Making the most of God's gifts
What would you do if someone loaned you a million pounds? No specific time has been placed on the loan - it could be twelve months; it could be twenty years. In the meantime, it is yours to use in whatever way you think is best. What would you do with it? Remember at some unspecified time in the future you will have to give it back, but for now it is yours to use.
What would you do?
Would you take the risk and invest in the stock market?
Maybe you would take a chance and buy some property or a business in the hope that after a while you would resell and make a profit?
Perhaps you would seek a much safer option and put it into a savings account where the interest hardly covers bank fees and inflation?
You think it’s too risky to play and with someone else’s money because you are afraid that you won’t have the money when it comes time to pay it back.
In other words, because the money doesn’t belong to you does that make you willing to take more risks with it, or does it make you more cautious and fearful that you might lose it.
The gospel reading from Matthew 25:14-30 isn’t all that complicated. It’s a story that Jesus tells about a man who left his servants in charge of his money while he was away. He made them responsible for varying amounts. To one he gave 5,000 coins, to another 2,000 and to the third 1,000. "After a long time" the rich man returned from his trip and asked the servants to give an account of what they had done with his money. The first two servants had invested the money and returned double the amount that they had been given. The rich man was very happy with what they had done and rewarded them generously, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servants. Come on in and share my happiness".
The servant who had been given 1,000 coins was afraid to do anything with the money fearing that he would lose it. He had buried it in the garden and now returned the same as he had been given. The rich man was very unhappy saying that he could have at least put the money in the bank and received interest. He calls the servant "useless" and has him thrown out into the darkness "where he will cry and gnash his teeth".
So, what is Jesus saying to us today?
Everything belongs to God, and like the servants in the parable, he entrusts us to take of everything. He has given us the world with all its wonder and beauty to live in. Our lives belong to God. He has given us life, people to love us, and people whom we love. Referring to the sacrifice Jesus made for us to rescue us from sin and death Paul says, "You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price" (1 Cor 6:20). We belong to God. He has given us gifts and abilities – given them to each of us in varying degrees. The greatest gifts he has entrusted us with are the Gospel, baptism, Holy Communion and the church. We could go on all day listing everything that God has entrusted us to use wisely.
Jesus is like the man who went away for a while. Jesus will return and he will want to know what we have done with what he has entrusted us.
He will want to know how we have treated the world in which we live – the soil, the trees, the rivers, the animals. What have we done with knowledge – have we used to the benefit of all people or to bring more misery into the world? He will want to know what we have done with our bodies, and the bodies of others. How have we used a smile, a kind word, a touch of reassurance to brighten someone’s day. What have we done with the lives for which he died on the cross.
Jesus will return and want to know what we done with the Gospel of forgiveness and eternal life. Have we received, treasured it and then buried it?
He will want to know if we have used the gospel to challenge and change the lives of people in our neighbourhood, family or wherever?
Has the Gospel made any difference in the way we work, the way we relax, how we spend our money, how well we get on with others – our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters? Has the Gospel moved us to serve others less fortunate?
When you think about it, God has blessed us with so many gifts – by far too many to count. God has not been stingy by any stretch of the imagination – he has even given us some gifts that we cannot even begin to put a price on. I’m talking about forgiveness and eternal life. The idea, that God will call us to give an account of how we have used those gifts, challenges us to think about things like –
What gifts has God given to me?
How am I using those gifts?
Like the third servant, have I simply hidden away what God has given to me?
How often have been afraid to take a risk and step out of my comfortable box and used my talents and abilities?
And what about all the times I have said or thought,
"I must have missed out when the gifts were being handed out?" or
"I could do it but I’m too busy" or
"I don’t want to be bothered" or
"Let someone else do it".
You’ve heard of "couch potatoes" – "couch potatoes" are people who like to do nothing but watch TV. There are also "pew potatoes" – people who like to do nothing but watch other people do things in the church.
Let me make it clear that it is not the amount of return that the rich man was concerned about, after all, he would have been satisfied if the third servant had simple put the money in the bank and let it earn interest. Jesus is talking about attitude - our willingness to do as God wants us to do, our eagerness to risk all that we have been given for the sake of the Kingdom just as Jesus risked all of himself for our sake. The man is condemned to the darkness because he was unwilling, reluctant, even unenthusiastic about using what he had been given.
This parable is not saying that it is a sin to fail to be and do what other people are and can do. However, Jesus is saying that to do nothing, to take no risks, to not use what God has given - that is a sin. This parable is a lesson about our attitude and responsibility - about stepping out with God's treasure in our hands and risking it all for the sake of others - for the sake of God.
There is a little piece I've seen reprinted in various forms in different church newsletters. It goes like this:
What would the church be like if every member were just like me?
Would our church be empty on Sunday, or full to overflowing, if everyone attended as I do?
How much Bible Study and prayer would occur if everyone spent as much time as I do?
How much would get done by the committees and groups of the church if everyone were as willing as I am?
How many bruised, hurting, lonely people, would be touched by the church if every member acted exactly as I do?
Would we need more ushers and offering plates if everyone gave like me?
How many people would be led to know about the love of Jesus, forgiveness and eternal life if everyone had my priorities?
Would the church just be an attractive social club, would it be closed, bankrupt, out of business; or would it be a dynamic force for Jesus Christ in our community and our world if everyone were just like me?
What would the church be like if every member were just like me?
By now I would suspect that everyone is feeling pretty terrible about how willingly they have used God's gifts in the service of God and others. And that’s good. We all need a shake up every now and then. We can get complacent, lazy, unenthusiastic and unwilling. It’s easy to become a "pew potato". It’s easy for congregations to become a "pew potato" in their communities. We are happy to sit back and watch the other churches use their gifts to further God's Kingdom. We need to hear again that while we wait for Jesus to come again, he has given us some very important work to do. Jesus has delayed his coming so that we (the church) will have plenty of time to tell the community here and elsewhere that Jesus is the Saviour and that he offers freely to all people forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus’ story is a parable of judgement. It is intended to stir us up and get us thinking and re-evaluating how willing we are to step out and to invest what God has given. The conclusion to the parable tells us that Jesus is deadly serious about this. "As for this useless servant—throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth."
I know that there is no one who can be the perfect steward of God's gifts. That’s because of our sinful nature. I also know that Jesus died for "pew potatoes" and for all those who are reluctant to use what God has given them in his service. There is forgiveness for even a lifetime of making excuses and sitting back and letting others do everything. Jesus died for people like you and me. We pray it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer – "Forgive us our sins". We hear it every Sunday – "Your sins are forgiven". The Gospel of forgiveness is great. Our consciences have been soothed. But that is not an invitation to go back to sleep.
More than ever, as the chosen and rescued people of God, we have been given an important responsibility – to honour the investment God has made in us and to use what he has given and to invest and reinvest in his kingdom and the lives of others. Three quick points in conclusion.
Whatever gifts we have, they have been entrusted to us by God. Each gift is of value. No gift is to be despised. How we respond to God's generosity is crucial. The gifts we have are to be developed and used. As they are developed and used, they will be enhanced and multiplied. Used wisely and faithfully, our gifts will increase. Neglected and buried, they will decrease.
An army recruitment advertisement challenged young men and women to "Be all that you can be."
As a Christian the challenge is: "Be all that God meant you to be!"
Spiritual Gifts – Thomas R. Schreiner
How God Works – David DeSteno
Vince Gerhardy Blog
God’s Gift – Ray Phillip Owens Sr.
The Gift of Blessing – Kate Patterson
God Does His Best Work with Empty – Nancy Guthrie
The Gifts of the Spirit - Derek Prince