As we hear your Word, O Christ, may we be reminded that you are always with us encouraging and equipping us. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS Matthew 25:14-30, GNT
14 “At that time the Kingdom of heaven will be like this. Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. 15 He gave to each one according to his ability: to one he gave five thousand gold coins, to another he gave two thousand, and to another he gave one thousand. Then he left on his trip. 16 The servant who had received five thousand coins went at once and invested his money and earned another five thousand. 17 In the same way the servant who had received two thousand coins earned another two thousand. 18 But the servant who had received one thousand coins went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master's money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. 20 The servant who had received five thousand coins came in and handed over the other five thousand. ‘You gave me five thousand coins, sir,’ he said. ‘Look! Here are another five thousand that I have earned.’ 21 ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’ 22 Then the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, ‘You gave me two thousand coins, sir. Look! Here are another two thousand that I have earned.’ 23 ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant!’ said his master. ‘You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!’ 24 Then the servant who had received one thousand coins came in and said, ‘Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not plant, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed. 25 I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground. Look! Here is what belongs to you.’ 26 ‘You bad and lazy servant!’ his master said. ‘You knew, did you, that I reap harvests where I did not plant, and gather crops where I did not scatter seed? 27 Well, then, you should have deposited my money in the bank, and I would have received it all back with interest when I returned. 28 Now, take the money away from him and give it to the one who has ten thousand coins. 29 For to every person who has something, even more will be given, and he will have more than enough; but the person who has nothing, even the little that he has will be taken away from him. 30 As for this useless servant—throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth.’
1 Peter 4:10-11, GNT
10 Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. 11 Those who preach must preach God's messages; those who serve must serve with the strength that God gives them, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Matthew 14:22-33, GNT
22 Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people away. 23 After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone; 24 and by this time the boat was far out in the lake, tossed about by the waves, because the wind was blowing against it.
25 Between three and six o'clock in the morning Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. 26 When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. “It's a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear.
27 Jesus spoke to them at once. “Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don't be afraid!”
28 Then Peter spoke up. “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”
29 “Come!” answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. “Save me, Lord!” he cried.
31 At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, “What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”
32 They both got into the boat, and the wind died down. 33 Then the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus. “Truly you are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.
SERMON Unopened Gifts
Do you have gifts you’ve never opened?
- Books you’ve never read?
- Potential you’ve never used?
- Talent’s you’ve never developed?
- Invitations that went unanswered?
- Relationships you didn’t give a chance?
- Opportunities you let pass you by?
- Faith you never expressed?
These are the questions raised by today’s parable from Matthew 25. John Ortberg relates these missed opportunities to the disciples who stayed in the boat in Matthew 14. If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. To remain seated is to miss an opportunity to grow and to experience life to the fullest in spite of the risks.
Now I get it. The past couple weeks I didn’t want to leave my house, because I was coughing so much. To be honest, I didn’t miss the office, because I could easily work from home. I didn’t want to risk falling on the ice; I could enjoy the world from my window. I’ve already confessed how easily I can become a boat potato. But on the other hand, when I did come to work, I got things done. When I did step outside to shovel, I enjoyed the fresh air. Welcoming our guests on Saturday was an opportunity I did not want to miss. There are times to be still and times to move. We have to follow God’s lead to know which is which.
Matthew 25 includes three parables about being ready for the coming kingdom of God. The Ten Bridesmaids wait with lighted lamps for the Bridegroom to come and celebrate the wedding, but some run out of fuel. As we wait for Christ’s return, we need to keep our spiritual life kindled and burning bright to shine in this world and light the way for Jesus. The Sheep and the Goats are sorted according to how they have treated others in the between times. Again, while we wait for Jesus to usher in the fullness of God’s Kingdom on earth, we are to treat everyone, even the least of those among us as if we were caring for Christ himself. The parable of The Servants and their Master is about making the best use of what God has given us while we wait for Jesus our Master, to return as Christ the King.
In the parable the master distributed responsibility for his wealth among his servants, each according to what the master already knew about them. Two of them made wise investments, and when they master returned, they were rewarded for their good stewardship. The third literally buried what was given, and hence was punished for such poor stewardship. What you need to remember here, is that this is not just about money, though that is one of the many things over which we are given stewardship. But there is so much more!
We have stewardship responsibility over physical things: our health, property and belongings, food, water, air, and the environment, everything you can see and touch and the entire universe beyond that.
We have stewardship responsibility over intellectual things: our minds, our history, literature and art and music, ideas and concepts, mathematics and science. I remember a commercial that declared “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
We have stewardship responsibility over relationships: with our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, our families, and on some level with everyone who shares our planet.
We have stewardship responsibility over spiritual things: our relationship with God, our witness to this faith, obedience to God’s commandments and the nudges of God’s Holy Spirit, the gifts and fruits of the Spirit God develops within us, the Church and it’s future, outreach to those around us and to future generations, making disciples here and everywhere, now and in the future.
All of these are our responsibility as God’s children, as heirs of God’s kingdom.
