The Servant In The Middle
November 16, 2014
We are in the midst of our Stewardship Emphasis for this year. Last Sunday you received your copy of the budget for next year and your pledge card. We will dedicate our pledges for next year during worship next Sunday. If you have received your material please prayerfully consider your part in God’s mission through Edgewood Presbyterian. If you have not yet received your material please check your box downstairs or talk to me and I will get you the material.
In my Stewardship Letter that accompanied the budget I noted that a budget shows what is important to us. If you want to know what is important to a person you don’t have to go much further than look at their personal budget, or at least a list of what they spend their money on. That will give you a good idea of what is important to them. The same is true with a family, a business or an organization and the same is true for a Church. The Finance Committee and the Session prayerfully considered what we felt was important for us as we go on God’s mission to our community and the world, and we trust that you will prayerfully consider your part in God’s mission here at Edgewood and your dedication to God on Dedication Sunday next week.
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus gives us a perspective on how to use what God gives you and your part in God’s mission here at Edgewood. The parable of the talents is one of the best known of all Jesus’ teachings, and it’s point is virtually impossible to miss. The master entrusts his servants with his treasure, The servant who received five bags of gold wisely invested it and doubled it’s value. The servant who received two bags of gold invested it and received two more, but the servant who received one bag of gold buried it. When the master returned the servants who had doubled the gold their master gave them were rewarded but the one who buried his was severely reprimanded.
There are a lot of lessons here that we can apply to stewardship and how we use what God gives us. Things like be good stewards of your ability, use it or lose it, don’t be afraid to try, never say, “I have so little, my contribution won’t matter”. You can probably think of a few others you have heard. The point here is obvious. Those who follow Jesus are to be like the wise, five-bag servant and not like the one bag dummy. Case closed.
But there is one aspect of this story that troubles me if we close the case so quickly. What about the one in the middle, the two-bag guy? Is he superfluous? For that matter, were any of the characters in Jesus’ stories superfluous? I do not think so. Yes, there was the wise, multi-bagged servant as an example of excellent stewardship and a foolish, single- bagged servant as an example of poor stewardship. But also this one in the middle, a person with a lot less than the “super” five-bag servant but one with a lot more than the hapless, one-bag servant. In my humble opinion, the one in the middle is there for an important purpose.
Let us check him out. What do we know about the servant who got the two bags of gold? Obviously he is somewhere in between the two others in terms of the master’s faith in his abilities. He has been entrusted with twice as much as the foolish servant, but just 40 percent as much as the servant who was entrusted with the five bags of gold. And what did the servant who was entrusted with the the two bags of gold do with them? He doubled them, and wound up returning four bags of gold to the boss. His performance was, proportionately, on a par with that of the servant who doubled the five bags of gold given to him.
You know what? I really like this servant in the middle. I like him because he reminds me of who I might be able to be more than the “top servant” does. The last servant warns me of who I want to not be. The “top servant” sets a pretty lofty goal. But the middle servant shows me how I can be as I attempt to use what God has given me. Maybe he can be an example to you, too. You see, most of us are like the servant in the middle, the one who received two bags of gold. We are not fools, idiots, or people who waste the riches of God like the one who received the one bag of gold and buried it. Most of us realize that God has entrusted us with things to use for His glory and His work in the Church and in the community, so we don’t try to foolishly hide and completely fail to utilize what God has given into our care On the other hand we are not superstars of the faith, either. We may not have as much ability as some, just like the servant entrusted with the two bags of gold did not have as much as the one entrusted with five. Few of us are going to become Saint Pauls or Martin Luthers, or Mother Teresas. We are not likely to conduct crusades where millions are saved nor build cathedrals to God’s glory. We are somewhere in the middle as far as our abilities to serve God
The good news is that “the middle” is exactly where we can faithfully serve God. Not only can we serve, but we can serve well. Proportionately, we can utilize what has been entrusted to us just as effectively as the crusade conductors, the cathedral builders and the martyrs. But we have to try. We have to use what God has given us. We have to be like the servant in the middle, the one given 2 bags of gold, who took what the master gave him and used it, even if it was not as much as was given to the one who was given the five bags and served the master well with what he had.
You might protest that there is little you can do, that what you have is not that much and that you can’t make a difference for God’s mission in the Church and the community. The truth is that you can. But the truth is that you have to try.
