Posted 29 days ago ago by Scott Huie
“Pay It Forward”
Emmanuel Presbyterian Church
September 15th 2019
The parable of the talents, as it is commonly called, is a story—at least at first glance—of capitalism at work. It is also a story of disturbing, spine-tingling judgment. The cast of characters includes three servants and a master. As the story unfolds, the master, who no doubt represents God, is going away for a spell on a journey. And for whatever reason, he decides to entrust his money to his servants. To one, he gives five talents, to another two, and to a third one.
Now to give you some perspective, a talent was roughly equivalent to around 6,000 denarrii; that is, the earnings of a day laborer for twenty years. In today’s dollars—do the math—if the average annual income is $50,000, a talent therefore would be a million dollars. So the first servant is given roughly five million dollars, the second two million dollars, and the third, poor soul, only gets one million dollars. Wow. Talk about opportunity. I’d like to take on that challenge. Give me a million bucks, and I’ll gladly show you what I can do! This is life-changing. This is a rock-your-world opportunity, like getting all the sharks to go in with you on “Shark Tank.”
I have a sneaking suspicion that these three servants were American. After all, like them, we are well-off, with countless opportunities to invest ourselves financially and otherwise. You may not feel well-off at times, but when compared with the rest of the world, even the most modest wage-earners here today are wealthy. Consider this: do you have a car? Probably so if the parking lot this morning is any indication. Well only eight per cent of the world’s population owns such vehicles. We live in a world where at least a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. We Americans represent six per cent of the world’s population, yet we use up nearly 40% of its resources. Every person here today, whether you feel like it or not, is wealthy. Every one of us could easily be one of the servants in today’s parable.
No doubt, even though we witness no instruction from the master to the servants here, surely he expects his servants to be good investors while away—to study the markets, to work hard, and yes, to take some risk. The first two servants take their calling seriously, and they both double their money, but the third one….well, what’s his problem? He doesn’t appear to be dishonest, seeking to milk his master of whatever he can get. There is no suggestion of deceit, scandal, or fraud. He just seems to be overly cautious. He simply buries the money. Dave Ramsey would have a fit with this guy, wouldn’t he!
And so does the master, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The third guy refuses the risk of trading in the marketplace. By preserving exactly what has been entrusted to him, he can at least minimally stay in the good graces of his master, so he thinks. Even though the master has expressed confidence in him, he judges the master to be a harsh man. He deems it better to preserve his own safety and security than to run the risk of losing the money and angering his master.
When you boil it down, I think this third fellow is plagued by the same disease that most of us are—the disease of me, my stuff, my possessions, my, my, my. It’s all about me in today’s world. It’s a disease that hits us around the age of two, my, my, my. In our story, the first two servants understand that it is not about “me”; it’s about the master. They understand, we are not owners of the gifts we have. In good Biblical language, we are stewards. We are trustees. All that we have—ALL that we have, even every breath that we take, even every moment we have—is a gift. The master has entrusted us with all that we have. Over and over again, Jesus teaches that us that it is not our stuff, and we have it for a reason. We have it to make a difference in the world.
In our parable, the master eventually returns to settle accounts. Oh, oh. It’s judgement day. What happens next? The five-talented servant says, “Hey, I doubled your money.” The master applauds him, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Because you have been hard-working and generous and faithful with what I have given you, I will give you more responsibility and blessings.” The second approaches and says, “Hey, I too doubled your money.” The master pats him on the back as well.
The third fellow sheepishly approaches. Surely his heart is pounding; his nerves are on edge. He says, “I know you to be a harsh man, master, so I played it safe, and buried the talent in the back yard so that you would have it all upon return.” That’s not what the master wants to hear. No question this one-talented servant has a major problem. He not only has the “me” disease, but he has an improper perspective on life and his master. He sees the master as rigid and harsh such that he lives his life with no risk, no freedom, and no joy. The master responds, “You wicked slave,” confiscates the money, and then banishes him to the outer darkness where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Ouch!
Are we getting the lesson here? Do we sometimes see God as the third servant sees the master? Is God a cosmic kill-joy or a rigid tyrant or some vengeful sheriff in the sky? Do we see God as harsh? Do we blame God? Is our God someone we just can’t trust such that we take the “safe” way out and bury our talent? It’s a sobering reality that unless you are using your stuff, your talents, for the purpose of impacting the kingdom of God, you are wasting them. Unless you invest your life in things of eternal consequence, it matters for nothing. You can even read your Bible daily and come to church weekly, but if your life is all about you and you’re always doing the safe thing, you are missing something.
