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Nov 21, 2021

Win-Win Money, Ability, and Time

Win-Win Money, Ability, and Time

Passage: Matthew 24:14-25:30

Speaker: Rev. Nicholas Lee

Series: Win-Win

November 21, 2021 "Win-Win Money, Ability and Time" Matthew 25:14-30

Each time that I approach a scripture text to preach from, I always do two things. First, I read the text as if I had never seen it, and I write in my notes first and immediate reactions of sorts. This is true if I have preached that particular text a thousand times. Every time I come to the scripture, I bring a new reason to read the text. My emotions and current context affect the way I am orientated towards the text. I can see the text differently because of current events and past experiences. Secondly, I read the texts that precede and follow the text. I need to know the scripture in its spatial context, especially when reading the words attributed to Jesus.  

In my "first look" notes, I wrote, "This text is problematic." We have been talking for months now about creating a "Win-Win" in our world. We have gone as far to say that the Kingdom of God is built on an economy where everybody has enough, and until that is the reality, our work is not done. We have pushed this point that those of us with means and abilities should work towards the existence of the Kingdom. But it appears that those who have, get more and those with nothing somehow can get less. There are winners and losers? Kingdom sanctioned winners and losers? And, worst still, the haves get to enjoy the Kingdom's fullness, and the have nots get left out in the cold again. Thank God we don't preach our first reactions to scripture. We would lose our ability to see the richness of the text and its transformative power in our lives. 

The text before us is placed directly between the story of the Ten Bridesmaids, and it precedes the Judgement of the Nations. In the Matthean writings, this story is a part of a long narrative as Jesus moves towards torture, death, and ultimately resurrection. I believe these last few chapters are Jesus' way of instructing his disciples, and us, on the way we should leave in his absence and as we anticipate his return. Put another way; you ought to pay attention to this stuff. 

Matthew's writings here are both apocalyptic and eschatological. It is apocalyptic as it paints an image of ultimate destiny and final destruction for some. At the same time, it is eschatological because it curates a belief of how things will be in the end. Its eschatological nature drives our understanding of the time-sensitive nature of learning and living out the commands given in the text. 

The opening sentence in verse 14 is one that we should pay close attention to. In it, we find three essential aspects of our lives. Money, ability, and time are found here in the text. The Master gives the slaves an excessive amount of money. A talent is equal to the wages of a day laborer for at least 15 years. The first slave is given the equivalent of 75 or more years of labor; the second is given 30 and the last 15. Although this is a monetary denomination, it also represents years and years of hard work. In the same sentence, Jesus makes an important distinction. They were given the money/time according to their abilities. In other words, each person was given something that their God-given abilities could have handled. 


Today, we will focus on the third slave because he is a good case study for us. His failures can act as a mirror so that we can see how we fail to be faithful, and then we can work towards steadfast faithfulness in our lives. We will spend our time dissecting his motivations to see in ourselves those things that drive us to be less than who we can be. 

The third slave is given one talent or 15 years of accumulated time by his Master. Unlike the other two slaves who immediately put the Master's money to work and used their abilities to maximize the time they might have, the third slave does a strange thing. He buries the money, and with it, he gives up the chance to use his abilities for good and wastes all the time he did have. There are a couple of questions that must be asked. First, why didn't the slave follow the other two and try and combine his talent and ability with theirs to make some sort of gain? Why was his immediate thought to bury what talent he did have and decide to never use his ability for the Master? 

I believe the answer to both questions can be found in verse 24; 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. 

The slave in question espouses fear of his Master. He believes that he will be cruel and unjust when he returns, and it won't matter what he has done. But I think that this is just a symptom of a deeper issue this man has. Carla Sunberg writes in her commentary on this text that the third slave did not realize what he had. He only saw what he did not have, and that became his focus. Maybe it was true that this man feared his Master, but perhaps the doubt was unfounded. The Master had just entrusted him with a large sum of money. I believe that his focus on what he didn't have become such an impediment that it robbed him of seeing what was in front of him; a chance to grow his Master's estate and reap the blessings simultaneously. There was the potential for a real Win-Win here.

A deeper look at the text shows that this is not about the have's versus the have nots. We are reading about people who use what they have been given versus those who hide their money and abilities and waste the time that they do have. We can see ourselves in the third salve if we look carefully. How many times have we said that we don't have enough (name that thing) to help rectify a problem in front of us? How often have we been paralyzed by the feeling that what we do have to offer isn't enough, so we become fearful of the judgment we fear to come? Focus on the wrong thing causes paralysis that robs us and the world of the good that was meant to come from our money, ability, and time. 

We've all been given a certain amount of money that we have been called to steward and "Invest" well. The amount of money doesn't matter. The question is how you will use what is in your hand to further the Kingdom of God. I know that a few weeks ago, I urged you to stop looking for an ROI. In that context, we were talking about personal gain as a primary driver of action. In this context, we are talking about growth for the Kingdom of God as a primary motivator for what we do. So, in this instance, the return on your investment is crucial. How can your finances create growth in the Kingdom? 

Each one of us has been given some ability. Our abilities are as diverse as the people sitting in this room. What can you do? The problem we often have is that we ask this question in the negative far too often. We focus on the things that we cannot do, and when that becomes our focus, we paralyze ourselves, ensuring that we will do nothing at all. 

 We haven't talked in depth about time, but it is a crucial aspect of the text. In context, here at Harvest, time is exponentially valuable. Your time is valuable, not just to you but also to the people sitting next to you. It's valuable to the justice ministry. It's beneficial to pack a sack and just grow. It's valuable to the choir and the small group you haven't joined yet. Harvest kids need your time. The list goes on; if I had time, I would tell you all about it. What can you do with your time? We are also on the clock. This text talks explicitly about what the three slaves do while the Master is away. The scripture tells us we know neither the day nor the hour of Christ's return, but this scripture tells us how we should live while we await his return. Psalms 90:12 says this; 12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. The psalmist reminds us that our days are numbered as well, so in remembering this, we can live well and make the most of the time we have been given. 

 Each one of us has been given a measure of money, time, and ability. We are held accountable for the measure we were given initially and for what we have done with what we were given. 

What you do with what your given and the return on your investment in terms of expanding the Kingdom is the metric used to define your faithfulness. The win-win here is that when we use what we have been given to further the Kingdom of God, the kingdom experiences expansion. Again, Carla Sunber says this to us; "This reality reflects the "Already" and "Not yet" of the Kingdom of God. Already, God has provided resources for those working in the Kingdom to expand the work's reach and scope. But, yet! It will not be completed until the Master's return." 

I'll leave you with this one thought. What would have happened if the third slave had combined his money, ability, and time with either of the others? Could it have been the catalyst for exponential growth and expansion? We should ask the same of ourselves here at Harvest. What would happen if all of us entirely gave of our money, abilities, and time? Could we, in fact, see exponential growth for the Kingdom of God here in Lakewood Ranch? Could our reach and scope of ministry grow in such a way that Sarasota and Bradenton become a place that sees the Kingdom of God grow in ways we could not have imagined? It's a question that can only be answered if we will choose to live faithfully together.