times run into doing those things is I get exposed.  Studying the scripture gives me time to reflect on the message I am to deliver and makes me question whether I do those things.

I tell my wife and children that I love them often, but does my behavior match the words that come from my mouth.  To be kind, not always.

If I love or when I love, it is in a broken, incomplete manner in which I do.  Too prone to get mad, too prone to lose my patience and lash out.  Sometimes, it appears that the only thing I love is my own selfish interests.

That is a window into my twisted, broken mind.  I can say that I believe that I have been obedient to God’s call, have tried to follow the best that I know how and devote time to him in prayer, read his word and give to the church.

But, do I put him first in my life?  Do I love both him and my neighbors with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind and strength…..

We moved into the neighborhood about 3.5 years ago, I have neighbors in that area that I haven’t had a conversation with.  Haven’t taken the time to get to know them.

I will try to spare you anymore of my hang-ups and give you an example of what this kind of love looks like.

Corrie ten Boom, that was her name, a young girl born to a very devout Dutch family.  She lived with her family in Holland during World War II.  She and her family bravely hid Jewish people that had fled their homes.

She offered up herself for God’s people, in anyway, any place at any time.  Scores of Jews passed through the ten Boom home.  Her selfless ways continued until the Gestapo found out and placed her and her family in one of their concentration camps.

The horrible treatment she received did not stop her from sharing her faith or leading worship services.  She would lose her father, a brother and a dear sister. 

Just a few short years after the war ended, Corrie ten Boom was speaking at a church in Germany.  At the end of the service walked an older gentlemen that was one of the most vicious guards at the concentration camp she was held in.

“A fine message he said, as you say, all of our sins are at the bottom of the sea,” as he extended his hand.  Could you imagine her angst, anxiety, anger, all the things that she must have felt.

 He told her he had become a Christian and asked for her forgiveness.  “I forgive you my brother, with all my heart.”  She would later say that she had never known God’s love so intensely as she did then…..

We are called to love the Lord our God.  We are called to be faithful.  We are not called to be rich, but if we are we should be generous with that bounty.  We are not called to spend more time on our phones than with our God.

We are not called to be convenient or cavalier Christians.  We are called to love.  When our love seems broken, imperfect, clumsy and incomplete.  We are called to love.

When we are exhausted, tired, emotionally spent and in a genuinely bad mood, we are called to love.  When devastating and unexplained news of loss, grief and illness come our way, we are called to love.

When people have a different opinion from us, do things we don’t approve of and don’t look like us, we are called to love them.  Respect them, treat them with the dignity that every human being has the right too. 

I will grant you that love is something of an emotion, it can be.  I would contend that love is an action.  Love gets kids up, fed and off to school and is there for them.  Love looks after those that aren’t able to take care of themselves.

Love is an action.  Love requires sacrifice.  I don’t think you can love someone or something that you don’t spend any time with.  The same is truth for our God.  The more you understand God, the more spiritual you become, the greater you should be able to love.

 

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

Give to God the things that belong to God…


In today’s reading two groups that were normally opposed to each other come together in an effort to trap a poor, itinerant preacher named Jesus.  The Pharisees I have talked often about. 

They were the religious leaders of the day.  They studied scripture, laws and customs and were quick to point out the transgressions of other with little awareness of their own sin.

The Herodians are presumed to be followers of Herod Antipas, the Roman leader.  The Herodians were a political group, not a religious one.  Acting as an extension of the Roman government.

Political and religious groups jockeying for position is as common today as it was in Christ’s day.  Israel was essentially a colony of the Roman Empire.  The Jewish people paid a tax to the Roman government that probably went to fund the Roman troops, guards and governor that occupied their country.

There was much bitterness over paying this.  Life was hard.  Large families in a rural society mean long hours of work on the farm, planting crops, tending livestock and praying for God’s provision.

How many of you hear today enjoy paying taxes?  How many of you celebrate when you property tax comes due?  Or when you buy a vehicle, only to be assessed several hundred dollars more….

I do not enjoy paying taxes, but it is the duty of a citizen of this country to help pay their share.  I don’t build the roads and bridges I drive on, plow snow from them or home school my children.

The Pharisees and Herodians approach Christ, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.

They flatter Christ and try to butter him up.  Teacher we know that you are a good guy, you are the man, you don’t show favorites and are abundantly fair.  They patronize him for what is coming next.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” they ask him.  Should we pay the Roman tax? 

Keep in mind that we have religious leaders that oppose the Romans peacefully and an extension of the Roman government present.  Here is how this is a trap.

