A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Senior Minister, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va., on November 18, 2012.
Today is Stewardship Commitment Sunday, the culmination of our stewardship emphasis season. In the past two Sundays, we’ve looked into investing in God’s Kingdom and investing in God’s Mission. Today, I would like for us to consider investing in God’s Future by looking at a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 25. This parable is often called the parable of the talents.
Jesus tells about a master who is about to go away on a trip, and entrusts one servant five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. After a long time, the master returns and asks for his money. Two servants were proud to report that that they had doubled their master’s money. And to both servants the master replied: “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!” It didn’t matter that the first servant was entrusted with five talents and the second one entrusted with two; both did something with those talents for their master and as a result, they multiplied their master’s blessing and brought joy to their master. They were good and faithful servants.
Now it was the third servant’s turn to show what he had done with the one talent entrusted to him. But before he did that, listen to what he said. He described the master as a “hard” man, and told him that he was afraid and therefore hid the talent in the ground. And then he returned the one talent back to the master. . . . I wonder if that servant succumbed to the “comparison” game: I have “only” one talent, while the others have at least twice as much as I do. What can I do with so little? . . . But did you know that in Jesus’ day, one talent is equal to the money earned in 10,000 working days? Translated to today’s money based on a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, one “talent” is worth $580,000!
That’s a lot of money! The real problem is not the amount of money given to the third servant. The master was generous and trusting even with the third servant. So why did he bury the money? Well, according to rabbinic law, burying money was considered the best way to keep money safe from thieves and to release the depositor from liability in case of damage or loss. In other words, the servant with the one talent buried the money in order to “keep it safe” so to speak, and to avoid the responsibility and the risk of investing in it. Burying the money was the most cautious, perhaps prudent, strategy. But as safe as this conduct was, it suggested an unwillingness to take risks, and a preoccupation with one’s own security.
It seems to me that many of us can identify with the third servant. We feel that we’ve been given some gifts, sure—but we know people who are more gifted. We know people who are smarter, stronger, richer, those who are better at solving problems or thinking on their feet. We look around and see others who have been trusted with more talents – and who seem to know just what to do with them. So, oftentimes, we, like the third servant, don’t volunteer our services and we downplay our abilities. We shy away from opportunities to display our skills because we might not measure up.
However, in this parable, an unwillingness to take risks and a preoccupation with our perceived dis-abilities were the things that displeased the master. Therefore, when the master heard the third servant’s story, he took away even that one talent and labeled the servant “lazy,” and consigned him to a life of misery. At first, that seems harsh to me, but then I can’t help but wonder: isn’t this just a fact of life, that when it comes to our talents, it’s either “use it or lose it”? And is it really God who consigns us to a life of misery, or do we condemn ourselves to such a life? So often, we choose to believe that God is “hard” when the Bible says that God is love. The real problem was not the one talent the master entrusted to that servant – we’ve already discussed that it was still a lot of money. The problem, I believe, was the servant’s heart. He was a “servant” of his master, but his heart was not in it. When God has my heart, I want to take everything that He has entrusted to me and develop it, multiply it and joyfully offer it back to God. When I refuse to give my heart to God, I also hold back His gifts. For you see, God is not hard. God has graciously entrusted to us so much talent – in the form of money, time, opportunities and abilities. Grace precedes work. And God is not a taskmaster. As pleased as the master was with the servants who doubled his money, the parable says he also would have been content for the third servant just to set up an interest-bearing savings account with the one talent. The parable tells us that we’ve been given a wealth of resources. So don’t hide them; don’t bury them. Invest them in God’s future. Being a servant of God means being a steward of God’s talent.
Now, let’s imagine there was a fourth servant in this parable. He was entrusted some talents – it doesn’t matter the number. And while the master was away, he goes out and puts the money to work. When the master comes back and demands an account, this servant says, “I’m sorry, Master, but I don’t have any money to give back to you. I risked it all in your name and all my investments failed miserably.” What do you think will be the master’s response? I believe that the master would respond this way, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You risked it all for my sake, and now I will give you double of what I entrusted you before! Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Why would I think the master would reply this way? Because that’s how the Master responded to His Son Jesus Christ, who came to earth and risked it all for God’s sake and our sake. In the world’s eyes, certainly, Jesus failed miserably, executed with criminals on a cross. But Jesus was faithful to His Father’s mission and he gave it all he had.
Notice, the master didn’t say, “Well done, good and successful servant.” The master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Our Master requires our faithfulness in developing and putting to use our God-given abilities and material resources to further our Master’s cause. God wants us to grow into our full Kingdom potential, and not just settle for merely getting by. God did not save us merely from sin. God also saved us for mission to bring about God’s future as He originally intended! As Christians, we know how the story is going to end. God’s Kingdom will be victorious over all other rulers and principalities of the world. God’s Mission will be fully accomplished at the end of time. And we are invited to join in that mission and live into God’s future!
On October 4, 1900, a group of Baptists gathered at the Levy Opera House here in Charlottesville for the purpose of organizing a new Baptist church. This group was able to plant the church, but then the Great Depression came, and the congregation fell behind in their mortgage payments. The members tried everything they could, but on December 8, 1937, three weeks before Christmas, the church and everything in the building was foreclosed by the bank that held the mortgage to the building. The church had a single request of the bank: to allow them to keep the communion table that had been before the congregation at every worship service. That request was denied. The bank then tried to sell the property, but in those hard economic times, there were no buyers. Finally, on November 12, 1938, after many conferences, conversations and negotiations between the church and the bank, the bank agreed to sell the property back to the church for $60,000, but it was contingent on the members raising $20,000 (or around $328,000 in today’s dollars) in cash by January 1, 1939. With less than sixty days, that congregation launched a massive campaign to redeem their church building. While the church was not able to raise that total amount by the new year, they had made such progress that the bank give them another 30 days, and by February 1, 1939, the whole $20,000 was raised.
That’s how the church building here at University Baptist was redeemed. During a time of economic turmoil, members of this church raised $20,000 in eighty days, with the largest contribution being $5,000, but most were contributions of 20 to 50 cents each. Each UBC member invested in God’s future based on the talents that God had given them, no matter how big or small. When most in Charlottesville thought that this building was dead to the church, members of this congregation literally nickeled and dimed it back to life. What they accomplished struck a positive chord locally and throughout the state. In a letter to the Religious Herald, our state Baptist paper, Miss Blanche White, secretary of the Virginia Women’s Missionary Union, wrote about the time when University Baptist was homeless. She recalled meeting with the women of the church, both on the eve of the closing of the church and later, as they pushed to finish fundraising to raise the final $40,000. She wrote how a year earlier, “The sale was consummated; the church building was closed; and a little church wandered from place to place for its meeting. A little church, did I say? Oh, no, for watching them during the past year I have seen their gifts to missions increase; and their meetings continue, though they are in the homes of a membership which believes it is called to minister to that territory around the University of Virginia. . . . An experience like that does something to one’s faith.
Those good and faithful members of UBC invested in God’s future, and we are the recipients and the beneficiaries of their sacrificial investment and contributions. Today, on this Stewardship Sunday, we are invited to follow in their footsteps, to invest in God’s future, not to redeem the church building, but to join God’s mission to redeem the world! Specifically, we are invited to invest in God’s future so that University Baptist will continue to be a membership which believes that it is called to minister to that territory around the University of Virginia . . . and beyond! May we invest in God’s future and offer our best and our all to our Master, so that one day, we may hear the joyful commendation of our Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!” Amen.
 Howard Newlon, A People Called: University Baptist Church and Its Predecessor, High Street, 1900-2000, p. 196.