Monday, October 17, 2016

October 16, 1016 Your Life Matters

Today we begin a four-week series of messages titled Your Life.  This morning’s message is Your Life Matters.  The next three weeks are Your Life Has A Purpose, Your Life Has A Future, and Your Life Is A Gift.

Finish this sentence for me, if you will –
Sticks and stones will break my bones…
…but names will never hurt me.

Allow me to ask this question – who came up with that saying?  Really.  Words can never hurt me?  Yes, they can, and they do.  They hurt terribly, and we have all been hurt by the words of others, and we all have probably hurt someone with our words.  Words can leave emotional, spiritual, and psychological scars that follow us throughout our lives.  Think for a moment not only about the names you have heard others call you, but about the names you might have cast at others.  We’ve all done it, haven’t we?  We are in the midst of a national conversation about the language we use in reference to others.  If we can call it a conversation, that is, as we seem mostly to have shouting matches these days.

This morning I will read a passage that features a character who no doubt heard his share of names, but at the end of the passage Jesus offers him a name that tells him that his life matters.

Our Scripture text is Luke 19:1-10 –

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.
A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus would have heard a lot of names cast his way, among them cheat, crook, thief, traitor, and names about his stature, or lack thereof.  What names have you heard over the years?  I’ve had some nicknames over the years, and to be honest I didn’t like them very much, because a nickname is a way in which others can define us in a very narrow way, and it is often a way that is negative.  Being called names is just one manifestation of what makes us feel insignificant, and that cause us to wonder, does my life matter?  There are many ways in which people’s lives are devalued, and they are made to feel as if they do not matter.

Everyone asks that question at some point in their life – does my life matter – and most of us ask it multiple times over the years.  Everyone wonders.  It is one of the most basic, existential questions we ask.

There are two categories that we speak to when we talk about how our lives matter –

1.  The need to know that my life matters.
Perhaps you saw this brief letter in the Sentinel-News on Wednesday, which carried the headline Disappointed in ResponseShame on a few churches in this area.  It became known that a woman in Shelbyville returned home after being away six months to find her husband gone, no food, her dog locked up in the house, the water cut off, the next day and old eviction notice on table.  Several area churches and agencies were contacted.  Who responded?  Operation Care & Salvation Army.  Not one “church.”  Easy to be a Christian when you don’t have to do anything, I suppose…   

My first reaction was to run through several retorts in my mind, but then I realized that this letter was more than a complaint; it was a presentation of the question, does this woman’s life matter?
Zacchaeus, like anyone else, no doubt asked that question.  And on this particular day he raced to see Jesus as he came through Jericho.  And, perhaps, he raced to see him because he hoped to receive the notice and the attention of Jesus.

I can picture Zacchaeus in my mind, pushing his way through the crowd, trying so hard to get to a place where he could see Jesus, and we all know how hard it can be to move quickly through a crowd.  As we try to move quickly through a crowd it often seems as though the crowd works against us and we fall further behind, and there is a sense of disappointment or even panic as we realize we might not get to where we are trying to go.  Zacchaeus’ pushing through the crowd was symbolic of his desire to be noticed, to not only see Jesus but to be seen by him, and as he pushed through the crowd his efforts were really emblematic of his great desire to know that he mattered to someone.  He probably didn’t matter to anyone in the crowd, but he could hope that he mattered to Jesus.  And out of the crowd, Jesus did notice him. 

Luke notes that Jesus saw Zacchaeus.  He looked up and saw him in the tree.  Imagine how Zacchaeus must have felt.  Out of this large crowd all jockeying for a position to see Jesus and the one person to whom Jesus speaks is Zacchaeus!  I’ve been noticed!  I’m not invisible!  What a moment that must have been for him.  Someone who not only wanted to see Jesus but certainly wanted to be seen by Jesus as well, and in that moment Zacchaeus represents us all, as we all want to know that our life matters, to someone.  At that moment, Zacchaeus knew that his life mattered.

Everyone of us, at some point, wants to call out, does my life matter?  Does anyone know of my existence?  Does anyone know of my troubles?  Will someone notice me?  God is a God who takes notice.  Jesus says that even the hairs on our heads are numbered (Luke 12:7).  That makes me feel greatly relieved!  Does it you?

2.  The need of others to know that their life matters.
My mom told me many years ago that good pastoral care makes up for a lot of bad sermons, but no amount of good sermons can make up for bad pastoral care.  She was exactly right, because people want to know that they matter.  This is where churches most often let people down, in failing to communicate that they matter.  How many of us have been there?  Probably most of us, at some point.