There is an illustration from the baseball record books that gives an example of how trying is better than not trying. In 1915 Ty Cobb set a record for stolen bases in one season — 96. The record is now owned by Rickey Henderson, but Cobb’s record stood for years. Seven years after Cobb set his record, Max Carey of the Pittsburgh Pirates became second best with 51 stolen bases. Does this mean that Cobb was twice as good as Carey, his closest rival? Let’s look at the facts: Cobb made 134 attempts, Carey, 53. Cobb failed 38 times; Carey only failed twice. Cobb succeeded 96 times, Carey only 51 times. Cobb’s average was only 71 percent. Carey’s average was 96 percent. Carey’s average was much better than Cobb’s. Cobb tried 81 more times than Carey. But here is the key: His 81 additional tries produced 44 more stolen bases. Cobb risked failure 81 more times in one season than his closest rival and Cobb was considered the best base runner in baseball for years.
Why? Because he tried.
The servant in the middle, the one with the 2 bags of gold, may not have had as much as the one with the five bags and had only 1 more than the one with the 1 bag guy – but look at what he did with what he had. He tried, and the master praised him.
Yea – I like that guy – the servant in the middle – the one with the 2 bags of gold. He reminds me that I may not be able to do great and magnificent things, but I can do something, and the something that I can do can make a difference for God’s mission in the Church, the community, and the world. Instead of standing on the base, so to speak, like so many base runners in baseball, I can try, I can risk like Ty Cobb and with God’s help I can make a difference for God’s mission. You can, too. All of us can. We all can use what God has given us and make a difference for God.
Never say you don’t have enough to make a difference, because you do. Never say you can’t make a difference, because you can. Never say the problems are too big and your abilities too small, because the problems are not too big and your abilities are not too small. The only way the problems can be too big is if you let them be. The only way your abilities can be too small is if you don’t use them, don’t risk them and don’t do what you can. Whatever your abilities are, God can use them for His mission and His glory.
You want a local example of how even the smallest of gifts can go a long way in accomplishing God’s mission in our community? Misty Smith is member of Jonesboro Presbyterian. Last fall she and her son Noah notied homeless people going through the trash close to where she worked. One day Noah said “Mom – there must be something we can do to help them”. They were not sure what they could do, but decided they had to do something. They contacted their pastor who contacted me and other local pastors, and the Bags of Love ministry was started. Edgewood has donated meat and other churches have made donations and Presbytery has given financial support as together we have given out bags filled with toiletries, food items, books and other items to the homeless. We are going to be doing this again this coming Saturday and would lo e to have you help us. Noah and Misty saw a need, and got busy trying to do what they could to meet it with God’s love. Last year some women at Pocket Presbyterian heard about how girls in Central America who wore dresses were less likely to get caught up in the human trafficking trade, so they decided to make dresses and have them delivered to Central America. The sewing group at Pocket Presbyterian and now here is another great example of folks who see a problem and do what they can to address it with God’s love.
Maybe you are like the servant with the 2 bags of gold. Not as much as others may have, but enough to make a difference if you will risk it use it for God’s glory. We all can use what God has given us and make a difference for God in the world.
Again, never say you don’t have enough to make a difference, because you do. Never say you can’t make a difference, because you can. Never say the problems are too big and your abilities too small because the problems are not too big and your abilities are not too small. The only way the problems can be too big is if you let them be. The only way your abilities can be too small is if you don’t use them, don’t risk them, and don’t do what you can. Whatever your abilities are, God can use them for His mission and His glory.
Even the servant in the middle, the one with the 2 bags of gold, had enough to make a difference. He didn’t let the fact that he didn’t have as much as the servant with the 5 bags of gold stop him from doing what he could and he made a difference. You can use what you have, even if it seems like a little, and make a difference in the world for God’s glory. Use what you have to make a difference for God’s mission in the Church and the community.
Spend this week reviewing the budget material and prayerfully considering what contribution you can make to God’s mission here at Edgewood. It may be a financial contribution or it may be a contribution of your time and abilities. All contribution, no matter how small, are needed and can be blessed by God to get His mission here at Edgewood done. When you make your dedication next Sunday, dedicate yourself to use what God has given you. Dedicate yourself to serving God with what you have, and see what He can do with it. You might be amazed at how God can use even the little bit you might feel like you can do and what you can give, and the difference God can make through you. Let’s all be like the servant in the middle, who used what he had and served his master well. Amen.