Category Archives: Sermons

A Fool’s Errand – Sermon on Mark 1:9-15

February 18, 2018 Lent 1B

What kind of fool are you? Over the next several weeks, as we mark the season of Lent, we’re going to be looking at the foolishness of God that puts human wisdom to shame. We will examine what it means to be a fool for Christ, someone who is willing to put pride on the line for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. By the time we get to Easter on April Fool’s Day, we are going to see Jesus get the last laugh on Death and Sin.

Today, on this first Sunday of Lent, we start out by following Jesus on a fool’s errand. A fool’s errand is a journey that doesn’t make sense. At first glance, it looks like nothing good can come of this trip; there is nothing worthwhile to be gained.

In this case, it’s dangerous. Temptations will try to steer us off course. And it’s a long trip. We aren’t talking a three-day weekend here. This fool’s errand is a serious, six-week journey into the wilderness.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:9-15)

No matter which gospel we read, the first Sunday in Lent always brings us to the story of Christ’s temptation in the desert. Since we’ve heard about Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his ministry in recent weeks, let’s just focus today on the wilderness, where the Spirit drives Jesus out on a fool’s errand. In other words, the Spirit expels, or throws Jesus out to be tempted. Continue reading

Do You Know Your Purpose? Sermon on Mark 1:29-39

2/4/2018

Mark’s gospel sometimes seems a bit rough around the edges. Mark wastes no time telling his story, and his urgency comes through, even when we divide his writing into short passages to examine them one by one. In the first chapter alone, we’ve already found Mark’s favorite word “immediately” twelve times.

There is so much activity packed into this first chapter, it’s hard to remember that most of these events all happened on the same day. We get the impression that the people who were following Jesus had a hard time keeping up, too. Here’s what has happened so far in Mark’s gospel – and remember, we’re still in chapter one:

  • After his baptism and 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus heads to Galilee, where he calls four fishermen to follow him; they leave their boats and nets
  • They go to Capernaum, a small fishing village, where these four apparently lived.
  • On the Sabbath, Jesus goes to the synagogue and teaches with unusual authority. A demon-possessed man stands up in the middle of the synagogue and challenges him, and names him as the Holy One of God – in other words, the Messiah – but Jesus silences the unclean spirit and tells it to leave the man. It obeys immediately.

This brings us to today’s passage. It’s still the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples have just left the synagogue. Four distinct scenes will occur over the next few hours. The story continues in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, beginning at verse 29. Scene One:

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Maybe they went to Simon’s house because it was closest to the synagogue, or it had the most room for guests. However they came to Simon’s home, we learn something about him that we didn’t know before. He has a family to support, and his wife’s mother is sick with a fever. Simon tells Jesus this “immediately.” Maybe he’s hoping that this Jesus, who has just shown authority over an unclean spirit, might also have the authority to drive out a fever.

And that is exactly what Jesus does. He doesn’t say a word. He only puts out his hand and takes the hand of Simon’s mother-in-law. The fever is gone. Immediately. As Jesus brings her to her feet, the verb is the same one Mark will use in chapter 16 to describe Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. He lifts her up.

And the mother-in-law’s response to this miraculous healing is also immediate. She gets busy serving. In essence, Simon’s mother-in-law becomes Jesus’ first deacon, reminding us that Jesus saw himself as a servant, too.

Later in his ministry, Jesus will tell his disciples, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

And this brings us to Scene Two, beginning in verse 32:

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

You just can’t keep a secret in a small town like Capernaum. By now, everyone knows what happened in the synagogue, and many people will have already heard that Simon’s mother-in-law is no longer sick. As soon as Sabbath ends, a stream of people makes its way to Simon’s door, asking for healing, asking Jesus to do on a large scale what they’ve already seen him do on a smaller scale.

Notice that there is a clear distinction between healing and exorcism in Mark’s gospel. Mark will maintain this distinction throughout the coming chapters. The most important aspect of this difference is that Jesus never touches someone to expel an unclean spirit, but he often heals through the power of touch.

