St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-19-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-19-2017

Each According to Their Ability

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

As a believer throughout my life, and especially now that I am a minister in Christ’s Church, it is not uncommon, when engaging nonbelievers, for me to hear comments about how they feel it is impossible to measure-up to God’s expectations. More than once I have heard statements to the effect of “I can’t possibly succeed in being good enough to make it to heaven so why bother trying? I’ll just enjoy my time here and wind up in hell just the same as if I tried and inevitably failed”.

Just as sad, or perhaps even worse, is when I see “believers” who are so afraid of not pleasing God with their actions that they have no active faith at all; those that believe doing nothing as far as producing the fruit of the kingdom is not a failure but doing the wrong thing is an unforgiveable catastrophe.

Such understanding can be found in the Bible. That is it can be justified if one reads the Bible with a focus on condemnation rather than on salvation.

If we care to focus on condemnation, the verses from Matthew saying “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Matthew 5:48) and the one stating that “Many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14) combined with the verse from Revelation stating “…the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand…” (7:4) might lead us to believe that the odds of getting into heaven are very slim. With only the number of Christians living today, not counting all those who have lived on earth since the time of Christ, that 144,000 calculates to odds of about 1 in every 152,778 making the grade.

For anyone who was taught, and believed, such nonsense I can see why they would just throw up their hands and say “Oh well, might as well enjoy it while it lasts”.

Then, on the other hand, in the Gospel reading we have today, we see better odds. Notice, here, two out of three are invited to “…enter into the joy of [their] master”.

Two of the three slaves took risks, they invested their masters wealth and doubled the amount while the other only returned what had been handed him. His inaction wasn’t a matter of feeling hopeless in being able to please his master; rather it was the result of fear; the fear of failure.

Just as the poor odds of making the grade are a misunderstanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ, so is the idea of being condemned for failed efforts. The one slave wasn’t condemned for failing to double his master’s money, he was condemned for not even trying.

This thought is reinforced in an earlier parable of Jesus in Matthew; in the parable of the forgiven debt where a Kings slave was found to be in debt for the astronomical amount of ten thousand talents owing to mismanagement of the king’s funds. That debt was forgiven; only reinstated when the slave failed to show equal mercy to someone indebted to him. (Matt. 18:23-35)

What got in the way of the slave in today’s story was fear. He himself says so as he speaks the words…

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.



Here we have another misunderstanding; “…I knew that you were a harsh man…” again, that idea is negated by the parable of the forgiven debt (and many other readings in the Gospel I might add); yet this misunderstanding has been propagated, and is still propagated, by some within the Christian faith who look at the word of God with a focus on condemnation.

God isn’t harsh, God is merciful.

God does entrust us with much and, without specific instructions God does expect us to do something with what he has given. Being a “good and faithful servant” isn’t all about theological correctness; it’s not all about being passively ‘awake when our master returns’, or having our lamps filled with oil at all times because we ‘don’t know the day or the hour, or about following black-and-white instructions, and it’s certainly not about playing against unfathomable odds. Being a good and faithful servant is about taking the risks necessary to be actively engaged in furthering our master’s interests in his absence while relying on his mercy if we fail to double what he entrusted to us.

Take another look, all the way at the beginning of the story, when the man hands out his property to his three slaves, he does so “…each according to [their] ability”. He knew his slaves, he knew that one was better at investing and gave him five talents; to another with a little less ability he gave two and to the third, with the least ability he gave the least amount; just one talent.

None got a free pass; none were given nothing to be responsible for. But they weren’t all given the same amount to be responsible for. Likewise, God doesn’t load us all equally; God knows us and assigns responsibility according to our abilities. Again, we’re not competing with others against unreasonable odds to become one of the select few; that idea is yet another misunderstanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

God knows your abilities. God does not expect you to perform at the same level as everyone else; only at the best you can do with what you’ve been given; therefore, it is possible to measure-up to God’s expectations as long as you open your mouth and move your feet in God’s service. So let go of the fear of failure and serve your master boldly with the assurance that the only way you can fail is by doing nothing at all. Then hear the invitation to “enter into the joy of your master!”



Judges 4:1-7
4:1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.
4:2 So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim.
4:3 Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
4:4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel.
4:5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.
4:6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun.
4:7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.'”

Psalm 123
123:1 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
123:2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us.
123:3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
123:4 Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.


1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.
5:2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
5:3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!
5:4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief;
5:5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
5:6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;
5:7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.
5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
5:9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
5:10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Matthew 25:14-30
25:14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;
25:15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
25:16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.
25:17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.
25:18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
25:19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
25:20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’
25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
25:22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’
25:23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
25:24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;
25:25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
25:26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?
25:27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.
25:28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
25:29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
25:30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’