19 November 2017

Bearing the Dividends of the Gospel

The image and scenario are different, but the point is similar to that of last Sunday’s Parable.  For this, too, is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  And the Lord would have you wait upon Him in the hope and confidence of His Gospel, in faith toward Him and with love for your neighbors.

If the Parable of the wise and foolish virgins has demonstrated the necessity of oil for your lamp — and that you are to be alert and ready for the Bridegroom by seeking and securing that oil from the dealers, that is to say, by faith in the Ministry of the Gospel — then the several servants of the Lord in His Parable this morning exemplify the use (and misuse) of what He has provided.

In other words, as the oil is burned in your lamp, what sort of light should it give?  And if that oil is the Gospel, received and used in faith, how is that to be manifested in your life as a Christian?

Or, to use now the metaphor of today’s Parable, how are you to invest and make use of the Lord’s silver, the talents He has entrusted to your care?  What sort of interest or return do His silver talents bear?  What is this coin of the realm, precisely, and how is it to be spent and multiplied?

Of course you understand that we’re dealing with far more than money here.  But don’t get too comfortable with that thought.  It’s not that the Parable has nothing to do with money.  In our day and age, that’s actually a significant part of it.  And if you don’t use even the money entrusted to you wisely, then how or why would the Lord entrust anything else of greater significance to your care?  But, to be sure, the Lord’s “talents” are more than just the money He puts into your hands, and more than just the abilities or skills with which He has equipped you.  The Parable addresses your vocation or calling, your office and duty.  It has to do with the stewardship of your entire life.

Your particular place or stations in life are different than your neighbor’s, even as they vary over the course of your lifetime.  But for each and every one of you, as Christians, baptized into Christ, the common currency with which you are entrusted, with which you glorify God and care for each other in His Kingdom, is not so much gold or silver as it is the holy and precious Blood of Christ; His Cross and Resurrection; His redemption, reconciliation, and righteousness; His Gospel, the forgiveness of sins; His mercy and compassion for sinners; His peace and love, and the generous outpouring of His Holy Spirit — as in your Baptism, so also wherever His Gospel is preached.

Obviously, these Talents of Christ call for a different economy, a different sort of business and commerce, than that of the world with its buying and selling, its building, investing, and trading.  His Gospel doesn’t spend like cash or credit.  It is used and invested altogether differently, and for an entirely different purpose, than the legal tender of the nations:  Not for selfish gain or profits, but for the sake of love, for the benefit of others.  It is not diminished but increased by charity, even to the extent of a prodigal generosity that sacrifices the self in order to exalt the neighbor.

Which is why the third servant in the Parable gets it all wrong.  His actions are actually wise and prudent according to the standards of the world (in first century Palestine): To bury treasure in the ground was the safest strategy for keeping it.  The original hearers of this Parable would have been nodding their heads in approval at that choice and decision.  They would certainly have understood not risking the Master’s money on the market.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained; but nothing lost, either!  And yet, that careful and cautious servant has missed the mark so utterly and completely.

That servant has failed to know his Lord and Master.  He perceives Him to be hard and harsh, a devious and demanding man, unscrupulous and unfair.  He views Him and describes Him as an enemy of His own people, as one who takes what is not His; though it is actually the case that the Lord plunders the Egyptians to benefit His own dear people, and He drives out the Canaanites in order to give Israel the Land that He has promised and bequeathed to them.  But that third servant is afraid of his Master, because he does not properly distinguish the Law and the Gospel.  He sees not grace but only judgment.  So he acts to protect — not only his Master’s money — but himself.

In the case of this third servant, we are not dealing with the genuine fear of the Lord, which is the heart and soul of all true wisdom, and which proceeds in repentant faith, humility, and love.  But, no, this is the idolatrous fear of guilt and shame and of terrible unbelief, which flees in terror from the Lord, and tries to hide from Him, and cowers when confronted by Him.

