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Living in Our Master's Joy

November 13th 2011 by Joel Schultz

In the Gospel lesson today we hear about a man who goes on a tripand entrusts a portion of his wealth to three servants. Two of the servants trust the master and use His gifts wisely. At His return these 2 servants live in the Master's joy and the third servant who is unfaithful is cast out of the master's presence. Read more to discover what it means for you to live in the master's joy.

Pentecost 22A (Proper 28) - “Living in Our Master’s Joy” – Matthew 25:14-30 – November 13, 2011

Americans have long struggled with the parable of the talents. Early in our history, this parable was used against America. 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 would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Later, however, this parable was used for America. Revivalist preachers declared America to be a place of opportunity, where profitable servants would be blessed. Faithful stewardship would result in financial prosperity. In fact, in the 1920s, Sinclair Lewis wrote a social satire of such preachers, like Elmer Gantry, and the way they used this parable to proclaim the cash value of Christianity.

We continue to struggle with this parable today, but our struggle is a bit different. America challenges us with the way it imagines God and the way it tempts us to misvalue God’s gifts to His people. In this parable, Jesus is not talking about America. He’s preaching the kingdom of heaven. His preaching does, however, challenge our American misconceptions. Jesus does not invite us into a world of earthly wealth, where faith is driven by profit motives, but into a world of divine love, where faith responds in trust and joyful service. When the master returns to settle accounts, Jesus wants you to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Let us consider today, what does it mean to live in our master’s joy? First, living in our Master’s joy means trusting in the God Jesus reveals rather than in the god we may imagine.

Our readings today turn our eyes toward the end of all things, and the vision we see is horrifying. Such 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 his own imagination. He chooses to live with a master he has imagined rather the master who has revealed his generous love.

In the parable, Jesus reveals a generous master, one who gives all that he has into the hands of his servants. The amount that the master entrusts to his servants is astounding. By conservative estimates, just one talent is worth twenty years of daily labor. And later, the master says that this was only a little as he sets his faithful servants over much.

The unprofitable servant, however, lives with a different master, the master he has imagined. For him, the master is “a hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed” (v 24). This belief causes him great fear. It paralyzes him so that he buries his master’s talent in the ground. When the master 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 out into darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus has come revealing to us the generosity of God. His Father’s love is not to be measured in amounts of money but in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. Jesus brought into this world a love that was priceless, a love that would not balk at the cost of sin, a love that would suffer death and eternal damnation so that the debt of all humanity would be paid and every sin would be forgiven before God.

Unfortunately, there are many in our world who turn away from this revelation of God. Such love seems brutal, violent, uncivilized, and they would rather live with the god they imagine than the God Jesus reveals.

The god they imagine, however, is not hard and demanding and someone to be feared like the servant’s imaginary master. No, the American god is all-loving. He is 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 and being forgiven seem like strange activities to those who believe in the American god. Why all of this talk about sin? After all, nobody’s perfect, and God is love. People in our world imagine they can stand before God with all of their sins and be accepted for who they are and tolerated for what they have done.

Unfortunately, this god is a figment of the American imagination, and, in the end, he will not save. God saves us not by our imagination but by His action. In Jesus Christ, God has entered into our world and acted to save. His love goes beyond our wildest imagination. He saves not by becoming what we want Him to be but by being the one we need Him to be, our Savior. Our Savior knows the very real danger of sin and therefore calls us to repent. Our Savior knows the eternal cost of sin and therefore dies under the eternal punishment we deserve.

But our Savior also knows the eternal joy of salvation and therefore rises again, not to tolerate sin and accept sinners but to forgive the repentant and invite them to live in eternal joy. Living in the joy of our Master means turning away from America’s god and trusting the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who gave His life for us that we might live in eternal joy.

Secondly, living in our Master’s joy means serving as people differently gifted but equally loved. While one servant fears the master he has imagined, the other servants trust the master they know. Their master is a gracious and generous man. Instead of harshly ruling over them, he graciously rules through them, giving them his great wealth for service in the world.

He divides his possessions between them according to their ability (v 15) and sends them forth as servants differently gifted but equally loved. Each servant is loved. He is part of the household of a generous master. Yet, each servant is differently gifted: one receives five talents, one two, and one one talent. Living in the joy of their master means rejoicing in faithful service, differently gifted but equally loved.

The fact that the master gives to each servant differently can trouble us. It looks like God does not love everyone equally. In our consumerist culture, we associate having more with being better. So obviously 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. So obviously the servant who makes five talents does better than the servant who makes two. Such attitudes cause us to divide ourselves into those whom God loves more and those whom God loves less based on our abilities.

Some churches do this. For example, they emphasize service to the congregation as more important than service in one’s vocation. A member who teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir is honored as faithful, whereas another member who works as a single mother and raises her children in the faith is seen as somehow less committed.

The master, however, receives both servants with joy, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master” (vv 21, 23). God’s love for us delights in our differences and rejoices in the various ways He has created us for service. As Paul writes 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 service to God does not earn us a place in His kingdom. God has freely given us that in Christ. Yet this God who freely offers His love equally to all individuals also delights in our differences. He values each of our varied abilities, letting us know that our service, no matter how small or how large, brings Him great joy. Living in His joy means rejoicing in the various places He has called us and the various gifts He has given us for service. In service to God, we manifest the infinite variety of His goodness to the world.

Living in our Master’s joy, then, does not mean comparing ourselves with others to see how well we’re doing or dividing ourselves from others as though God loves some of us more than others. Instead, it means trusting in what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ—that He loves all of us equally—and faithfully serving in the various places where God has called us, differently gifted but equally loved.

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