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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rich for What? (Luke 19:11-27)

August 2, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell

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It is wonderful to be back at church today. The past twelve weeks have been at times amazing, restful, challenging, frustrating, and fulfilling. I believe God has used all of it to refresh and revive me, and to awaken me to new lessons and vision He has for me and for us as a church community.

Today’s sermon will be a bit more sharing and storytelling, though I do want to root it in the parable you’ve heard read from Luke 19. A little different from the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25, which is primarily about the suddenness of the Lord’s return, Luke 19 is a parable about how one will respond to the Lord in the “not yet” we find ourselves living in. In other words, the focus is moved back slightly from what happens when he returns to what we shall do in the meantime. In this parable, the emphasis is also more on the response to the Lord rather than the talents themselves.

I’d like to share some of the stories you have relayed to me about your own response to the “talent challenge” over the summer. I’d also like to share some with you today about some things I learned during the sabbatical related to my own talents and responding to the Lord. I’ve shifted from Matthew 25 to Luke 19 because I want to take our focus off the idea that some people have more gifts or talents and put it on to the question of what we are doing with what God has given us.

Further, the parable in Luke 19 identifies three groups: the faithful servants, the enemies of the Master, and the one servant who is “in the dark” about what it means to be faithful. In this parable it is the enemies that meet with judgment and we are left somewhat up in the air about the fate of the servant who is in the dark. I believe Jesus’ purpose in sharing this parable is that we might be called out of darkness into light and learn what it means to respond in faithfulness. So my hope in sharing some of these stories is to challenge and invite you out of any confusion and darkness into a more faithful response to God.

The Talent Challenge

Right before I left at the end of April, I issued the “talent challenge.” Each person present that day received a card with a challenge to use and multiply what they received for God’s Kingdom. I intentionally did not give examples so that people might not be boxed in. I’d like to share with you some of the stories relayed back to me. Note that this exercise (as well as the parable) is a metaphor. The point wasn’t to simply double the money and give it back; rather, it was to use it as one would use one’s own money, talent, or time, for the sake of something God is doing in the world. Each of these are wonderful examples and their variety is equally wonderful.

One person (and this one is hard to make anonymous) planned a missions benefit concert. He used the money he received to pay for the promotional materials. The concert is to benefit Francisco and Shirley Gross, GSPC-supported missionaries in Spain. In addition to organizing it, John added his own musical talents to the seed money. A love offering will be collected.

Another person, given $5.00, used money toward sending a child to summer camp at Good Shepherd preschool. Sometimes you don’t see the fruit of a gift like that, but in this case we heard that the child woke up every morning asking his mom, “Do I have camp today?”

Inspired by the knitting ministry that came from two of our members traveling to Nicaragua, another gift of $20 and some cloth material went to Tiffany Hinton to help her start a sewing ministry. That person also decided to “match the gift” and invested another $20 in Bank of America stock for Good Shepherd. In addition to the matching gift idea, this also was seen as a way to support our local community and economy in a small but representative way.

Another couple received $5. They wrote me, “We prayed and pondered what we could do to make it grow for God's kingdom. He gave us the answer via the 5 cents a meal offering the congregation participates in each month. We felt a burden for the hunger fund, especially because a number of people have lost and are continuing to lose jobs. We modeled our challenge on the hunger fund offering by deciding that we would increase it and call it "25 cents a deed." Every time we do something for someone (other than ourselves or each other), we put 25 cents in the box along with the $5 we were originally given. Whether we are doing something as simple as taking the neighbor's garbage out to the curb or driving a friend to the doctor or visiting someone at home or in a nursing home or taking a meal to someone, etc., we are depositing the 25 cents in the box each time. We are anxious to see how much we will have at the end of July. Funny thing about this, I received a request in the mail to fill out a TV survey ($5 was enclosed for completing it), so I did that, and then I was sent $10 for another very short one. We also deposited that $5 and $10 in our "25 cents a deed box."

I know those who received $5 (including my family) were often stumped at what could be done with so little. I thought this was a very thoughtful use of that money!

Another person shared the temptation to just spend the money on weekly needs like groceries or gas, but left the money set aside in the envelope. After seeing a notice in the Voice for the youth mission trip fundraiser, she came to the pancake breakfast and car wash. She found the conversation with church friends and youth a great blessing and decided to give the original $5 plus $5 for each youth she met and spoke with that morning. I can only imagine, then, as the youth return and report on their experiences the wonderful feedback of hearing the fruit of this investment!

One person who received $50 responded to a newsletter from GSPC missionaries, Phil and Arleen Blycker. In that newsletter they were looking for donations to purchase a third octave for a set of hand chimes. Because of an interest in music and the wonderful way music can spread the work of the Lord, she donated her talent challenge money to that program. They were seeking $500 and had a promise of $50 so now they only need $400.

One person who received $5 decided to purchase organic green peppers and then plant the seeds. That person shared several setbacks and some of the learning process. He wrote, “I was hoping to demonstrate that with a little personal effort, we can take something we already buy then take the parts we don't use and multiply the return. Sometimes I think children and teenagers feel like they can't do as much because they can't get jobs, drive, etc. So I was hoping to do something that everyone could do and had a measurable return. After all, who doesn't like a plant full of free $2 green peppers they would normally buy anyway? I'm hoping to be able to share a lot of the fruits with people I feel may be having a difficult financial time. I can't say that the concept of seed money wasn't an influence as well. What I’ve learned from my failures are far more valuable lessons than what I've learned from successes.” Even beyond these wonderful lessons, he went on to write, “As you may already be imagining, my involvement in "organic gardening" has already blossomed into experimentation, several new acquaintances in the industry and several ideas that have evolved from the root idea. I think the developments over the next few months will be exciting.

