2023-11-19 Pentecost 25
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
As I mentioned last Sunday, we are very late in the church year, approaching the end. And as we get closer to the end, our readings and themes really focus on the end. The Scriptures’ end times warnings are everywhere. Wake awake! Perk up your ears! The Messiah is coming, get ready! Get prepared. Have your oil and lamps burning brightly because the big moment of the Bridegroom’s arrival can literally happen any moment. Our Lord Jesus has promised that He will come again and so His church, His bride waits with eager expectation. But we’ve been waiting about 2000 years or so for His return. The temptation is to get lax about it, filling life with a bunch of malarkey and stuff that doesn’t matter. Today’s theme hones in on a faithful waiting for the return of the King. What do we make of this time while we wait for Christ our King?
Whenever we go camping, swimming in the lake is almost always the top priority. It doesn’t matter if its hot or cold outside, my kids are going in that water. And of course, they harass me to get in too. They have no problem charging right in and let the watery pandemonium begin! But when dad begins to make the journey, it’s a little more, shall we say, reserved. A little more cautious, a little slower process of getting acclimated to the almost always obscenely cold temperature! First a big toe, then a foot, maybe an ankle and so forth. All the while the terrible children are splashing me with icy surf as some kind of backwards encouragement! My kids are immediately “all in” while I’m slowly and carefully inching my way to cold, wet misery.
Our theme for today truly is one of being “all in” with faithfulness while we wait for Jesus. His parable drives this point home. Some workers have been entrusted with much in the master’s absence. The boss is on a journey. He is away. What will his people do? One guy got 5 talents. One got 2. The last guy got 1. A talent was an enormous sum of money, 6000 days’ wages for a labourer. That’s like 20 years worth of cash per talent! So he gives the workers this tremendous fortune with an expectation. And that expectation is multiplication. Multiply that fortune guys! Make something bigger and better. Accomplish lots. Go all in and win big! The over achiever who got 5 fortunes made 5 more. He doubled it! Same as the guy with 2. He made 4 in total. They went all in with gusto! But we notice that it’s not about the amount that was given them. They both got the same reward for their multiplication: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!” (MT 25:21). It’s not like the guy with 5 got more than the guy with 2. It was the same heavenly reward for everyone.
But then there’s the last guy in the teaching. He’s kind of a deadbeat! He’s still entrusted with an enormous sum to work with. But he doesn’t go all in. He’s on the side of the lake shore with maybe one toe in while everyone has already dove in headfirst. “But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (24:18). He dug a hole and buried the treasure. Maybe this third guy was a pirate, I don’t know! But regardless, he doesn’t get commended for his actions! To the contrary, he gets a blast. “’You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest!” (25:26-27). Take away his fortune and give it to the all in over achiever over there, throw this deadbeat into the backroom with weeping, right beside the room with the gnashing of teeth!
OK, so it’s about that time we ask the oh so Lutheran question, what does this mean? It means that as the world waits for Christ Jesus to return in glory - the Master away on His journey - there are only 2 kinds of people: 1) those who receive Christ’s gifts with joy and, as a result of God’s mercy and grace, faithfully serve both God and neighbour with gusto! And 2) those who shun God’s gifts and push them back as something they never wanted in the first place. They failed to see the enormous value, the pearl of great price that they were given. The grace of salvation by faith, being washed clean of our sins in baptism, free forgiveness in the cross of Christ, the mercy and promise of God’s Word, the medicine of immortality in the bread and wine, the fellowship of our church family. All these gifts and more God richly gives to His people. And all He asks is that we multiply it. Share the Good News! Reach out with the Gospel! Give away God’s blessings to those who need it and haven’t heard. You have been blessed to be a blessing, so go all in! The wait of the first group will end in the pure joy of our heavenly home while the wait of group 2 will end in peril and teeth-gnashing darkness.
This really is a lesson in faithfulness while we wait for Jesus to come. This is precisely what God is looking for: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”“ (LK 18:8) Jesus asks. Will He find a living faith. Will He find an all in kind of faith? That’s the point of our Isaiah reading too. Consider all the gifts that God had given to Israel too. From all the peoples of earth, God chose them to bring forth the Messiah. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and established them in the Promised Land. He gave them the tabernacle and then the temple for sacrifices, that they may know God’s love and forgiveness and atonement. God’s presence was right there, in their midst. He gave them His Word, the Law and the Prophets and the hope of an end-times inheritance through the Messiah.
But how does Israel respond to God’s amazing gifts?? Obligatory worship. Grudging sacrifices. Prayers that weren’t heart felt. Festivals that God hated. Like the one-talent man, Israel gave back only reluctant and grudging service. This wasn’t abounding in faithfulness, it was the complete and utter opposite. They treated God as if He was the hard man from Jesus’ parable who took what wasn’t his to take! But despite this lack-luster faithlessness, look how God responds. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isa 1:18). The Lord truly is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for His deadbeat people! And it is truly His mercy that changes our one-toe faithlessness into all in faithfulness.
When we keep God’s amazing grace and mercy in view, we truly begin to grasp how incredible His gifts in Christ are. We begin to appreciate them and use them faithfully. This is what we do while we wait for our Saviour. Living sacrifices of thanksgiving to our neighbours as if to our Lord and King Himself. True service and dedication to God isn’t about giving Him what you think He is due. It’s not grudging service and rote sacrifices. Truly serving God in true faithfulness is nothing less than a joy-filled, all in endeavour. For Christ has come and He will come again. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen!