Preaching In The Transition Zone: Wheelers and Dealer

SERMON TITLE:  Wheelers and Dealers? – Texts:  Matthew 25:14-30

A wealthy man goes on a  trip.  Before leaving he calls together three of his servants.  He entrusts into their care the stewardship of his possessions.  To the first he gave five talents.  To the second he gave two talents, and to the last he gave one.  Then he caught the bus headed out of town.  He didn’t give his servants any instructions.  He didn’t give them any investment advice.  He simply put the cash in their hands and hit the road.

The first two servants proved themselves to be good businessmen.  Each invested the money they had been given and earned a 100% return.  In other words, they doubled the money.  The third servant, however, did nothing with what he had been given except bury it in the ground.  Now before we become to critical of this fellow, let try to put ourselves in his place.  He had been given one talent. That’s is a lot of money—the equivalent of about fifteen years labor. In today’s day, even at minimum wage, that would still equal about $150,000.00.

How would you act if somebody entrusted into your care $150,000.00 of their money? How would you feel if somebody handed you a briefcase containing $150,000.00 cash, asking you to take care of it for a few months?  That’s the position in which this servant found himself.  He didn’t know what he should do.  He took the briefcase home, closed all the drapes, set the money on the kitchen table in front of him, and he contemplated his next move. 

“What should I do with all this money?  Should I invest it in the stock market? Should I put it in the bank? It’s not my money.  I’d better be careful.  Maybe I should just hide it until the master returns.” 

That’s what he does.  He hides the money.  At first he tried to hide it under his bed, but who could sleep with $150,000.00 cash under your bed?  He was up and down all night.  He double and triple checked the locks.  He listened with fear to every sound in the neighborhood. 

The next day, after a miserable nights sleep, the servant decided to bury the briefcase in a whole in the back yard.  First he built a fence.  Then, when nobody was looking, he dug a whole and buried the briefcase.  Finally he adopted the most vicious acting dog from the animal shelter and place the dog’s house right over the spot where the money was buried. 

Several months passed before the owner of the money finally returned.  The servant gave the dog a T-bone steak, moved the dog house, dug up the money, and went to give an account of himself to his master.

The first servant, the one who had been given five talents, spoke first:  “Master, you gave me the equivalents of 75 years of labor—more than one million dollar.  While you were away I invested in a real good mutual fund and doubled the money!” 

“That’s great,” the master said.  “You are a good and faithful servant.  You were faithful over little, I will put you in charge of much.  Come, let’s have a party!”

The second servant reported  “While you were away I invest the money you gave me in real-estate.  I, too, double your money. 

“Well done,” the master said.  “You are a good and faithful servant.  You were faithful over little, I will put you in charge of much.  Enter my joy!”

Finally servant number three enters the room.  He’s so proud.  “It’s all here,” he said.  “I have wasted nothing!”  That was true.  He hadn’t spent any of it.  He hadn’t played the lottery.  He hadn’t use it to place any bets at the track.  He hadn’t invest in any stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.  He did not invest it in some get rich scheme.  “I knew you were a tough master,” he said.  “I knew that you were the kind of man who reaped where you did not sow.  I didn’t want to take any chances with your money.  I kept in safe in a hole in my backyard.  It’s all here—every penny!”

The master replied:  “You wicked and lazy servant.  If you thought I was tough you should have at least up the money in the bank so I could have earned some interest.  Take the briefcase and give it to the first servant.  To those who have, more shall be give.  To those who have little, even what they have shall be taken away.”

What do you think about this story? Is this the kind of text the church wants to proclaim in times like ours? Think about that last line spoken by the master:  “To those who have, more shall be given.  To those who have not, even what little they have shall be taken away.”  In a world where we see the injustice of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, is this the kind of text we want to preach.  It’s one thing to speak about the judgment levied against a lazy servant, but this parable goes even further. It talks about taking from empty hands and giving to those whose hands are full?  It hardly seems fair, or does it?

