Sermon on Matthew 25.14-30 for 11-16-08 The Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost Nov 16, 2008
Good Shepherd LC, Charleston, SC Matthew 25:14-30
The Cheerful Investor
How closely do you watch the stock market? I suppose that depends on how much you have invested in it. If you have nothing invested in equities, then there is little concern about the value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But if your retirement is tied up in the market, especially if you are in or close to retirement, I bet you are a bit concerned about how things have been going these last few weeks. If you are not concerned, then thanks be to God, for such temporal things don’t inhibit God’s ability to care for you.
In this day and age, however, I would bet that most, if not all of us have some money invested in the stock market. And I would further assume that somebody else manages your investments for you. What would you do if that person managing your assets simply buried your deposit in his back yard instead of investing them in stocks or bonds, or even a certificate of deposit? You are expecting him or her to make wise choices and invest that money in sound companies to bring a return on your dollar in the hopes to beat inflation and improve on it a little further to ensure enough is there for the children’s college or medical expenses and so on and so on.
None of us would be too happy about trusting somebody with our money when his best strategy is to simply bury it for safe keeping. That is not what anybody intends when they invest for the future.
God has made each you investment managers; each according to your ability. If we look at individual mutual funds, we would find that each has a unique quality to it. We might say that each has a unique personality. But they all have the same goal in mind. That is to make money. Just like the many mutual funds go about their investing in different ways, each of us may seek to grow the investment God has deposited with us in somewhat different ways. But the goal should still be to grow that investment while it is in our care, for none of us wishes to be the wicked and slothful servant that was not willing to invest what was entrusted to him.
Two of my children completed an inventory in school this year that was designed to determine their interests in hopes of helping guide them in a career direction that suites their interests and abilities. This same idea has been translated into use within the church in what is called “spiritual gifts inventories.” Through a battery of questions, these inventories are supposed to determine where we are best suited to serve within the ministry of Christ’s Church on earth. I think they may be most helpful in showing people the various ways in which they can help their local congregation, but as to determining “spiritual gifts” these batteries may be a little misleading. They may just give us an opportunity to invest only where we want to. Sometimes our gifts are not always coincident with our skills or our likes.
Take children for instance. None here would disagree that they are a wonderful gift from God. But having raised them, how many of you would say that that was your skill, or even in some ways your great desire? But having been given that gift, you have applied yourself as best you can to raise those children to be Christian men and women that are a benefit to society.
We would never think to put “good patient” on such an inventory. Or suffering servant. Yet each of us in this life will suffer from many things and we would not think of an illness or disease as being a gift from God, but rather a curse. Yet, God, in His almighty wisdom allows some to suffer greatly in this life and they still manage to turn that curse into an investment as their trust in God does not waver and their faith is evident to all that interact with them
We confess that God has given us all that we have; body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses; also clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. These are gifts entrusted to us. In one way we might say that God expects a return on these investments in kind. He has made clear in His Word that as we are blessed with material gifts in this life, that we are to give of them from a joyful heart. The exact amounts were spelled out for the people under the first covenant; the first born of man and beast, the first tenth from the field, etc, etc. Just like we like inventories to spell things out for us, we like rules and guidelines to tell us just exactly what God expects. It would be easy if he would just give us a “fair tax.” Something like $10 per head each week, then we would know for sure that we are giving an adequate return.
Let’s go back to the stock market analogy. Since none of us here are fund managers, we naturally look at things from the point of view of an investor. I now want you to place yourself in the analogy as the fund manager. None of the assets are yours. You manage them and are expected to produce the best return on them that you can, but the assets and the growth belong to the investor.
All of the gifts given to you by God, remain His, and you are a manager of that account. We use a word in the Church that we are all familiar with, but is usually equated with only monetary giving. Stewardship has to do with the entire Christian life from managing our time wisely to caring for our bodies to praying for our neighbors to teaching our children and yes, even to giving in the offering plate and sharing the burden of the Church’s ministry. Stewardship covers every aspect of our Christian lives.
Given a raw percentage of income that we are expected to give or a list of items that one is required to do to help the church, simplifies the whole stewardship thing. It makes it easy for us to do what is necessary, to do our part, to put a check the box. But it can also make it easy for us to think that we have given a full return on the investment that God has entrusted to us. If we but do these minimums, then we can rest assured that God is pleased with the return that we yield.
The wicked and slothful servant returned the full investment of the master in the parable. He didn’t lose any of the principle. The good and faithful servants on the other hand, both produced a 100% return. They gave back to the master his full investment with earnings equal to the initial investment. That should sober us when we wish to think that we have done what God expects and now its time for us to rest.
Understanding that we are stewards of all that God has given us and we must give account of our use or misuse, we must see this parable as the warning that it is. While it covers all that I have spoken of to us individually, it speaks most critically of the Church and Her congregations.
The investment given to us is nothing less than the Gospel, it is God’s grace entrusted to the Church during this age of the Church that lies between Christ’s ascension and His return for judgment. We have been entrusted with Truth that must be proclaimed, that must not be distorted or diminished; a Word that produces faith and growth only when it is given away.
The investment left to the Church grows and produces a return as it is administered in accordance with Christ’s institution; with water and Word of promise and command; with Word combined with bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. It produces a return when it is properly divided causing repentance and yielding absolution. Our charge as stewards, as investment strategists, is to make use of all that God has given us such that His Church is preserved and increased.
If we are expected to return 100% on such an investment, we know that we shall be found lacking, for none gives all that is entrusted to us to God. None of us gives as God has given. None of us can match the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
But if we strive but even a little, that investment works faith and grows faith in us also.
Let us pray:
Teach us, O Lord, true thankfulness divine, that gives as Christ gave, never counting cost, that knows no barrier of “yours” and “mine,” assured that only what’s withheld is lost.
Forgive us, Lord, for feast that knows not fast, for joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul, for walls and wars that hide Your mercies vast and blur our vision of the Kingdom goal.
Open our eyes to see Your love’s intent, to know with minds and hearts its depth and height; may thankfulness be days in service spent, reflection of Christ’s life and love and light. Amen.