This is one of the reasons why I am very excited about the potential for the Stephen Ministry in our church, because it extends, as we have said, the caring capacity of our church, which is incredibly important.  Laine is doing such an incredible job of leading us through the training and the information is so good and so helpful.

Because I need to know that my life matters, and you need to know that your life matters, it should cause us to realize, oh, I need to remind others that their lives matter; I need to let them know they matter to God, and they matter to me.  It’s not just me that needs to know this.  It’s not just you that needs to know this.  It’s everyone, so we must be free in sharing that encouraging word.  We must communicate to people that they are a precious, loved creation of God, and anyone who tries to claim otherwise is just flat wrong, and when we hear language that diminishes the life and value of another it is incumbent upon us to refute and rebuke such claims!

Now, allow me to add a few further points –

1.  Jesus did not require Zacchaeus to change before he would go to his home and visit with him. 
It’s a beautiful part of the scene when Jesus says he will go to the home of Zacchaeus.  Jesus even says that he must go.  Jesus is very emphatic about going to Zacchaeus’ home.  He did not say, Zacchaeus, you need to quit that job of yours, get a better set of acquaintances, and start behaving more respectably before I will come to your home and associate with you.  Obviously, by the example of Jesus, we must accept people where they are and for who they are, but do we ever communicate they must change before they will matter to us? 

I fear that sometimes that is exactly what we communicate.  Sometimes, and perhaps we don’t even realize we are doing so, we communicate to people that they do not, or will not, matter to us unless they change their lives to become more acceptable to us.  But people do not have to please us or work to become acceptable to us; they only need to be acceptable to God and, the truth is, all people are acceptable to God.  We, however, are the ones who often add all manner of provisions and requirements that must be met before we find some people to be acceptable enough that we will associate with them.

Notice that as soon as Jesus makes the announcement and heads off to the home of Zacchaeus, out come the grumblers.  He has gone to be the guest of a sinner, they say.  Let me ask this – what version of that phrase do we use today?  Do we ever say something similar?  Perhaps our version is, you need to think more about your reputation, aren’t you concerned about it?  Don’t you worry about what people will think of you?  Aren’t your worried their influence will rub off on you?  You can do better than that.  You need to be careful about your associations.  Whatever our version of he has gone to be the guest of a sinner is, let’s not use it.  Let’s make sure we are absolutely done with it, and let’s not be afraid to associate with those who need our acceptance and love.

2.  Followers of Jesus should never diminish the lives of others.
When I first wrote that phrase in my notes I wrote followers of Jesus do not diminish the lives of others.  I scratched out do not and exchanged it for should never.  I did so out of the recognition that we sometimes do diminish the lives of others.

As I worked on this message, it did not occur to me until late in the week that I should address the politics that now exist around any statement about lives that matter.  When the Black Lives Matter movement began some months ago it set off a great deal of discussion about what lives matter.  In response to the Black Lives Matter movement other movements sprung up.  Many emphasized that All Lives Matter, or Blue Lives Matter, and on and on.  Certainly, all lives matter, but to name one particular group as being lives that matter does not in any way diminish or overlook the lives of any other group.  We are too quick to believe that by raising up one group we diminish other groups, which is not at all a reality.  Sometimes it becomes necessary to recognize that there are groups of people who have suffered so much, who have been mistreated for generations, and have faced relentless prejudice, that we need to say, specifically, that their lives matter.

That is what Jesus did.  By going to the home of Zacchaeus he said that tax collectors mattered.  It didn’t mean other lives didn’t matter, but this tax collector, despised and ostracized by so many, needed to be spoken of specifically.  Similarly, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-38) he was making a statement that the lives of women mattered.  When a woman was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus, with a crowd eager to stone her, Jesus told her accusers if any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7), again affirming that the lives of women matter.  When he told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he was making a statement that Samaritan lives mattered.  In a time when those who suffered from leprosy were cast out of society, Jesus touched the diseased bodies (Luke 5:12-13, and in doing so demonstrated that their lives mattered.  Sometimes you simply must say that specific lives mattered.

3. Who are the Zaccheus’ of today that need to know their lives matter?
When Jesus responds to Zacchaeus in such a welcoming way he threatens his own standing with the people, because immediately, as I have already observed, people began to mutter, he has gone to be the guest of a sinner (verse 7).  All of us, I’m going to assume, have at some point in life pulled back from someone who needed us, and we pulled back because of the disapproval – or fear of disapproval – of other people.  We begin to hear the mutterings of disapproval and, out of fear of the opinions of others, we step back.  Jesus, however, did not.  In fact, Jesus never pulled back because of the disapproval of others, and that is a powerful lesson for all of us.

