To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Matthew 25:14-30
If we were to ask, “What is the most famous parable that Jesus ever told?” Many of us would answer that it is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When parables are mentioned we often think first of that parable where the Prodigal son went into the far country, squandered all his money in unrighteous living, came to himself, went home, and found his father waiting for him. It has been told and retold around the world because of its universal applications. Almost every family knows of this experience and for this reason it is one of the most famous of all the parables that Jesus told. If we were to ask, “What is the most compassionate parable Jesus ever told?” Many would perhaps say, “the Parable of the Lost Sheep.” The shepherd went out looking for the sheep that had gone astray. He searched and searched until finally he found the one that had gone astray. He brings it home and celebrates. A parable filled with compassion indeed. If we were to ask, “What is the most comforting parable for those suffering?” Many would perhaps choose Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus sat outside the gate, his clothing tattered and torn, his body wracked with disease and pain. Dogs came and licked his sores. The only food he had came out of the garbage pails from the rich man’s table. Then he died, and found himself in Abraham’s sight. There all of his misery was over, and he saw an eternity free of pain and suffering. Through his experience we learn that the sufferings of this world are nothing compared to the joy that will be ours for all eternity.
One question not often asked when we consider a parable is the following: “What is the most practical parable Jesus ever told? What parable applies more to how we live our lives today, and how God acts and reacts to us, and how we act and react to Him?” One suggestion would have to be the parable of the talents from the gospel of Matthew. The parable of talents is one of warning and promise. Through the experiences of the three servants we see that we will be held accountable for the way in which we manage God’s affairs as stewards. The parable of the talents is not a lesson about ability, or productivity but really a lesson about the faith and attitude we should have in our giving. The talents described in this parable were a weight, and its value depended on whether the object weighed was copper, silver, or gold. We are a reminded that the use of our talents demonstrates our faithfulness to God. The word “talents” in our language refers to natural abilities we possess, or others posses.
Today, let us look at the talents that Jesus’ refers to in this parable as opportunities. Each of the servants was given an opportunity according to ability, and each was expected to faithfully respond. Imagine for a moment that we are one of these three servants. At our feet lay a sack with coins of copper, silver or gold. Our hearts begin to beat faster and faster, we begin to look around and see that multiple bags filled with coins are at the feet of two other servants like you. Surely our employer had lost his senses we think. He says he is going away for a while and did not know when he would return. They say, “I’ll be very interested to see what you can do for me.” We are left with a decision, to follow one servant who begins dragging their bag of coins off to their quarters or go with another servant who leaves the estate with a shovel. Would we play Wall Street Broker, or would we play it safe? Regardless of which direction we would go, we know that God entrusts our talents to us. Our talents should be considered a treasure to be shared and not hoarded. Our lives of Christian service are to be productive. We should not bury our talents! Talents for us, may be simple or complex, visible or behind the scenes.
The apostle Paul mentioned talents in Romans 12:6-8 when he wote:
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Our talents may take a variety of forms including wealth. Our talents also include as Paul shared teaching, serving in roles of leadership or visiting with someone who is lonely and in need of a good listener. Once we recognize and accept our talents, as shown in our parable, we have an obligation to invest these talents for the glory of God. Two of the three servants understood the responsibility of their gift and invested it well. The judgment of the master that falls upon the third servant is not because the servant has failed to produce wealth for his master, but because he was afraid to try. Fear can often prevent us from moving forward to determine God’s plan for our lives.
The late Pope John XXIII (1881-1963), once said: “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
There are people in the Bible though afraid, risked the chance of failure to serve God faithfully. One example is Moses, who was reluctant to become a leader because he had doubts about his talents of exhortation and leadership. Yet Moses invested himself into faithful service and became the great leader for the people of Israel. Often because we fear failure, we might follow the example of the servant who received the one talent and refused to invest it, but rather buried it in the soil of uselessness.
One person who refused to bury her talents in uselessness was the late Oseola McCarty who in 1995 became a household name in her home state of Mississippi. She did one thing all her life, laundry. She became famous for her vocation or for at least for what she did with her earnings. The customers who brought their clothes to her home for more than 75 years read like the social register of Hattiesburg. She did laundry for three generations of some families. In the beginning, she charged $1.50 to $2.00 a bundle but with inflation, the prices rose. McCarty once said, “When I started making $10 a bundle, I don’t remember when sometime after the war, I commenced to save money,” she recalled. “I put it in savings. I never would take any of it out. I just put it in. It just accumulated.” When she finally retired, she asked her banker how much money she had in her account. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars was his reply. She was in shock. “I had more than I could use in the bank,” she explained. Realizing she could never spend all of this money herself she made a decision to give back to her community. “I’m old and I’m not going to live always. I want to help somebody’s child go to college; I just want it to go to someone who will appreciate it and learn.” This shy, never-married laundry woman gave $150,000 to nearby University of Southern Mississippi to help African-American children attend college. While she passed away in 1999, her generosity and these words she once spoke to people in her home state will always be remembered, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive, I’ve tried it.”
Our attitudes and actions as Christians should try to reflect those of Oseola McCarty. It has been said that in the church there appears to be three types of contributors, and I offer these words to describe them: the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint, we must hammer it constantly. This means we must speak about the subject of giving over and over again and hope to get at least some chips and sparks from that process. As we know in order to get water out of a sponge, we must squeeze it; the more we use pressure, more we will get. The honeycomb however, just overflows with generosity.
As we return our covenant cards today in worship, as we think about our personal stewardship, let us all ask this question about our intentions. This question is the following, “Lord, what do you want to do through us to fulfill your will for our church?” The spirit in which God call us to tithe or make a pledge to our church, is one that has a spirit of love and compassion to help others and with a willingness to sacrifice that which we do not need. Look at the talents we have.
Don’t bury your talents; invest them into the Kingdom of God. It will be best decision you will ever make!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
November 19, 2017 sermon