Sermon: Reaching Our Potential
Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30
Date: January 29, 2017
It is hard to believe that we have already come to the end of January. One twelfth of the year already gone. It seems like just yesterday that we got all of the Christmas decorations put away for another year. Oh wait, it WAS just yesterday that we got all of the Christmas decorations put away for another year. So one month into the New Year, how are you doing with those resolutions you made a month ago? Are you still on track, or have you slid back into your old patterns? I have driven by the Y a couple of times this week and noticed that the crowds have backed off a little. Those who run gyms generally report huge crowds during January and into February, but then attendance begins to settle in at lower levels. And groups like weight watchers and nutrisystem experience membership surges during the first part of the year. Have you noticed that the resolutions that we make almost always have to do with making ourselves better? Losing weight, more exercise, better control on our finances. I have never heard anyone make a resolution to eat more candy, or spend more time sitting around the house, or waste more time, or gain more weight, or spend less time in church, or neglect to spend time with family. Our resolutions tend to reflect a feeling that we could be so much more, perhaps that we were created to be so much more than we are and so we need to take steps, change our habits and our life, to live up to our greatest potential. And that’s certainly true when it comes to resolutions that relate to the church. But those are particularly hard to keep, because those involve turning at least some part of our lives over to God’s control and we don’t like that. When push comes to shove, most of us would rather worship and celebrate the Christ of the manger, then the Christ who wants to rule our hearts and lives. But Jesus is much more concerned with the Kingdom then He is with the manger. He is much more concerned that we experience God as Lord and King, then He is the details of His miracle birth. In fact, most of His more important teachings, His parables, are told to illustrate what the Kingdom of God is all about. And so many of them begin with the words, “The Kingdom of God is like”. That’s how this familiar parable begins
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability.
According to Matthew, this is the last parable that Jesus tells. You see, the Disciples just didn’t get it. He told story after story, trying to teach them what the Kingdom of God is like, but they struggle to understand. And so he gathers them one more time, literally on the doorstep of Jerusalem and says, “Let’s try this again. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
Everything He has taught them along the road for three years, all they have witnessed has led them to this moment. It is decision time. Are they going to invest their lives in the Kingdom?
So, what is it that Jesus wants to say about the Kingdom of God as He faces Jerusalem. Well we have assigned many meanings to this parable. Often we say it has to do with money and what we give to the church in the way of our resources. We hear it used a lot as the text for a stewardship sermon and certainly there is much we can draw from it and learn from this story in terms of stewardship. But I’m not sure that is how Jesus intended it. In fact, because Matthew says He told it right near the end of His ministry leaves us with two very essential messages for His disciples, to help them “get” what the Kingdom of God is all about. What it means for Jesus to be King, the Lord of our lives. It’s almost like He is saying if you don’t comprehend anything else I have said, here is what you really need to know about the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is like this.” And I think they are essential messages for us to “get” as we contemplate the same thing. What does God’s Kingdom mean in the world in which we live. This story is for us.
And so, I think the first thing He wants us to understand is that in the Kingdom of God, we are expected to live up to our potential. In his book, Let’s Think Thanks, Roy Smith tells the story of a young man from Australia , serving as a peace keeper in Korea. He had an accident in which he suffered a head injury. Now apparently the blow to the head triggered some strange reactions in his body because at the time of the accident he was 5’4″ tall, but after the accident he began to grow and today he is 6’3″ tall. Now I don’t know if I really believe that story or not, but I think it does speak to Jesus’ point in this parable. Within all of us, God has placed the ability to experience tremendous growth but the difference between the servants in this story is that the first two recognized that potential, while the third one did not. Because his fear of failure kept him from “growing” as God intended for him to grow. Fear is sometimes the greatest enemy of the Kingdom of God because it keeps us from growing. Fear keeps us from realizing our potential.
Now there’s a couple of things I think we should know about this growth potential that is within us. First is that it is given to us by God. We are created with the potential to do great things with our lives. Sometimes we read this parable and think that the master is asking the servants to serve as trustees of this money. But that’s not what Jesus says. He tells us that the master GAVE the first servant five talents and the second servant two talents. And when the master returns, they go to him and they say look what we have done with what you have given us. I think that when we stand before God on our own day of judgement the question that will be put to us is What have you done with what I gave you? But the third servant is like the Disciples and often me I’m afraid, he just doesn’t get it. He thinks the master has given him the talent for safe keeping while he is gone and so out of fear that he’ll lose it, he does nothing. And when the master returns, all he can think about is returning the talent before something terrible happened to it. Before he blew it. Now don’t misunderstand this story, This third servant wasn’t a bad person. He wanted to do what was right, but he just didn’t get it and apparently neither did the Disciples. Jesus was saying to them, I’m getting ready to leave this earth, and so I’m going to give you the keys to the Kingdom as I depart.
