23rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 28) LSB #892
Text – Matthew 25:21
His master said to him, “Well done, good & faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Living in Our Master’s Joy
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 ESV) Those words ended the Gospel reading last Sunday & they lead into the reading for today: “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants & entrusted to them his property.”
In today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus is explaining what our lives should be like now that we know the end is coming, & it will arrive when we least expect it! The book of James brings it down to earth in its 4th chapter:
“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town & will stay there a year. We will do business there & make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:13-14 NLT)
It’s in light of that background that Jesus tells the parable of the talents: “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants & entrusted to them his property.” If you are a child of God then your heavenly Father has entrusted to you His property.
That property might be children; it might be land, a home, a pension. It might be wisdom or good health. It most certainly includes the stories of what God’s Holy Spirit has done in your life to bless you with faith in Jesus as your Savior from sin. Christ certainly has saved you from your sin.
Given that life is like the morning fog – here a little while, then gone – what a tremendous blessing it is that you & I have so much more to live for than the fog of our days here on earth. Heaven waits & it will last forever & ever. Nevertheless, our Lord has promised to work through the fog of our lives today in order to bless the people around us, with the blessings that He has given to us. Everything we have is from God, & all of it is to be used to His glory. That is God’s design for your life right now.
Especially God’s people should not be surprised that there will be accountability for what we have received. For the 3rd servant in the parable, this became a tragic event, because he had been wicked & lazy. He failed to exercise even a minimum of good judgment by neglecting to deposit his one talent for interest with a banker.
He tried to excuse his sloth & negligence by alleging that the master was harsh & corrupt. He made such claims even though the master gave him an amount of money equal to 20 years of daily labor. That’d be in the neighborhood today, of $400,000. The fact of the matter is the 3rd servant did not want to work for his master. From a lack faith flowed a lack of service.
He was satisfied to be considered a part of the household but was willing to leave the doing to others. His relationship falls into the theological category of faith without works as James 2 speaks of. This servant was a hypocrite & an enemy of his master. For that reason he was cast out. Witnessing opportunities had been available to him, but he failed to seize the day.
His tragic end stands as a warning to all who refuse to let their faith blossom into a life of action. Early in our nation’s history, this parable was used against us. Preachers in England saw the Puritans as unprofitable servants, declaring that their emigration to America was God casting them into a land of darkness, where there’d be weeping & gnashing of teeth.
Later, American revivalist preachers declared this land to be a place of opportunity, where profitable servants would be blessed. Faithful stewardship would result in financial prosperity. We continue to struggle with this parable today, but our culture challenges us with the way it imagines God & the way it tempts us to mis-value God’s gifts to His people. Jesus is not talking specifically about America in today’s parable. He is preaching that He reigns over our world, yet through His sermon He does defy our American misconceptions.
Our Savior does not invite us into a world of earthly wealth, where faith is driven by profit motives, but into a world blessed with God’s love, where faith responds to our heavenly Father in joyful service. When the master returns to settle accounts, Jesus wants you to hear, “Well done, my good & faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
In order that this might happen to you, your family & your friends, we consider today, “What Does It Mean to Live in Our Master’s Joy?” The goal is that you would end up living in joyful trust & service to your Savior as you look forward to His 2nd coming. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 ESV)
Living in our Master’s joy means trusting in the God whom Jesus reveals rather than in the god we imagine, or the god that our culture imagines. The OT reading today turned our eyes toward the end of all things, & the vision is horrifying:
“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, & I will punish the men who are complacent… Their goods shall be plundered, & their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.” The great day of the Lord is near, near & hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress & anguish, a day of ruin & devastation…” (Zephaniah 1:12-15)
The horror, however, can cause us to overlook one of the most horrifying details of all. In the parable of the talents, the cause of the unprofitable servant’s damnation is none other than his own imagination. He chooses to live with a master he has imagined rather than with the Lord who has revealed his generous love. The servant believes the lie of Satan.
Jesus revealed a generous master, one who gives all that he has into the hands of his servants. The amount entrusted to each is astounding. By conservative estimates, just one talent is worth twenty years of daily labor. Later, the master says this was only a little as he sets his faithful servants over much. But the unprofitable servant, he lives with a different master, one he has imagined. For him, the owner is “a hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, & gathering where [he] scattered no seed.” (verse 24) This belief causes him great fear.
He’s so paralyzed that he buries his master’s talent in the ground. When the owner returns to settle accounts, he judges the servant according to what he has believed. As the servant believes, so it is done to him. Because he did not trust in the loving generosity of his master, the servant is cast into darkness where there will be weeping & gnashing of teeth.