If Christ says yes if it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor then he would be seen as sympathizing with the Romans and betraying his own Jewish people.  A yes would give the Pharisees something to run with and undermine Christ’s credibility.

If he says no, it is not lawful to pay tax to the emperor then he could be accused of treason, sedition and be subject to the brutality that the Romans were famous for.

Further, endorsing the Herodian position, their tax and the currency used which hinted at the divinity of the Caesar.  How is Christ to do……….We’ve all been in a position where our choice was the lesser of two evils.

What does Christ do……..How does he find a way out of this well played trap? 

Christ did what he always does.  He saw the condition of the hearts of the men that were questioning him.  He knows the condition of the heart of each of us here today and all those that are not here.

He sees through the deceit, the trickery and the trap.  “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites?’ he asks.  Show me the coin used for the tax.

The group brought him a denarius.  The denarius spoke of both Romans oppression and blasphemy.  Farmer’s harvest were taxed, Jewish possessions were taxed.  A denarius was the usual wage for a day’s worth of work.

“Whose head is this and whose title?” Christ asks.  It is the emperor of course, the Caesar.  “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s.”

Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God the things that belong to God.  Fulfill your obligations as working law-abiding citizens to you government, whether you approve of it or not.  Like it or not, it is the obligation and duty of every person.

Give to the government the things that bear the image of the government and its leaders and those that have done great things for their country, but give to God the things that bear the image of God.

So, where is the image of God found, who or what bears it…………Each of us do.  Every human being in every corner of the world does.  All of humankind was made in his image. 

It is us, ourselves, our being, our lives that we are to give to God.  But, do we do that?  Do we trust in God enough to do that?  Do we trust in God at all?

As Christians we have both earthly and heavenly responsibilities.  We are responsible to support our families, to be good parents to our children.  Nurturing and supporting them as them grow.  To respect our parents and elders. 

To work, pay our own way, our fair share.  To be responsible stewards of all that God has given us.  We have heavenly responsibilities as well.  A level of detachment has to exist in our lives.

We have to be able to detach from busy lives and spend time with our God.  We have to separate the wants of the flesh from the life of the spirit.  The wants of the flesh are overwhelming and can only be tamed by the spirit.

You are all probably familiar with the scripture in Matthew 25 – I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me.

Heavenly responsibilities.  Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God what belongs to God.  Christ reasserts God’s ownership, sovereignty and rule.  A God so powerful, yet peaceful, fierce, but loving.

So peaceful and loving that he allows each of us to choose what do to with him.  We might complain how much tax we have to pay and how poorly those dollars are put to work sometime.  Roads full of potholes, spending large amounts of money on things we don’t think are needed.

I’m sure you’ve thought about this……You know how lucky we are to live as freely as we do.  There are people, many people, that live in danger for worshipping our God.  Many people in this world don’t have the freedoms that we have.

Give to the emperor what bears his image and give to God what bears his.  We have to find a balance between our obligations here on earth while fulfilling our obligations to God. 

We are to be about the work of the church.  When I say that I’m not talking about the self-preservation of the church.  I’m talking about growing and investing in people.  In relationships with one other, about being a deep group of people with purpose and vision.

Praying for guidance for this community of believers and how we can better reach people.  Better serve people.  Easy their suffering and bring them closer to God.

Give to the emperor, give to our government the things that belong to it and give to God the things that belong to God.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

How do you want to be remembered?


 

Repentance
Repentance

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

How do you want to be remembered?  We have to accept that death is a part of this life.  Not to be feared, but to be a celebration of this life and the life to come.  From a jail cell, Paul wrote, “For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  The person you were before coming to faith is gone and you have been born again.  When that happen, life changes.

Lives that burned for the things of this world are transformed into selfless lives of service.  Things are seen for what they are.  They have functional value and it’s nice to have nice things, but not at the expense of being able to do for others or finding your self-worth in them.

We don’t remember people for what the took — we remember people for what they gave.  How do you want to be remembered?

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

Authority.


 

God can do a lot with Little Judges 6:14
God can do a lot with Little Judges 6:14

 

I mentioned last week that we are near the end of Christ’s life in the book of Matthew.  He had made his triumphal return to the city of Jerusalem for the last time.  He had been hailed as a king, “Hosanna, Hosanna, in the highest!”

His relationship with the high priests, those that studied and were experts on religious custom and the law was contentious prior to his arrival in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, a time of celebration for the Jewish people.

The people hailed him as a king when he entered the city.  Then Christ had the audacity to go to the temple and drive out those who were selling animals to be sacrificed in the temple.  Jewish people traveled from great distance to celebrate, worship and offer a sacrifice to their God.