Now, I have always pictured the Disciples as saying “wow” a lot. A blind man comes and Jesus restores his sight, and in my mind’s eye I see the Disciples watching as we would, and looking at each other in amazement. “Wow, did you see that”. Jesus walks on the water. “Wow, did you see that.” Jesus calms the storm. “Wow, did you see that.” Jesus stands up to the Pharisees. “Wow, did you hear that?” But when Jesus says to them, everything that you have watched and heard with such amazement, you can do also and even more. The potential is within you. Their response is not “Wow, did you hear that?” It’s more like “Huh, what did He just say?” They just don’t seem to get it. So Jesus says, I’m giving you the Kingdom. I am giving you the power of the Holy Spirit.
They just don’t get it. At best they think that they are just to be caretakers until Jesus comes back. At worst they think it’s all coming to an end. It was great while it lasted, but we can’t do anything with the talent, with the Kingdom, without Jesus. We’ll just hide away until He comes back. And so they retreat to the Upper Room to wait. Sometimes we are like the radio host who claims he has talent on loan from God. But what Jesus wants us to know is that our talent, our potential, our life, is given to us to make the most of. But too many of us just don’t get it. And so we bury what we have been given, because investing it can be very risky, and so too often we settle for lives of insignificance, much less than God intends for us. Robert Schuller , wrote in a book called Power Thoughts: It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows by the cultivation of an insignificant life.
In other words, he is, saying that a life of insignificance is the safe choice to make. We risk nothing by choosing to bury our potential.
When I was a kid, one of my heroes was the baseball player, Mickey Mantle. When the neighborhood kids played baseball in the vacant lot and we would choose what popular player we would be, I would often choose Mickey Mantle. Well some years later, I learned that there was a darker side to Mickey Mantle then I saw as a kid. And just before his death at age sixty three of liver disease caused by years of alcohol abuse, the famous baseball player Mickey Mantle said this to a sports writer: You talk about a role model: don’t be like me . . . God gave me the ability to play baseball and I wasted it. I was given so much, and I blew it. I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to make it up. I want to start giving something back.
You see, when it comes to God given potential, God expects so much from us because He gives us so much. Jesus concludes this parable with this statement:Everyone who has much will be given more.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus clarifies that even more when he says in summary of another story dealing with all that God gives us:
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
You see, I don’t think the master was upset with the servant because he didn’t have any returns to show from his investment. I think that he was upset because the servant didn’t invest his talent in the first place. God gives us this potential to do great things for his Kingdom, and he expects us to use our potential to the fullest.
And then the second thing we need to know about this God given potential, the potential He places within us, that we are created with, is that what He gives us is more than we can ever imagine or comprehend. The parable says that the master gives to each servant according to their ability. But even the gift of one talent was a gift of great extravagance. A talent was the highest denomination of money in the Roman empire. One talent, according to some scholars, was the equivalent to the wages of one working Jew for up to twenty years. Which means that in God’s Kingdom even those with the most limited abilities are extravagantly gifted by God. And in return He expects us to use those gifts to His glory. When we bury our talents, refuse to invest our potential, we fail to glorify God and serve His Kingdom. A life in God’s Kingdom is meant to be a life that makes a difference, a life of great significance.
And then the second lesson that Jesus wants His disciples to see is that by investing our lives in God’s Kingdom, we will always reap much more than we sow. Remember what the third servant says to the master when he returns home.
I know you to be a hard man who desires to reap more than you sow, and I was afraid that I could not live up to that and so I buried my talent. In fear of failure, he had wasted his potential. Of course, he did not mean this in a complementary way , but the master kind of turns it around and says in essence, you’re right. I do harvest where I have not sown. And yet you knew that and still you refused to sow what you’ve been given.
These words are for all of us who have been given extravagant life and blessings by God, great potential to make a difference, but when we are confronted with the tasks of Discipleship we are afraid to invest ourselves. Our talents are too small we think. Or we don’t take a risk. We don’t live up to our potential. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book Secrets Of The Vine, says that everyday he prays this same prayer:
Lord, let me make a difference for You that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.
That is a Kingdom prayer because those who sow their lives and talents in the Kingdom of God, will reap far beyond who they are because God has truly placed the Kingdom within us. Telliard deChardin captured the anger of the master toward the third servant when he wrote “The greatest sin in the world is the refusal to use the power for good that God has put within us. And then he goes on to say: Kingdoms of the earth focus on what is around us. The Kingdom of God focuses on what is within us. The kingdoms of earth wield power over subjects. The Kingdom of God offers power for people.
Those who invest themselves in God’s Kingdom will reap more than we sow, because the power to make the harvest is God’s, not ours.
I wonder if Jesus, after He had told this story looked at the Disciples and said, “Do you get it now?”
Well, how about us, do we get it?Because for those who live up to their potential and invest their all in God’s Kingdom, there is great joy and great rewards. The invitation that the master offers the first two servants is our invitation too. We are invited to come and live up to the potential that God has placed in each one of us – come and share all the joy of God’s Kingdom. Because God is not about the business of merely loaning us our life – He gives us our life and all it’s potential with the joyous expectation and anticipation that we will invest it back into His Kingdom.