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Monday, November 7, 2011

Small Faithfulnesses (Luke 19.11-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 6, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "Fairest Lord Jesus" (arr. Rick Bean)

Anthem of Praise: "Gloria" (Chilcott)
Song of Praise: "Christian Women, Christian Men" (arr. Youngblood)
Anthem of Confession: "Kyrie" (Chilcott)

Offering of Music: "Jesus Christ Lies Here Tonight" (Peterson)
Communion Liturgy: "Sanctus" & "Benedictus" (Chilcott)
Music During Distribution: "Agnus Dei" (Chilcott)

Hymn of Sending: "Be Thou My Vision" (SLANE)
Postlude: "He Is Risen" (Peterson)

Small Faithfulnesses
Text: Luke 19:11-27

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we look at a parable, a story Jesus told, which probably sounds a little familiar, but maybe not quite what you remember. It is close to the more-familiar “Parable of the Talents,’ but is really told in a different context and for a different purpose. Because of this similarity, I have never paid it much attention; but, I have realized that this is an important story in its own right because of what it has to teach us about being a Jesus-follower. First I want to look at the broad point of this parable, and then as a point of application will focus on v. 17 and the principle of being faithful in small things. 

Why Did Jesus Tell This Story? (v. 11)

Parables are stories with a teaching point. They always have a context and that context is always important to “getting it” – understanding the point of the parable. In the case of this parable, that context and its importance are given in the text.

Look at verse 11. There are two important bits of information there about the context. The first is “while they were listening to these things.” This refers to the preceding text, which is the story of Zaccheus. The last verse of that story is Jesus saying, “Today salvation has come to this house… for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” The story of Zaccheus is a story about a man who encountered the person and grace of Jesus and who responded in faith and action, paying back over and above what he had stolen from people. Zaccheus is a man who responded to Jesus in faith and obedience. Keep that in mind as we move into the story of the ten minas.

Also in v. 11, we are explicitly told why Jesus told the parable. It was “because he was near Jerusalem and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” We have talked before about the “Messianic expectation” of Jesus’ day. There was a belief and a hope that God would send His Messiah, or chosen one, to restore the political strength and independence of Israel. There were a whole set of prophecies and signs associated with this belief and many of those signs centered around Jerusalem. One of Jesus’ central teachings was about the “Kingdom of God” and just as people hoped the Messiah would lead a restored Israel, they believed that the restored Israel would be the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus was aware of this expectation, often teaching to correct it, and he told this particular parable specifically because of the proximity to Jerusalem and the tangible expectations of those around him.

The short version of what he consistently taught – and this parable is no exception – is that there was indeed a coming Kingdom, though it was a spiritual Kingdom rather than a military/political kingdom. He also taught that the Kingdom was come NOW – with His ministry and presence – but also NOT YET. There was a future component still to be awaited in hope and faith. What this parable does is describe the NOT YET of the Kingdom and the what-to-do-in-the-meantime question of all who were looking to God in faith.

As we are still living in the NOT YET time, this parable has direct application to each of us as we try to understand what it means to hope in God, trust and follow Jesus, and as we ask, “What do I have to offer?”

Finally, the parable distinguishes at least three different types of “citizens” of the kingdom in the story, pointing us to some application for our own lives and reality. We’ll consider the parable from the viewpoint of these three groups.

Group 1: Servants of the House

The first and obvious group in this parable is the group of ten servants. In the story a nobleman was going to a far country to become king and then return. He called together ten slaves and gave each of them a mina in order to “do business until I return.” Now a mina was 100 days wage. The instruction was to engage the world, investing, buying and selling – in other words, to do the work of the household in his absence. The two servants who the master praised wisely invested the minas and multiplied them, because they knew and obeyed the master. Jesus is describing what servants of God are supposed to do in the NOT YET of waiting for the coming Kingdom. We are to “be about the Father’s business” – and simply that.

Group 2: Hostile Resistance (v. 14)

There is a group in the parable that is set against the ruler from the get-go. Look at verse 14: “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” In this, Jesus is recognizing that some of those waiting for God’s Messiah have opposed him from the beginning. One’s mind goes quickly to the scribes and Pharisees who so openly opposed Jesus and worked to discredit him and eventually kill him. They were not strangers to the kingdom, but were not ready to see a “local” as their king. This group appears again at the end of the parable, in verse 27, where the end has come, and the King executes judgment against his sworn enemies. So we are to understand that God’s grace and mercy are part of the NOT YET that we live in, but that God’s judgment is coming and there will be a time when being God’s enemy will cost everything.

