26 Pentecost (RCL), 13 November 2005
Matthew 25:14-30 [NRSV Text from BibleWorks]
HOW ARE YOU MANAGING?
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What was it that kept the one servant from producing more talents for his master? We all know the answer almost without hearing the story. Fear! He was afraid of his master and so he did nothing with what had been given him. He buried his talent and only gave back the bare minimum to the one that gave him the talent in the first place.
Jesus’ parable is, of course, about what we do with all that God has given us. As he tells the parable, the question comes sneaking in: “How are you managing all that God has given you?”
I suggest to you that fear – perhaps not self-consciously the fear of God – but fear of others and fear of not measuring up and even fear of success keeps a lot of us just as bound as that one servant in Jesus’ story.
I can think of at least one instance many years ago when I allowed my fear and the contagious fear of those around me to paralyze me and to keep me from doing what I was capable of doing. I bet you can think of at least one instance that fear held you back. Later on you may have kicked yourself, but you also realized that you only got one shot at such a moment. You weren’t going to get a second chance to go back and do it differently. Rather you found that you could learn from those moments and recognize what happened and what was going on inside of you and around you. Perhaps you learned from your failures. But you still couldn’t undo what was done. You made a choice to live with your fear. You took the safe route.
I was reared by very fearful parents. They were not big risk-takers. They were the kind of folks that tended to stay at the shallow end of the pool where it was safer. That doesn’t mean that they never took a risk in their lives; they were at sea during World War II and were in more than a few dangerous situations during the war. But as they settled in to childrearing and making a living, the only really risky thing that they ever did was to move to a new town when the children were still growing up.
I’m not faulting my parents; I’m describing where I came from. I think they were devout and wonderful Christians despite their flaws. Yet I think God gave them more than one talent, but they were afraid to do much more than to bury their talents. You can almost hear the fearful words: “Stay in close to shore; stay in the shallow water, and don’t risk losing what little you have!”
How unlike my maternal grandmother who left Germany at 16 to come to the United States as an indentured servant! How unlike my paternal grandfather who left Sicily as a young adult to come to the United States to make a new life for himself! What happened to the next generation?
Now what about you? Who are the role models in your life that either demonstrated fear or showed you a spirit of risk-taking as they managed their lives?
Doubtless you have seen people doing things that deep down inside you know you could do as well or perhaps better. Perhaps you have lamented that you didn’t come from a household filled with more accomplished people, and perhaps you even thought that someone should have recognized your talents and rewarded you without your ever having risked anything. Perhaps you have not been willing to admit how much fear has governed your life and kept you from managing God’s things so much better.
I suggest to you today that it is not too late for you to take your talents and use them well to the glory of God. I suggest to you that the God who keeps speaking the words “Fear not” all throughout the Bible is still saying to you and me today: Fear not!
Yes, let’s be clear, the time has passed for certain dreams. You may be too old or your talents may be better suited for other dreams. But you don’t know until you try.
Several years ago Dennis Quaid starred in “The Rookie,” a movie based upon a true story. His character was a baseball coach at a high school in a small West Texas town. His boys were underachievers. They didn’t believe that they could have success. In short, the coach, whose career in professional baseball had never panned out, was leading a team that didn’t believe they would amount to much. A spirit of fear dominated the psyches of both the coach and the boys on his team.
When the coach was pitching batting practice one day, something miraculous happened. Both the boys and the coach noticed that his pitching arm suddenly had more power than it had ever had. The boys urged their coach to try out for a professional team, so he made a deal with them that he thought he would never have to honor. He said that if the boys would win the district baseball title; he would try out. They did, and then they told the coach, “It’s your turn.”
The amazing story is that a man with a wife and three kids who thought that his dream had passed him by not only was picked up by a minor league team. He ended up pitching two seasons in the major leagues. His fear of failure gave way to the joy of using his talents to the best of his abilities. He gave back more than he received.
Most pastors have been taught that the Bible does not teach success, it calls us to faithfulness. Unfortunately, many pastors and many parishioners and many congregations use that kind of teaching to reinforce the fear they have of using their talents to the very best of their abilities and to God’s glory!
We have already seen this year that when we have a great cause that challenges us to get out of the shallow water and to risk our lives for a great need, that God can do great things through us. This congregation has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the family of little four-year-old Emily Wade who is suffering with an inoperable brain tumor. Because you care about Emily and her family, you answered God’s call to use the talents He has given you to be a blessing to the Wades and to give glory to God!
Earlier this year when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, you contributed thousands of dollars to disaster relief, and many of you have said that you are willing to go to the Gulf Coast to help in the rebuilding efforts. Because you opened your heart to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, you answered God’s call to use the talents He has given you to be a blessing to Katrina’s victims and to give glory to God!
Let these two episodes in this congregation’s life serve as a positive reminder that God can help you overcome your fear and use your talents to bless others and to glorify God!
Yet the greatest example, the most powerful encouragement, and the surest reminder of what God can do is in the person and work of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. When He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus did not give in to fear or to the temptation to seek power and glory for Himself. When He was rejected by so many that listened to Him and reviled by the most powerful people around Him, the Lord Jesus did not give in to fear or to the temptation to walk away from conflict and controversy. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane facing the certainty of His impending death, the Lord Jesus did not give in to fear or to the temptation to abandon us in our sins. When He was nailed to His lonely cross and mocked by those in authority and even by a fellow criminal, the Lord Jesus did not give in to fear or to the temptation to come down from the cross and leave us to fend for ourselves.
We have an ever-present Lord who even though He was God in human flesh and was executed and buried for the sins of the entire world, nevertheless the Lord Jesus’ talents were not overcome by the grave. Indeed as He tells us in John 12: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (vv. 24-25).
I suggest to you today that there is a great difference between burying your talent out of fear and risking your life for the sake of the Gospel. If Jesus had turned away from the task of dying for the sins of the world, He would have not been a blessing to you, me, and the whole world. Indeed He would have not given glory to His Father in heaven!
But we know that out of that great mutual love that flows between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit came the power to overcome the fear of pain, suffering, and death in a human body. Even today, the once and for all death of the Lord Jesus yields abundant fruit as person after person after person is buried and raised with Christ in Holy Baptism. And His death yields abundant fruit as He empowers us to overcome our fear to be a blessing to others and to glorify God in our bodies!
I know people who are very successful in the world’s eyes, but, in reality, they are giving nothing back to the world, and from the great viewpoint of eternity their lives will be shown to have been a huge waste of talent. But that will not be true of you and me!
If you risk your life for the sake of the Gospel gambling your whole life for Christ’s sake, if you get out of the shallow water where it’s safe and begin to use your talents to bless others and to glorify God, your life will bear much fruit. Indeed you will be a faithful manager of all that God has given you!
Fear not, dear ones, fear not! Remember that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13). Remember that God has blessed you to be a blessing to others. So…share your gifts generously and glorify God by giving your life away, following the Lord Jesus in a life of humble service.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
© Samuel D. Zumwalt
[An mp3 version of this and each week’s sermon is available at www.stmatthewsch.org after 8 p.m. EST each Saturday.]