Human touch in scripture represents a particular level of intimate relationship.[1] God created us to be close to him, and that is why Jesus became human: to make God’s love real and tangible, to make God touchable. And this, as P. C. Ennis puts it, is what “makes it all the more demanding (if frightening) to realize that for some people,
we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.[2]

God not only calls us into service through his Son, God calls us into community with those who long for that connection we all crave, that nearness to God made possible through Christ. The story continues in verse 35. Scene Three:

 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up
and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 

Jesus goes off to be alone in prayer only three times in Mark’s gospel. Luke describes several instances of Jesus seeking solitude, but in Mark, we only read about Jesus going off alone to pray, first here, then after he has fed the five thousand, and finally in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he is betrayed by Judas. These are pivotal moments in Mark’s story, and they all share one common element: darkness.

Darkness and wilderness are closely linked here. Jesus goes off to some deserted location, reminding us of his time in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, when he was tempted by Satan. After feeding the 5000 – also called the miracle of multiplication – Jesus will send his disciples off in a boat so he can spend the night in prayer (6:46).

On another night, in a lonely garden, Jesus will pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (14:32–42) The darkness of Christ’s times in solitude is the very darkness where he questions God, where he faces fear, and where Jesus submits to his Father’s will.

Even Jesus struggled to find his purpose at the beginning of his ministry, but he knew how to discover it. He prayed. The one who knew God’s heart better than anyone still set aside time to be alone with his Father in the darkness, to seek God’s will in extended times of prayer.

Being alone in the dark wilderness wasn’t the safest place to be in the first century. There were no streetlamps to light the way, no motion activated floodlights to scare off the wild animals. There were no cell phones to notify others if something went wrong. There was no GPS to help you find your way back to town if you got lost.

For Jesus, though, it was the only place where he could talk one-on-one with his Father, without interruption. Well, almost without interruption. The story concludes, beginning in verse 36: Scene Four.

And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”  He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”  And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Maybe Simon and his friends hoped that Jesus would just keep on doing what he had done so far – healing, driving out demons, meeting whatever needs were presented to him. So far, the plan had seemed to work pretty well. Fishing for people wasn’t so bad, if all you had to do was control the crowds that kept coming to see Jesus perform his miracles.

But Jesus tells them something they weren’t expecting to hear. “Let’s go to the neighboring towns so I can preach there, too. That’s my purpose.” This created a moment of decision for the disciples. There would be many more like it. Each time, they would have to decide, “Do we keep following?”

And that is the choice we face each day, too. Jesus says the same thing to us that he preached in Capernaum: Repent, turn away from your old ways, and believe that the Kingdom of God is here now. Be changed. Be transformed. Find your purpose and decide to live it.

Jesus found that his purpose wasn’t becoming just a local healer, but reaching as many people as possible with the good news of God’s love for them. Jesus never went out looking for people to heal. That wasn’t his primary mission.[3] People came to him, seeking his healing touch, asking for his help, and he had compassion on them. Some of them did believe. Some did repent and follow Jesus, and their lives were changed forever.

Like Simon’s mother-in-law, they responded by serving with gratitude. The disciples learned that you can’t be a true follower of Jesus by sitting in the comfort of your own living room. You have to get up, as Simon’s mother-in-law did, and join with others in the work of the Kingdom of God. Because for some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.

We may not be the only ones who will satisfy their urgent, physical needs, but we are the only ones who will welcome them into the family of God.

  • We are the only ones who will help them recognize their need for a Savior.
  • We are the only ones who can show them what it means to be transformed into Christ’s image through the daily disciplines of prayer and Bible study, service and sacrifice.
  • We are the only ones who can show them what it means to decide every day to keep following Jesus.
  • We are the only ones who can love them as Christ loved us, who can make that love tangible and touchable for them.

We are the only Jesus they will ever meet.

So, how do you find your purpose the way Jesus did?

First, Get Close to God.

We have to go into the dark wilderness to get close to God in prayer. This is where we meet God, and sometimes our fears, face to face. It is in solitude and darkness that we find our purpose and learn to trust completely in God’s will.

The disciples would probably have preferred for Jesus to stay in Capernaum, healing from his home base, and theirs. But Jesus leads them out into their own dark wilderness: the unknown territory of introducing others to the Kingdom of God and leading them to repentance. If we want to get close to God, we have to go away from the noise and bright lights of our busy culture, and head into the dark wilderness.

