Zephaniah 1:-7, 12-18 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30 Let us pray: Gracious and eternal Father, we come before you this day seeking to make the most of the gifts you have given us in life. Lord, as we hear your word, may we learn how we may serve you with all that we are. Lord, in these moments, grant us wisdom, understanding and peace. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Today I’ll begin with a little story for you: It seems a wealthy tourist is separated from his tour group in the Sahara. After a long morning in the hot sun, he comes upon a nomad traveling by donkey. “Please help me!” the tourist begs. “I’m dying of thirst.” “I’m sorry,” the nomad replies. “I have no water. All I have are these beautiful neckties which I will happily sell you.” “Neckties!” the thirsty man cries. “I need water, not neckties.” “Look,” the nomad offers. “I feel bad for you, so here’s what I’m going to do. I normally get $25 for these pure silk neckties. But seeing as you’re suffering, I’ll let you have two of them for $35.” The wretched tourist turns away in disgust and continues on in search of water. Some time later he stumbles upon an oasis and, to his surprise, there before him is a grand hotel and restaurant. By now he’s crawling on his hands and knees and collapses in front of a man in a tuxedo, standing under a palm tree. “Please, please, do you have any water?” “Yes, sir,” the Maitre'd replies, “we have plenty of cold water;” “Oh, thank God!” the poor soul sighs. “Where do I go?” “This way, sir. The restaurant is right inside. But, unfortunately, sir, no one is admitted without a tie.”
So much for passing up a good chance to buy a silk necktie. In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of a man who also passed up a chance to benefit himself. He is the third servant to whom the master gave one talent. Instead of investing his talent on the stock market and possibly making a bundle for his master, the servant buried his talent. All he had to give to his master on his return was that same talent. The master became exceedingly angry that the servant had not taken the risk of investing and threw him out.
This is a particularly appropriate gospel to contemplate against a backdrop of volatility on Wall Street. The master has split his portfolio among his servants, and he expects a solid Return on Investment (ROI) from every one of his servants. On average, their performance is outstanding. But this master isn't playing the percentages. And neither is ours. He wants us all to do our part.
God has a tremendous investment in each one of us. He created the universe for our amazement. He raised us from the primal ooze for his glory. He gave us the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation. No hedging. No shorting. God is "all-in" on you and on me. He doesn't look on us as numbers to be crunched or costs to be averaged. Each one of us is unique. Each one of us is his beloved. At our baptism, each of us was entrusted with his divine saving grace… the "talent" of the parable.
God’s gift of grace is precious… but it is not decorative. It is nourishing… but it is not consumable. It is strictly functional. God expects us to cooperate with his grace… to work with it to build his kingdom. God did not play it safe with us. He wants us "all-in" for him. That means daring to take risks for his sake… the more radical the better. As St. Paul puts it, we must be willing for the world to see us as: Fools for Christ's sake. That means loving when the smart money says hold back. That means giving when it hurts and forgiving when it hurts even more.
The faithful servants took risks. They made themselves vulnerable. But they had faith in their master. They put the talents he gave them to work. They knew "no risk, no reward." Our master expects his faithful servants to make ourselves vulnerable for his sake. He does not expect us to play it safe… hoarding his grace, burying his love in a heap of self-indulgence. Christ did not endure Calvary to lead a host of cowards… too timid to proclaim his love… too lazy to build his kingdom.
In this gospel, Jesus tells us to snap out of it… to stick out our chins… to dare to love. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a commandment. It overrides the inhibitions and inertia that cripple our ability to love. C.S. Lewis captured Christ’s challenge to love when he wrote: "To love is to be vulnerable. The alternative... is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the distresses of love is in Hell."
Let's take a moment to get in touch with God's grace within us. Dig deep. Have we buried his grace in a heap of self-absorption… of ambition… of resentment… of distraction? Are we taking grace for granted, treating it like an insurance policy on salvation… filing it for future reference? God expects a lot better ROI than that.
Each one of us is called to greatness… not to grandiosity, but to greatness. It is the greatness of a couple struggling to raise a Christian family in a hostile, secular world. It is the greatness of a youngster defying peer pressure to do the right thing. It is the greatness of seniors remaining actively faithful in the face of increasing infirmity. It is the greatness of every individual believer daily witnessing Christ’s love in word and deed. It is the greatness of all who carry his cross today.
The gift of God’s grace makes this greatness possible. But it’s more than a gift. It’s an investment. God expects us to give it back to him with interest… to build his kingdom. Starting with family and friends, let’s share his love deliberately… fearlessly. Let’s take it with us right out the church door. Let’s spread his love wherever we go today. The more we share the love of Christ, the more love we have to give away. And the more we give away, the richer we are. Let’s give God his ROI… his return on investment. You’ll find it pays handsome dividends… in peace… in joy… in eternal partnership with Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Gracious God, help us to offer you all that we have, even our very lives, so that what we offer through Jesus Christ may be multiplied abundantly. We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be: All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord, from thee. Amen.