How to Invest Your Life Nov. 17, 2018
Matthew 25: 14-30
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called “In God We Trust: Biblical Perspectives on Money.” We’ll be considering how God invites each of us to invest our lives in His Kingdom. Would you read with me?
There aren’t too many things that surprise me anymore, but there is something from this passage that I find fascinating. I find it absolutely fascinating that God trusts us. Shocking might be a better word. In the world of faith we usually talk about trusting in God, but this is quite the reversal. God places trust in us! I don’t know what’s going through your mind right now, but I can think of a million different reasons why this isn’t a good idea. I mean, has God taken a good look at us lately? We can’t figure out our politics, we can’t figure out our economics, we can’t even figure out our families most of the time. Even the global Church has been rocked recently by sexual abuse cover-ups. But yet, for some reason, God trusts us and places some of His most precious resources in our hands.
Matthew calls them talents, but we could easily insert a whole host of other words. Gifts, maybe? Or passions? We could even throw money in there, or children or churches or jobs…and the meaning of this parable wouldn’t change. Although it’s never spelled out, there’s an implication that we’re supposed to do something with these resources, whatever they might be, and we’re supposed to do that something until the owner comes back. And so as the parable goes, the owner walks away, fully trusting the servants to do what he expects them to do. And it’s up to the servants to make the next move.
The servants had been in this game long enough to know what was supposed to happen: They were supposed to carry out the owner’s wishes. They didn’t need him to spell it out for them. They knew what they were supposed to do. Now they just had to do it. The servants have worked for the owner long enough to know the organization’s mission and vision; they’ve spent enough time around the man to know that “status quo” isn’t going to fly; they know his tendencies and his goals and they know what’s expected of them. And they also knew that simply showing up wasn’t going to cut it.
In 1969, a significant shift happened in the Pittsburgh region. And it had to do with just “showing up.” After 30 plus years of losing, with only one playoff appearance, Steelers President Dan Rooney had seen enough of players just “showing up.” Rooney believed the hardworking people of Pittsburgh deserved better. They needed a team to inspire them after a long week in the steel mills; they needed a team that could bring hope to a region that was slowly losing its economic identity. And so he took a gamble and hired a young up and coming coach named Chuck Noll. And for 23 years, Chuck Noll shepherded Rooney’s Steelers into an organization that had one overarching goal: Bring home a championship. In his biography, Noll said there was a sentiment around the organization that respectability would’ve been a sufficient goal. But that was never the ultimate hope. That was never going to cut it. The goal was to win, not just put on the pads and show up. And little by little, Chuck Noll took what had been entrusted to him and built a dynasty.
It’s not a dynasty Jesus is after, but a Kingdom. That’s his goal, the very mission for which he died, the very mission he has trusted into our hands. Make Disciples. Preach Good News. Advance the Kingdom. During his time on earth, Jesus invested every day of his life to this mission. He was devoted to it. Sometimes it looked like a quiet conversation late at night, inviting a man named Nicodemus to be born “from above.” Sometimes it looked like 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish multiplied to feed the thousands. And sometimes it looked like a towel and a basin, kneeling down to do the dirty work nobody else wanted to do, reminding his followers that humility and love are the hallmarks of the Jesus way. And little by little, Jesus instilled this vision, this hope in his team. Make Disciples. Preach Good News. Advance the Kingdom.
There are a ton of different ways you can spend your life. You can chase after money, fame or success. You could settle for a pursuit of happiness or maybe try to live a life of ease. You can work hard now in order to sail off into the sunset later. And none of those are necessarily wrong or inherently bad. But when it comes to Jesus, those ways of living are a lot like settling for fielding a respectable team instead of winning championships. They leave a lot to be desired. Football season would be really boring around here if there were no championship expectations. I know a lot of people who tune out their favorite teams because they don’t win. That’s because our teams are expected to produce wins! And our lives are meant for far more than just existence. In the parable for today, the owner divides up his wealth (somewhere along the lines of $2 million in today’s figures) to three of his trusted servants. The moment he walked away, all three had to decide what to do with what they’d been given. The moment he left, all three had to answer the question, “What does the owner expect me to do with this?” And it really came down to two options: invest or maintain.
I was halfway through my seminary career when I enrolled in a missiology class- the study of missions. Our professor was top notch, a man who loved the Lord and lived his life strictly for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. And he was serious about his life’s work. I’ll never forget the first day of class when he boldly told us that if we didn’t lead a single person to Christ during our three years of seminary we were wasting our time, and God’s time as well. I was stunned. I loved feeding my mind with knowledge! I yearned for the next spiritual high! I couldn’t wait for the next class, the next conference, the next discussion group, the next concert. But in the end, he was right. All our learning was meant to produce something. It was meant to make disciples, preach the Good News and advance the Kingdom, and if we didn’t do any of that, even if we had all the right tools and training available, we would’ve missed the point. If we had kept all of our study, all of our knowledge and all of our personal spiritual growth to ourselves, we would’ve been much closer to the third servant who buried the owner’s resources so as not to lose. And not losing is not to be confused with winning.
God has given us a clear and compelling vision for our world. To make things on earth as they are in heaven. That’s a pretty bold vision, one Jesus felt deserved his best in life, even to the point of death. And I get it. When I see young children starving to death across our world, God’s vision of an eternal banquet table seems about right. When I see abuse that robs people of innocence and forces them into a lifetime of shame, God’s vision of shalom makes perfect sense. When I see division caused by hate and hurt across political and racial lines, the self-giving love that’s so prominent in the realm of God is, for me, a compelling hope. And here’s the beauty of God’s vision: we’ve been invited to make it our own. With talents and gifts and resources. We’ve been invited to make this vision come alive in our corner of the world, to invest in it by making God’s vision for the world the mantra of our lives. And just like those servants in the parable, the next move is ours. What will I do with this vision entrusted to me? What will I do with this hope God has placed in my hands?
I don’t have any fancy secrets or keys for investing your life in God’s purposes, except to say this: If you want to make disciples, preach the good news and advance the Kingdom, a good place to start is to love God and love neighbor. That’s what it means to invest your life in God’s purposes. I really do think it’s that simple. That stuff that God placed in the Bible? Yeah, he meant for us to do those things. And those two commands alone have the capacity to change the world and fashion our broken existence into something more like how it is in heaven. Now we just have to do it, invest in it, treat it like it’s the most precious thing in the world. Like any good investment, we have to commit to that way of love for the long haul and take some calculated risks from time to time. As Frederick Buechner once said, “The life you hoard, guard and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living.”
There will be a day, Matthew writes, when the owner will come home from his long journey. When that day comes is anyone’s best guess, but on that day, we’ll be asked to reveal what we’ve done with the resources entrusted to us. We’ll be asked to give a report on we stewarded a vision of new creation for our world. On that day, we’ll be asked to share the story of how we spent our lives. And although there could be a million responses, the best answer we could possibly give is this: I gave it all away in love.