Those are some amazing doors opening from a very simple use of a $5 gift. (I wish I had been that clever!)

Another person gave $50 to Samaritan’s Purse after looking through one of their catalogues. That amount went to a program to “Train a Believer to Preach the gospel.” She wrote, “It is my belief that by using the funds in this manner, the Gospel can be spread to people throughout the world who will hear God’s Word and learn of His never-ending love for us.” Again, this is one of those examples where we may never see the fruit of the planting, but through trusted ministries like Samaritan’s Purse, a long-time mission of Good Shepherd, we can support God’s work in the world.

Another person shared that she tithed a portion of her $20 gift back to the church and used the rest to sponsor a friend in a fund-raising marathon. Challenging other friends to match her gift, the support level is already over five times her initial gift.

I imagine there are others who have not shared their stories, some who have forgotten about it, and others who still have the talent challenge money and can’t think what to do with it. So let me share one more story about the talent challenge before briefly sharing about the sabbatical.

The Austell family received $5. That’s $1 per family member. We had a discussion after church and had five ideas (at least), from planting a tree to subsidizing a lemonade stand to giving a waitress an extra tip. And as of today, we haven’t done anything. If all this storytelling has made anyone feel guilty… just know that you are in good company with the pastor’s family! The point is not guilt, and the story isn’t over!

Sabbatical Stories (left out of the actual sermon)

I will be sharing much more about the sabbatical over the coming weeks. Today I’d like to share three things particularly related to the “talent challenge.” I’m not sure what to make of the first servant returning ten minas and the second returning five. In this account the first receives words of praise, though both are rewarded proportionally. Those are probably details that should not be allegorized into precise parallels for us. And maybe there is no real distinction that should be made. But, I would like to differentiate between the two, if not in the parable, then in my own experience.

There may be a “ten mina” area in your life. This is probably where you’ve had the most “success” in honoring God. Maybe you volunteer at church or you’ve used your musical talents or you fix things for people or you are a good friend in need. And you get positive feedback and appreciation. For me, this is music. I legitimately recognize that I have musical gifts, and by and large, I use them to honor God. One of the real joys of the sabbatical was getting to spend a lot of time on musical projects. I hope to have a full-length CD ready by mid-September. It was such a gift to be able to spend significant time on that rather than bits and pieces here and there. And there’s no punch line here, no secret gotcha. A good starting place for following Jesus is in the area where you are long-suited. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? Can you envision a way to use that in service to God? The biggest challenge here is that these are sometimes the areas where it is easiest to seek our own success rather than God’s. Music is also where it would be easiest for me to seek a name for myself. It’s my “ten mina” challenge. What is yours?

Much more common are “five mina” areas in the life of a Christian. These are areas that don’t seem so explicitly God-related. So, you’re great in sports… how do you serve God with that? Maybe church softball? Or you are great with numbers – what, should you help the ushers count money? Other “five mina” areas might be undiscovered or unexplored talents. For me, teaching and writing fall into this category. Sure, I teach here on Wednesday nights, but that’s a certain format that I worked at and have a handle on… maybe about 5 minas worth. J But then Jason Hinton asked me to come teach for a week at the School of the Bible. It was over twenty hours… and through a translator. That was neither an obvious choice nor on my list of top twenty adventures. And yet, I learned so much from that experience! Sometimes it is these “five mina” areas that are the most transforming spiritually, as we say ‘yes’ to God for something about which we would normally say ‘no.’ Are you willing to think outside the box and see where you might serve God in some “five mina” areas of life?

Finally, in the parable in Luke 19, the third servant mentioned had not done anything with his one mina. He is not lumped in with the enemies of the Master, but has missed the main assignment.

This is our “one mina challenge.” While many of us may not be in the dark about God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ, we are pretty much in the dark about what it means to live life as a Christian. It’s easy enough to go to church on some kind of regular basis or read the Bible from time to time, but it really hasn’t clicked about what it means to LIVE life as a follower of Jesus Christ. If you are still sitting on your talent challenge like the Austell’s, don’t worry… it’s just a metaphor. Don’t get stuck on that particular assignment… it’s just a metaphor to point us to this bigger reality. Do hear the challenge for the bigger reality: for life. This connects to the rich biblical teaching on worship as all of life. We are here – here on this earth – for the glory of God. Another way of saying that is that all of life belongs to God. Worshiping God or living as a Christian is very marginally about sitting in a worship service one day a week. One of the most important things you can get from being in here is the reminder that God is concerned about all that out there. So hear the challenging news from Luke 19 – God is interested in and desirous of all of that out there. Start asking the questions; start really challenging yourself – what does it mean for all of my life to belong to God? Don’t hide part of your life in the handkerchief, whether out of fear, selfishness, or confusion. Don’t live in the dark. Here is your life and all God has given you; how will you respond?

Main Idea and Challenge

The main idea of this parable and the talent challenge is this biblical reality: God has entrusted each of you with a wealth of talents for His glory. What will you do with that wealth? How will you respond?

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