About Face! / Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Rev. Donald P. Beaumont

Matthew 25:14-30

But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

I’d like to take a quick poll this morning. If you could choose to visit a famous site around the world, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome or the Giza Pyramids in Egypt or any other place of your choice, which would you choose to see? That’s not an easy question to answer. There are so many beautiful places in the world to visit.

A British photographer has a very successful career in films, television and fashion photography. His success revolves around capturing the perfect picture at the perfect moment. But he also has an odd side project. He likes to visit famous places and monuments around the world, and then point his camera in the opposite direction of the famous monument. So, he’s taking pictures of the scenery around these world-famous monuments, like the Taj Mahal in India, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but ignoring the monuments themselves. He has published these pictures in a book titled Volte-Face, or in English, About Face

We use the term “about face” to refer to someone who experiences a complete change in an attitude or opinion.

Think about this project for a moment. This photographer is in the presence of a well-known monument, but he wants to gain a new perspective—a perspective gained by focusing on its setting. And, he sees things most people never notice.

How often do you stop and question why you notice the things that catch your attention? Generally, we follow the crowd. We fit in with our peers and our cultural expectations. We rarely question our priorities or our choices. What would it take for you to make a complete “about face,” a reversal in your choices, ideas or priorities? What if you could see your life from God’s perspective? That’s the question I keep coming back to as I thought about our lesson from Matthew’s Gospel.

This passage is about a man who went on a journey and entrusted his wealth to his servants. The man obviously represents God, we are the servants, and the wealth—well, we’ll get to that in a minute. But there are two key words here that we must confront if we’re going to understand this story and apply it to our lives. The two words are entrusted and afraid.

You’ll see the word entrusted at least three times in these verses. The man entrusted his wealth to his three servants. He presented them with a big responsibility and a big opportunity. This man obviously had great faith in his servants. He saw great potential in them, and great opportunities all around them. He saw them as God sees us, great potential and great opportunities to excel in the world. Why else would the master have entrusted his wealth to them?

The first and second servants invested the wealth of their master as he hoped they would. When the master returned, they presented him with a considerable profit on his money. And the master praised their efforts and invited them to share in his happiness.

But the third servant hid his master’s wealth and did nothing with it. Why? Because he was afraid. He was afraid of the master. He was afraid of the opportunity. He was afraid of the responsibility. And when the master returned, the third servant dug up the wealth and gave it back to the master. No return on the investment. Just one big lost opportunity. And the master condemned the servant for letting his fear override his responsibility.

Let’s begin here: The saddest and least productive emotion in life is fear. That’s the first thing that strikes me in this passage. The saddest and least productive emotion is fear. It’s the least fruitful emotion. Fear’s only fruit is regret and lost opportunities and an increased focus on one’s self and one’s security.

In the U.S. this past year the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a new vocabulary. We created terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” to describe activities to protect against the virus. It has been a worldwide phenomenon.

I read that in Germany, a new word was created to describe hoarding of food and staple items brought about by this pandemic: Hamsterkauf. The German word for “hoarding” is hamstern, which comes from the image of hamsters storing up food in their cheeks.

During the Cold War, the German government published a list of items that the average German household should have on hand in case of an emergency, like pasta, painkillers and, of course, toilet paper. German citizens refer to this list as the Hamsterkauf list.

The third servant was guilty of Hamsterkauf. He was afraid and hoarded his master’s money. Why? Because he didn’t trust his master’s character. Just like us, he’d had a few heartbreaks and setbacks in his life. And he no longer trusted the master’s goodness or the master’s priorities. So, he decided to focus on his own security. Dig a hole in the ground, bury the wealth and wait for the master to return. No risk, no responsibility. And no reward.

Think of all the things in life we miss out on because we’re afraid. We don’t trust God’s goodness and God’s promises. Think of all the opportunities we could harvest with our God-given talents and opportunities if we were just bold enough to base our goals and priorities on God’s promises instead of on our own security.

Think how often the scriptures say, “Don’t be afraid.” Could it be that the opposite of faith is not unbelief but fear? That command, to live without fear, isn’t linked to some promise that nothing bad will ever happen to you. It’s not linked to some promise that God is going to answer your every question and always work according to your expectations and your timeline. The command is linked, however, to the promise that God will be with you through every challenge.

Let me tell you about another young woman who found help with her fear. On Palm Sunday 1987, near the end of her church’s worship service, this young woman suffered a horrifying brain aneurysm. In the hospital, doctors told the young woman that they could wait and watch the aneurysm and hope it didn’t get much worse, or they could perform a very risky surgery to remove it. She chose to put her life in God’s hands and have the surgery to remove it.

The young woman experienced moments of overwhelming fear as she waited for the day the surgery would take place. One sleepless night, she found the answer to her fear in a passage from the book of Joshua chapter 1, verse 9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.”

She copied that verse down on a piece of note paper. She kept it with her and read it every day until she had it memorized. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.”

On the day of her surgery, she reluctantly handed the piece of paper with the Bible verse written on it over to the OR nurse. The nurse assured her that she would get the verse back after surgery. Many hours later when the young woman awoke from surgery, she found the worn piece of paper with the verse from Joshua taped to her palm. What a source of comfort it had become: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.”  

Think how often the scriptures say, “Don’t be afraid” or, in this case, “Do not be terrified . . .” Fear not only makes us miserable, but it robs us in so many ways including, possibly, the ability for healing to take place in our bodies.

Remember the example of the three servants. Two of the servants invested their master’s property which yielded a tidy profit. The other man lost out because of his fear.

This story from Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Christ is looking for people with holy boldness. What is holy boldness? The boldness to let God direct your talents and energy toward good works that bring Him glory. God made us to partner with Him in ushering in the kingdom of God. Mind-blowing responsibility. Mind-blowing opportunity. Notice that the outcome of this story rests on faith in God’s character and obedience to God’s commands. Both faith and obedience require the boldness to let go of your own security and comfort and let God use you for His larger plans.

Remember the two words that I said we had to confront in order to understand this Bible passage? Entrusted and afraid. God has entrusted you with great wealth. Your life. Your talents and energy and intellect and influence. And God can’t use you for His glory if you’re afraid of investing your life in good works for God’s glory. So now is the time to ask yourself, what do you want to hear at the end of your life? What will it take to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

The Christian life is not for sissies. It’s for people willing to live with holy boldness, seeking to be where God wants them to be, and living as God wants them to live. Do you see yourself in that role? Why settle for less? Christ died for your eternal life, make sure you pass that along to others.

Bethel Lutheran Church

32410 Willowick Drive
Willowick, OH 44095

P: (440) 943-5000

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