Who here today enjoys a lazy afternoon? Or going on vacation and lounging on the beach or beside the pool? When Emily and I have gone on vacations (at least, prior to becoming parents), we would spend quite a bit of our time sitting in a comfy chair at a Barnes and Noble or Borders bookstore, letting the time fly away as we perused and read to our heart’s content. There is something to be said about taking time off and watching the clouds stream by overhead, with no work involved, no action demanded.
Many, at least many here in America, long for the day of their retirement. That day when they will be free of the responsibility that others thrust on them, so that they are free to set and determine their own destinies, however busy that might be. It’s such an alluring and inspiring vision. The idea of being completely free and left to our own devices and our own ends.
And it is also complete hogwash.
Consider the story of the master, his three slaves, and the talents that he hands out for them to make use of. Upon his return, the two slaves who have persevered well and accomplished a doubling of what they had been left with were not afforded a long vacation at the destination of their choice. They were not granted their freedom and a hefty severance package and then sent out into the world in order to spend their time as they so choose. They were not encouraged to retire early and enjoy the fruits of their labor. No, instead they were given more responsibility. The one who had five and doubled that to ten was left with ten and the unspoken expectation that from that ten he would go on to achieve twenty. The same with the one who had two and returned to his master four. He was given back his four with the expectation that he would use those equally well and return to his master with eight.
You see, for servants of the Master, there is no retirement. There is no freedom to chase our own desires and see to our own ends. There is only one End: and it has already been written. Our only choice is to be a part of it or not to be a part of it.
When we made the decision to become disciples of Jesus Christ, it was not a decision to go to heaven when we die. It was not a decision to be free from sin and death. It was a decision to be a servant of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty One, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. It was a surrendering of ourselves back to Him, who designed us for that very purpose. It was a decision to serve Him instead of the illusion of serving ourselves – which in reality was just serving the Evil One. The other things are simply nice side benefits.
You see, like those three individuals in Matthew 25, we have a Master. And when we accepted our position as that Master’s slaves, we made a permanent change of allegiance and responsibility to Him. Not ourselves. Not our houses or yards. Not our retirement. Not our company. Not our community. Not our nation. Not our neighbor. Not our parents. Not our children. Not the poor or the needy. Our allegiance is to a single Master. And, as the third slave in today’s parable from Matthew 25 learned, our Master does not view laziness or inactivity as acceptable. He expects us to be about His business and to be doing and achieving His work. His work in our communities and families and nation and companies and among the poor and needy.
You see, we are all, each and every one of us, slaves. Slaves to something. Really, only slaves to One or another: to God or to evil. There is no middle ground there. We most certainly serve a Master, and we always are doing the work of one of them.
Like any slave owner would do, or to perhaps make it more palatable to our ears that are attuned to that which needs to be politically correct, like anyone seeking to hire servants for his or her domain, we look for a variety of skills. The lawn needs to be maintained. The food needs to be purchased at a good price, then prepared in an edible and, preferably, enjoyable way. The dust and dirt needs to be cleaned. Cars and other vehicles, tools, and mechanical things need to be maintained. Letters need to be written and edited. Children need to be taught how to read, how to add and subtract and multiply and divide, how to differentiate between a vertebrate and a fungus.
When we were living in Birmingham, there was a billboard posted at several spots around the city. The image was of a mechanic, covered in grease, inside a garage working on a car. The copy on the billboard said: Oil change, tires rotated, and LASIK eye surgery while you wait! The advertisement was for an eye surgery center that specialized in the corrective surgery that restored better to near-perfect vision. The point was that you wouldn’t go to just anyone to have the surgery done; you go to a specialist.
The same is true when running a business, a plantation, or a kingdom. Tasks need to be delegated to the people best equipped to accomplish them. I can parse a Greek verb, but please don’t bring me near a toilet and tell me to fix it. Butch Eades easily handled a leaky toilet of mine, but I wouldn’t necessarily think of him as the first person to go to with questions about potty training. Sue Barker can probably give me some good advice on that front from all of her work with two year olds, but I’d not likely bring her a bundle of clothes to be altered. Nancy James can probably take care of those alterations for me, but she’s probably not the best person to ask about keeping the financial records. Christine Mattox handled that for a number of years, so she’d likely have some good suggestions, but she wouldn’t be the one to turn to when you need some IV antibiotics administered at home. Now Ann Eades or Michelle Shelton can cover the IVs, but you shouldn’t turn to them when your driveway needs to be resealed.
