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Sermon for Sunday 15 November 2020

First Reading                                Zephaniah 1:7-16

7Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. 8And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice — “I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. 9On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. 10On that day,” declares the Lord, “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate, a wail from the Second Quarter, a loud crash from the hills. 11Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar! For all the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off. 12At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ 13Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.” 14The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. 15A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.

Psalm                                                     Psalm 90:1-12

1Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. 2Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God. 3You turn us back to the dust and say, “Go back, O child of earth.” 4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night. 5You sweep us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass. 6In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered. 7For we consume away in your displeasure; we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation. 8Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance. 9When you are angry, all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 10The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone. 11Who regards the power of your wrath? who rightly fears your indignation? 12So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Second Reading                   1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Gospel                                             Matthew 25:14-30

14{Jesus said to the disciples,} “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”


As of this past Friday, Governor Cooper tightened restrictions on gatherings due to the continued rise in Covid-19 related hospitalizations and deaths.  Now while this tightening of restrictions does not affect how we worship here at church, it does limit our abilities to travel, to gather with friends and family, and get away on vacations.  So for now, we can only dream of a day when things will be back to some semblance of normal. 

With that said, let me ask you a quick question this morning.  It’s kind of a mental getaway exercise: If you could visit any famous site around the world, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, the Giza Pyramids in Egypt or any of the many wonderous places of this country and others, which would you choose to see?  When you really consider it, it’s not an easy question to answer.  God has created so many beautiful places in this world to enjoy.  Oliver Curtis is a British photographer who has created a very successful career in films, television and fashion photography.  

Mr. Curtis’ success revolves around capturing the perfect picture at the perfect moment.  But he also has an odd side project.  He likes to visit famous places and monuments around the world, and then point his camera in the opposite direction of that famous monument.  He likes to take pictures of the scenery around these world-famous monuments, ignoring the monuments themselves.  He has published these pictures in a book titled Volte-Face, or in English, About Face.

The military implication aside, the term “about face” can also refer to someone who experiences a complete change in attitude or opinion.  We say they’ve done an about face on an outlook or subject.  Consider Oliver Curtis’ project for a moment.  This photographer is in the presence of a well-known monument, but he wants to gain a new perspective—a perspective gained by focusing on its setting.  As a consequence, he sees things most people never notice.

How often do we stop and question, why do we notice the things we do?  For the most part, we simply follow our own patterns, the crowd, or the status quo; we simply, go with the flow.  We fit in with our routines, our peers and with our cultural expectations.  The question is, how often do we stop and question our choices, suppositions, or our priorities?  What would it take for us to make a complete “about face,” in our choices, ideas, or priorities?  Taking this thought one step further, what if we could see our life, our thoughts, words and deeds from God’s perspective?  That’s the question I keep coming back to as I think about our lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel for today.

This passage is one familiar to us since it’s found not only here in Matthew, but also in St. Luke’s gospel.  In this illustration Jesus describes a man who goes on a journey and before leaving, he entrusts a portion of his wealth to three of his servants.  By implication, the Master obviously represents God, we are the servants, and the wealth—well, we’ll get to that in a minute.  Before we get to that, there are two key words in this parable we must confront if we’re going to understand this story and how apply it to our lives.  The two words I want us to focus on are, entrusted and afraid.

In this passage we see the Greek word paredōken, translated here in the ESV as entrusted or delivered, at least three times.  The man entrusted his wealth to his three servants, and the three servants delivered back what had been entrusted to them.  The Master in entrusting his property to the servants presented them with a big responsibility and a huge opportunity.  He must have sensed a great potential in them, and numerous opportunities all around them.  Jesus is saying that the master saw them as God saw them, or as God sees us—servants with great potential and numerous opportunities to excel in the world.   Why else would the master have entrusted his wealth to His servants?

The first and second servants wisely invest their master’s wealth as was expected.  When the master returns, they presented him with a considerable profit on his investment; Jesus said they doubled what had been entrusted to them.  Now to add a bit of perspective to this, let’s look at the standard formula for doubling an investment.  The rule of 72 states that the amount of time required to double your money can be estimated by dividing 72 by your rate of return.  For example: If you invest money at a 10% return, you will double your money every 7.2 years.  Now we’re not told how long the master was away, but it had to be a considerable amount of time.  I think it’s important to note that Jesus tells this parable right after He tells the one about the 5 wise and 5 foolish maidens.  It’s important that we keep that fact in mind as we examine this illustration. 

