24th Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2020
Divine Service: Part 1
Divine Service: Part 2
Downloadable Link To Printed Sermon:
Sermon Title: Faithful Investors (Matt. 25:14-30)
One could look at our Gospel reading today from Matthew and say it is tailor made for our contemporary culture. After all, it’s about investing money. Recent polling of American voters revealed that one of the top issues once again is the economy. This concern is not really about macroeconomics; that is, what is happening on the international monetary scene particularly, but our own bottom line; how far our money will go. Two things in particular have our daily attention: how our 401 K’s and retirement funds are doing and what the Federal government is doing to raise or lower our taxes. These things have a direct impact upon our future solvency and our standard of living.
Indeed, in this text Jesus is speaking about investing. But I’m sure we can say with confidence that He is not addressing Wall Street or our own personal retirement portfolios. Jesus speaks about our faithful and unfaithful investing of someone else’s money. He is concerned with the accountability of a different fiduciary trust; that is, the possessions He has entrusted to you, me, and all His followers.
The context of His words to us here is His teaching concerning His second coming as Judge of Heaven and Earth. Think of this as the final accounting. Just prior to our text, Jesus relayed the parable of the Ten Virgins, the bridesmaids who were to light the way of the Bridegroom with their lamps. Those who were able to enter the wedding feast were those who had wisely made the necessary provisions to bring along extra oil to keep their lamps burning. Directly following the words of our text, Jesus describes His final coming on the clouds of heaven, gathering all people and separating the sheep from the goats. An eternal accountability pervades the whole context!
In the midst of all this, Jesus tells us this parable. A man about to go on a journey. entrusts some of his possessions with three of his servants. To one he gives 5 talents of silver, to another 2 talents, and to another 1 talent, all in accordance with each servant’s ability. After considerable time, this lord, or master, returns and, as our English version translates it, settles accounts with his servants. The term Jesus uses is one borrowed from the commercial business scene. It had to do with comparing, or reckoning, accounts. In short, this master returned to see how well his servants managed the money he had given them; that is, how much profit they had made for him. But what becomes immediately obvious is that the lord of these servants is not so much interested in how much each servant gained for him, but whether or not they were faithful in invested what he had entrusted to them.
So it is in the kingdom of God. When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns, He will not be playing a numbers game to reward those who have gained the most for Him and His kingdom. Rather, He is and will be conducting an accounting of whether or not you and I have faithfully invested what He has entrusted to us!
I suppose before we go any further we might first try to get a full scope on the magnitude of how much was entrusted to these servants. We are not talking about chump change here! One talent was equivalent to 6,000 denarii and one denarius was the amount an average worker earned for one day’s labor. This makes these amounts huge. 1 talent would be equivalent to 23 years of wages. If we put all this into today’s context, using even the daily earnings rate of a person working 40 hours a week at minimum wage, then one talent would be worth upwards of $358,000 dollars!
This is a lot of money even for the one slave who had received one talent to invest! But it is simply staggering when you look at the servant who had been given 5 talents. He was entrusted with the tidy sum of 1.8 million dollars! Even in our present, rather unstable trending economy, one should surely be able make some sort of gain with that amount of money!
And indeed, Jesus says that two of these servants wasted no time in investing their master’s money. They immediately and literally, “put it to work”. They both proved to do well. Both doubled the money their lord had given them. The one with 5 talents produced 5 more. The one with 2 talents produced 2 more. Both also received the highest of commendations from their master when he returned. He said to each of them, with completely no regard for the amount they each gained, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
But then there is the servant, who had received one talent. In sharp contrast to his associates, this servant simply took the one talent and buried it in the ground. Obviously, even though he thought he was keeping his master’s money safe, his master was not pleased with him. He judged this servant as wicked and slothful. Just as the other two servants’ goodness was measured by their faithfulness in investing his money, so this servant’s wickedness was measured by his slothfulness; his lack of investing.
It is not hard at all to see the parallel this account has to you and me and all other believers in Jesus Christ. Our Lord, has gone from this world and returned to His Father in Heaven. He does plan to return to us. But in the mean time, He has not left us empty handed or left us without purpose in this world.