The other day I was in Louisville and stopped to get some lunch.  I was sitting at my table, looking over my draft of this message, and across from me was a mom with three young children.  I don’t know what the topic of their conversation was, but one of her children, a girl about four years old, responded very loudly to something that was said in the conversation, and this is the statement she made – nobody’s better than anybody, and nobody’s worser than anybody.  I wanted to lean over and ask will you run for office some day?  You’ve already got a pretty good campaign slogan.

Nobody’s better than anybody, and nobody’s worser than anybody!  That’s some really great theology, isn’t it?  It certainly reflects that attitude of Jesus!  The truth is, everyone is a precious creation and child of God.  No one is better than anybody, and nobody’s worser than anybody.  The life of every person matters although, tragically, we live in a world that does not demonstrate this attitude.  We live in a world where some people are treated as though they are better or worser, but the example of Jesus shows us this should never be so.

Zacchaeus was treated as though he was worser, but he wasn’t.  Notice that in verse 9 Jesus says this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  That’s the name Jesus used for Zachaeus.  While others labeled him a thief, a crook, a cheat, or a traitor, Jesus called him a son of Abraham, meaning that Zacchaeus is family.  What a powerful moment this must have been for Zacchaeus. 

Who should we embrace and call family?  Who needs to hear that their lives matter?  Just as we matter to God, so do all others, and we must make this very clear.  Amen!

Monday, October 10, 2016

October 9, 2016 Do Not Worry About Tomorrow

I am grateful to be back this morning, after some time away.  I appreciate Jordan and David leading worship last Sunday, and it was a bit adventurous after Jordan being in the hospital most of last Saturday night with Lilly’s injury.  So allow me to begin by thanking our church staff, who work so hard to minister to and lead this congregation.  Much of the work of a church staff is not seen, it does not conform to regular and scheduled hours, and it is often stressful and, at times, discouraging.  Thank you for praying for us and encouraging us, and please continue to do so.

When I have a Sunday away I look forward to attending church.  I enjoyed sitting in the next to the last row in a church last week, and as I sat there a lot of thoughts and questions entered my mind as I got to be an observer for a change.  A number of questions went through my mind, among them these two questions – if I were sitting out in the congregation every week, what would I want to hear, and, perhaps more importantly, what would I need to hear?

Those questions got me to thinking quite a bit about my upcoming messages.  I have not been preaching in a series for several months, which is unusual for me.  Instead, I have loosely followed a theme – connections – until I felt led to go in another direction.  In recent weeks I was beginning to wonder why I had not yet felt compelled to go in any particular direction, other than from week to week.  I finally felt that prompting in recent days.

Beginning next week we will enter a four-week series I have titled Your Life.  The four messages will be –

Your Life Matters
Your Life Has A Purpose
Your Life Has A Future
Your Life Is A Gift

Now, to this morning’s message – Do Not Worry About Tomorrow.  Um, yeah, right. 

Today’s Scripture text is a familiar passage, which I turn to every few years, and the verses lead to the final verse, verse 34, which is what I want to focus on this morning.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The genesis for this message came from some words of a friend of mine, who in recent months has said time and again that take no thought for the morrow (he likes to use the King James Version) may be the most important of all the words of Jesus.  Each time I’ve heard my friend make the statement about the importance of those words I’ve bristled a bit, because I do such a lousy job of living out those words that I’d prefer to ignore them. After months of hearing him make that claim I finally felt moved to preach on those words because, for one reason, it requires me to work out in greater detail what I think about them and how I apply – or should apply – them to my own life.  And, to respond to my friend, I don’t know that I would list these words as the most important of Jesus’ sayings, but I would put them in the top 10, and maybe top 5.

Now, I want you to notice something very important about this passage, and I’ll give you a hint about what it is – it’s in the title of this message.  What does Jesus tell us not to worry about?  Tomorrow.  He does not say do not worry about today.  Have you ever noticed that?  I believe Jesus acknowledges, when he says to not worry about tomorrow, that there are many matters in life that provide genuine cause for worry and anxiety.  Jesus is not saying that we either should not or do not worry; he is recognizing the reality of our worry about many matters in life, but tells us that we should not put upon ourselves more worry that we need or can manage.