But for the moment let’s focus on the fact that Jesus tells us that the master praised their efforts and invited them to share in his happiness.  “Well done good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little: I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master.”  These are the words all of us long to hear when we stand before God’s judgment seat.  And many of us want to simply stop there.  But we can’t, because Jesus has more to reveal in this parable.  Next comes what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” 

The master then calls the third servant who chose to hide his master’s wealth and do nothing with it.  Jesus calls this man wicked and slothful.  Jesus said the servant was filled with self-centered desires and he was lazy.  But there’s more.  Jesus also tells us that it was also because he was afraid.  He was afraid of the master.  He was afraid of the opportunity.  He was afraid of the responsibility.  And when the master returned, the third servant simply dug up the wealth and gave it back to his master.  There was no return on the investment.  Just one big lost opportunity.  And the master condemned the servant for letting his self-centeredness, his laziness and his fear override his responsibility.  Understanding that we all comprehend the effects of self-centeredness and slothful behavior, today I want to take a moment and focus on the third problem this servant had, that of fear.  Fear is something we need to take note of this morning; it’s the saddest and least productive emotion in life.

Fear is also the least fruitful emotion.  Fear’s only fruit is regret and lost opportunities and an increased focus on one’s self and one’s security.  Over this past year, the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a new vocabulary.  Terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” have been created to describe activities to protect us against the virus.  As we’ve come to understand, this pandemic has also been a worldwide phenomenon.

I read that in Germany, a new word was created to describe the hoarding of food and staple items brought about by this pandemic: Hamsterkauf.  The German word for “hoarding” is hamstern, which comes from the image of hamsters storing up food in their cheeks.  During the Cold War, the German government published a list of items that the average German household should have on hand in case of an emergency, like pasta, painkillers and, of course, toilet paper.  German citizens refer to this list as the Hamsterkauf list.  The third servant was guilty of Hamsterkauf. 

The third servant was lazy and afraid, so he hoarded his master’s money.  He did this because he didn’t trust his master’s character.  Like us, he probably had a few heartbreaks and setbacks in his life.  And because of these disappointments, he no longer trusted the master’s goodness or the master’s priorities.  So, he decided to focus on his own security.  He goes and digs a hole in the ground, buries the wealth and waits for the master to return.  No risk, no responsibility, and sadly, no reward.  Think of all the things in life we miss out on because we’re simply too afraid to try.

Sadly, fear can also cause us to not trust God’s goodness and His promises.  Think of all the opportunities we could take advantage of with our God-given talents and opportunities, if we were just bold enough to base our goals and priorities on God’s goodness and promises instead of on our own security.  Amy was a typical 19-year-old with a bright future when she came home early from work one day with what she thought was the flu.  

She decided to take a nap, and when she woke up, her hands and feet were numb, and purple.  Her blood pressure began falling.  She was rushed to the hospital in cardiac arrest.  Amy had contracted an often-fatal form of meningitis.  The nurse attempting to put an IV in her arm announced that Amy had only a few hours to live.

When Amy awoke from a coma, her doctor explained that they would need to amputate her legs below the knee to save her life.  Imagine, being 19 years old and having your life suddenly and radically altered by something outside your control.  Fear is a natural response to losing control of your situation.  But Amy faced her new life with determination.  She wasn’t going to give up, even with no legs below her knees.

After her recovery, Amy tried to return to snowboarding, one of her favorite hobbies, but she couldn’t find prosthetic legs that allowed her to snowboard well.  So Amy did a lot of research, partnered with the doctor who provided her with her prosthetic legs, and created new prosthetic legs designed for snowboarding.  And she became the first woman to win a bronze medal in snowboarding in the Paralympic Games.

Amy Purdy and her husband also founded Adaptive Action Sports, an organization that helps athletes with disabilities to participate in the sports they love.  Amy even competed on “Dancing with the Stars,” and she has had the opportunity to share her story on television and at major speaking engagements.  Amy says that when she lost her legs, she set three new goals for her life: “I’m never going to feel sorry for myself, I’m going to snowboard again, and whenever I figure this out, I want to help other people do the same.”  And she’s doing exactly that.