We Americans can be so busy at times, and we can be so proud of our busyness, but in God’s economy, if it’s all about me, we are very simply burying our talents, and we’ve missed the point. This is a message not only for stewardship season coming up soon; it’s a message appropriate year-round. It’s a message for a lifetime. God, our master, wants to know: what have you done with your time, your talent, and your treasure? Have you used them to serve yourself or to serve me?
In responding to such a question, we perhaps will wiggle around and try to finesse our way through it. We’ll say, “Hey, I’ve been busy.” But God says, “So what? What has been the purpose of your busyness?” The reality is, men and women, boys and girls, every one of us will be accountable before God for how we use our talents and resources.
So how are you doing? Whether you are 16 or 60, I believe that most everyone here today wants their life to count for something beyond themselves. Maybe you’re a sophomore in college trying to figure out your major and your career direction. Maybe you are at the middle age prime of your life with a good job, a wonderful spouse, adorable kids, and a white picket fence. Maybe you now qualify for the Seniors’ discount at Shoney’s; you’ve entered your twilight years and are newly retired. Wherever you are, I suspect, most of us want to not just be busy people; we want to make a difference.
How are you doing? Map it out. There are 168 hours in a week. Very simply, are you investing yourself wisely? What’s your commitment to your work, your family, your church, and to “the least of these”? Do you need a reorientation? I don’t want this to be a time management seminar, but if you do need reorientation, I think a healthy beginning would be to set aside at least three hours a week, roughly two per cent of our time, for this purpose: one hour to worship, one to do Bible Study with a small group, and one to serve within the church. Some of you are already doing that and more. But many of us are not. If every one of us did that as a start, I am convinced, we would see God, the master, in a new way, and it would begin to change our life.
A great movie that came out a few years ago is “Pay It Forward.” In the movie a 7th grade social studies teacher as played by Kevin Spacey challenges his class on the first day with an assignment for each student to think of an idea that will change the world and put it into action. While his classmates blow it off, little Trevor takes it to heart. His idea is, if I can help three people who cannot help themselves, then they can return the favor by helping three more people and the cycle continues, and the world will be changed. Amazingly it happens. The story centers around the boy’s relationship with a homeless man, his messed-up mother, and the very teacher who gave him the assignment, even to the point at the end of the movie when the boy tragically gives his life to pay it forward.
Pay it forward—it’s a catchy idea, isn’t it? When we pay it forward, the lesson isn’t, the rich get richer and the poor poorer, as some might suggest. I think the lesson is, very simply, we are to use the gifts that God has given us to his glory. If we don’t use them, they will atrophy. Use it or lose it. That is equally true of playing tennis or playing the piano or singing songs or writing sermons. It is the lesson of life and of faith that the only way to keep a gift is to use it in the service of God and of people. When you do that, you multiply your talents, and the reward is, very simply, as the parable states, entering into the joy of the master. It’s not a raise or a promotion. It is very simply a relationship with God.
You may have noticed that there is something different in your bulletin today. There is a nice, crisp $5 bill. Pull it out. It now belongs to you. Wait…I take that back. It has now been entrusted to you. I know it’s just five bucks, but I invite you to see this bill as representing your time, your talent, and your treasure, and now I issue to everyone here this challenge: leverage this bill to creatively make a difference in the world over the next three weeks. Multiply your money for God’s use. Pay it forward.
Three rules that I ask you to follow: first, see this as God’s money. God is the master, you are the steward. Second, as you multiply it, be creative and bold. You might even take a risk. Join forces with your family, your Sunday School class, your book club, your neighborhood, and creatively make it grow. Finally, share the story of what happens. Before the first week in October, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just drop me a note of what you did. It can be anonymous if you like, but know that we will then compile a list of the stories to be on display both here at church and on our church’s website.
Pick a cause you believe in that builds up the kingdom of God. And get this, you don’t need to get Session approval to do it. Think globally: Cameroon, Bahamas, Mexico. Think locally: Graceworks, Second Harvest Food Bank, Downtown Presbyterian Church’s Breakfast for the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity, whatever. You could do something as simple as give to a friend who is out of work or in need. You could also make all your accumulated money into a chain and see how long you can make it. Email your neighborhood, rally the troops at book club, challenge your Sunday School class, “pay it forward,” invest in God’s kingdom. And what you do with this money, see it as a symbol of what you do with your life. So three rules: see the money as God’s money; be bold and creative in multiplying it; tell the story. That’s your assignment. Pray about it, but don’t delay. Pursue it now. I sense there is fire in the belly. Make it happen.
Remember, we’re not earning brownie points with God; we are entering into the joy of our master. We are responding in faith to his gracious generosity for God gives and gives and keeps on giving. We see that especially when we see what Christ did for us on Good Friday. Jesus paid the price for every one of us through his death on the cross that we might be free. So go forth as free people and with abundant thanksgiving enter into the joy of the master. Amen.