February 9, 2020

Matthew 25:14-30

To date, the Coronavirus has killed over 600 people with thousands of other being infected.   Health experts say that if it gets into Third World Countries where nations are not equipped to screen and quarantine, the virus could become a pandemic.

The world has known massive loss of life due to pandemics in the past like the Black Plague that killed 25 million people in the 1300’s, almost a third of the continent’s population.

Perhaps such events inspired one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous pieces of short fiction entitled, “The Masque of the Red Death.”  It is set in medieval Europe while a deadly plague is sweeping the land with devastation.

The principal character is Prince Prospero, a wealthy and unusually light-hearted landowner who is terrified of the power of the Red Death.

To protect himself and his loyal subjects, he decides to lock himself and a thousand of his serfs in one of his castles and wait out the plaque.

To break up the boredom of weeks and weeks of being locked in the castle, Prince Prospero threw a masquerade to amuse and lighten the hearts of his guests.

But to the Prince’s utter demise, a figure is noticed during the celebration dressed as a victim of the plague.  Though the entire party is full of ghoulish costumes, the majority of the party members find this costume utterly offensive.

Poe writes: “There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion.  Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.”

The Prince is outraged.  He finally finds the courage to confront the infamous guest, only to discover that this guest is no human guest, but the very manifestation from which all of them had tried to hide: it is the Red Death.

The tale ends with the Red Death claiming the lives of each of the guests until the entire population of the castle is snuffed out like the flame of a candle.   (Story from Lectionary Homiletics: Nov. 2002, p. 17)

The Prince had great power and great wealth.   He could have used his influence and his wealth to help find a cure for the plague.  Instead, he chose to close out the world, to save himself and those who served him, but in so doing so, he lost the very thing he sought to hold onto, his life.

With Poe’s short story, I give to you a parable of stewardship.

Should we turn a blind eye to human responsibility and become consumed with a selfish agenda, we will ultimately fall victim to the very thing we fear.  We can lose the very thing we hold on to, which is life itself.

So, what do you hold onto with a death grip?

What do you hold onto tightly for fear that you will lose it?

Is it your time? Is it an heirloom?  Is it your money? Is it your reputation? Is it your church? Is it tradition?

Many of us are afraid that if we let go just a little, it would be like opening the flood gates. So we shut the doors and we try to keep out the world.

That’s what Prince Prospero did.  That’s our temptation, too.  Yet, our job, according to Jesus, is to go out into the world and bring them in.  That’s the message of the parable of the Great Banquet and it’s the message of the Great Commission.  It’s the message of the Gospel.

We all have limitations.  Each one of us has to struggle to find a balance between what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to.  We have to decide how much of ourselves we can share and what we need to keep.

However, if we retreat into a life of selfish living and close out the needs of the hurting world around us, we can end up losing the very thing we are seeking to protect.

Jesus once told a story about a master who was leaving to go on a journey and he called in his three servants and entrusted them with his property.   In doing so the master was extending to them the highest compliment they could have received.   He entrusted them with his possessions.  To each servant, he entrusted different amounts of his property, each according to their ability.

One servant was entrusted with five talents, one with two, and the third servant was entrusted with one.   A talent was a sum of money equal to fifteen years of wages for a day-laborer.

So, you see, five talents was a huge sum of money, but so was one.  To be entrusted with that kind of money shows the confidence the master had in each servant.

When we read that the third servant received one talent, we tend the think it wasn’t very much.  But fifteen years-worth of common-laborer wages was a large amount.  Don’t you agree?

What the servants did with their talents tell us a lot about what they believed about life and about their master.

For example, look at what the first two servants had in common:

1) They went out immediately and put their money to work.

The servants were excited about the opportunity to work for their master.  It is obvious these two servants wanted to please their master.  They were eager to put to work what they had been given.  They found joy and purpose in their work.

2) There is no indication that these servants felt any great anxiety over losing their talents. Every investment involves some risk.  But fear did not control them.

Even if they had lost the talents while serving faithfully, it stands to reason that these servants believed they would still have been in the good graces of the master if they were acting faithfully.  They did not allow the inherent risks of investing their talents to deter them from putting their talents to work.