For you see, on His first coming Jesus completed His work of redeeming us all from sin, death and hell. As He said from His cross, the work of our redemption is finished. He accomplished it for us. There is nothing more for us to do to save ourselves. Everyone who holds by faith to Jesus’ atoning work for them is already saved.
You and I can assured, therefore, that if Jesus has left His followers behind, there must be some other work He desires for us to do. And, indeed, there is. He has entrusted to us that very salvation in Jesus Christ that has made us sinners rich in the Kingdom of God. You can’t possibly even put a value on this possession. Our Lord has entrusted to us what every man, woman and child in this world needs more than anything else: the forgiveness of their sins and their salvation from death and hell. We can do nothing better for our family members, our neighbors, as well as the strangers that cross our path then to be investing this incalculable possession of our Lord in their lives, to the end that they might be lead to also know and rejoice in Jesus Christ as their Savior and God.
To provide for our involvement, to enable us the ability to invest His possessions, the Lord leaves us with the means of transacting with His wealth. It is as we see in the parable. The master gives to his servants, as the text says, “talents… to each according to his ability.”
Now, many interpret these talents (Grk: “talanta” Lat: “talenta”) in accord with how we use the word talents today; that is, as abilities… aptitudes… strengths. However, if this is actually what Jesus means by the term, there’s a problem. Could Jesus possibly mean that if you and I invest our “abilities” we will gain more abilities? What would this have to do with the Kingdom of God? How are natural abilities His possessions?
It is important to note also, that the Lord gives to each “according to his ability,” our translation states. The word is literally “dunamis,” power or authority.” Interestingly, the apostle Paul in his list of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians lists dunameis along with such gifts as these: apostles, prophets, and teachers (12:28,29).
I believe we can safely assume Jesus is not talking about the “natural abilities” of the servants here. Rather, this dunamis, this power, is better understood to be a calling, office, opportunity, even position or station in life, through which we can invest in our lives and the lives of others His salvation… His forgiveness.
Now, in order to invest the Lord’s possessions, life and salvation, we need a means of transaction, something to communicate that wealth, and actually invest it. As we have already noted, the talents of the parable are a denomination of money. No different than our dollars. Money, however, is not the actual wealth in one’s possession. The denomination of money represents your wealth. In our world today you don’t even need paper dollars or metal coinage. You can access, spend and invest your wealth with a check or a debit card, or any number of other electronic transactions. You can only use and invest the wealth in your possession through a means of transaction. Talents, like dollars, are the means.
What is the medium of exchange in the Kingdom of God? What are the means of communicating God’s presence among us, communicating the forgiveness Jesus earned for sinners, and bringing to us eternal life and salvation? They are, of course, what we often call the Means of Grace; that is, The Word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His divinely instituted Sacraments.
God has entrusted each of us disciples with His possessions but definitely in unequal ways. A pastor is called to preach and teach the Gospel, as well as administer the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Supper of the Lord publicly, whereas the individual Christian is not. The president of the congregation and the elders can be investing in ways that an individual member of the congregation cannot. God has given to us as He wills and in accordance with His plan of saving the world and ministering to others. It’s safe to say also, however, to those whom He has given more He obviously expects more.
But one thing the Lord definitely expects from all of us: to invest His possessions and not just in ourselves, but most especially to put them to work in the lives of others. As we noted at the outset, central to this text is a servant’s accountability to the Lord. Like the master in the account, Jesus, the Lord, will also return one day to reckon the accounts of His servants.
This reckoning of accounts is certainly within His prerogative as Lord. It does not matter how much or how little He has given to us. God, as our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord, has entrusted His possessions to us to be invested in people’s lives. He will take an accounting.
Here it behooves each of us to ask ourselves: Have I been investing His salvation, transmitted by the Gospel, in my life and the lives of others or simply been focused on worldly pursuits, creaturely comforts, my own worldly happiness?
Think for a minute about the one servant who buried his talent in the dirt. Oh, yes, he managed to keep it safe so as to give it back to his lord, but it accomplished nothing. You have all heard the saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” This guy operated under the philosophy, “Nothing ventured, nothing lost.” Unfortunately, that also meant nothing was accomplished for his lord. What this guy lost total sight of was that not only did the talent he was given belong to his lord but so did the gain he should have obtained by investing that talent. His master rightly referred to him as a “worthless” (useless) servant.
