August 1, 2017

July 30, 2017 - Risky Faith

This sermon is part of our Risky Gospel series, based on the book of the same title by Owen Strachan.

Theme: Risky Faith -  God’s Call to Service and Salvation

The theme of our third Pentecost season series is called Ricky Gospel. It is based on a book of the same title in which the author, Owen Strachan, a professor of theology and church history at a Christian college, challenges Christians and their congregations to return to a mindset of boldness in these trying times. Each of our Sundays will look at a different aspect of our lives, both here on earth and by faith with God, and how the Holy Spirit equips us to be courageous for and through His Word.

Our first topic is Risky Faith and we meditate on the Lord’s Word from Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents.  

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 "And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 "Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 "And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 "But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. 19 "After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying,`Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' 21 "His lord said to him,`Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' 22 "He also who had received two talents came and said,`Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' 23 "His lord said to him,`Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' 24 "Then he who had received the one talent came and said,`Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 `And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' 26 "But his lord answered and said to him,`You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 `So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 `Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 `For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 `And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

I read a news article this past week about a young man who grew up in tough circumstances and grew to become a decorated Navy SEAL, one of the elite of our nation’s military. In the article, the man told of his past and many of the mistakes he made. He was raised by a single mother. He lacked the guidance and leadership a father would have offered. He quickly became caught up in crime and recklessness, just because all of his peers were doing the same. He was drifting and heading for disaster. But, deep inside, he yearned for order in his life. So, he enlisted in the military and under that intense training and authority, he was fashioned into the man he became and he became a great asset to both his family and to his nation. Reflecting upon his former ways must have felt like living a different life.

The military has done that same thing for countless young men and women. I’m sure you all know someone who lacked maturity or a vision in life, entered the military mainly because they were out of options, and ended up becoming a completely different person. Strict training and discipline can have that effect on a person’s life.

In a way, God’s Church serves a similar purpose. We are here to provide spiritual discipline from the Lord. Not the kind of discipline that involves punishment, but the kind that gives structure and meaning to a wayward person’s life. But, unlike the military, the Church cannot drive that authority into a person by sheer training. God calls us to use a different approach. This method is incredibly easy, yet also incredibly difficult. We are to preach the Gospel to change people. That is easy because it is a free message and the work is completely finished. It is difficult because it means we must trust in God alone, not even in ourselves.

A question enters now when it comes to boldness of that faith, or what our author calls riskiness. In the military, one can simply hammer out that boldness through training. Intense, repetitive, hard training can help a person cope with their fears and overcome enemies that they never thought they could handle. When it comes to the enemies of our faith, intense training in the Scriptural things helps, but it will not eventually win the day for us.

Many Christians and churches try the militaristic method of hammering Biblical ethics and piety through a person’s subconscious. This tactic takes the forms such as: withdrawal from earthly pleasures, adherence to strict commandments and laws, and forming a unique and tight-knit community that keeps outsiders separate. At times, none of these things on their own is wrong. There is a certain amount of Biblical merit for each and many would even characterize our church in such negative ways. However, what merit and priority the Gospel of forgiveness holds really dictates the Godliness of these habits. The church that does these things simply to produce something they deem worthy in an individual is participating in a failed enterprise. The church that does these things to preserve the most sacred Gospel and to create an atmosphere that facilitates Gospel-centeredness is absolutely following our Lord Jesus’ command.    

The parable before us is about value. Not value in trying to find a cheap deal, but value in trying to find something lasting and treasured. First, this was the last parable Jesus spoke as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Immediately following these thoughts Jesus predicted His final coming and then reminded the disciples that in two days he would die on the cross. Jesus was stressing the value of this message near the end of His ministry. 

Second, within the parable, an individual talent from that era would be roughly equivalent to $60,000 in our modern economy. Simply put, the master gave his servants a valuable investment. Likewise, God has given us a valuable blessing in the gospel. Actually, more appropriately, God has given us something invaluable, because forgiveness cannot be bought by any means. Peter reminds us of this treasure when he writes, “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).”