While a student in seminary I worked for about nine months as the youth minister of the Christ Evangelical Church in down-town Louisville, Kentucky.  At one time the church had been very large.  It had known a very active ministry.  Times had been changing, however, and the community around the church was in a period of transition.  No longer did its members live near the church.  Most of them drove to worship each Sunday from the suburbs.   When I was brought on as a staff member it was for the expressed purpose of building a ministry for the teenagers who lived in the community that surrounded the church’s meeting hall.

Now the youth in that community were, you might say, a little rough around the edges.  Few had much adult supervision.  Many used drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.  Almost all had had at least one altercation with the law.  It was a tough place to do ministry—but that’s where the Lord had planted me so I got to work and did the best I could.

Now the church had several beautiful buildings, including a recreation hall that contained an indoor basketball court.  After about six months, I approached the pastor about the possibility of conducting an all-night youth lock-in at the church.  Now for those of you who don’t know what a youth lock-in is all about, it is an event in which youth are locked into a facility all night to eat junk food, play games, and watch movies.  There is no sleeping.  Looking back at my days in youth ministry I now perceive a youth lock to be a lot like purgatory for non-Catholics.

Several friends from the seminary had agreed to help supervise the lock-in. I explained to the pastor that this event would be a way of keeping these kids off the street, in a safe environment (for at least one night), where they would have an opportunity to hear the gospel.  The agreed that it was a good idea and took the idea to the church council.  “Why should we sponsor something like this for those kids,” one of the council members said.  “After all, those kids are nothing but trouble-makers.”  Despite the opposition, however, the council granted permission for the lock-in.  “After all,” the pastor had said, “we are a church.  What are we here for, anyway?”

Almost forty teenagers attended the lock-in.  We played basketball, watch movies, ate pizza, made banana splits, conducted bible studies, and preach the gospel to these so-called “trouble-makers” from the streets.  It was a great night.  I remember fourteen year Timmy who committed himself to Christ that evening. 

The lock-in ended at 7:00AM.  After the last teenager had left, I went to my apartment to get some much needed sleep.  About three hours later I got a call from one of the church council members asking me to come down to the recreation building.  It seems the rest rooms were a mess, somebody had carve some profanity on the wall, and one of the doors to a Sunday School classroom had been broken. The repairs would cost several hundred dollars. 

“You’re just a young man,” the board member said.  “You don’t realize the sacred trust we have been given to protect this building.  We can’t let these hooligans come in here and trash the place.”  I tried to tell him about the positive things that had happened.  I told him how many of these kids had heard clear presentation of gospel, perhaps for the first time in their lives.  I told him about Timmy, the young man who had committed himself to Christ.  I explained to him that the expense was worth the investment.  I volunteered to pay for the damages out of my own pocket.  “That’s not the point,” he said.  “The point is this:  we don’t want kids like these coming to our church!”

“I only remained on staff a few months longer.  The church decided it didn’t really want a ministry for youth in that community.  I accepted an invitation to pastor a small church in rural Indiana.  The last contact I had with anyone from that church was about two years ago.  Their attendance at morning worship had dwindled to about twenty (they had about 125 when I was on staff).  They were contemplating shutting their doors and selling the property to a new congregation in that community that was growing like wild-fire.

Jesus said:  “To those who have, more shall be given.  To those have not, even what they have shall be taken away!”

This is a story about judgment.  The master held his servants accountable for the way they had served as stewards of His money. This is a story of judgment.  God will likewise hold you and I accountable for our stewardship of His possessions.  Make no mistake about it.  There will be judgment.  But this all prompts me to ask the question:  “Where us the grace in this story?”

            In his commentary on this parable, William Willimon wishes that Jesus had put a fourth servant in this story.  He’d like to hear about a servant who took the masters money, went out and invested it, only to see his portfolio go belly-up and all the money be lost. 

            “Well, master, its like this:  The financial advisor down at Smith Barney said that this was a sure thing investment.  He said there’d be no risk and great reward.  It sounded so good that I invested all of you money in his savings-and-loan company.  The company went bankrupt.  I lost everything.  I lost all your money.  I’m truly sorry!”