Second, Focus.

“Everyone is looking for you, Jesus,” the disciples said when they hunted him down. Everyone wants a piece of you. But Jesus knew he couldn’t be distracted from his primary purpose by spending all his time and energy on a secondary goal. He had to focus on what his heavenly Father was telling him to do, even if it meant disappointing the people in Capernaum.

Pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof notes that people don’t generally come knocking on your door to help you achieve your purpose. Most people aren’t too interested in helping you “complete your top priority. They will only ask you to complete theirs.”[4]

That’s what the disciples were doing. They saw all those people from Capernaum whose number one priority was getting healed or having their demons exorcised. None of them had even stopped to consider what Jesus’ number one priority might be. It would have been easy for Jesus to get caught up in the healing miracle circus, because he had compassion. But he focused on what his heavenly Father had asked him to do: proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom had broken into our world.

Third, Silence the Demons

What demons haunt you? What are the things that cause you to worry? What are the sins that keep creeping into your life, even after you think you’ve repented and turned them over to God? What are those nagging voices in the back of your mind telling you? You know the ones I mean. The voices telling you that you aren’t good enough, or you aren’t rich enough or smart enough or thin enough or … whatever your “not enough” might be. Those demons are the ones Christ came to cast out of your life forever. Those demons that shout at you, “I know who you really are!” are the demons Christ came to silence. So let him. Silence the demons, so you can get on with fulfilling your purpose as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Finally: Practice Small, Multiply to Scale

Notice how Mark frames this story. Jesus performed a single exorcism in the synagogue. Later in the day, he performs a single act of healing in his friend’s home. Then Jesus does the same thing on a much larger scale. The private home becomes a public space, as Jesus heals and casts out unclean spirits for the many who come to Simon’s door.

Whatever your purpose is, however God calls you to serve, it’s going to take some practice on a small scale before you can be effective on a large scale. The biggest mega-church in America started with a dozen people meeting in a two-car garage. When we start small, we give ourselves a chance to develop our gifts and refine our understanding of the purpose God has in mind for us, before we can grow and develop the ministry we are given.

So if you want to know your purpose, the plan God had in mind for you from before time began, now would be a perfect time to start asking God to show it to you. As we approach Christ’s Table, Jesus calls us to get close to him, to focus on what God wants more than what others are clamoring to get from us. Jesus offers to help us silence the demons that keep trying to prevent us from living out our purpose.

And Christ encourages us to start small, with the one person he puts in front of us each day who needs to know Jesus. Because for that person, you may be the only Jesus they will ever meet. Amen.

[1] P.C. Ennis, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, 334.

[2] Ennis, 336.

[3] R. T. France, NIGTC: The Gospel of Mark, 109.

[4] https://careynieuwhof.com/how-your-calendar-is-killing-you-and-what-to-do-about-it/

Selfless In Service – Sermon on John 13:1-17

January 28, 2018
Watch a video of this sermon here.

We’re in a message series called Self-less, We live in an incredibly selfish, self-centered, self-gratifying, self-promoting culture. In fact, if you look up the work “self-promotion” on Google, right on the first page, you will see article after article teaching you how to promote yourself.

One is called, “The Art of Self-Promotion: “6 Ways to Get Your Work Discovered.” Forbes wrote one called, “Self-promotion is a Skill.” In other words, if you want to make it in this society, you better learn how to promote yourself. Then there’s this is one: “40 Ways to Self-Promote Without Being a Jerk.”

It seems like everyone in today’s culture wants to be the GOAT. Raise your hand if you know what that is. I’ll give you folks over the age of 50 a hint: Muhammad Ali made this claim back when he was still known as Cassius Clay. Continue reading

Selfless: Bold in Witness – Acts 4

Message on Acts 4:8-13, 18-20, 29-30 for Epiphany 2B
January 14, 2018

We’ve made it a couple of weeks into the New Year, and maybe some of us are working on forming some new habits. Things like losing weight, or at least eating healthier food and exercising more; maybe getting out of debt or doing a better job of taking care of the house or the car… I know someone who has resolved to drink less diet soda this year. These are all good things, good habits to form.

