November 19, 2017
Text: Matt. 25:14-30
The parable of the talents is not first and foremost about stewardship or how you use your money, but about faith. It is about faith in our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is about faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior. The first two servants, the one who receives the five talents, and the one who receives the two, these have faith that their Master is graciously disposed toward them and has given them the talents to be used wisely and faithfully as an investment in the Master’s kingdom. And if, in their investing, something goes awry, they trust in the Master’s mercy. There is always a risk when it comes to investment, and the Master knows that, and the servants take the risk, knowing that the Master will forgive any loss and that He is pleased with the faithful use of that which He gives. He will always give more. The servants will never lack. Because that it who the Master is.
The third servant, though, has no faith in the Master. He believes the Master to be a hard man, a taskmaster, a tyrant who is out to get His servants. And so the third servant buries the talent in the ground where it does no good. He will not take a risk, because he does not trust the Master. He does not believe the Master will forgive. He does not believe the Master will provide. If he loses what the Master has given, he believes there will be nothing left. So he hoards it. He will not put it to work for the Master. He believes he must put it away for himself, where it is safe, to keep himself safe. He is a miser.
In the parable, the Master, of course, is God. The servants are the Christians. You are one, or some combination of, these servants. The talents are the gifts that God has given you: money, to be sure, but also your family and friends, your time and abilities, your many and various vocations, your home, your stuff, your very life and breath, your flesh and blood, you. Yes, you, in your very essence, are a gift of God to you and to others. Now, faithful use of God’s gifts to you necessarily depends upon faith in the God who gave them. If you believe that God is graciously disposed toward you, you will invest what He has given you in His Kingdom, knowing that He will forgive every loss, every failure, and that He will not fail to continue to provide for you. But if you believe that God is a hard God, a taskmaster, a tyrant, or if you don’t believe in Him at all, you will hoard up all that He gives you, for yourself. You will bury it in the ground, where it does no good. You will save it for that rainy day, because, when something goes awry (and it inevitably will), God won’t be there for you, and there will be nothing left. You have to look out for number one, because no one else will, certainly not God.
Now, I should say here that among the many gifts God has given you, He has given you a brain and reason, and we are not against wisely saving some portion of your income against misfortune and for old age. That’s not the point. You should be wise with your money. That is part of being a good steward. The point, though, is whether you recognize that the talents, all that you are and have, are gifts from your Father in heaven, given by grace, and that therefore He will not hold out on you, He will never forsake you; or whether you think you’ve earned what you have and what you’ve become, that it all belongs to you, and that you have to hold onto it, lest there not be enough at the end of the day.
Beloved, the Master gives you all that you have by grace. “But Pastor, I work hard for a living. I can’t just sit on my hands all day and expect money and necessities to fall from heaven.” Very true. In fact, St. Paul says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10; ESV). If you can provide for your own needs and contribute to the needs of others, you should do so. But God has given you your job and the ability to perform it and the product that comes from it and the money you get for it, etc., etc., and it is all gift. President Obama got into all sorts of trouble a few years back for saying to a group of entrepreneurs, “You didn’t build that!” Well, he probably wasn’t speaking theologically, but if he was, he has a point. God did it. Through the hands and abilities He has given you. And yes, through the help of others, your fellow citizens, in their vocations (and even, my dear Republicans, the government). Now, don’t get too upset. We can argue the political merits of President Obama’s assertions, and I think we can all agree he wasn’t outlining the finer points of Lutheran teaching on vocation, but here’s the point: Nothing you have or have created comes apart from the giving of our God. The talents God gives, the vocations and gifts, are the masks of God by which He provides for His people and for the world.
