Investing with Faith, Not Fear
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 19, 2023
“Investing with Faith, not Fear”
It seems like we are living with a great deal of fear at this particular moment in time. Fear of the future as the war between Israel and Hamas continues on, even as the war in Ukraine continues on, and what all of this means for the world. Fear of what kind of future our children and grandchildren may have. Fear of changing weather patterns that signals climate change, leading to more and more weather extremes. Fear of growing polarization in our own nation between people of different political viewpoints and perspectives, each demonizing the other. Fear of isolation and loneliness that haunts our modern, digitally connected lives. What is it that you are fearful of? What is it that causes you to lie awake in the middle of the night? And most important, how do we move beyond fear into something better? “Woven through the texts for this Sunday is the topic of fear: fear of punishment and ruin, of mortality and wrath, of communal uncertainty and individual failure. There are ways fear can be a motivator to greater awareness, care, and action, yet the use of fear as a tool of power has created a problematic relationship with faith and the church for some” (Sundays and Seasons: Year A, 2023. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2022; p. 299). As we near the end of the church year, drawing our hearts and minds to the promised coming of the Lord, we focus today on Jesus’ parable of the talents in today’s Gospel lesson under the theme, “Investing with Faith, not Fear.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In our appointed Gospel readings, we started Matthew 25 last Sunday with Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), and will conclude next Sunday with Jesus’ return in power and great glory to judge between the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). I encourage all of us to read through Matthew 25 in these final days of the church year, listening to what Jesus is saying to us here. In looking at Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel lesson, we see the three servants responding differently to what their master asked them to do. The first two move forward with bold faith and action, while the third operates from a place of fear. The net result between them and what they do is vastly different. “While the third servant in the parable in Matthew 25 sees only limitations and fear, the words of Jesus call forth imagination and possibility. Weeping and gnashing of teeth are the reality for the servant who cannot see that they have been invested with trust, gifts, and agency” (Ibid). Like those servants in the parable, we, too, are called to invest our Master’s gifts with faith, not fear.
So, what’s a talent anyway? In Jesus’ day, it was a unit of weight, the largest and heaviest unit of measurement, equal to about 75 pounds. What was being measured would have been in gold or silver coins, and in monetary value, one talent was equal to about twenty years’ of wages for the average worker. In other words, we’re talking about a huge amount of money that the master put into the hands of his servants. How would we respond if we were those servants entrusted with such staggering amounts of money? Would we freeze up and become paralyzed with fear? Would we take the money and run? Or would we strive to honor the wishes of the one who actually owns the money? That’s the important thing to remember: none of this actually belongs to any of the workers, the servants. It is the property of the one they serve. There is a stewardship connection here, and it deals with something far more valuable than money.
Remember way back in the Epiphany season at the start of this calendar year? We’re talking January and February – light years away, right? The Gospel lesson for Sunday, February 5 of this year included these words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). It’s not our light that’s shining, but Jesus’ light shining in us and through us. It’s not good works of our own doing, but the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). These are infinitely more valuable than gold or silver because God has invested the life of his only Son in us. The price of God’s investment in us is measured not in silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus that he freely shed for us on the tree of the cross (1 Peter 1:18-19). And now, in response to all that God in Christ has done for us, we are to invest our selves, our time, and our possessions – the talents God has placed into our hands – for good so that these may be harnessed and multiplied for the kingdom of God.
Thinking back to Jesus’ words about letting our light shine, sometimes we want to hide that light under a basket, or bury it so that no one sees it or knows about it. How many hidden talents are there buried away in the lives of God’s people? Maybe it was a careless comment that someone made to us once that caused us to retreat into ourselves. Maybe we are fearful of what investing with faith and letting our light shine might mean for our lives. If this is true with individuals in the church, it is also true with entire congregations. We may be worried about lots of things that keep us locked in fear – worship attendance that is not what it used to be; ministries that once flourished but are now just a shadow of their former selves; financial and budgetary struggles. We are tempted to look back at what was rather than look ahead to what will be. As a result, we hold on tight to our limitations and fear of losing what we have instead of imagining and embracing new possibilities that the Lord is opening up to us. We know what God has done in the past, but we are fearful of the future. Again and again in Scripture, the Word from the Lord to his frightened and uncertain children is this: “Fear not” (Genesis 15:1, 21:17, 26;24; Exodus 14:13; Judges 6:23; Isaiah 35:4, 41:10, 13, 14; Jeremiah 46:27, 28; Daniel 10:12, 19; Zechariah 8:15; Matthew 1:20; Luke 2:10; John 12:15; et. al.). The Lord who loves us and gave his life for us comes to us and meets us where we are, but he does not leave us where we are. He invites us to follow him from the shadows of fear into the light of faith; into the great adventure of life with Jesus. The Lord Jesus invites us as individual believers and as the Body of Christ to take what he has given us and use it with boldness and confidence. Rather than bury our talents, hiding them away from ever being used, the Lord God calls us to invest these gifts with faith, not fear, to bless the lives of others and to honor the Lord.
On that great day of the Lord when our Master returns – and he will return – he will ask us how we used the talents he entrusted to our care. Now in this time of grace until the coming of the Lord, let us reassure our hearts as the closing words of today’s Epistle lesson remind us: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11). Trusting in Jesus, we look forward to hearing those blessed words: “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” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Amen.
other sermons in this series