When you think about it though, the New Year’s resolutions people make mostly focus our attention on ourselves. We might even ask God to help us keep our resolutions for self-improvement. Instead of surrendering to God’s will, we see him as a tool to get us what we want.

God, help me. Bless me. Protect me. Make my life better, make me happier, make me richer. And then when things don’t go our way, when God doesn’t perform according to our expectations, we reject God. “Yeah, I tried God, I tried church, but it just didn’t work. It didn’t help me.”

And the tragedy is that, when we focus on what we want God to do for us, we miss out on the real blessings God wants to pour into our lives. Continue reading

What Salvation Looks Like – sermon for Christmas 1B on Luke 2:22-40

December 31, 2017

Is your tree still up? It’s still Christmas, you know. All this coming week, too, with temperatures hovering at or below zero, it’s still Christmas.

The angels have returned to the heavenly realms, after breaking into this earthly realm to announce peace and good will to the shepherds.

The shepherds have told everyone they know the story of that encounter, and are back in the fields with the sheep.

Most of Joseph’s relatives who were in town for the holidays have gone home, leaving a little more room in the house for the new family to get stronger before they set out on their own journey.

The magi from the East are on their way, but it will be some time before they show up to offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s still Christmas. Luke continues the story in chapter two of his gospel:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:22-40)

Listening to this story of Simeon and Anna meeting Jesus in the temple, I always bump up against this question: How did they know? How did they know that this was the One they’d been waiting for? What clued them into the fact that their prayers had been answered, and they were in the presence of Messiah?

Keep in mind that Simeon and Anna were the first ones to recognize salvation without any angel announcements or stars guiding them. So how did they do it? How did they know?

Let’s take a closer look at these two. First, we need to recognize that Luke often pairs a male and female experience when he tells the important parts of the story of Jesus. Mary’s song is balanced with Zachariah’s song back in chapter 1. Anna’s “pairing with Simeon … illustrate[s] an important theme in Luke: men and women stand side-by-side before God, equal in honor and grace, endowed with the same gifts, with the same responsibilities.”[1] Luke is reflecting the equality between male and female that God had in mind from the beginning of creation. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

And in Galatians 3:28 Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Luke will repeat this pairing of male and female interactions with Christ throughout his gospel.

Jesus will speak of the widow of Zarephath in the same sentence as Naaman (Luke 4:25-28) Other pairings include “the healing of the demoniac and Peter’s mother-in-law ( 4:31-39), and the centurion of Capernaum and the widow of Nain ( 7:1-17).”[2]

Anna’s designation as a prophet is also significant. Including her story with Simeon’s is important to Luke’s version of the gospel. He wants to be sure we understand that Jesus the Savior came for all people, died for all people, and can be recognized, accepted, and proclaimed by anyone, male or female.

Anna and Simeon show us how to do this. And so do Mary and Joseph.

So here we have a couple of faithful, law-abiding parents, bringing their firstborn to the temple to dedicate him to the Lord, and to complete the ritual necessary for Mary’s purification. According to Jewish law, the firstborn – whether human or animal – belonged to the Lord. Firstborn animals were sacrificed, but parents could redeem firstborn children by paying five shekels into the temple treasury.

Luke doesn’t tell us that Mary and Joseph did this. Instead, they dedicate Jesus to the Lord, much as Hannah dedicated young Samuel to the Lord back in the Old Testament. And it is clear that they are poor, because of the offering they bring for Mary’s purification – the law allows for two doves instead of a lamb and a dove, if the parents are poor.

Keep this in mind. Jesus was poor. His family was poor. And yet, Simeon and Anna recognize that this poor child is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Let’s consider Simeon. He is a righteous man who has been waiting for Messiah his entire life. God has told him he will see Israel’s salvation before he dies, and he is constantly worshiping in the temple as he waits for this to happen. He has been waiting for some time, but he has not given up hope. What does he do when he recognizes salvation is right in front of him? He takes the baby and sings a song.