What would the master in Jesus’ parable have said if he had received a report like that?  We can’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect that he would have offered forgiveness.  After all, the entire ministry of Jesus was about lifting up the broken, having compassion on the downtrodden, and giving a second chance to those who had tried and failed at life. 

He said to the women caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more!” 

He said to Zaccheaus, “I know who you are and I still want to have dinner in your house!”

He said to the sinful woman who anointed and washed his feet, “You faith has saved you!”

And then He tells the story about a young man who takes his portion of His father’s inheritance and runs away to a distant land where he spends the money in reckless living.  When the boy returns home, do you know how the received him?  He was welcomed with open and loving arms! 

This Jesus is always forgiving, always lifting up, and always giving second chances!

It would have been nice if there had been a fourth servant in this story, but there’s not.  We can’t put one in!  We can only imagine.  So the question remains:  “Where the grace?”

The truth is that the grace can be seen right from the start—in the very first line of the story.  Can you see it?  Jesus said, “A man went on a journey, but before he left he call his servants together and entrusted his property to them.”  The master entrusted his property into the stewardship of his servants.  He gave them his riches.  He put millions of dollars in their hands.  He lavishly divided his possessions and property among them.  He gave them everything. 

Think about that for a moment.  The master gave everything he had to these three servants.  Do you know what this means?  It means that when the master returned, everything he was would be dependent on what they had done with what he had given them.  Consider the implications! It is not the servants, but the master who is at risk.  The master is the one who has entrusted his whole life—all that he was and had—into the hands of the servants. The master invested himself in his servants.  He gave them everything. Everything!  Now that’s grace—that’s extravagant grace.

Usually, whenever we think about stewardship, we think in terms of what the church and it members should invest in the ministry of the Kingdom.  When we read this parable, however, it seems to me that stewardship should take on an entirely different light.  It is not we who invest in the Kingdom, it is God who invests His Kingdom in us.  God has entrusted into our care the keys of the Kingdom.  God has invested the riches of His realm into our hands. God wants to see what we will do with what He has given us!

God doesn’t want the Kingdom to just sit there—safe and secure behind the walls of the sanctuary.  God wants the Kingdom to be taken out into the world and shared with all who will receive it.  Better to spend it all and end up with nothing than to bury it in the ground and end up doing nothing. 

The third servant didn’t get it, did he?  I fear sometimes that I don’t get it either.  I understand the level of risk, but I sometimes fail to see the extravagance of the gift.  When we see only the risk, and never the grace, the only thing left to do is bury our talent in the ground with fear and trembling.  There is no possibility, no potential, no defeat, no risk, no joy, no sorrow.  All we’ve got is a bunch of money in a whole in the back yard. 

The third servant returned the briefcase of cash to his master and said:  “Here is your money, safe and sound!”  Guess what?  The master never wanted in back!  Do you see what he did with servants one and two.  He left the money in their care—and he gives them even more!  All he expects is that his servants will use what he has given them.  The master was looking for a few wheelers-and-dealers.

The first two servants understood.  Oh yes, they realized that there was a risk.  They also realized that there was grace—extravagant grace.  And so they did what they could with what they had been given.  That’s why they heard the master say, “Well done my good and faithful servants.  You have been faithful over little, I will put you in charge of much.  Enter into my joy!” 

When the master does business, he wheels and deal.  This story suggests that God is out in the world right now, looking for some partners with whom he can wheel and deal. 

Think about this today:  The Master has entrusted—invested, if you will—a great deal into the stewardship of this church.  We have a warm fellowship.  We have several dedicated and gifted lay-leaders. God has planted us in the middle of the fastest growing section of this city.  He has given us a message to proclaim that can change people’s lives.   Think about it!  The Unity Baptist Church has been given the extravagant blessings and grace of God.  Let’s not hide our talents, let’s spend them!  It would be better to spend what God has given us and end up with nothing, then to bury what we’ve been given and end up doing nothing.

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