When you and I entrust our hard earned money to a banker or a broker to invest for us, don’t we have a right to expect him to faithfully invest it so that it will produce a gain for us… perhaps a nice retirement nest egg? How would we react if our investor reported to us, “Well, I didn’t want to risk your money. So I just kept it safe for you by keeping it locked up in my house?”
Wouldn’t we have the right to be angry with him? After all, he proved totally useless to us. We could simply have hidden the money away in our mattress ourselves.
How might our Lord describe our stewardship of all He has entrusted to us? Might He characterize it as useless because we have hidden His “goods” in the ground; that is, kept them buried under worldly pursuits and priorities because we are apathetic, lazy, and could care less about what our Lord desires or what our neighbor so desperately needs? Has anyone benefited from what He has given us?
On the other hand, could our Lord characterize us as faithful, productive, servants because we have invested what He has given us by witnessing to the truth of His Word to our friends and neighbors, by proclaiming His forgiveness in Christ to the one who has sinned against us…. by teaching our children the Gospel… or by supporting the public proclamation of the Gospel in our congregation and school with our offerings and voluntary service?
The master in Jesus’ parable ordered that the talent of the servant who hid his talent in the ground be taken away from him and given to the servant who had 10 talents. He then ordered the servant to be cast into outer darkness, an expression for the place of everlasting punishment.
Sound harsh? Out of the servant’s own mouth came his punishment. After all, in his explanation for why he hid the talent, he not only failed to acknowledge how gracious his master was to him to give him the talent in the first place, he actually assassinated his master’s character by calling him a “hard man,” ( crooked man) who is envious and self-serving. He told him he reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he did not scatter seed. The master in his sentencing then became what the wicked servant accused him of. He became extremely harsh.
There is a clear warning to each of us personally as well as corporately as a congregation. Our Lord has not entrusted us with His possessions to be self-indulgent or inactive. He does not need us to keep His possessions safe! The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Sacraments He instituted for us to perform are the very power of salvation (Rom. 1:16). Our effectiveness as an investor of them has nothing to do with our skills, abilities, or lack thereof. It has to do with the effective work of the Holy Spirit who empowers the Gospel and the Sacraments. But if we are not investing them in the lives of others beyond ourselves, then the day will come when He will take His possessions from us and give them to others who will invest them. God wants His possessions to be invested.
Hear what the Lord says, then, to His faithful servants: “Well done, good and faithful servants, You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
As far as God is concerned, faithfulness is also not about quantity of profit. The Master said the same thing to both the servant who earned 5 more talents and the one who earned 2 more: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So the Lord calls those servants good who are faithfully putting to work what He has given them. God is not holding us accountable for the results of this investing. God always takes care of the results. He alone gives life to faith, causes growth, and produces fruits as His people faithfully preach and teach His Word and administer His Sacraments. In the same way, the Lord will bring forth interest and gain in the lives of others all according to His good pleasure as we faithfully invest what He has entrusted to us.
And here is the best part of being one of the Lord’s investors; faithfulness has the reward of entering the joy of the Lord! What’s our Lord’s joy? It is saving sinners! Jesus says, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” Jesus also prayed in His High Priestly prayer: “ But now I am coming to You, (Father), and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (Jn. 17:13). Jesus ascended into heaven and left His followers with His ministry of saving souls. What more joyful… more rewarding work could we ever have opportunity to do! John writes: “I have no greater joy than this to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 4).
That joy of the Lord is experienced by the faithful even now in their investing. Note how the two faithful servants report on their investing. They are tickled with amazement: “Master, you delivered to me 5 talents; here I have made five talents more!” This is not a boast of what one has done. The stress is on the great amount acquired. (Lenski, p. 978)
Today, the Lord sets before us the opportunity to enter His joy. He rejoiced to invest everything He had for our eternal benefit. That same joy is ours when we invest all He has given us for the salvation of others! This side of heaven there can be no greater joy!