Jesus came to earth revealing the generosity of God. His Father’s love is not to be measured in amounts of money, but in the life, death & resurrection of his Son. Jesus brought into this world a love that was priceless, a love that wouldn’t balk at the cost of sin, a love that would suffer death & damnation so the debt of all humanity would be paid, every sin forgiven.
Unfortunately, there are people each of us know who turn away from this revelation of God. To them, Yahweh’s love seems brutal, violent & uncivilized. They’d rather live with the god they imagine than with the loving Creator Jesus reveals.
The god our culture imagines, however, is not hard & demanding, someone to be feared (like the servant’s imaginary master). No, the American god loves everyone. He’s like a kindhearted grandfather; too weak to do any harm but strong enough still to love us. Instead of repentance, this god calls for tolerance. Instead of forgiveness, this god offers acceptance.
So turning from sin & being forgiven seem like strange activities to those who believe in the American god. Why all of this talk of sin? Nobody’s perfect, & God is love. People you & I know imagine they can stand before God with all of their sins & be accepted for who they are without an ounce of repentance. They believe in a politically correct re-definition of Yahweh. Sadly, this god is a figment of the American imagination. That figment will save no one. God saves us not by our imagination, but by His action. In Christ Jesus, God has entered into our world & acted to save. His love goes beyond our wildest imagination. He saves not by becoming what we want Him to be, but in being the One we need Him to be – our Savior.
Jesus knows the very real danger of sin. For that reason He calls us to repentance. He knows the eternal cost of sin & so dies under our eternal punishment. Of course, our Savior also knows the eternal joy of salvation & therefore rises again, not to tolerate sin & accept sinners but to forgive the repentant & invite them to live in eternal joy.
Living in the joy of our Master means turning away from America’s god. It means trusting the Creator revealed in God’s Son Jesus who gave His life for us that we might live in our Master’s eternal joy. So the question arises, “What does it mean to live in our Master’s joy?”
While one servant fears the master he has imagined, the other servants trust that the master is gracious & generous. Instead of harshly reigning over them, he rules through them in mercy, giving his great wealth for service in the world. He divides his possessions between them according to their ability, then sends them forth as servants differently gifted but equally loved.
Each servant is loved, part of the household of a generous Lord, yet differently gifted: one receives 5 talents, one 2, & the other 1. Living in the joy of their master means rejoicing in faithful service at his direction. Still, the fact that the master gives to each servant differently can trouble us. It looks like God does not love everyone equally.
In our culture, we associate having more with being better. People think the servant who has five talents is better than the servant who has two. In our profit-driven culture, we associate making more with doing better. People think the servant who makes five talents does better than the servant who makes two. Those attitudes tempt us to divide ourselves into those whom God loves more & those whom God loves less based on our abilities. Some churches do this by emphasizing service to the congregation as more important than service in one’s vocation. A member who teaches Sunday School & sings in the choir is honored as faithful, while one who works as a single mother & raises her children in the faith is seen as somehow less committed.
The master, however, receives both servants with joy: “Well done, good & faithful servant. . . Enter into the joy of your master.” (vv. 21, 23) God’s love for us delights in our differences & rejoices in the various ways He has created us for service.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Cor 12:17) Our heavenly Creator, who freely offers His love equally to all individuals, delights in the differences He created within us. He values each of us for our varied talents & abilities.
As a result, our service, no matter how small or how large, brings our Master great joy. Living in His joy means rejoicing in the various places He’s called us, & in the various gifts He’s given us for service.
That doesn’t earn us a place in His kingdom, because He’s freely given that to us in Christ. Rather, as we serve God, we manifest to the world the infinite variety of Yahweh’s goodness.
Living in our Master’s joy does not mean comparing ourselves with others to see how well we’re doing, or dividing ourselves from others as though God loves some more than others. Instead, it means trusting in what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ – that He loves each of us equally by empowering us to turn back to Him in repentance whenever we sin.
As we use that gift of repentance, we return to faithfully serving in the various places where God has called us, differently gifted yet equally loved. It’s like the faithful Christian who was asked if he was looking forward to his eternal rest in heaven. He responded, “Who said anything about rest? When I get to the other side, the 1st question I ask will be, ‘Master, what can I do next?’” That is what living in our Master’s joy is about. “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants & entrusted to them his property.” (Matthew 25:14 ESV)
All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield; wheat & tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown. First the blade & then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain & pure may be. For the Lord, our God, shall come & shall take His harvest home, from His field shall in that day all offenses purge away, give His angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast, but the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore. Even so, Lord, quickly come to Thy final harvest home; gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin. There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide: Come with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet