This sermon is based on Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the rich landowner giving talents to his servants. Through the example of Texas Hold ‘Em style poker, I explore how we go “all in” with the gospel, and when we do, we are not risking the lose of the gospel itself…for the gospel does not decrease, it can only increase.
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
About a week ago I was playing the late evening channel surfing game…sacked out on the couch, not ready to go to bed, and just hoping to find something on tv…I ended up watching coverage of the final table of a World Series of Poker championship. Now I’ve never been a huge poker player, but occasionally would play a game with my friends…and in particular the style Texas Hold ‘Em that gained popularity in the past decade or so.
This particular version of poker involves two cards given to each player face down, while 5 more cards are periodically laid out on the table. You use your two cards along with the available cards to make the best hand you can, and there’s a series of betting along the way. If you’re struggling to make a good hand, you can always fold, giving up any bets that you’ve already put into the pot…or on the flip side, if you’ve made a great hand and think you’ve got everyone beat, you can bet everything you’ve got…commonly called going All In. (pause)
Now, as I mentioned, I’ve played this from time to time before…and as I was sitting there watching it the other night, it wasn’t long before I picked up my tablet and started searching for an online poker app. I found one pretty quickly and so for the last few days I’ve been playing Texas Hold ‘Em against people all around the world…theoretical stakes mind you…but it’s a lot of fun.
In the midst of a game the other day, I had one really great hand that landed me a really strong payout…and suddenly my stack…or my pile of chips…was way bigger than everyone else’s at the table…and from that point on, I found myself way more willing to bet big…to let my chips do the work…even when other players tried to go All In, I was pretty willing to call them, because I knew I could handle it…and that I didn’t have to risk everything I had.
But on the flip side, I’ve been on the other side of the coin…working with a short stack as they call it…which means being the person without very many chips…knowing that any big bet could empty me out…and knock me out of the game…and in those instances, I get pretty tight…and I hesitate to take much risk…I guard my stack…because what little I have could be gone in an instant. That’s the risk when you go All In…either you double up…or you lose everything. (pause)
Today’s gospel story shares a similar type of situation…although I’m guessing high stakes poker probably wasn’t involved. Today’s story involves yet another parable…yet another story intended to point out how we should respond to certain situations.
A man was leaving on a journey…and obviously he must be a wealthy man, because he calls his 3 servants together…and dolls out a huge sum to them. To the first, 5 talents…to the second, 2…and the third, 1…each according to their ability. Not long ago we heard another story about talents…and in that sermon I talked about the value…a talent was worth 15 years of wages for a day laborer…15 years worth of work…I don’t know about you, but I’d say that would make a pretty great bonus if the boss just walked up and handed it to you…and regardless of how we look at it…in today’s monetary figures or the wages of Jesus’ day the simple fact that this is a sum equal to one and half decades worth of work should put it into perspective…what he is handing out…is something of immense value.
Now we hear that the three men received different amounts…each according to his ability…and that’s an interesting point…we don’t know what it is about the first guy that distinguishes him to the point of receiving the largest stack…but he does…and then the second guy must be a little more average…and the last, maybe not quite so skilled…but regardless of the amount, remember…they all received something of great value.
We hear that two out of the three immediately put their talents to work…we don’t know what they do…likely not poker…but however they do it…in whatever way it is that they risk the treasure given to them…the talents increase…they each manage to double down…so when the master eventually returns they are able to say “look Lord…you gave me 5, here, take 5 more.” Or “You gave me two…here they are and two more with them.” And this return is a joy to the master…and he tells them “Well done good and faithful servant…you have been trusted with little, you will be given much…enter into the joy…into the DELIGHT…of your master.” (pause)
But then there’s this third guy…the guy who only received a single talent…for whatever reason…and he’s not quite so pumped about the whole situation is he? We don’t know exactly what’s going on with this guy…but for what ever reason…he’s afraid…afraid to risk it. (pause)
Maybe he looked at the other two guys…and he felt jealous…he got twice as much…and he got five times more…they’ve got way more to work with…and perhaps his jealousy froze him…and just like that time when I was playing poker with the big stack, unafraid to risk some…knowing that I had more…or perhaps even more fitting when I was the short stack…sitting there afraid to bet…afraid to risk what little I had…because what if he loses it…what then? (pause) Whatever the reason…fear…fear of eventually having to face his master…a man that he believes to be harsh…that he believes reaps the benefits of other people’s hard work…he simply decides to sit on it…risking nothing…nothing gained…but nothing lost…so that when his master returns he won’t be blamed for losing anything…and he can just give the talent back to the master…and how does it turn out for this guy?