So, what I am not going to do is to offer a three or four step plan that guarantees you will never again worry.  That is patently unrealistic.  Instead, I will speak more to what I would call worry management, and I will break down this verse into three categories to which I will speak – Attitude, Control, and Life View.

1.  Attitude.
Most everyone falls into one of three categories when it comes to attitude – an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist.  A realist is someone who lives in between an optimist and a pessimist.  And in each of those categories there are subcategories.  Under pessimist you can be a grouch, a whiner, a complainer, or general irritant.  Under optimist you can be unrealistic, naïve, or oblivious.

At the Salt & Light Festival two weeks ago, after our band finished playing, a gentleman came to speak with me and gave me this wristband that I have worn since then.  It says Live Joyfully.  I like that message, and I wear it to remind me that I cannot always control my circumstances – or many things in life, and we’ll talk about control in a moment – but I can control my attitude.

I believe this is one of the foundational principles Jesus is speaking of in this passage – attitude.  Don’t be controlled by fear, don’t be controlled by anxiety, don’t allow your circumstances to determine your attitude, he is saying.  But how often do we do just that?  How many times do we get up in the morning, ready for the day, ready to take on the world, ready to conquer the world, and the moment you step get in the car someone cuts you off and in just a moment you go from a positive, uplifting attitude, to wanting to commit an act of road rage?  It doesn’t take much to change our attitude, does it?  But Jesus is telling us that we must control our attitude.  Attitude is one of the few things over which we have control, which leads to our second point –

2.  Control.
I really love the Serenity Prayer.  For years I had a medallion on my keychain that had the prayer etched on it.  It belonged to my father and several years ago I passed it on to Nick.  You know that prayer, I’m sure. Written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, sometime in the early 1930s, it says – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  Simple and to the point, it offers us some important truths.  It tells us, for one, that not everything is within our control.  In fact, we all understand that a great deal of life is not under our control, and that is one of the reasons why we experience so much worry and anxiety, isn’t it? 

To some extent, every one of us is a control freak.  Do you agree?  If you don’t agree, you’re most likely a real control freak, because they are usually in denial.  In fact, I’ll go off script here a bit, against my better judgment.  I can be such a control freak that…do I really want to say this?  Well, now that you’re wondering what I’m going to say I guess I should go ahead and continue!  I have to place the towels in our linen closet a particular way.  I have been very proud in recent days that I have not rearranged the manner in which Tanya placed the towels in that closet.  Don’t look in her direction, because I haven’t even admitted this to her!  Are any of you that much of a control freak?  Thank you to the few who are willing to cautiously raise their hands – it’s good to know I’m not alone! 

All of us want to control our surroundings, our circumstances, our life events, and almost every other facet of life.  And don’t feel there is anything wrong with you for wanting to be in control because it is one of the most natural states of being among humanity.  But here’s the problem – we aren’t able to control much of what happens to us in life.  We can control some things, to a certain extent, such as our health and the date at which we retire.  Somewhat.  But we can’t control every aspect.  We have no power over market downturns that wreck a retirement plan or portfolio, we have no control over the downsizing or closing of the company for which we work and the impact it has on our retirement planning.  We can work hard to care for our health so that we can live as long and healthy as possible, but we cannot control the distracted, texting driver coming our direction that looks down and drifts into our lane of traffic or the unwelcome news that a doctor shares about test results. 

Jesus spoke to an audience of people who had very little control over their lives.  They struggled mightily for their daily existence.  Their life span was not very long.  Almost half of children did not live to 10 years old.  To make it to my age would be quite an accomplishment.  They did not have time or resources to take vacations or to enjoy even a few luxuries.  They had no real conveniences in life.  No cell phones, no internet, no satellite TV, and no 24-hour news channels. They had no control over their political destiny, as Rome controlled everything. They did not have the opportunity to elect their leaders.  Okay, maybe they were better off in that respect.  They were people who had little choice but to endure what life brought to them, and what life brought to them was hardship, struggle, and difficulty.  They had many reasons to be bitter, they had many reasons to be discouraged, but in the words of Jesus they found hope.  God was concerned, Jesus said, about their daily needs, such as food and clothing.  While many people believed their lives had little or no meaning and that their lives mattered little, Jesus told them their lives did matter and their lives had meaning.  We grow up with the idea that we are valuable and that are lives matter and that we can accomplish great things.  Not the people in Jesus’ day.  They had little, if any, hope.  But Jesus gave them hope!  They did not have to be defeatist in their attitude and they did not have to be pessimistic about their future because they had hope.

