24th Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2020
“Living in Our Master’s Joy”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the Gospel lesson read from Matthew 25.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Americans have long struggled with the Parable of the Talents. Early in our country’s history, this parable was used against America. Preachers in England saw the Puritans as unprofitable and wicked servants rejected by the Master, declaring that their emigration to America was God casting them into a land of darkness, where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 30). Later, this parable was used for America. Revivalist preachers declared America to be a place of opportunity, where profitable servants would be blessed by the Master. Same text; polar opposite interpretations. Great. I love it when that happens.
And we continue to struggle with this parable today, but our struggle is a bit different. In this parable, Jesus is not talking about America. He’s preaching about the kingdom of heaven. His preaching does, however, challenge our American misconceptions. Jesus does not invite us into a world of earthly wealth, where faith is driven by profit margins, but into a world of divine love, where faith responds in joyful service to the Master.
When the master returns to settle accounts, Jesus wants you to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” And so, we consider today, what does it mean to live in our master’s joy?
First and foremost, living in our Master’s joy means trusting in God as revealed in His Word rather than in the god we may imagine. In the parable of the talents, the cause of the unprofitable servant’s damnation is his own imagination. He chooses to live with a master he has imagined rather the master who has revealed his generous love.
In the parable, Jesus reveals a generous master, one who gives all that he has into the hands of his servants. The Master left one servant with five talents, another was given two, and a third servant was given one. A Talent wasn’t a coin. It was a unit of measure to quantify large quantities of money. 1 silver Talent was equal to 7300 denarii…and the average laborer would earn 1 denarii for one day of work, so 7300 denarii or 1 talent is about 20 years’ worth of wages. So…the servant given 5 Talents would have been given a literal lifetime – 100 years – worth of wages! That’s very generous…very trusting.
The unprofitable servant, however, lives with a different master, not a generous and trusting master, but the master he has imagined. For him, the master is “a hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed” (v 24). This belief causes him great fear. It paralyzes him so that he buries his master’s talent in the ground. When the master returns to settle accounts, he judges the servant according to what he has believed. As the servant believes, so it is done to him. It’s not about money or investment strategies; it’s about trust. Because he did not trust in the loving generosity of his master, the servant is cast out into darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Unfortunately, there are many in our country and our world who live with a god they imagine rather than the God Jesus reveals. The god they imagine, however, is not hard and demanding and someone to be feared (like the servant’s imaginary master); a Master to be feared, loved, and trusted. No, the “American” god is all-loving. He is like a kind-hearted grandfather (terrible with Smart phones and remote controls), too weak to do any real harm but strong enough still to love us and pat us on the head when we’ve done wrong. Instead of repentance, this imagined god calls for tolerance. Instead of forgiveness, this imagined god offers acceptance of everyone no matter what. People in our world imagine they can stand before God with all of their sins and be accepted for who they are and tolerated for what they have done. In their imaginary little world, it’s okay to fear a virus but not fear God.
Unfortunately, this god is a figment of the American imagination, and, in the end, this imagined god will save no one. God saves us not by our imagination but by His action. In Jesus Christ, God has entered into our world and acted to save. His love goes beyond our wildest imagination. He saves not by becoming what we want him to be, but by being the one we need him to be, our Savior. Our Savior knows the very real danger of sin and therefore calls us to repent. Our Savior knows the eternal cost of sin and therefore dies under our eternal punishment. But our Savior also knows the eternal joy of salvation and therefore rises again, not to tolerate sin and accept sinners, but to forgive the repentant and invite the faithful to live in eternal joy. Living in the joy of our Master means turning away from America’s imaginary god and trusting God as revealed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who gave his life for us that we might live in eternal joy.
Living in our Master’s joy also means serving as people differently gifted but equally loved. While one servant fears the master he has imagined, the other servants trust the master they know. Their master is a gracious and generous man. Instead of harshly ruling over them, he graciously rules through them, giving them his great wealth for service in the world. He divides his possessions between them according to their ability (v 15) and sends them forth as servants differently gifted but equally loved: one receives five talents, one two, and to another one. Living in the joy of their master means not questioning the difference in divine giving, but rejoicing in faithful service, differently gifted but equally loved.
It doesn’t matter if God has entrusted you with a lifetime of wages or you live check to check. Instead, living in our Master’s joy means trusting in what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ—that he loves all of us equally—and faithfully serving in the various places where God has called us, differently gifted but equally loved, and equally saved.
Now…who has a Talent they can loan me? That new car isn’t going to pay for itself…or do they? Maybe my car has that feature. Better yet…who has a talent they can joyfully use in service to the Master until we all hear the words we long to hear…“Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master?”