Here are some things I found significant as John Ortberg writes about the “talents” God has gifted to us and trusted us to use wisely:
“The Lord of the Gift has entrusted his property to you and me. Everybody receives a gift…We are all called by God. We are all equipped and expected to contribute. Every gift is chosen by the master…No one decides on his or her giftedness…The master chooses.
“In place of the word talent, you might think about your life.
“Your mind. Your abilities. Your spiritual gifts. Your body. Your money. Your will.
“…God himself offers to partner with you in your life…He offers us himself as the best gift of all.” (p. 39)
I invite you to take time today to seriously consider the many gifts God has presented to you individually and as a congregation. What are we doing with the gifts God has entrusted to us? Are we faithfully and wisely investing them? Please notice the question is not what are we lacking? No one asked that. God doesn’t ask that. That’s just a very human way of making an excuse to stay in the boat.
Quit looking at what’s missing and ask what you do have, what we do have. My mom’s and my motto has served me well my whole life and affects how I think about this church, too. “Make do with what you’ve got.” That’s all God is asking of any of us. But the thing is, God’s gifts plus God’s partnership can’t possibly be less than enough for anything God asks of us!
God never asked you to be River Church or Open Door. God only asks you to be the best First United Presbyterian Church of Clinton Iowa that you can possibly be at any given point in time. Right now God isn’t asking you to be the Riverside Presbyterian or First Presbyterian of your past. You lived each of those well in their appointed era. Right now God is asking you to be the best First United Presbyterian Church you can be in the 2020s. But just as is true in your individual lives, so it is in our life together; to be the best we can be may require getting out of our comfort zones to walk where God is leading us.
Ortberg understands that fear is what keeps us in the boat unable to move forward.
“Fear makes people disobedient to the calling of the master.” (p. 44) He admits, “Fear prompts me to lie.” (p. 44) Ortberg suggests we participate in gossip when we are afraid of being left out. We hoard possessions, because we are afraid of being bored or not having enough. We flatter others or cater to them, because we are afraid they won’t like us otherwise. If you are honest about your character flaws, how many of them trace back to something you fear?
Bible characters had the same problem. Those in the wilderness were afraid they would starve. Jonah was afraid his enemy would actually turn to God. The spies sent into the promised land were afraid of giants. The disciples were afraid of the Romans. When fear holds us back, we are disobedient, and we miss significant opportunities to grow in faith and service to God. We miss the beauty and joy and blessings life offers us. We miss the experience of walking with Jesus, even on water!
But what does the Bible say so many times in the face of fear? “Do not be afraid!”
Among the many such admonitions we read,
Isaiah 41:10 “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
Isaiah 43:1b “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Jeremiah 46:28 “Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you,” says the Lord.
Haggai 2:5 “My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’”
Ortberg states, “Fear is not an adequate excuse for the tragedy of an unopened gift.” (p. 45) God will hold us accountable for the gifts God has indeed given to us. What angered the master with the third servant was that in fear he buried his gift. He didn’t even try. Max DePree states that “unrealized potential is sin.” (Quoted by Ortberg, p. 46) Conversely, Ortberg believes that “Heaven will be the ultimate place of realized potential.” (p. 47)
So rather than cowering in fear, listen to these words of God.
Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”
Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous, for I will be with you wherever you go.”
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you hope and a future.”
While writing today’s message I was listening to music that kept telling me to “Open your eyes!” and asking me “Where is your treasure?” It’s a five-album set that invites the listener on an adventure across the seas, driven by the wind, to take action, seeking what is most precious. It continues to ask, “What is your passion?”
The final movement hopes the listener has found their answer.
To me these words can also be a metaphor for our life journey with Christ. As I look at the story of Peter walking toward Jesus across the water, I know Peter could resonate with this adventure, because Peter dared to try. Peter got out of the boat while the others buried this opportunity to grow and more fully trust their master.
Through our Bible stories today God is also asking us if we have found our treasure and what we have done with it. So, as I share the poem spoken at the end of my musical adventure, perhaps you can also find within it a conversation with God for yourself and for our congregation.
Look around you.
Did you find your dream?
Did you find your treasure?
Yes, we have finally found it
Covering us like the shining light
Setting us free like the winds coming from above.
Can you see the changes?
Let us continue to hope and yearn.
Though the roaring winds continue to blow, it will not stop us.
We are the history and we will be the one.
Can you hear those voices (those voices)?
(Outro: Long Journey, ATEEZ “Treasure Ep. Finale: All to Action”)
It is my hope that through this study and through this year, through ongoing conversations with God and with each other, we will hear, and we will choose to get out of the boat, to realize the potential God has given us for this time in our lives. Let us like Peter, join the adventure.
Our current series for Jan. 12 - Feb. 23, 2020 is based on Rev. John Ortberg's book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat. This is a great book if you are stuck in a rut and wondering about the possibilities of a new adventure OR if you are facing some stormy challenges in your life and need to move forward. You'll find the gist of it here in these messages.