The Joy of Our Salvation- Sermon for November 15, 2020 from Pastor John
Sermon for November 15, 2020
In the 1990’s the Synod would have Youth Group trips to Minneapolis to engage in servant projects. Several busses would be needed to transport about 90 some kids plus their leaders. I recall a Food Bank and bins of bulk potatoes and we would bag them up in 5 pound bags. We helped with an inner city children’s program on Saturday, playing games, doing crafts, and serving lunch. Then on Sunday we attended Friendship Baptist Church, an African-American congregation. They lived up to their name. We were warmly welcomed. Since I was a pastor I was invited to sit up in the sanctuary with the other pastors. When the Head pastor preached for about 45 minutes the congregation was engaged. I enjoyed the back and forth words of praise like “alleluia” and “praise the Lord.” When the pastor thought he had preached long enough I heard from the congregation “keep, preaching pastor, keep preaching.” I have never heard anyone say that here. But since we are Lutherans and famous for being shy I imagine you are thinking it even if you cannot say “Keep on preaching, brother.” For a service that lasted about 2 hours I was amazed that there was only one congregational hymn. This does not mean there was a lack of music. This was a Baptist Church, a Black Baptist church and the church was ‘rocking”. The music was supplied by a variety of choirs: men’s choir, youth choir, women’s quartet, and others, all received with a great deal of hearty “Amens”. You left that service thinking that congregation has a lot of musical talent.
We often associate talent with musical expertise and entertainment. In the gospel we heard a parable about talents. But in Jesus’ parable talent had nothing to do with singing or other artistic performance. Talent had to do with money, and a great deal, almost astronomical amounts. We heard about a man going on a journey and entrusting his property to his slaves or servants. To one he gave 5 talents, to another two, and to another one talent, each according to their ability. Looking up the monetary value of a talent one source said it was worth 30 pounds of gold. And since gold is usually valued by the ounce, you get the picture of the amount of wealth at stake. Another source said a talent was worth 6000 days of pay for a common laborer. The monetary value was huge. I can imagine Jesus’ audience in awe with such sums they could only imagine. The three servants received different amounts according to their abilities. Each servant, whether given 5, 2, or 1 talent, the amounts reveal a tremendous abundance. Although the servants were different with their abilities, it was expected the servants would act to prosper their master’s wealth.
A long time passed and finally the master returned to settle accounts. The servants given 5 and 2 talents doubled the money. The master beamed with pleasure and complimented their work saying “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.” It is alleluia time, the joy of the master! They were given an abundance, and they increased the abundance, they increased the joy. But now the parable turns difficult. The servant with the one talent gave the master the same. It did not increase. It was not a result of a failed attempt, but because the servant did nothing. He dug a hole and buried it. He had an explanation amounting to blaming the master: “Master, I knew you were harsh and ruthless, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” Was this an example of “Open mouth and insert foot”, he was accusing his master of being a crook. But hoping for sympathy he said “I was afraid….so I hid your talent in the ground. So here it is, take what is yours.”
This did not go well for the servant who hid the talent: there was no sympathy. Instead of the judgment of good and faithful, this one was called wicked and lazy. In the parable the master did not dispute the judgment that he was a ruthless and hard-nosed business man. So why didn’t the servant put the talent in the bank where it would accrue interest? The angry master took the talent away from his servant and gave it to the one who had ten talents. The parable is troubling because of the conclusion: “For 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. As for this slave, described as wicked and lazy, the added judgment of worthless was thrown in causing the poor soul to be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Originally parables were not written for people to read, but Jesus spoke them to people as part of his teaching. We can assume questions. Earlier in Matthew we hear of Jesus’ disciples asking him “What does this mean?” You may have your questions. I would like to ask about the end of the parable that sounded so ruthless: ‘the rich get richer; the poor get poorer and lose everything. And what is meant by being thrown into the outer darkness.” Now remember this is a parable and the meaning does not mean you define identities to the characters. It is not necessary to say the master in the story represented God or Jesus. I certainly do not think of Jesus as hard-hearted throwing people into the outer darkness. Today’s parable is one of a series of warning parables. We might think of the parable as getting our attention: as we say in the Creed we believe Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Not only does this parable call our attention to End Times when Jesus will come, but also the end of our lives. We are accountable with our lives, called to be good and trustworthy, and not wicked and lazy. Jesus has a plan and purpose for each of us, that we enter into his joy. We are welcomed into the joy of his grace: those who have fallen short because of sin when they call out to Jesus he does not reject but forgives totally and completely. We are welcomed into the joy of his banquet, at Holy Communion Jesus gives us food, the heavenly food of himself so we are energized to enter into the joy of discipleship. The joy of the Master is not only the banquet of heaven but the banquet of love we share when we serve others in ways big and small.
In the parable the servant who buried the talent was fearful, and that fear led to doing nothing. The servant was declared ‘worthless’ not because of who he was as a human being. The judgment has the sense of seeing no need or necessity to do anything. This reminded me of a quotation from Helen Keller: “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.” But there is a cure for apathy. I said that when I visited Friendship Baptist Church there was only one congregational hymn. I remember it because it was accompanied by a rockin’ band of organ, guitars, and drums. It was not a modern praise song but an old evangelical hymn: “There Is Power in the Blood”. Although not in the Hymnal we may very well have heard it with lyrics like: “Would you be free from the burden of sin? There is power in the blood…..Would you be free from your passion and pride, there is power in the blood….would you do service for Jesus your king, there is power in the blood, there is wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb.” This hymn fits the setting of the gospel lesson for soon Jesus would be betrayed, denied by his own disciples, condemned to death, and nailed to the cross. In the words of the parable Jesus himself entered into the outer darkness of the powers of sin, death, and evil for us so we have forgiveness of sin and salvation, the joy of the Master given to us. In the second lesson the apostle Paul wrote “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
Our destiny is to live with Jesus and be blessed by joy. He has given us the talent of salvation, the abundance of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We want to live salvation, put that talent to work, simply put as encouraging and building up one another which can take many forms and examples. Do you know one down in the dumps, disheartened and feeling discarded? Don’t bury your salvation, but put it to work by being a blessing and knowing the joy of being like Jesus for one another.
Some of the words of the lesson today were troubling. Troubling not to be mean but to get our attention–There is the warning of complacency. Let us not be complacent and think there is no need for me, and God cannot do anything through me. How anemic and joyless that faith would be! But there is power in the blood of the lamb! The Bible says in Hebrews that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him: the joy of our salvation. May that joy inspire you and me to live with Jesus and for his love to be known through us.