3.  Life View.
I am the king of worry.  It would surprise me if anyone could outdo me when it comes to worry.  Too often, I find myself thinking more about problems than possibilities in life, which keeps me stuck in a short-term view of life.

If you can dream of and believe in a present and a future that has meaning and purpose, you can take the longer view of life.  If you see no real future, and certainly if you have no hope of anything after this life, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape a defeatist view of life.  If you think this is all there is, you are more likely to pursue a life of self-indulgence and self-satisfaction.  You’ll live in the moment – rock and roll every night and party every day, as the song goes.  That should not be the mantra of our lives!  Neither should sayings such as you only go around once in life so grab all the gusto you can!  That leads to a shallow and self-indulgent life that is of little or no benefit to anyone else.  Faith always, always, takes the long view of life, the eternal view.

So there you have it – worry management.  Are we going to worry about tomorrow?  Yes, we probably are!  But will we be trapped and controlled and ultimately defeated by that worry?  No!  Allow the power of God to free you from the prison of worry and anxiety!

Monday, October 03, 2016

September 25, 2016 Knowing God

I had a bit of déjà vu the other day.  I was going to Lexington to the Regional Assembly, traveling on US 60 between Frankfort and Versailles, when I noticed a state trooper coming up behind me with the blue lights flashing.  Thankfully, he passed me by, but it reminded me of the time when, on the same stretch of road about fifteen years ago, a state trooper pulled me over for speeding.  It was very early in the morning and I was on my way to Central Baptist Hospital to see someone before their surgery.

The difficult part of the entire encounter with the trooper was the way he asked me questions, basically asking them in a way that required me to admit my guilt.  His first question, after taking my registration, license, etc, was Mr. Charlton, did you not notice that I was following you for at least a mile with my lights on?  I didn’t think it was fair to expect me to answer a question that would incriminate me, but to not offer an answer didn’t help my situation any.  His next question was, do you know how fast you were going?  Again, I didn’t think it was fair to ask me a question that would make my guilt obvious.  I didn’t actually know how fast I was going, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to say that I knew my speed within a particular range.  I knew I had been speeding; I just didn’t know how fast I happened to be going.  It turns out I didn’t need to do, as he had clocked my speed with his radar gun.  My speed was 82, in a 55 mph zone.  That’s when matters quickly got worse, because his next question was, Mr. Charlton, did you know that when you are more than 25 mph over the sped limit I’m supposed to revoke your license on the spot.  I did not know that, and I wish he hadn’t told me.  But then I suddenly had a flash of hope when he moved on to his next question, which was, where in the world are you going in such a hurry at this early hour?  I have never played the minister card when pulled over by a state trooper or a police officer.  I have minister friends who have clergy stickers on their cars and clergy cards in their wallet with their driver’s licenses.  I don’t do that, but it occurred to me that I had an opening.  I told the officer that a member of my church is having surgery at Central Baptist Hospital this morning, and I promised here that I would have a word of prayer with her before the surgery.  I was feeling much better at that point.  Surely he would let me go, seeing as how I was so badly needing to get on to the hospital to pray for this dear woman.  My hope quickly diminished when he asked his next questions, which was, this surgery; was it scheduled or is it an emergency.  To be honest, it had been scheduled for a number of weeks, but I wanted to proclaim that it’s looking more and more like an emergency!

The officer did not let me go without a ticket, but he did give me a break.  He did not take my driver’s license and he recommended me to traffic school, allowing me to earn back the points I would lose because of the ticket.  Although I should have been grateful, but as I drove away I found myself grumbling about the fact that I had received a ticket.  But here’s the thing – that’s what state troopers do, that is their nature, to stop speeding drivers, so why should I have expected anything different?

As we turn to our Scripture passage this morning, I want us to think about Knowing God; that is, what it means to know the nature of God.  In a moment I will read a parable that is often misunderstood.  It is a parable that speaks to us about knowing the nature of God.  The parable is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  I will read the version presented in Luke’s gospel.