This is in total contrast to the third servant.  The master knew that this servant was not as capable as the other two, evidenced by the fact that he received the lesser of the talents.

Even so, this one talent was still a significant amount.  What he did with it would likely determine whether the Master would give him greater responsibility in the future.

This servant turns out to be much like Prince Prospero in Poe’s short story.

Instead of using his resources to make a difference, he hid his talent from the world.  Instead of putting his talent to work, he buried it.

Sounds very conservative, doesn’t it?

Actually, if he had taken the money and put it in the bank to draw interest, that would have been conservative.

What this man did with the Master’s money was unfaithful.

When the master returned, he was very pleased with the first two servants because they had been faithful and their faithfulness had yielded a return.  Both had doubled his money.

Five talents became ten and two talents became four.   To each servant, he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”  Matt 25:23 (NIV)

But when came to the third servant, notice what the servant said, “Master I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” Matt 25:24-25  (NIV)

Why didn’t the servant put the talent to work?

It had to do with what the kind of relationship he had with the master.  It had to do with what he believed about the master.

This servant didn’t know the master very well.  He believed the master was a hard man, an unjust man.  He was afraid that if he invested the talent and lost it that the master might demand his life.  So, he held onto the money.  He locked away his gift.

Jesus said, “So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.” (v.28)

Like Prince Prospero in Poe’s short story, this servant lost what he had while holding onto it.

When it comes to the stewardship of our personal resources and the stewardship of our church’s resources, we can decide to just hold onto them.

We can just keep them in the bank and earn some interest.  That’s better than nothing, right?

The third servant did this because he believed his master was hard and unjust.  The master told him if he believed this, he should at least have put the money on deposit with the bankers and received some interest.

Because of his unfaithfulness, the master stripped the talent from the servant and gave it to the one who had ten.  Why?  Because he knew that servant would be a better steward of his money.  He would invest it.

This past week I was in Braselton and I met Kevin Myers.  Kevin is the pastor of 12Stone with its main campus located in Gwinnett.  You can see it’s main church just off I-85.  12-Stone has eight satellite locations in the region with the closest one to us being in Braselton.  The Braselton campus was one of five campuses the church launched simultaneously in 2015.

I spent quite a while in conversation with Kevin.  When I introduced myself as the pastor of FBC Jefferson, he said, “Oh, really. How long have you been there?”  I told I’d been here 10 1/2 years.”  Then he wanted to know how I liked Jefferson.

After I told him what a wonderful place Jefferson is to live, Pastor Myers said, “Well, you know they say that’s the next place our church needs to go.”

We can hold onto what we have and we will wake up one day and discover that it’s lost anyway because we buried the vision God gave us.  God will give it to others as they see kingdom opportunities and God will bless them.

God is going to see that people in Jefferson and Jackson County are reached with the gospel.  God has given us the gifts to reach them.

Stewardship is about managing everything that God has given to us.  The great temptation we are presented with is to hold onto everything God has given to us for ourselves.

I cannot stop challenging to you to be a faith soaring church.

We are here for our own spiritual development but we are here for others.  We are here to reach the lost for Jesus.

If we hold onto what you’ve been given, we cannot embrace our master, our Lord Jesus Christ.

We must be willing to let go of what you’ve been given in order to embrace the one who gave it to us.

God has gifted us and is trusting us to use what we have to grow the kingdom.  We must trust God and have faith that God is going to give to us all that we need to fulfill the vision that He has given to us to carry out.

The third servant in this parable didn’t know that his master was fair, gracious, and merciful.

Had he known that, he would have been more likely to work for him with joy, putting to work what he had been given in order to please his master.

Because he held onto his talent, he ended up losing it.

This morning, I’m asking that we continue work to find a way move forward together as a church so that we are good stewards of the resources that have been given and of the resources we have yet to give so that we can reach the lost, the unchurched, those coming to this county seeking to unite with a Bible-believing, Christ centered, mission oriented church.

Let God use what you have, whether it’s a lot or a little to bless others.

When we use what God’s given us and act out of faithful obedience and worship to him, that’s when we will discover these words from the Apostle Paul to be true:

“The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.  Each person should do as he has decided in his heart-not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NIV)

Photo Credit: historicenvironment.scot