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No Hits, No Runs, No Errors

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TITLE:  No Hits, No Runs, No Errors     SCRIPTURE:  Matthew 25:14-30

They say that the mark of an educated mind is the ability to entertain opposing opinions –– that is, the ability to keep an open mind and to appreciate the truth on both sides.

Let me toss out an example.  Try it on for size:

The Apostle Paul says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God –– but that we are justified by God's grace as a gift (Romans 3:23-24).  He says that our salvation is a "free gift" (Romans 5:15-16).  So Christians through the ages have proclaimed that we are saved by grace –– that our salvation is dependent, not on what WE have done, but on what CHRIST has done FOR us.

That's why we use the word Gospel.  Gospel means "Good News."  It means that salvation is free.  We don't have to earn our way into heaven.  That's good, because most of us couldn't even work our way into the Oval Office –– even as guest –– much less as President.  So how can we work our way into heaven?  Impossible!  But Paul assures us that it isn't our good behavior that opens the doors to heaven, but God's grace.  That's Good News!

But that's just one side of the picture.  There's another side. 

Jesus told a story about a rich man who went on a journey.  Before departing, he divided his property among three servants.  The amount of money that he left with these servants was very large.  For simplicity's sake, let's say that he left one servant with five million dollars –– the second with two million dollars –– and the third with one million dollars. 

While the master was gone, the FIVE-million dollar servant invested his money and made more money.  In fact, he doubled his money.  The TWO-million dollar servant did likewise.  But the ONE-million dollar man was afraid, so he buried his money in the ground for safekeeping.

When the master returned, the FIVE-million dollar servant gave him his five million –– plus five million more.  The master replied,

"Well done, good and trustworthy (servant);

you have been trustworthy in a few things,

I will put you in charge of many things;

enter into the joy of your master" (v. 21).

The TWO-million dollar servant gave the master back his two million –– plus two million more.  The master gave him the same kind of praise and promotion.

But the ONE-million dollar servant said, in effect, "I was afraid of losing your money, so I hid it.  Here is your million." 

But the master rebuked that servant and had him thrown into the outer darkness, because that servant had failed to use the money the master had entrusted to him.

Christians through the ages have interpreted this parable to mean that God will hold us accountable for the ways that we use the gifts that he has given us.  Those gifts include all sorts of things –– money, time, and talent being the big three.  In other words, our salvation depends, at least in part, on the ways that we use the gifts that God has given us.

So that's the other side of the story.

The FIRST side was that God gives us salvation as a free gift.  The SECOND side is that God will hold us accountable for our actions –– so we need to use what God has given us –– money, time, talent, and other things –– responsibly.  Our salvation depends on it.  At least that's the impression that Jesus gives us in this parable.

So who is right?  Is Paul right?  Or is Jesus right?  Or do they each represent an extreme position, but the truth is somewhere in the middle?  Or maybe they're both right?

I don't know about you, but I am reluctant to say that the Apostle Paul was wrong –– or that he was some kind of left-wing extremist.  I am even more reluctant to say that Jesus was wrong –– that he was some sort of right-wing extremist.  So I want to say that they were both right –– but how can that be?

It might help to note that while God is generous –– very generous –– more than generous –– he isn't a sucker.  He wants to give us what we cannot earn –– but he wants our loyalty in return.  Giving God our loyalty means trying to live as he would have us live.  That means, at least in part, using well the gifts that he has given us.

In the Parable of the Talents, the master showed great trust by leaving so much money in the care of three servants.  The FIRST servant honored that trust by using the master's money wisely.  Likewise the SECOND servant.  Those two servants respected the master. They knew what he wanted, and did their best to give it to him. 

The THIRD servant, though, acted quite differently.  He acted differently because he felt differently toward the master.  He didn't respect the master.  He didn't love the master.  He feared the master.  He thought of the master as a hard man, even though the master has been generous to all three servants.  This third servant didn't care what the master wanted, so he didn't try to do what the master wanted.  The third servant cared only about himself –– his own life.  So instead of using the master's money wisely, he buried it in the ground.  He hoped to avoid responsibility by sitting on the money –– keeping it safe.