Group 3: In the Dark

There is a third person described in this parable, and that is the third slave. This slave is afraid, but also mischaracterizes and even libels the master, describing him as “an exacting man” who “take[s] up what you did not lay down and reap[s] what you did not sow.” In other words, he makes the master out to be unfair and a thief. The master seems to play along, but finds the slave unworthy, saying that he failed both the actual task and the one he imagined himself to have. In other words, even if the master were an unfair thief, the slave should have invested the mina in order to multiply it for the supposed money-loving master. And the master takes away the one mina and gives it to the first slave, who made ten out of one. And that’s really the end of the transaction with the one slave because the focus shifts back to those gathered around, who find the master’s action unfair – see v. 25, “But master, he has ten minas already.” The story goes on and turns to the fate of the hostile resistance when the master returns in power. 

The Need for Salt and Light: our mission

What do we make of all this?

Jesus is speaking to those who are expecting the immediate coming of God’s Kingdom, and with that comes judgment of those not right with God. This story also comes right on the heels of the encounter with Zaccheus where a scoundrel and a criminal – surely one not right with God – seemingly “finds the Lord” late in life and is blessed and honored by Jesus.

This parable simultaneously answers the question of what followers of Jesus are to believe and do during the NOT YET of waiting for Jesus’ return in glory and the question of people coming late to the party. Let me explain…

There are some who trust and obey God. We are not perfect, but it’s not about us or our abilities or our rightness. Rather, like the servants and the minas, God has given us what we need to be faithful and obedient. Because of Jesus, we have what we need. And Jesus has simply said, “Come, follow me.” So every person who has trusted in Jesus has their mina. It’s the same for every Christian. We have hope; we have forgiveness; we have the Holy Spirit and the fruits and gifts that come with the Spirit; we have God’s Word. Every one of you who trusts in Jesus has those things – that’s your mina.

There are some folks who are hostile to God. They are no less created in God’s image or inhabitants of this world that God has made. But, like we would be apart from Jesus, they are hostile to God’s rule in their life. And barring a miracle or Jesus breaking through that hostility, if they remain so, their fate is as certain as the enemies of the master in the story.

And then there are a whole host of people who live in the dark. Like the unfaithful slave in the story, they may have a wrong view of God. They may be misinformed, and even appear hostile to God because they believe God is hostile, unfair, or a thief. Those attitudes are tangled in with some of the big questions about “How could God do this?” and “Why did this happen to me?”

This landscape of people living in the NOT YET was entirely appropriate to the Zaccheus encounter, where someone assumed to be an enemy of God encountered the truth and the person of Jesus and proved to be a “faithful servant.”

This landscape of people living in the NOT YET describes the world we still live in, and it ties in to our core mission of being a searchlight church. Look again at the verse right before our parable. There it is in verse 10: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

How will they know the truth if we don’t tell them? How will people know that God is not exacting and unfair, but gracious and loving, unless we show them? We are salt and light because the story of humanity isn’t over until it’s over. We are living in the NOT YET, and so it is not too late for anyone. 

Small Faithfulnesses

What do I have to offer Jesus? What shall I do with the mina which he has entrusted me?

What small faithfulness can you offer Jesus?

Perhaps your mina is a desire to pray. Start with a small faithfulness. Commit to pray each morning or evening for one friend who is living in the dark. You don’t have to pray for 100 or even for the one to have a supernatural, life-transforming, burning bush kind of experience. Start small, but be faithful. Keep praying; keep praying; keep praying. And when you have been faithful, God will expand your prayers.

Perhaps your faithfulness is raising your children in the knowledge of the Lord. Start with a small faithfulness. Understand your cleaning up of messes and your control of your temper and your words of love and stories of Jesus to be acts of faithfulness to Jesus. Start small, but be faithful. Keep mothering; keep fathering. And when you have been faithful, God will expand your calling, which is good, since children grow and get bigger and have bigger challenges!

Perhaps your faithfulness is your work. Start with a small faithfulness. I know different kinds of work relate differently to faith. But whether you are in teaching, nursing, business, retail, banking, counseling, or anything else, start small and figure out how the work of your hands or mind or heart can honor God. Find one way each day and keep at it. Keep at it! And when you have been faithful, God will expand your mission field.

Perhaps your faithfulness is literally financial. But you have never really understood the connection between money and faith. And it really isn’t about the level of income. Start with a small faithfulness. Commit to setting aside something for the work of God’s Kingdom, off the top and with faithfulness. And keep at it. Keep at it when the bills come in high. Keep at it when you’d rather use it for something else. And when you have been faithful, God will expand your vision and understanding of how your financial resources can serve His Kingdom.

Perhaps your faithfulness is…. What? What were you hoping I’d say? Can you fill in the blank? Can you imagine what a small faithfulness would look like in your life? Can you envision how you could serve God and shine light and love into another person’s life through such a small act? Keep at it; keep at it; keep at it. And when you have been faithful, God will show you more.

What small faithfulness will you offer Jesus?

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