Living without Fear

“Living without Fear”
Matthew 25:14-30
Sunday, November 13, 2011 – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.”

I was so afraid of what might happen, I did absolutely nothing!

You’ve probably heard the expression: “paralyzed with fear.”
The image is: not being able to move because of something frightening.
Fear of failure might stop you from taking a risk.
Fear of the unknown might keep you from trying something new.
Fear of looking foolish might prevent you from dancing in public.

Today’s gospel asks us to look at what happens when we choose to live in fear and what happens when we are fearless.
It challenges us to recall that God speaks the words: “Do not be afraid,” more than 70 times in the Bible.
I believe Jesus is daring us to live our lives without fear.

Let us pray…
Mighty God, wake us up! Shine upon us with your wisdom and truth that we might truly see all that you have given to us.
Enlighten our muddled minds, that we might truly understand your call and purpose for our lives.
Wake us up, that we might live continually with you in our sleeping and in our waking. Amen.

This very famous parable is divided into two sections…

The first, verses 14-18, sets up the story by telling us something about each of the characters.
As with most Bible stories, the main character is God – played here by “the master.”
The first thing we notice is that the master is an extremely generous guy…
“A Talent” was a monetary unit that roughly equaled 15 years earnings for a day laborer.
That means that the gifts he entrusts his servants with are HUGE!
Five Talents was equal to 75 years of labor – more than the servant’s lifetime!
Two Talents was 30 years labor – certainly enough to retire to the Mediterranean Coast.
Even the one talent was enough to be comfortable for a long time.

The point Jesus is trying to make is that the kingdom of heaven begins in an act of divine generosity…Like creation itself, it is a gift freely and generously given…

The character in our story is extravagant as he entrusts unimaginable wealth, power, and freedom to his servants.

The amount of money he gives each servant is more than they could have hoped for or ever dreamed of earning.

It is also significant to note that the size of the gift is given to each servant,
“according to his ability.”

The master knows what each man can handle and gives him responsibility accordingly.
It’s not about favoritism or luck; it is about aptitude and potential for success.
God gives all of us gifts according to our ability…according to God’s plan for our lives…
Gifts are given according to God’s expectations for the way we will use our gifts.

Finally, this section closes with the most telling characteristic of all…”Then he went away.”
The character in our story – in this case, God – limits his own ability to interfere by taking himself out of the picture…
God gets out of the way and provides distance and space for others to grow, lead, take chances, and flourish…
God’s generosity of spirit is not shown simply in the act of giving enormous gifts, but also in God’s willingness to self-limit so that we may live and grow creatively in the image of God…

We often hear people talk about God as a “grand manipulator”:
“If God knows everything, then He already knows what I’m going to do…
Where’s the free will in that?”
“God has all the power, it doesn’t matter what I want or how I choose.”
“Everything is in God’s hands; I can sit back and relax.”

God offers gifts AND space so that we may have a hand in shaping talents, lives, communities, futures, and even fortunes.

God shows love, not by smothering us, but by giving us space…
God demonstrates love, not always by doing for us, but by limiting himself and letting us learn. (Lindsay P. Armstrong)

This is a lesson in freedom that we may not want to hear, but it is one we need to learn…
With freedom comes responsibility and accountability.

The second half of today’s parable gives us a glimpse of how some people respond to the gifts they have been given…
The first two servants are creative and willing to take a few risks…
They put their gifts out there and use them the best they can…
Their reward is both immediate, in terms of their gain, and long-term, because of the master’s recognition of their efforts.

The third servant doesn’t fare so well…He wastes the opportunity, buries his gift in the ground, and suffers the consequences.
He seems to know that he is expected to do something with his gift, yet he is unwilling to risk failure and so he does nothing at all.
Unfortunately, this is the story of how many Christians are living today.

Pastor Lindsay P. Armstrong puts it this way:
“Faithful living is not static; yet, like this third slave, we are good at knowing without doing. We are adept at holding on to a talent entrusted, knowing what we should do with it, but not doing so. We know what faithful living looks like, but we hesitate to live it. We bury too much goodness, time, love, treasure, and talent in the ground.”

I think that sometimes we don’t trust our gift and think that it isn’t good enough or big enough to really make a difference…
“It won’t matter anyway…I don’t have enough money to make a dent in the building debt; my voice isn’t loud enough to really help the choir; I’m so busy with work and the family that I only have a spare hour every once in a while to volunteer; they won’t miss me.”

There may be some who are a little jealous or resentful of the gifts others have…
“If I had as much money as Egbert, I’d give lot to the church too! Might as well let those professional musicians handle the choir; I can’t even read music! I barely made it through high school; let those guys with the fancy college degrees handle the church committees! They don’t need me!

Then, of course, there are those among us who are simply afraid, like the third guy in our story…
“If I try to help and make a mess of things they won’t ask me to come back. If my idea sounds dumb they’ll laugh at me. If they let me be in charge of something and it fails they’ll blame me. It’s a lot safer just to act like I can’t do anything.”

I’m willing to bet that all of us fit into one or more of these categories…
We all have gifts that we are either hesitant or unwilling to use the way we know we ought to be using them.
The wonderful truth of this story is that Jesus tells us plainly to do somethinganything – with the gifts we have been given…Take a risk…Try…

The first two servants were fortunate in that their investments paid off and they were rewarded…
The third servant was severely punished because he did nothing at all…
NOT because he failed, but because he didn’t even try.

The implication here is that God would have congratulated the first two servants –
even if they had been less successful – It wasn’t their success that earned them praise…It was their effort…Their willingness to take a risk…Their willingness to trust their God-given gift.

We know what the Bible teaches us about using what we have to care for others…
we hear this message over and over again…We know that God blesses us so that we might be a blessing…We know we are to give generously and cheerfully…We know ALL of this and yet we fail to follow through time and time again…Could it be we are afraid we won’t have enough for ourselves and our families?

Living without fear means embracing the gifts God gives us and then trusting that God will not let us fail when we step out to use our gifts for God’s purposes…

Living without fear requires that we understand who God is in our lives and that God does not have plans to harm us…

Living without fear acknowledges that our God is big enough and powerful enough
and loving enough to take care of whatever happens in our lives…

Living without fear doesn’t hide our talents in the dirt…It boldly puts our gifts at risk every day as we move ever closer to whatever God has planned for us…

Living without fear frees us to be everything God wants us to be…

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

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