It certainly…does not…end…well. (pause)
Perhaps as we sit here today, thinking about this story…we start to wonder just what those talents are…and there are quite a few different answers to that question…considering the time of year that we find ourselves in…and tendency for the topic of stewardship to pop up…maybe we hear this and think its speaking about money…about how we are called to use the money that God gives us wisely. Nothing wrong with that.
Another option is to take the word “talent” literally and think about the gifts that we are each given…those gifts of the Holy Spirit…about how we are one body with many members and each member has an important role…so how are we going to chose to share those talents…nothing wrong with that either.
But the more I thought about it this week…the more I reflected…especially considering the theme that’s emerged in recent weeks…I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, the talents that Jesus is speaking about in this parable…maybe they’re the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ…the wonderful news that through his life death and resurrection, we are forgiven of our sinful nature…washed clean in blood through our faith…that the free gift of God’s grace is available…is offered to each and every one of us….because to me…that’s something of great value. (pause)
But if that is the case…then it raises the question of just what are supposed to do with that? The first two servants in the story put their talents to work…and their talents increased…while the third guy just sat on it…doing nothing with it…and it remained exactly as it was…and not only that…it was taken away from him.
So what does that mean? How do we put the gospel to work? (pause) How do we risk it? (pause) Jesus himself answers that question for us, just a few short chapters after this. Following his death and resurrection, Jesus takes the disciples out to a mountain…and he tells them…All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…Go make disciples of all nations…teaching them all that I have taught you…and remember that I am with you always.
That’s it…putting the Gospel to work…risking the gospel…means making disciples…and how do we do that? Well…its pretty simple…we share the gospel…that’s it…because a person can’t become a disciple…they can’t learn about it unless they first hear about it? That’s what we’re called to do…and not out of obligation…but out of love…someone back in your history loved you enough to share the gospel with you…they must have because otherwise you wouldn’t be here today…and loving someone enough to share this life altering news with them…that’s just one way that we follow Jesus’ other command to first love God, and then to love our neighbor.
And the beauty of all this…the wonderful nature of the gospel is that when we risk it…when we go all in and share this incredible thing with others…we don’t lose it…we can’t…the gospel doesn’t work that way…we don’t divide part of what we have to give to someone else…when we share it…the gospel simply grows…and they have the full measure just as you do…and this is why those two servants were able to come to their master and say…look, what you have given us has doubled. (pause) The gospel cannot help but grow when we put it to work. (pause)
But what of that third man…the one who lived in fear…the one who chose to guard the talent…to safeguard the gospel and not give it away lest he lose it and have nothing to show for it…what happened to him? In his fear, exactly what he was afraid of became his reality.
The gospel does not live in fear…in cannot…because to be afraid to lose it…means that you never had it in the first place. (pause) The gospel…the good news that Jesus Christ lived and died for you makes you a new creation…and as a new creation, we know that this good news is not something that we keep to ourselves…we don’t guard it…we don’t hide it away from others…we must share it…because we know that this good news of salvation in Jesus Christ is not something that we are allowed to hinder…we do not get to judge who is worthy to hear it…because no one is worthy…including us…and at the very same time everyone is worthy…including us.
In God’s incredible wisdom…and immeasurable love for all humankind, God risked it all…God became human…lived among us…and willingly paid everything he could….because God died for you…God went all in…and because God is generous, he shares that with us.
And so today I pose the question…what are you willing to risk for the Gospel? Are you willing to risk it all…knowing that the gospel cannot be taken away from us when we share it…when we put it to work…knowing that it can only increase…
Truly we are all given gifts…we are all given talents and treasures…but most importantly we are given the Gospel…and when we chose to use it…when we take it out into the world and share it with those we encounter, then one day we too will hear those wonderful words from the master…Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy…enter…into the delight…of your master…and make no mistake…God delights in you…because God loves you
This is why God went All in…will you?