But this is no sweet lullaby. It is a prophetic word from the Lord about the significance of the child Jesus. Simeon is ready to die, now that he has seen God’s salvation. He sings about division and peace, a sword and joy. He warns Mary that she will suffer, as she watches her son suffer.

Let’s consider Anna.

Anna proclaims the Savior to anyone who will listen, “to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. That’s an important clue: in order to recognize salvation when it’s right in front of us, we have to be looking for redemption. We have to be eagerly expecting salvation to come.

What does salvation look like? How will we know it when we see it?

Simeon’s song describes God’s salvation as something that God has “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Salvation is out there in the open, a revelation to everyone who will see it.

It also looks like trouble. Simeon goes on to say,

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

This good news of God’s salvation will meet strong opposition. Jesus will grow up to argue with religious leaders, to face torture and a horrendous death. And why? Simeon tells us it’s because Christ reveals the truth about us.

Christ exposes our sinfulness for what it is. “The inner thoughts of many will be revealed” – and when those inner thoughts are not centered on Christ, they are centered on sin. We don’t like revealing that.

We don’t like to have our hypocrisy exposed. We don’t like our failures of faith to be shown to the world. No wonder Jesus faced opposition. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Jesus, we will face the same opposition, too.

So here’s what salvation looks like:

  • It looks like God at work, exposing our sin as well as our faith.
  • It looks like caring more about “the least” than “the most”
  • It looks like a vulnerable, human baby and an old man ready to die, encompassing both birth and death in salvation’s story.

It looks like Jesus.

How can we be more like Simeon and Anna, so we can recognize what salvation looks like when we see it?

Simeon was “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel.”
Simeon was devoted to hope in God. He was looking forward, not backward. And he was receptive to God’s spirit. Notice that the Holy Spirit is mentioned three times in short order here:

  • The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon.
  • It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
  • Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple

If we want to be able to see God’s salvation when it comes through the door, we need to be looking forward, devoted to hope in God, and open to the Holy Spirit.

And what about Anna? She “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” Anna devoted herself to prayer and worship. If we want to be able to recognize God’s salvation when we see it, we need to be devoted to prayer, to worship, to spiritual practices like fasting that focus our attention on God.

We prepare ourselves for salvation as Simeon and Anna did:

  • In humble obedience and complete devotion to God
  • Expectantly, hopefully worshipping
  • Open to the Holy Spirit filling us and speaking into our lives

It’s still Christmas, but it’s also the eve of a New Year.

Each new year, we make decisions about who we want to be. We make resolutions; we set goals. This can be a good thing. Goals give us focus and direction.

Often, these goals are focused on improving ourselves. Losing weight, saving money, getting a better job — but there’s a catch: even the best goals are often inherently self-centered.

Christ did not call us to live that way. Simeon and Anna did not live that way. To live the life God has in mind for us, we must be willing to devote our whole lives to following Jesus.

During the month of January, I invite you to shake up your perception of Christian living. I invite you to deny yourself and go all-in as you follow Jesus, with the full knowledge that while it won’t make your life easier, you will find joy in the journey.

With Simeon, you will be able to confidently say, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace” at the end of your life. Like Anna, your life will be one of rejoicing. Like Jesus, you will grow in wisdom and strength, and in favor with God. Amen.

[1] http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/bxms1l.shtml

[2] http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/bxms1l.shtml

It All Starts Here – Sermon on Mark 1:1-8 for Advent 2B

December 10, 2017

Imagine you are in Palestine. War is everywhere. You are surrounded by violence. The military leader who just got promoted to imperial dictator happens to be the same general who was responsible for destroying your village last year. Friends and family have scattered, and you aren’t sure what you should do next.

Someone bumps into you on the street, and presses a pamphlet into your hands. For a moment, your eyes meet, and you are struck by two things: first, the intensity of this stranger’s gaze, and second, by the fact this intensity does not seem to be rooted in anger or fear, but … joy. You glance at the pamphlet in your hand, and read the title: “Good News.”

