“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom” Bob Dylan
When I was at mission training college with CMS the principal – George Kovoor – gave everyone £10. The challenge was to multiply the money and raise funds for the mission. Everyone got busy in very worthy pursuits – some made jam and chutney, some did a cake sale, some did some kind of sponsored event. Andrea and I tried to break the mould and neither of us are very good at making chutney so we were delighted when a friend offered to put the money on the horses for us – we transferred our £20 to his account and he rang me the next day to say he had made nearly £70 profit on the horses. It was fantastic. At the next weekly college meeting we duly handed in our “PROFIT” and were given a round of applause at making such a good return…when asked how we made the money the warden was less impressed and took a while to convince that we had actually gambled the money! Soon after that the college closed down….after the most disreputable intake of students they’d ever had!!
The parable of Jesus in Matt 25:14 is a good one because it seems to be saying that we have all been given a bag of gold! For some it’s a big bag, for others the bag is smaller. But, size is not important. The important thing is that everyone has been given some gold – the challenge that Jesus gives is this. What are we doing with our bag of gold?
Our master – Jesus has gone away, but one day he will return and he will ask us what we have done with our gold. Let’s not be like the last person in the parable who had simple buried the gold and allowed it to depreciate in value. Rather, let’s get the gold out of the bag, find a way of investing and multiplying it so that when the master returns we have some increase to return to him.
You may struggle with this parable – because in a simplistic way it presents us with a master a bit like Alan Sugar in the apprentices board room trying to decide if someone is hired or fired based on pure economics….But, let’s put aside any anti-capitalist leanings we may have and instead see what we can glean from the parable.
The parable tells us quite a lot about theology / about God
- God is generous – he distributes his gifts generously and he wants to give us more and more; more blessings, more talents; more opportunities as we grow and live our lives responsibly and fruitfully. God wants us to prosper
- God trusts us – he isn’t a control freak who micro manages his creation or his kingdom. No, he has given us the freedom to use or not the gifts that he has given. He has gone away in order to allow us to build something, to allow us to do something with the good news of his love, with the gift of forgiveness and eternal life that he has given
- God has not abandoned us – there will be a day when he returns. We are called to be energised by the reality of God’s return. We cannot afford to laze around ignoring the bag of gold or wasting our energy on other things – we need to remember that God has given us a gift and we are being called to be faithful with using it and letting it grow and multiply ready for his return.
Many of us are good at using the “bag of gold” – the education, the upbringing, the employment opportunities – that life presents us with and making some healthy profit….no doubt many of you have acquired in your lifetime land, property, investments, pensions that are an indication of our ability and skill at making the most of the resources at our disposal.
But, are we good at transferring that skill, that energy, that drive to our spiritual “bag of gold”?
The parable gives us a clue as to why we may be more reluctant or passive when it comes to our spiritual life and growth:
- Distorted theology
The master in this parable is a complex character. You may be put off by him – if you only see the way he treats the third servant who was given one bag of gold and buried it, if you only look at this part of the story you could end up thinking he is a tyrant. The third servant certainly seemed to have a very negative image of his master – he thought his master was to be feared; someone who was unkind and critical.
But, the other two servants didn’t think this – to them the master was generous; the master they knew had invested in them; given them responsibility; freedom; opportunities to grow and develop. He was good and he was encouraging in his response and assessment of their work. He blessed them. He honoured them for their faithfulness.
Maybe we have a distorted theology – maybe we are like the 3rd man in the story – we are afraid of God; we are put off by the parts of the bible that emphasises judgement and punishment and forget the other dimensions of God’s character – his love, his generosity, his faithfulness.
Maybe we are discouraged in reading the Bible or fearful of God because we focus on the prophets and their tales of judgement – forgetting the songs of joy and liberation in the OT; forgetting the abundance of creation in Genesis 1 – the goodness of the world that God made for humanity. Maybe we focus too much on the cross and forget the liberation of Easter Day resurrection.
- Competitive Comparisons
Maybe we are reluctant to really take the spiritual growth seriously because we feel inadequate. We look around and see others who are more equipped than we are – maybe we struggle to pray, have difficulty with the bible, find it hard to give time and love to our neighbours. Maybe we feel we are not gifted enough to serve the Lord.
This parable is a warning to all of us not to get stuck into that negative cycle. To break out of our inadequacy or inferiority.
God has given each us a gift. We are called to use it and to let it be a blessing to others however small or insignificant we may feel it is. Think about the widows mite – the smallest of gifts offered in the temple but, with a massive impact it has had in God’s kingdom.
- Forgetting the master
Many in the church throughout history have lost heart because they feel that God is too remote or that Jesus’ return has taken too long. They have lost their passion for the spiritual passion, given up hope in the coming kingdom and transformation of the world. Given up their belief on the victory of God. 1 Thess 5 is an example of how even the earliest of Christian communities were in danger of being overwhelmed by their suffering, their harsh and anti Christian context – Paul writes to them and tells them to wake up, to get ready, to hold on to the faith because Jesus is coming back for them and wants to save them into his kingdom.
The irony of life is that for many of us in the West – in the so called developed world – we have big stashes of gold – we have properties, we have safety nets, we have an education – but are we using it responsibly, generously, and as God would have us use those things…..our churches are too often small and struggling.
However in many of the poorer nations – the global south – where bank accounts are less common, insurance policies fairly non-existent and education hard to come by – in these communities the church is often growing and thriving.
As churches in the West and in UK particularly we can feel our spiritual bad of gold is fairly limited, fairly ineffective, fairly insignificant….but, is that really the case.
As I have prayed about this sermon and prayed for our Ravensbourne team of churches I have felt God saying that he has given each of us a bag of gold – the Ascension has gold; Holy Trinity has gold; St. John’s has gold. We all have gifts and resources that can be a blessing to others and generate growth. The tragedy would be if we get stuck in comparisons; or if we get trapped in unhelpful theology forgetting the goodness and generosity of God.
As we respond to God’s word this morning – let’s ask him to open our eyes to see the spiritual bag of gold he has given us – both as individuals and as a church. Let’s put to one side negative comparisons and unhelpful theology that will restrict us from using the bag of gold well. Let’s pray that when the Lord returns he will find us vibrant, and growing and flourishing – making the most of what he has given us and being a blessing to those around us.