Luke 19:11-26 –
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.
12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.
13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.  ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.
21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?
23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

I chose the version from Luke to read this morning because Matthew’s version is one that is easier to misunderstand.  Allow me to explain what I mean when I use the word misunderstand.  Matthew’s version uses the word talent, leading us to generally refer to the passage as the parable of the talents.  When we hear the word talent we define that word as an ability or skill, but that is not at all what the word means, at least not in this context.  The word talent, in the day of Jesus, was a measurement of currency, not a reference to an ability or a skill.  In Luke’s version of the parable the word mina is used.  A mina was a measurement of weight, which became a measurement of currency as well.  Depending upon the type of precious metal that was used in a coin, the weight would assign the value of the coin.  Reading Luke’s version, with his use of the word mina instead of talent, we are a bit less likely to misunderstand the passage.

So for this morning, let’s forget about most of the sermons and studies you have heard from this parable, as most of the time they miss the real point of the passage.  It’s not that they were wrong in the sense that they gave erroneous information as much as they did not provide the most accurate information.  Most of those sermons and lessons provided good and helpful information, but they probably did not offer the real point of the parable in this week’s Scripture passage.

This is not a passage about practicing good stewardship, at least not in its primary meaning.  There are plenty of passages in Scripture that tell us of the importance of good stewardship but that is not the point of this passage.  Neither is this a passage about wise investing, as is often taught.  Wise investing is important and prudent advice, but that is not the primary point of this parable.

The point of this parable is the ability to understand the true nature of God.  There are a number of secondary interpretations that are valid to make – such as using our talents wisely, being a good investor, etc. – but it is important that we understand the real point of the passage.  The real message of this parable comes in verses 22 and 23, in the words you knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

There it is – the servant, knowing the nature of his master, did not do what his master expected of him.  The master expected the servant to use the money entrusted to him in order to earn more money for his master’s bank account.  Thus, the point of the parable is not about investing what God gives to us as much as it is understanding God’s nature and, because we understand his nature, doing what he expects of us.

I think it is safe to say God expects the same of us.  God’s kingdom, though present and visible in some ways, has obviously still not fully arrived.  God wants us, however, to be about his business, doing the work of his kingdom.  If we understand God’s nature we will understand that is what he is about – bringing about his kingdom.

So I want to ask three questions related to this passage and the work of God’s kingdom, and I’m going to put it in the singular –

1.  What does God expect of me?
I believe, first of all, he expects us to be faithful. 

The king in this parable was gone for an undetermined amount of time, but he expected his servants to be faithful in the task with which they were charged.  The context of this parable is told to us in verse 1, and it is an important context – because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  Jesus was telling his followers that the kingdom of God was not going to suddenly appear, as if by magic, and because it was not, they needed to be faithful in doing the work of God’s kingdom.  This is what God would expect of them.

As I move further and further into life I look at many things differently.  My expectations are different.  My hopes are different.  What I want out of life is different.  When it comes to thinking about reaching the end of life – which I hope is still a long way off – what I hope most of all is to remain faithful; faithful to God and faithful to the call he has placed upon my life.

My faith has always meant a great deal to me, and it is one of the absolutely great gifts of my life.  My mom and dad provided many things for my siblings and me, but as I look back I am most grateful that they raised me in faith.  I am extremely thankful they did. 

Paul was a mentor to Timothy, both in faith and in ministry, and in II Timothy 4:7-8 he writes those immortal words I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  Paul wanted to be faithful, and he was, to the very end.

2.  What am I doing?
This is not a question of vocation.  We ask many, many questions related to our vocations.  In fact, we probably obsess over vocation more than we should, and we think less about our mission and purpose in life.  The question is, what am I doing for God’s kingdom.  And that’s not just a question for a minister or an elder; it’s a question for anyone who claims to know God.

We can look to the life of Jesus and find plenty of examples of what we should be going.  What did Jesus do?  How did Jesus treat people?  When we examine the life of Jesus we find a template for what we should be going.

Sometimes, we sell ourselves far too short.  We tell ourselves that we don’t have any ability or gifts and that we don’t have much with which to work, but we all have some resource.  Some have many, some have fewer, but it doesn’t matter what resource it is or how great or small it may seem.  It doesn’t matter.  At all.  We all have an ability.  We all have something we can offer.

Where am I investing my life?  What am I doing with my life?  Am I simply wandering through life, working through the week and then occupying myself on the weekend with some entertainment?  Life is so much more.

3.  What should I be doing?
What am I doing and what should I be doing are two very different perspectives.  Take a few minutes this week and put these two questions at the top of a sheet of paper – what am I doing?  What should I be doing?  How well does our life match up with what we say is important to us? 

All of us are very busy.  All of us are doing a lot.  But what should we be doing?  Are we doing what we are called to do?

Knowing what we know of God’s nature, are we being faithful?