In his parable, Jesus said that each of the three slaves was given talents “according to his own ability.” Just to clarify, the talent Jesus speaks of here is not a special ability or skill, it was a denomination of money – the largest denomination the Roman Empire had, equivalent to about $1 million today. So each slave was given a certain number of talents based on his own ability. Since the three slaves were given three different amounts of talents, that implies that they each have a different set of skills or abilities for the Master.
Please note: this is not a value judgment on the worthiness of the skills. It is simply a recognition that some things cost less than others, and other things cost more. So the servant in charge of maintaining the power plant is going to need a few more dollars to handle than the servant charged with making sure that the household children were tutored well. The thread that Nancy James supplies for the alterations is going to cost less than the toilet fixture that Butch has to use. It’s not a value judgment, just a recognition of reality.
So each of the slaves is granted a certain number of talents in order to perform a particular task that he is uniquely qualified and gifted to accomplish for the sake of the Master. But these talents are not just to be spent in the doing of the work. They are to be invested so that they earn a return for the Master. The Master isn’t interested in just maintaining his domain, he wants to expand and grow it. So when the Master returns from his long journey, he is pleased to find that the servant who had the five talents and the servant who had the two talents each returned a 100% profit on their investments. They had used their resources well and doubled the size of the Master’s domain in their particular areas.
Remember, the amount of talents given are not value judgments. Each of these slaves is given the exact same commendation and praise from the Master. They were both invited to enter the same “joy of your master.” It is not a matter of one being better or more qualified or more skilled. It is differently qualified and differently skilled, and therefore differently equipped by the Master. Their value as slaves is not determined by what they are given. Their value is based on what they do with what they are given.
So we see that the third slave allows his fear to paralyze him into inaction. He would rather return to the Master the goods completely untouched and unaltered. But this is as bad or worse to the Master than had that slave invested and lost it all. Inactivity would have been better if it had been granted to some banker who returned interest on the money. Someone noted of this slave, “It was not that he did something wrong – he simply did nothing. This is, then, apparently, a parable about maximizing opportunities, not wasting them. To be ‘ready’ for the master’s return means to use the intervening time to maximum profit; it is again about continuing life and work.” Better to try and to risk losing everything than to do nothing and insure your fate.
The value judgment based on how the three slaves do their work is what determines their destiny. The two that return the profit “enter into the joy of your master.” The fruitless and lazy slave is stripped of what goods he had and then cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew’s regular description of Hell.
What’s the lesson here? I believe there are three. First, we need to choose our Master. By being born human, we are automatically, by virtue of the Fall, servants of the Evil One – servants of sin and death and all that are attached to him. But we are not condemned to that fate. We may be born there, but we have a choice about whether or not to stay there. For through His own choice, as Philippians says, Jesus gave up the throne of heaven, not figuring it as something to be grasped, and became one of us. And in his becoming one of us, living as we should live, and dying our death that he did not deserve to die, and most importantly in rising again from death, forever conquering that for all who choose him, we have the option once again of transferring our allegiance from the master of death to the Master of Life. Accepting Jesus as Lord and surrendering to God’s will for us, we can choose a different master. The choice is ours to make.
Second, we need to know our skills. In his great providence and wisdom, God has wired each of us differently. We have different interests. We each have a unique set of skills and abilities that distinguish us from anyone else in the entirety of the human race. Those of us who have chosen God as our Master with Jesus as our Lord, we are also uniquely and individually equipped with a unique set of spiritual gifts. All of these things are for one purpose: the service of the Master and the expansion of His Kingdom’s domain.
Because we are each unique, there is no one else who can do the things that God asks of us to do. There is no one else created the way we are, with our background, our knowledge, our experiences, and our abilities. There is no one else to do what we are to do. We are each given our talent or talents, and there is no one else who can make use of them. Either we will use them and earn profit for God, or we will abandon and cast ourselves into that outer darkness. We need to know what our skills are.
Third, and final, we need to do. We need to act. We need to work. Disciples do not get to retire – ever. Sickness, disability, weariness, hardship, age – none of it matters. Even in those very things, we are uniquely equipped to serve and profit our Lord, Master, and King. When the world says stop, we can’t, we need to be looking to God to see what we can. The world is not our Master. We have chosen differently. And He tells us to continue until He comes. In every circumstance and situation, God has a purpose and a plan. God has given you a talent, as it were, specifically for your ability and circumstance. Your part is to do something with it. Inactivity is simply not an option in the Kingdom of God.
“It is only those who ‘do the will of my Father who is in heaven’ [as Jesus says in Matthew 12:50] who ultimately belong to His kingdom.”