You could use some good news. Is the war over? Has the dictator been overthrown? You find a safe place to open the pages, and you begin to read…

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Continue reading

Eternal Investment – Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

November 19, 2017

We have some leftover business from last week. Have you been bothered about those five bridesmaids who got locked out of the party, just because they didn’t bring along an extra flask of oil? They came with their lamps, and their lamps had oil, but they didn’t bring along any extra. They thought they were prepared, but they weren’t. “Good enough” wasn’t good enough, after all. And instead of continuing to wait, even if it meant waiting in the dark, they went off looking for what they needed somewhere else. When they finally arrived, the door had been shut, and they were out of luck.

The nagging question left over from last week comes up again this week. Why isn’t “good enough” good enough? In today’s passage, Jesus tells another parable that forces us to consider this question from a different angle. Hear the Word of the Lord, from Matthew 25:14-30:

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 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. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’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? 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God.

Why isn’t “good enough” good enough, as we wait for Christ to come again? What is it about following Jesus that requires more from us than we are often prepared to offer? Does the abundant life Jesus promises to us only come at extravagant cost?

From today’s parable, it would seem that’s the case. In Luke’s version of this story, each servant is given a pound, but here in Matthew, the unit of measure is a talent. One talent was worth 6000 denarii, and we already know from previous stories that a denarius was the usual daily wage for a common laborer. So, one talent was worth about 20 years of labor.

Here we have an obviously wealthy master entrusting huge sums of money to his servants, and even the least of these would have had to work for twenty years to earn as much as his master hands over to him. This is extravagance on a grand scale.

We usually think of a talent as some special ability or giftedness, and linguistic experts will tell you that the root of our word “talent” probably comes from the original Greek word we find in this parable. But they will also tell you that the meaning we give to “talent” today did not come into common usage until sometime in the 1500s. At the time Jesus told the story, everyone understood that a talent was a fortune, and five talents was an enormous amount of money, a hundred years’ worth of wages.

Why is this important to know? The traditional interpretation of the parable of the talents has focused on using our abilities while we wait for Christ’s return. Use your talents well, or you might lose them. God gave you special gifts, and you don’t want to be caught on judgment day having to explain why you failed to make the most of your talents. Because the master in our story gave to each “according to his ability,” people have made “ability” the central theme of this parable.

But if we realize that Jesus wasn’t necessarily talking about our abilities as much as the greatest treasure we can imagine, it puts a little different spin on the story. Now, instead of using our abilities as best we can, the question becomes, “how much are we willing to risk to get the greatest return on our investment in the kingdom of God?”

And before we can even ask that question, we need to know what great treasure has our master entrusted to us?

Remembering the parable of the ten bridesmaids, we might think that the great treasure entrusted to us is the faith God gives us. Some invest in their own spiritual development, and they see their faith grow. Others may try to hide their faith, and their faith shrivels away.

But then we run into the problem of the one-talent servant who is cast into outer darkness, and we are left wondering if perhaps his faith was not real faith, or if it was not deep enough. And that idea doesn’t match up with the promise that “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

But what if the talents don’t represent faith, any more than they represent our God-given abilities? What if this great, immense treasure is something else entirely? Think, for just a moment, about what we as Christians can claim as our most precious treasure, worth more than we can possibly imagine. The Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection is the most powerful and amazing story we know! Instead of teaching us to multiply our faith, or develop our abilities – good and worthy as those things are! – perhaps this parable is here to remind us that our greatest treasure, as Christians, is the gospel itself.[1] So, what are we willing to risk to get the best return on our investment in the gospel of Jesus Christ?” What does an investment in the gospel look like?

First of all, investing in the gospel involves letting it change us. It means allowing its transforming power to work in us until our lives are fully centered on Christ. Then it means spreading that good news, so others can come to know and love Jesus as we do. Living into our faith, showing the world what a difference following Jesus makes in the way we live our lives, telling people about the ways God has transformed us – That is how the gospel multiplies and grows. Not by being buried in the ground, but by being shared. And sharing the gospel is a risky business.

Those first two servants understood the need to risk everything. They invested radically in order to double their investment. The third hid his in the ground, in order to return it risk-free to his master. And before we tell ourselves, “I would never do something like that,” we should keep in mind that the third servant was simply doing what was considered prudent at the time.

“Rabbinic law stipulated that burying was the best safeguard against theft and that when one buries entrusted money one is free from liability for it” (Boucher, 139, quoted by Alyce McKenzie.).