Those that did the commerce in the temple took a little for themselves.  Let us exploit these travelers, these pilgrims.  Christ kept reversing the norm and upsetting those that took advantage of others. 

In today’s scripture, Christ enters the temple again, the very same place where he had just run those trying to make a profit.  He was teaching and preaching.

Those religions leaders I spoke of have had enough of him.  They approach him and ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Why do you keep upsetting us, why are we the butt of these riddles you speak of, why do you keep exposing us?  That is what I think is going through their minds.  What gives you the right, who do you think you are?

To their defense not many people knew Christ’s true identity.  He didn’t flaunt it around, instead he kept it a secret oftentimes. 

Knowing that they were out to get him Christ responded to their question with a question, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

Where did John the Baptist get his authority?  It was granted to him by our God of course.  He was called to be the voice out in the wilderness, paving the way for his cousin, Jesus the Messiah.  John the Baptist was wildly popular and had disciples of his own.

After discussing this among themselves, the chief priests, elders and scribes respond, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘why then did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘of human origin, we are afraid of the crowd for all regard John as a prophet.” 

“We don’t know.”  That was their answer, we don’t know.  Christ answered them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Discovering who Christ truly is should be central to our lives.  We should want the answer to the question that was posed…..Oh that’s easy, Christ is God’s son, he’s part of the trinity that many don’t fully understand, there is your answer.

That is a correct, but dangerously superficial answer.  The Christian journey is a life-long adventure into finding the truth in our own lives.  That search for truth always points us in the direction of our God. 

You know, I read this week’s scripture early this week and I was sure that I was going to struggle with it.  So I read it again and I was still sure I was going to labor with this reading from Matthew because the meaning within it wasn’t obvious to me.

I would like to think I can read scripture and know pretty quick what direction I’m going to go with it.  That wasn’t the case with this in spite of the fact that my bible titles this encounter, “The Authority of Jesus Questioned.”

It was questioned during his lifetime.  It is questioned now.  Does God exist, can you see the work of his hand in this world, can you see the work of his people? 

I like to think that I stick to the scripture, but I got to thinking about authority when I was struggling with this scripture. 

Authority.  Was it important to respect and obey your parents growing up?  Of course it was, we didn’t always do it, but they are our parents and they are an authority figure.

Did, or are, you supposed to listen to your teachers?  Your coaches?  To those in law enforcement, your doctor, your attorney, your parole officer – if you have one and maybe even your pastor….Why……

Because each is an authority figure and each has power and influence and hopefully they know what they are doing.  Our God is the ultimate authority figure, to whom we will have to give an account of our deeds someday.

Authority figures give us advise, they look out for our best interest and they tell us what to do and that is where things don’t go so good.  How many of you like to be told what to do?  How many of you didn’t do something because someone told you to do it?

All of us have probably done that.  We like to have options, make our own choices, I don’t like being ordered to do something.  It seems like we live in a time where authority figures are questioned, judged and blamed.

It’s not my child’s fault, the fault lies with the teacher, with the coach, the principal or whoever it was that tried to provide something that looked like discipline. 

We desperately need authority in our lives.  We depend on it.  We need leaders within our church, our school our community that have the courage to step up and lead in spite of the insults hurled at them.

We depend on authority, we need it, we have to have it.  We depend and are reliant on Christ’s authority.  If Christ is not God’s son, if he did not die on a cross and was resurrected three days later we are all wasting our time.  You should have slept in this morning and you certainly should not be paying me to preach to you.

We would be random people living random lives that made little sense.  I would rather believe that I am wonderfully made than I descended from an ape or caveman. 

We need to respect and honor our God’s authority, we need to listen for his voice, for his guidance and direction.  Once we hear it, once we make time to listen for it.  He has a calling for each of us.

Doesn’t mean it is to be a minister, a missionary or a monk or a nun.  We have to take the courage to answer that call, to submit to that authority. 

I think that is what authority is.  We minded our parents, for the most part hopefully, and submitted to what they wanted us to do because they had our best interest in mind in trying to teach us and mold us into hard-working, law-abiding citizens.

Teachers, coaches, family and friends have played the same role in our lives.  It is no different with our God.  

He has looked after and cared for us when we turned our back on him.  We’ve had to endure and suffer and we didn’t like it, it was awful.  But did it make us better?  Did it allow us to be grateful and feel blessed for all that we did have? 

The authority of our God, in three persons, is absolute and pure.  The bible is God’s word, his letter to each of us, it is how he reveals himself in the written word.  It has authority.  Let us honor our God who works tirelessly to bring us closer to him. 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

http://www.incompletedevotional.com