We, here, as Monte Vista Baptist Church, are an expression of God’s body to our community. He has equipped us and provided for us to do the work of His kingdom. No one else has it. It is ours alone. We must do it. And within the body, we are each equipped to do a part of the task that is left to all of us. If I do not do my part, we will all fail. If you do not do your part, we will all fail. Inactivity is not an option.
This past Wednesday at our special called business meeting, we elected our slate of officers and committee members for the coming year. This represents only a portion of what we are to do. Today we want to commend these to the Lord. But their election does not absolve the rest of us of the responsibility to do our part. If the shoulder rebels, the hand cannot work (ask Bobby or Peggy or Helen about that). We all have to work together. We all have jobs and tasks to do, and they are uniquely ours. If you sit back and do not do your part, you might as well ask the mechanic to perform your eye surgery.
I want to take some time this morning to set apart and commission those who have agreed to oversee specific areas of the church’s ministry, or to assume the responsibilities of a certain church office.
If you served as an officer, teacher, committee member, or other worker during 2009-2010, will you please stand. We want to say thank you for your work this past year.
If you are stepping down from a position you held in 2009-2010 so someone else can fill that role, will you remain standing. We want to say thank you for your commitment to our body for the past year or years of service. You may be losing a title, but you’re not retiring!
Now, if you are serving as an officer, teacher, committee member, or other church leader for the upcoming 2010-2011 year, will you please stand.
In your bulletin is a commissioning litany on the back of the yellow insert. All of us have parts.
Lord, as we gather together in Your Name this morning, as many around the world have done or will yet do, some in open celebration, some in hiding with fear of what might happen, some out of force of habit, some out of emotional or spiritual necessity, some with great joy, some with great despair. With whatever has brought us here this morning, whatever our morning has been like, whatever challenges or encouragements we have faced, whatever our week has brought before us, whatever yet looms on the horizon in the day or days ahead.
I pray that now, in this moment, for this hour, right now, we may be free of the distractions of modern, 21st century American life. We would not worry about dishes in the oven or checks to be written or practices to be attended or homework to be finished or the work project that is so stressful. Help us, Lord, to be fully here, in the now, with Your people, focused fully and completely on You and Your presence. On what You have already done, what You are doing now, and what You desire to do yet.
We confess, Lord, that we enjoy busyness. We enjoy the frantic pace of life we let ourselves get into, we choose for ourselves. It is better than what quiet and solitude might bring our way. What thoughts might bellow up should we allow even a brief opportunity for them to come to the light. We ask You to take those things, too, this morning. Help us to be fully present with You.
I pray, Lord, that we would be reminded this morning that our lives are not our own. The choices we have to make are not our choices, not if we have surrendered to You, not if we have chosen to be Your disciples. Remind us, this morning, that You desire not just our head’s acknowledgment, not just our heart’s confession, but also our time’s commitment. May our busyness be swept away and replaced with complete and willing service.
May we see our joys and our challenges, our relationships and our loneliness, our grief and our passion as the opportunities they are to testify to Your love for us, your passion for us, Your relationship with us and, indeed, the whole world. May we not let the Evil One convince us that our life is meaningless, our days are futile. May we know that each and every moment You have granted to us in this life is full of meaning and purpose, because it is the Lord of the Universe, the very Creator and Sustainer of all things, who has chosen to grant this very breath to us. May we not be wasteful of it.
May we see our circumstances in the light of Your grace, Your compassion, and Your love for the world. A love shown so publicly on the cross on which You died. We pray that everyone who is hurting or grieving or struggling today would know the comfort of Your presence. For Ralph Patalon, with cancer in his mouth and all of his teeth removed. For Gary Sykes, recovering now from the transplant surgery he had on Friday. For Mary Jones, continuing her ministry even as she ministers to the flock you have given her. For Bobby Shelton, not with his church family this morning as he receives the next dose of antibiotic. For Ora Roberts, living life from the view of her bed. For Margaret Williams, recovering from a stroke. For Dale Mitchell, her mother, Thelma, and the rest of the Shelton family grieving from a loss that came quicker than they expected. For the many on our list – both printed and mental – dealing with ongoing illnesses. For ourselves, so distracted and overwhelmed by what the world accosts us with.
All these things help us to let go and give to you. May our lives be a reflection of your glory. Your glory in a manger. Your glory on a cross. Your glory in the temple. Your glory on the throne. Your glory as a lion and a lamb.
This day, today, is the day that You have made. I pray that we would rejoice and be glad in it. That we would use it to its fullest. That Your Name, Your renown, and Your Kingdom would get all the benefit.
In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.
 R. T. France, Matthew in New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 951.
 France, 957.