What is a vocation? In theology, we’re using the word differently than we use it in common parlance. We aren’t just talking about your job, in spite of the images on our very politically correct bulletin cover. A vocation is a calling from God. You can hear the word “vocal” in vocation. God calls. He calls you to faith in Christ by His Word and Holy Baptism. That is your primary vocation, that of baptized Christian. And He calls you into relationships with people. Or maybe better, God places you into a context. He places you into a family, into a congregation, into a community, in a specific location in the world, at a specific time in history. He surrounds you with specific people. Your neighbor, as in “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” is not just a theoretical concept, but a concrete person. Look around you. Who lives with you? Who lives next to you? Who do you work with or go to school with or go to Church with? Who are your friends and even casual acquaintances? And who is the person just now placed in your path? These are your neighbors. Your vocation is to love them, which doesn’t mean have warm fuzzy feelings toward them. It means to help them. To serve them. If they have a need, to provide for it. Provide for your family. Provide for your Church. Go to work. Pay your taxes. Vote. Be a friend. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. In so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with one another. Pray. Give to missions. Give to the soup kitchen. Be fully in the context where God has placed you. Go all in on the relationships God has given you. None of them are by accident. Take the risk. Tell your neighbor about Jesus. Invite your neighbor to Church. Be generous… sacrificially so. What a tremendous joy it is to give, if you just do it. It’s so freeing. And even give your life as a martyr for the faith or in sacrifice for your neighbor, if that is what God calls you to do. If you’re ever wondering what your vocation is, look around and see what needs to be done. Ask yourself what God’s commandments are and how your neighbor needs to be loved according to God’s Word. And there you have it. That’s putting the talents to work faithfully, out of faith in the Master’s mercy and lovingkindness.
God pours out His blessings on you, not to be hoarded, but to be a blessing to others. And notice that Jesus says the Master gives “to each according to his ability” (Matt. 25:15). Not only does He give the talents by grace, but He gives them tailor made for each individual servant. He gives you just the right talents for you. And for this very reason, Christ redeemed you by His blood and death on the cross: To be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. That begins here and now in this earthly life. The Kingdom is here. It is at hand in the flesh and blood of Jesus, the flesh and blood given for you on the cross, the flesh and blood you eat and drink in the Supper. Your sins are forgiven by the death of the flesh and blood God, and He is risen, and so you live. You have been purchased out of your former slavery to death and the devil. You serve a new Master, Jesus Christ, who loves you and has given His all for you. And now you are His hands and feet in the world. He gives you to love and serve your neighbor. This is what it means to be the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). You are a priest of God. And where is your priestly altar? Out there in the world in your vocations. You come here to this altar to be fed by your High Priest, Jesus Christ, fed with His body and blood. Then you go out to give yourself to your neighbor in Jesus’ Name.
This is how all of God’s gifts work. He pours out His gifts upon you so that you put them to work. They flow through you to your neighbor. We receive the gifts by faith. We give them in love. “Faith toward Thee, fervent love toward one another,” as we pray in the collect. Now, if we hoard them up, we get full and there isn’t room for any more blessing. But if we use God’s gifts to be a gift to others, there is always room for more. For God is an unfailing fountain of grace. He never stops giving. He will never forsake you. He will not hold out on you. Test Him in this. This is what He says in the Prophet Malachi: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10). There is God’s promise. There you have His Word on it.
Now, there will be a calling to account on the Last Day. That is what it means that the Master calls His servants to settle accounts. Here some interesting things are done and said. The Master gives the one with 5 talents 5 more, and the one with 2 talents 2 more, and both are told to enter into the joy of their Master, the Kingdom, heaven, the resurrection and eternal life. And the one who buried his talent is thrown into the outer darkness, hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It all sounds like salvation by works, doesn’t it? Except what, really, is the difference between the first two servants and the third? Faith. The first two believe. They trust the Master, and so they are faithful to Him as a result. And yes, they are rewarded for their works, but only because of faith, or we might say, only because the Master is just that good… only because of Christ. The third servant does not trust the Master, and he is unfaithful as a result. He is condemned for his works, because he has no faith. In other words, He has no Jesus.
Beloved in the Lord, Judgment Day is coming. That is the focus of these last Sundays in the Church Year. Jesus is coming soon to judge the living and the dead. Repent of your doubting Him. Repent of your doubting His love and forgiveness and providence. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Trust Him, beloved. Know that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He will not fail you. Not ever. By faith in Jesus Christ, this is what you will hear from Him on that Day: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.