May 5, 2019

What You Do with What You’ve Got
Matthew 25:14-29

When I took my preaching class in seminary, I’ll never forget something my preaching professor said. One day, when we were discussing how to outline our sermons, a student asked, “How many points should a good sermon have?” Without missing a beat the professor said, “At least one.”

Sadly, I’ve heard a few sermons that didn’t meet the minimum. Hopefully, today’s sermon will not be one of them. In fact, today’s sermon has just one point, but if you get a hold of that one point, it can make a real difference in your life and in the life of our church.

Here’s the one point of today’s sermon: “Our value is not determined by what we’ve got. Our value is determined by what we do with what we’ve got.” Hear it again, “Our value is not determined by what we’ve got. Our value is determined by what we do with what we’ve got.” That’s the one point of my sermon, and that’s the point Jesus is making in today’s text.

As Jesus was drawing near the end of his earthly ministry he looked out at those who were following him. Some of them were people who possessed a lot of talent. Some had a lot of education. A few had a lot of money. But most of the people who followed Jesus had little talent, education, or wealth. Most were common, dirt poor people. Some were even illiterate. And it was to these folks Jesus entrusted the Kingdom of God.

So as Jesus looked at these common, poor people he wanted them to realize that their value was not determined by what they had. Their value was determined by what they did with what they had.

To get across his point, Jesus tells them a parable. Listen as I read his parable from Matthew 25:14-29. Today, I’ll be reading from the paraphrased version called The Message.

“(The kingdom of God is like) a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.
“After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
“The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’
“The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.
“‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

Now, what’s the point of Jesus’ story? It’s this: “Our value is not determined by what we’ve got. Our value is determined by what we do with what we’ve got.”

In this story, all three servants had a different level of assets. The first was given 5,000 dollars to manage. The second was given 2,000 dollars to manage, and the third was given just 1,000 dollars to manage.

Jesus told this story because he realized life is like that. Some people are given numerous assets. They seem to have it all. They’re smart. They’re good looking. They can sing; they can dance, and they even know how to manage all the gadgets on their iPhone. These are the 5,000 dollar people.

But then, Jesus knew most people weren’t like that. Most of us can do just a few things. We might be able to write a letter, make a visit, or even teach a Sunday School class. But we can’t do what the 5,000 dollar folks do. We’re just 2,000 dollar people.

Then there are still a host of other folks who are represented by the servant given 1,000 dollars. These folks don’t do anything in public. They don’t sing, or teach a class; and they’d sooner die than be called upon to say a prayer in public - but keep in mind, these folks are not without assets. They can sit with the sick, or visit lonely people in the nursing home, or take a casserole to a grieving widow. They’re the 1,000 dollar people.

Now, here’s the interesting part to Jesus’ story. Even though the servants had differing levels of assets, the master did not consider one servant more valuable than the other. He didn’t consider the 5,000 dollar servant to be any more valuable than the 1,000 dollar servant. No, Jesus didn’t determine the servants’ value by what they had. He determined their value by what they did with what they had.

And what did they do with what they had? The first one used his $5,000 and made $5,000 more. The second one used his $2,000 to make $2,000 more. And the third one – well, he did nothing with what he had.

In the end, Jesus commended the two servants who used what they had to further his kingdom. But what about the one who did nothing? Jesus condemned him and ordered him to leave.

So how did the master decide the value of each servant? Did he determine their value by what they had? Of course not. He determined their value by what they did with what they had. And that’s the whole point of Jesus’ parable. Jesus wants us to understand that our value is not determined by what we’ve got. Our value is determined by what we do with what we’ve got.

While this point seems so obvious in Jesus’ story, many of us have trouble applying it to our own lives. Many of us are still trying to determine our personal value by measuring what we have against what others have.

Let me illustrate. There’s one particular talent I so much admire in others. It’s the gift memory. Yes, I’m so enamored by those who can quickly memorize and then retain what they’ve put into memory.

Unfortunately, I don’t possess that gift. My memory has never been good, and at times, my lack of memory embarrasses me, and makes me feel bad about myself.

My wife is just the opposite. She has a wonderful memory. When we were both going to seminary, I’d hate it when we’d take the same class. I’d spend 4 to 6 hours memorizing material for an exam, and she’d study for 2 hours at the most. Then, when the grades came back, she’d always have a higher grade than me; usually the highest grade in the class.

So one day, while I was lamenting my pitiful memory, something dawned on me. I don’t have the gift of memory, but God has endowed me with other gifts. I can sing. I’m a communicator, and I have a wonderful gift of creativity. Granted, I don’t have the gift of memory, but God doesn’t judge me on my memory. God judges me, not on my memory, but on my use of the other gifts he has entrusted to me.

And the same is true for you. You may feel like a lesser person because you don’t have what somebody else has. Some of you may feel insignificant because you don’t have the education, career or income others have. Some of you may feel like second class folks because you can’t sing, teach, or pray in public like other people do. Yes, a lot of you may think you aren’t worth much because you don’t have the talents you see in others.

But may I remind you once again, “Your value is not determined by what you’ve got. Your value is determined by what you do with what you’ve got.”

And the same thing is true about our church. Sometimes, I think we feel inferior because we don’t have what bigger churches have. We don’t have the large choirs accompanied by the orchestras. We don’t have the recreation programs that bring in the children and young families. We don’t have the large budgets that enable us to launch the kind of programs we see in other churches.

So what should we do? Should we lament our lack of resources and get overly protective about what we’ve got? Should we take our small talent and bury it in the ground? No. That’s not what God calls us to do. God calls us to take the little we’ve got and use it to advance the cause of his kingdom. For in the end, God will not judge Rutledge Baptist Church on what we’ve got. God will judge us on what we do with what we’ve got!

Mr. Fred was one of the most influential people in West Highland Baptist Church, the church I pastored in Macon, Georgia. Each year, when we had deacon election, Mr. Fred would always get the most votes.

Now, if you think Mr. Fred got votes because of his outgoing personality or his witty charm, you just didn’t know Mr. Fred. Mr. Fred was a shy introvert who was one of the poorest communicators I’ve ever known. Whenever Fred talked, he stuttered, and when he didn’t stutter, he ran his words together so quickly you could hardly understand what he said.

Fred wasn’t unusually attractive, nor did he have much power or wealth. The only elected job he held in church was R.A. Director, and the only reason he took that job was because he loved to camp.

So why did the members of West Highland Baptist Church consider this shy, shuttering man to be so immensely valuable? I’ll tell you why. Fred Campbell had one clear gift. Fred was good with landscaping. And every week during the spring, summer and fall, Fred would spend countless hours using his gift to beautify the house of God.

Fred would never say anything to anybody about it. He’d never accept any payment for it, and often he would use large sums of his own money to buy equipment, supplies, flowers and shrubs.

Then every year, when the votes were tallied, one name would rise to the top. Fred Campbell.

Why was Fred so valuable? Was it because of his many talents? No. The people of West Highland Baptist Church considered Fred Campbell a valuable person because Fred did his best with what he had.

Need I say it again? “Our value is not determined by what we’ve got. Our value is determined by what we do with what we’ve got.” So my question for you today is this: what are you doing with what you’ve got?

And that, my friends, is the one point of this sermon!