It is not so much the fear of the Lord as it is the fear of losing what you consider to be your own: your life, your position, your reputation, your friends, your job.  You may be willing to set aside and offer a token of whatever you have and possess, if only to keep the Lord off your back; but you are convinced that He comes to take something more than His due.  When you fail to recognize that you are His own, and that everything you are and have belongs to Him, then you are unable to perceive or trust His grace and generosity; you scramble and strategize to escape His demands.

But when you view and treat your Lord and Master as though He were your enemy, a harsh man with a hard heart, then His judgment does fall upon you as an enemy, and you will lose everything: Either in repentance (unto faith and life in Christ), or in the final judgment (unto eternal death).

It is thus because He loves you that your Lord calls you to repent, so that you are not condemned forever.  He calls you to know Him as that first and second servant know Him, as generous and gracious; to receive and use His “talent” of the Gospel in holy faith, and so also in holy love; to fear Him rightly, yes — because He is the Lord your God — and so also to love and trust in Him.

And here with His Word, within His Church, He opens His heart to you.  He is not hard or harsh.  See here the crucifix, set before your eyes above His Altar?  Consider what this means, and how He loves you: In His willing Self-sacrifice upon the Cross, and from the Cross in His Resurrection.  He has not made Himself your enemy, but He has become the Enemy of your enemies.  He has set Himself against your sin, your death, the devil and hell, on your behalf, as your dread Champion of Life.  He has plundered the devil’s kingdom, in order to bring you into the Kingdom of God.

This is how He gathers those He did not scatter, and reaps life from out of death and the grave at His own expense.  He has not demanded anything from you that He has not provided for you.  He has rather opened Himself up and poured Himself out for you.  And now He gives Himself and His Kingdom into your hands by His grace, by His Ministry of the Gospel, even to the close of the age.

The first two servants in the Parable thus receive and use their Lord’s “talents” rightly.  They are good and faithful stewards and servants, good and faithful slaves of their Master, because they receive and use those talents, first of all, by faith in His Gospel — the free and full forgiveness of their sins, and the righteousness of Christ which is credited to them by His grace and mercy.

They are at peace with God, and so at peace with their neighbors.  They are set free from sin and death, and so they are not afraid.  They are free to love.  They bear the Cross in patience, because they know the outcome in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And the Tree of the Cross bears good fruits after its own kind in their life — and in your life, as you are put to death and raised to life.

The talent of the Gospel bears much interest and yields a strong return, because it is not depleted and used up, but it increases and is multiplied as it is used and spent in love.  Indeed, the more you love, as you are loved by God in Christ, the more and more His love abounds.  And the more you forgive, as you are forgiven by God in Christ, the more and more His forgiveness overflows.

The holy and precious Blood of Christ does not run out.  The free gift of His Body is not used up.  But just as it was in His feeding of the five thousand, so too, the more His disciples receive and distribute His gifts, the more there is to be gathered up and given away to others in His Name.

Therefore, do not despair, and do not be afraid.  Repent, yes.  By all means, every day.  Turn away from evil, and begin to do what is good and right.  Do not run and away and hide, as though you even could, but seek the Lord where He may be found.  Repent of your sins.  But do not be afraid.

Where you have not used the Lord’s “talents” rightly, now receive them from His hand, and begin to use them by faith in His Word.  Know Him rightly by His Gospel of forgiveness.  Remember what He has spoken to you in your Baptism, that you are His beloved and well-pleasing child.  Eat and drink from His hand, His Body and His Blood, and rest yourself in Him, in His perfect peace.  Do not flee from Him, as though He would hurt or harm you, but here now hide yourself in Him.

Here you are safe and sound, as your life is now and forever hidden with Christ in God.

Beloved of the Lord, enter here into the Joy of your Master.  And what is that?  His forgiveness of sins; His salvation of sinners; His reconciliation of those who were His enemies, who were at enmity with Him, that they might become His friends.  So does He raise you up from the dust of the earth in which you were buried, and He grants to you a place of honor in His Kingdom forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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