Two servants invest radically, and double their money. The third followed a perfectly acceptable course of action, with minimal risk. He did what would have been considered “good enough.” But it wasn’t.

Because if we are talking about the gospel, about following Jesus and being obedient to his teaching, we have to act on that teaching for it to do any good. And the reason we have to act on the gospel isn’t just because Jesus says so.

The parable teaches that the master will return, the promised kingdom is coming, and when it comes all the false values of this age will become obsolete. The gospel of mercy, peace, and forgiveness is all that will matter in the age to come. “What will stand at the end is the gospel and nothing else.”[2]

There’s something else in this parable that we need to see clearly for it to make sense. The relationship between the master and his servants determined how they responded to the trust he placed in them. The two servants who doubled their investment clearly trusted their master enough to risk losing his money. He rewards them with greater responsibility, and invites them into his joy.

The mutual trust between the master and these servants made it possible for them to invest fearlessly what had been entrusted to them. But the third servant does not see his master in such a positive light. In fact, the third servant’s conservative handling of his master’s wealth is clearly based in fear of what would happen should he lose it all.

If we think about our relationship with God in these terms, we must ask ourselves, what is our image of God, and how does that image dictate the way we act? Try it for a moment. What does God look like to you when you close your eyes? What do his hair and his face look like? His clothing? His posture? Is he smiling, or looking stern? Does he have a beard?

Those images we hold in our minds dictate the way we behave. If we see God as a stern ruler who punishes those who disobey him, we will act in fear, just as the third servant did. But if we see God as a generous and loving caregiver who wants only the best for us, we will act in confidence that he will forgive us when we do wrong. We can depend on God’s abundance being made available to us.

Our image of God determines how we invest in his kingdom. Either we will share lavishly, or we will hide the good news where it does no one any good. It all depends on how we view God, and how much we trust the One who entrusts us with his greatest treasure.

To be a trustworthy servant, we must be willing to trust the One who trusts us. And that trust is the key to understanding what this parable is really about. It isn’t about using the abilities we’ve been given, even though that is a worthy thing to do. It isn’t about believing that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us from our sins, even though that belief is necessary for our salvation. Faith is more than simply believing something to be true. James 2:19 says even the demons believe in God, and they shudder. Faith is more than that.

Faith is trusting what you believe, which means becoming vulnerable, putting yourself at risk. Are we willing to invest extravagantly in the work of God’s kingdom? We have been given not only the great commandment, to love God and our neighbor, but also the great commission, to make disciples. Not just converts, but disciples who are fully devoted to a life of following Jesus Christ.

And in order to make disciples, we have to be disciples. Yesterday, those of us who attended the charge conference heard District Superintendent Fred remind us that God has one plan for reaching the world, and that plan is the church. There is no Plan B. We’re all Christ has to reach new people and heal a broken world! But we can’t make disciples if we aren’t fully devoted to being disciples. We can’t share what we don’t have. And the world desperately needs what we say we have.

It’s by what we do that people see the need to have Jesus in their lives. It’s the risks we take that show the depth of our faith. Not just belief, but trust. The master trusted his servants. Two of them trusted him back. The third one, not so much. Faith means trusting in what we believe to the point of greatest risk. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what he asks of us.

Your commitment to follow Jesus is much more than a slip of paper you can place in the offering plate this morning. It’s a promise to let Christ invade your life, take over your thinking and your doing, and completely trust him. Trust him to show up whenever you show up for worship. Trust him to use your talents, your gifts, your time and treasure to further his kingdom. Trust him to listen when you pray and trust him to be present with you when you serve. Trust him to place you in front of people who need an invitation into a life of faith, and trust him to give you the right words to offer that invitation.

So, if you haven’t filled out a commitment form yet, I encourage you to do it right now. Ask God to guide your hand as you fill in the blanks. Trust him to help you keep the promises you make, and know that God will fulfill his promise to be with you as you devote yourself to a life of faithful discipleship.

Are you willing to trust him, to risk everything in order to hear him say to you, at the end of time, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master?’

[1] Thomas Long, Matthew, 281-282.

[2] Long, 282.