We often think of this parable as describing the talents God has given us to serve Him. Things like: qualities, skills, occupations, and even finances. We are all different and therefore we all have different strengths and weaknesses. But, this fits the church well for there are many tasks that need helpers and the Gospel message can reach people in a variety of different ways. However, the real “talent” of our parable, the true investment, ultimately goes back to God’s blessing through the gospel, not the ways we show gratitude for that blessing. It is the gospel that God wants us to treasure above all other things. It is the work of sharing the gospel that God wants us to be invested in. Everything goes back to the gospel, and therefore so also does our courage as followers of Christ. This parable is certainly an encouragement to use our gifts and talents to serve the Lord, but that theme is secondary to the Lord’s warning of losing the precious gospel. When we prioritize the Lord’s Word in life, there will be plenty of difficulties and hardships that arise. There is always a temptation to take the easy way out of hard situations. Herein, we see the example of the wicked and lazy servant.

The wicked and lazy servant was punished by the master because he desired safety and acceptance over the work he was given to do. Make no mistake, the wicked servant knew how difficult the investment of his master’s treasure would be. We’re not told that he had evil intentions, either. He knew that investing the talent was important and a worthy thing to do. Yet, in the end, he was deemed “wicked and lazy” by his master because of his inaction. What Jesus is trying to root out in this example is apathy and indifference in our lives.

We know how important the work before as a church is. But, we also know how intimidating it is. We need boldness. At times, we need to be risky in that we trust God even when the path is unknown or even terrifying for us. What the wicked and lazy servant really did was accept that a comfortable life in the fallen world was more powerful than his master. He knew the consequences of disobeying his lord, as do we. But so often we choose the easy way out in order to avoid conflict with the world.

-        We tell ourselves that society is becoming so wicked, that it doesn’t matter what we preach from God’s Word – people will always reject.

-        We convince ourselves that service to the church isn’t all that important, after all what does cleaning and vacuuming really do to advance the kingdom of God? Donating weekly offerings to a cause that doesn’t produce the results we want feels like a failed endeavor.
At other times, we know that a loved one has strayed or the Lord is moving us to step up and defend His name, but we don’t because the risk is too much. We may be ostracized by our friends or we may generate conflict in our homes.

In each of those examples, we choose our own path over God’s. We sacrifice His command to invest on the altar of our own cowardice. And in so doing we become wicked and lazy servants ourselves.    

Paul wrote to young Timothy, a pastor who faced the same challenges we do, encouraging him by this reminder, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We have an invaluable gift in the gospel. It is the “power of God to salvation.” It has wrestled away the hearts of God’s biggest enemies and it can continue to do the same today. But, if we cater more to our fears than to trust in God, we will lose the gospel’s power. Not because it has changed, but because we have.

The word “wicked” in our text indicates something that is completely without value. What a contrast to the value of the talents. The Lord places value on our heads by first giving us the blessings of the gospel but also by redeeming us through His shed blood. When we resist His will to trust, especially in serving, we are becoming unprofitable, the opposite of what He has called us to by faith.

Strachan speaks of this in how we make sense of the world by calling that which we seek in life our  “fundamental orientation” (calculus). If that fundamental orientation is safety at all costs, or comfortableness then we have lost the Biblical way. God does not call us to literally let the world go to hell while we wait it out on the sidelines. Rather, He tells us that one of the very reasons Christ came was to change us. Paul writes that we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).” We no longer run in terror and shame from God’s will, we embrace it by faith and we seek it out. For the Christian, God’s Word is the fundamental orientation of life.

And why is that the case? Because God has placed value in and through His Word. That value shows us how God treasures each one of us and also the whole world. No matter who you come into contact with, the Bible tells you that without doubt, Jesus died for that person’s sins. Jesus placed a value on their life and he expects us to value it to. We don’t do that by hoarding the gift of salvation to ourselves. We don’t value them by commanding that they meet our standards before we accept them. We don’t value them choosing our own path of safety. We follow God’s Word.  

This parable is about service to God and one another. We should feel the Lord’s pressing word upon us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to support the work of the church and our ability to share God’s Word, and to be bold in our witness of that Word. But, most important of all, this parable is about salvation from God. Without this free gift there would be no treasure to invest. Without sins fully atoned for, there would be no reason to follow our Lord. What’s at stake in our Christian courage, our riskiness of faith, is not just projects at church or relationships with fellow members of our congregation. The very power of the gospel is at stake and the very reason why Jesus hung on the cross rests in the balance. 

This is not some desperate plea to be the best Christian you can or all will be lost. It is a humble reminder of the importance of God’s call to you – a call to service and a call to salvation. Amen.  

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