Her sports organization helps athletes with disabilities to reach their full competitive potential.  Her best-selling book and speaking engagements inspire people who face unexpected losses.  Amy Purdy’s challenges could have caused her to live the rest of her life in fear, watching out for her own safety and comfort.  Instead, she’s investing her life in helping others.  She’s now pursuing opportunities to do good works.  The saddest and least productive emotion in life is fear.  Amy overcame her fear, and she’s having a fruitful life.

Think of how often the scriptures say, “Don’t be afraid.”Isn’t it interesting that the phrases ‘do not be afraid’, ‘fear not’, etc. occurs over three hundred times in the Bible and arguably 365 times, one for every day of the year?I’ve suggested this before, but could it be that the opposite of faith is not unbelief, but fear?  That command—to live without fear—isn’t linked to some promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us.  It’s not linked to some promise that God is going to answer our every question and always work according to our expectations and our timeline.  Instead, the command fear not, is linked to the promise that God will be with us through every challenge.

Look this up and you’ll see how often the scriptures say, “Don’t be afraid” or, in this case, “Do not be terrified . . .”  Fear not only makes us miserable, it also robs us in so many ways including, possibly, the ability for healing to take place in our bodies.  Two of the servants invested their master’s property which yielded a tidy profit.  The other man lost out because of his fear.  Let me highlight one more consideration from this parable:  Jesus is looking for people with holy boldness.

Holy boldness is the courage to let God direct our talents and energy toward good works that bring Him glory.  God made us to partner with Him in ushering in the kingdom of God.  When you stop and really think about that, it’s a mind-blowing responsibility.  It’s also a mind-blowing opportunity.  Notice that the outcome of this story rests on faith in God’s character and obedience to God’s commands.  Both faith and obedience require the boldness to let go of our own security and comfort, and let God use us for His larger plans.  Let me share one final story with you this morning.

Robert Young was a successful businessman in Seattle when, on a business trip in New Mexico, he noticed a newspaper headline that read: “Elders Freeze to Death.”  The news article detailed the crushing poverty on local Native American reservations, and the horrible living conditions of many elderly Native Americans.  Robert couldn’t explain why the news story grabbed at his heart, but it did.

A few weeks later, when Robert learned of an “Adopt-A-Grandparent” program for Native American elders (anelder.org), he called the number and signed up.  Robert was paired with a 78-year-old Native American woman in South Dakota named Katherine Red Feather.   Katherine welcomed Robert into her family as her newest “grandchild.”  In spite of her poverty, her letters to him were full of joy, proudly sharing news of her large family.  When Robert asked Katherine if there was anything he could send her, she asked only for a bottle of shampoo and some aspirin.  Robert couldn’t imagine living in such poverty that shampoo and aspirin were luxury items.  After sending the items, he decided to visit Katherine Red Feather and see her living conditions for himself.

Robert and his wife, Anita, were shocked by the poverty they saw on Katherine’s reservation.  And he was humbled by the joy and love of Katherine and her family.  When he returned home, Robert couldn’t find satisfaction in his work.  He worried all the time if his adopted grandmother was safe and warm and had all she needed.  That summer, Robert, Anita and a handful of friends traveled back to South Dakota to build a house for Katherine.  As news of their project spread on the reservation, Katherine’s family and friends showed up to help, and they had a big celebration when the home was complete.  Now one would think that Robert could relax and get back to his ambitious and successful life, right?  We know better than that.

God had put a new vision in Robert Young’s heart, and he couldn’t bury his talent in self-centered pursuits.  After a lot of research and thought, Robert Young sold his half of his very successful business.  He and Anita moved to Bozeman, Montana, and started the Red Feather Development Group to provide affordable, secure housing for Native Americans.

Recall the two words that I said we had to confront in order to understand this Bible passage?  Entrusted and afraid.  God has entrusted each of us with great wealth.  Our life, our talents and energy and intellect and influence.  And God can’t use us for His glory if we’re too afraid to invest our life in good works for God’s glory.  Now is the time to ask ourself, what do we want to hear at the end of our life?  What will it take to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The truth is, the life of discipleship is not for sissies.  It’s for people willing to live with holy boldness, seeking to be where God wants them to be, and living as God wants them to live.  As the old adage goes, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.  It’s time we let go and let God use us, for His kingdom and His glory.


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