(Matthew 25: 14-30)
Way back when I was a young police officer in Houston I was assigned to patrol an area that was designated as One District. The city was divided up into twenty districts and One District was the actual downtown area. One-Adam-Ten’s beat was the city center area that included Main Street and all the big buildings that contained the businesses that fueled the city’s economy and power structure. One District was also home to abandoned warehouses, run-down hotels that once were the high-class places to stay, greasy spoon cafes, bail bond offices, the bus station, liquor stores, and missions for the homeless and down-and-outers. I worked the 3-11 shift and after rush hour was over it was just me and the street people, hustlers that lurked around the bus station, prostitutes hanging around some of the run-down hotels and all-night restaurants, and the winos, those individuals who had crawled into the bottle to escape whatever demons were pursuing them. These were my people. Now, taking care of winos wasn’t a particularly onerous task. If they became a nuisance or got drunk to the point they were a danger to themselves or others we’d get called to take the appropriate action. You know, jail. I soon realized that they were what you could call, repeat customers, so I kept a little book with their names, dates of birth and social security numbers in it. This was because most of the time they were so out of it they could barely speak and if they did respond to my questioning it was usually some sort of colorful and clever expletive. I got to the know them and they got to know me and if they made trustee and saw me around the police station they would usually say hello and ask how I was doing. I gained some compassion and humility as there but the grace of God, go I. Later in life Teresa and I found ourselves in a position where we started buying clothes for kids. We lived in her hometown where I served as District Attorney and she was a Special Education teacher. These two experiences exposed us to families that were dirt poor with children in desperate need of decent and warm clothing. Our two-person mission grew to include other family members and people in our church. We learned not to ask personal questions and not to be judgmental. There was a need to be met and we had the ability and resources to do something about it. We had been given a little more responsibility. Several years later we found ourselves in Jefferson County where I eventually ended up in Drug Court as the Prosecuting Attorney. These folks presented a wide range of issues from their addiction to employability to a lack of clean and sober housing to dysfunctional and estranged families and to mental health issues just to mention a few. I learned that these people had worth and some could be saved with hard work. I learned about perseverance and patience. I had been given even more responsibility. Then I was assigned to a church full of generous, loving and devoted people. This new assignment has opened all sorts of new opportunities and, if you’ve been paying attention for the last six months, we’ve embraced many missions, large and small with new opportunities on the horizon. I can honestly say that I love a good challenge.
In our scripture reading for today Jesus tells the parable of the wealthy man who went away on a trip. Before he left he called three of his servants together and gave them some of his money to take care of while he was gone. To one he gave five valuable coins, to the second he gave two valuable coins and to the third servant he gave one coin. Jesus pointed out that the man gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. The man knew ahead of time the return he could expect on his investment upon his return. It’s important to note here that the man didn’t give any instructions as to what the servants were to do with the money while he was gone. I think it’s implied that the servants knew their master and that he knew them and that they should know what their master expected of them. We are told that as soon as the man left the first two servants got right to work and did business with what they were given and each doubled what had been entrusted to them. The third servant who had been given one coin dug a hole in the ground and buried it. After a long time the master returned to settle the accounts with them. The servant who had been given five coins came forward and showed that he had gained five more as did the second servant who started with two and ended up with four coins. The master replied, “Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.” The one who had been given one coin came forward to return the coin that had been entrusted to him. He explained that he knew his master was a hard man that had harvested grain where he hadn’t sown and gathered crops where he had spread no seed. He told the master that he was afraid and therefore buried the valuable coin to give back upon the master’s return. Needless to say, the master was not pleased and took great offense at the servant’s negative assumptions. He told the servant that if that was the way he felt about the master then he should have put it in the bank so he would have at least earned some interest on his money. The master then took the coin from him and gave it to the servant who had ten coins. The master then said, “those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them.” At that point he ordered the worthless servant thrown outside into the darkness.
Teaching by parables was a common practice during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Depending upon who you were, you could hear the different messages that were hidden within the story. Jesus knew he was being watched closely so he had to be guarded in some of his remarks and stories. If you were a wealthy Pharisee and could see the hidden meaning to this parable you might feel guilty if you were sitting on your wealth and not doing anything to help God’s helpless. As this parable was part of the Sermon on the Mount I think it was directed more to those who had come to hear Jesus and get answers. He is reminding us that all we have was never really ours. We came into the world naked and screaming. All we have belongs to God. We are only the temporary caretakers of that to which we’ve been entrusted.
All three of these servants were on equal footing. None of them had much, if anything, of their own. The master gave them each an amount he knew they could handle, no more, no less. The master knew that even the servant who he entrusted one valuable coin had enough talent or was resourceful enough to generate some sort of a return. One of the keys here is valuable. Even if God only gives you a little to do, it is valuable to him and that is worth remembering. God gives us time, gifts and other resources according to our abilities and where we are in life, and he expects us to invest them wisely in his service until he returns. We are responsible to use well what God has given us. The issue is not how much we have, but how well we use what we have. John Wesley said, “employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men.”
We are to use our time, talents, and treasures diligently in order to serve God completely in whatever we do. For a few people, this may mean changing professions. For most of us, it means doing our daily work out of love for God. We don’t want to be that third servant who played it safe, doing the bare minimum just to get by. He made excuses for not doing what was expected of him and God wasn’t buying it.
John Wesley started with nothing. The Church of England didn’t want to be taken out of their comfort zone and minister to the poor, the lost, the lonely, the helpless and the hopeless. Wesley had to be imaginative and recruit creative people who were focused in their faith and mission driven.
We have been given much and much is expected. God’s expectation of us in his service and how we handle what he has given us is great. Are we up to the challenge to take what God gives us and invest it in the future of the church in hopes of seeing great returns? Are we anxious to complete one task knowing that another lies ahead? What is God calling us to do here in our church, our community and in the world that we have the time, talent and resources to achieve?
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for all you have bestowed upon us. Keep us mindful of the fact that all we have is yours and of our obligation to be good stewards of what you have generously given. Move us, in your service, to wisely use the time, talents and resources we have at our disposal to reach out to the unreachable and make a difference in the lives of others. As we mature in our faith and devotion to you present us with greater challenges that move us to do greater things in your name. With the help of the Holy Spirit guide us and inspire us to reach out beyond the walls of our church to do those acts of Christian love and charity that will cause you to want to celebrate with us. We thank you for loving us and for forgiving us when we fail you. In the name of your most loving son, we pray, Amen.