But it didn't work.  The master left the money to be used.  He expected his servants to DO SOMETHING –– to make the world a little better place –– to make someone happy –– to put the money to work. 

Jesus doesn't say what would have happened if the man had tried and failed –– if he had done his best, but had lost some money.  But I'm confident that the master –– who represents God –– would have been OK with that.  God is able to see our hearts –– and God really cares more about what is in our hearts than what is in our hands.  If the third servant had really tried to do the right thing, the master would have recognized and respected that.  He would have forgiven the servant for making a mistake.

But to do nothing!  That was not acceptable.  The master would have commended the servant if he had won.  I believe that he would have supported him if he had lost.  But he had no patience with a servant who wouldn't even get up to bat.

While working on this sermon, I came across a little story that I would like to share with you.  It came from a book entitled, Let's Live! by Curtis Mitchell.  Mitchell told the story of Miss Jones, an elderly spinster lady who lived in a small Midwestern town.  When Miss Jones died, the editor of the local paper wanted to say something nice about her in the obituary column –– but he was having trouble coming up with anything.  Miss Jones had never caused any trouble, but it didn't seem like she had done much good either.

Then the editor learned that the man who sold tombstones was having the same problem.  What could he put on the tombstone other than Miss Jones' name and the dates of her birth and death?

The editor went back to the office and assigned the project to a sportswriter.  The sportswriter did a little research, but he could not find much that Miss Jones had ever done.  Finally, he wrote a little verse that summarized Miss Jones "to a T."  And so, I am told, if you were to visit the graveyard where Miss Jones is buried, you would read this on her tombstone:

Here lie the bones of Nancy Jones,

For her life held no terrors.

She lived an old maid.

She died an old maid.

No hits, no runs, no errors.

The Parable of the Talents teaches us that God doesn't have much patience with a "no hits, no runs, no errors" kind of life.  He gives us some things –– money, time, talent, and other things as well.  He wants us to use those gifts to give him glory.  He wants us to use those gifts to make the world a better place.  He wants us to use those gifts to help our neighbor.  The Parable of the Talents is found in the middle of the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25.  In the next part of that chapter, which we will consider next week, Jesus makes it clear that he wants us to use our money, time, and talent to feed the hungry –– and to clothe the naked –– and to help the sick –– and to visit the prisoner. 

Jesus paints a very rosy picture of our future if we will do those things –– and he paints a very bleak picture of our future if we don't.

Let me close by asking three questions.  You won't have to answer me.  You won't have to wave your hand in the air.  Just listen to these three questions and think about the answers during this coming week.

The FIRST question is this.  WHAT DID GOD GIVE YOU? 

• Money?  Perhaps!  You most likely aren't rich, but you probably have some money. 

• Time?  As nearly as I can tell, we all have the same amount of time –– 168 hours a week.  Some of us will get more weeks and years than others, but each one of us will have the same amount of time next week.

• Talent?  Some of us can sing, and others can cook.  Some of us can chop wood, and others can push paper.  Some of us can fix faucets, and others can heal broken hearts.  Some of us can lead, and others can follow.  But God gave all of us something –– something with which we can honor him –– something with which we can make this a better world.

So the first question is, What did God give you?

The SECOND question is this.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THOSE GIFTS?  What are you doing to honor God?  What are you doing to help other people?

The THIRD question is this.  WHAT COULD YOU BE DOING?  What SHOULD you be doing?  I can't answer that question for you.  It's between you and God.  But it's an important question.  Your life could depend on it.  What COULD you be doing?  What SHOULD you be doing?  Think about that this week.

Let me review those questions one last time.  First, what has God given you?  Second, what are you doing with it?  Third, what could you be doing?  What should you be doing?

Think about those questions this week.  The answers will tell you a great deal –– about your relationship to God –– about your love for God –– about your Christian discipleship.

And those questions have the potential to point your life in a new direction –– so that you can become a blessing to others –– and so that you can truly experience God's blessings yourself.

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