You Can't Take It With You
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.' "His master replied, '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 man with two bags of gold also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, '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!' "Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. "'So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' -Matthew 25:14-30
Well, we're continuing through our stewardship series following that material from that book that I've mentioned, earn, save, give, and it's based on Wesley's sermon titled, The use of money. And so last week, we talked about that idea of earn all you can of being productive and useful in your time, and not just looking at What can I do to maximize the amount that I earn, but rather to look at the work that we do as a calling from God, that engaging in the work that we do, being diligent and hard-working is actually a way of honoring God through living out that calling that God has placed upon our lives, and so however we live that out, however it is that we are engaged in that that admonition stands, that we are to earn all we can...
Well, today we come to the second of his principles of Save all you can, and we're gonna need to spend a little time talking about this because on the one hand, it could be easy for someone to miss construe this, that the goal of life is to accumulate in mass, as much as we can. But that wasn't... Wesley is intention.
The problem is, we live in a world that seems to have understood and embraced that idea of saving, of gathering, of even hoarding. In my generation, we often talk about the music that shapes us, but I often think of the songs that I grew up listening to that spoke messages to my generation, and one of them that came to mind thinking about this series was a song by Queen from 1989 titled, I want it all. And in that song, there's a chorus that gets repeated, “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.”
Well, that's the way a lot of people live their lives. They want it all, they want it all they want, and they want it right now, which leads to escalating and mounting debts that for some people becomes overwhelming and isn't a healthy or a good way to live life. Wesley recognized and understood this in his sermon on the use of money, he kind of split it out into a number of points that he lifted up... The first three of his points that he had in his sermon were, Don't waste money merely to gratify the desires of the flesh, by that Wesley meant don't live a decent lifestyle, don't overly indulge and expensive food or drink or things like that. And then he followed it up by saying, Don't gratify the desires of the eye, what are the things that are attractive and catch our attention, and he talked about fancy clothes or decorations and adornments for our homes. And the third was, he said, Don't gratify the pride of life, that basically pursues the admiration and praise of others, don't do things that are wasteful or spending a lot of money just to get the attention of other people.
Now, in these first three points, I think we could summarize them to say that Wesley is point is, consider living a life of simplicity, don't get caught up in the excesses, don't get caught up in spending and spending and spending, because one of his other points was that well, when we gratify these desires, we only increase them, that by fueling those appetites of pride, those appetites of bigger and better and more expensive things, when we fuel that and they only increase and grow, so he says, Be careful, don't create for yourself a cycle, but is unsustainable. Well, what's more Wesley also goes on and says, Don't over-indulge your children, if these things aren't good for you, of excesses of appetite and admiration of other people, if those things aren't good, well, don't indulge your children and providing those things for them as well, because if it's not good for you, it's not good for them. And he went on to even talk about what it would mean to leave an inheritance, and he said, Don't do it, he says, don't leave them more money than they could squander, don't have the money that is beyond what they need.
Now, the investor and one of the wealthiest people in the United States, Warren Buffet... Understood the truth of this principle. I understand that Buffett had said that he didn't want to create for his children a lifetime of food stamps, he said they don't deserve to have all of those things simply... And he was a little bit crass about this just because they were born from the right womb.
His point being that he felt that he wanted to be able to provide them with enough money so that they could feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing. He didn't want to create a lifestyle for his children, that required no effort on their part, he had worked hard and saved hard throughout his life, and so he wants to be able to provide them a good life, but not one that allows them to not have to actually do nothing, and that's exactly what Wesley intended for his audience, to save all you can by being prudent would be the word that he would use, and being frugal in how we use the money, and he went on and said that some of you might question, alright, so what if I don't think I can trust my children... What if I don't think they're gonna do the right thing with it? What should I do? Well, Wesley advice was, Don't give it to them. And he even said, I quote Jesus on this, my teaching is hard. But that's what you should do. But he concluded this section of his sermon by saying this, he said, I would give to each what would keep them above need and give the rest in a way that I thought would work best for God's glory.
At the end of the day for Wesley, how we use the resources we have is about giving glory and honor to God, how best to use all that has been trusted to us, it's easiest for us to look at money and say, Well, that's what we have at our disposal to use. But the truth of it is, as Methodist, when we take our vows of membership in the church, we make a commitment to support the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness, so our gifts... Money is a part of that, but it's the totality of who we are, that God has blessed us with our time, our talents, and all of these resources, and what are we going to do with it? How will we use it to bring God glory and honor?
Well, in our text this morning, we see three individuals who are given a lump sum of money by their master... Now, I'll preface this by saying this is a parable, it's a parable that's there to instruct and teach, and yes, there are some financial things going on, but this isn't necessarily a parable about financial advice, although for those first two that managed to double the money that was given to them. That might not be a good tip to get, but we'll look at that in a minute. So these three individuals were told their master is going on a journey, and it says that He allotted a certain amount of money to each of them according to their ability. Now, this tells us something about this man and his servants, or depending on the text, his slaves, that he knew them, he knew what they were capable of, and to each according to their ability, he gave them some money to one, five talents to the other, three talents into the last, one talent, now in the economy of scale, we may think, Okay, 5-3-1, but really even to the servant that got one talent, the amount of money was a windfall, depending on whose calculations you look at, a talent would be the equivalent of between 15 and 20 years of wages for our labor in today's economy, if we say it's 20 years at 50,000 on an annual income, it's a million dollars that's given to the third of the servants, 3 million to the other, 5 million to the first, but the master were told trusted them, now they're not given any instructions necessarily what to do with it.
Master says, I'm going on a journey. Here's 5 million, here's three million, Here's 1 million. Now, we're told that when the master returned, they were to give an accounting of it, we're told that the first one went and traded with what he had and doubled it, and the second, likewise, taking his talents and doubled them as well. And now the third, the third went and dug a hole and buried the talent. Now, in Jesus' day, that was probably not an uncommon way for a person to take care of a treasure that they'd been entrusted with, keep it safe out of sight and hidden, and so for Jesus' audience to hear that this third one went and dug a hole and buried it. A lot of his initial audience would have been saying, Yeah, that's the smart one.
He's taken care of it. That's not his money. But then we're told that after a lengthy amount of time, the master returns, we don't know how long it is, but apparently enough time for these first two to have done well with their investing, and I'll have to tell you, I... On my initial hearing of this or over the years when I've thought about this parable, I often have in mind that somehow those first two went and found some too good to believe investment scheme that they pumped all that money into right away and boom had doubled and that was it. But the truth of it is, they probably were wise and frugal in they're investing even today, for you and I, if we have pensions or other investments, there's something that they call the rule of 72, which basically means that if you take the number 72 and divide it by what your average return is on your investment, that's how long it will take to double your money, so if you have a mutual fund or an IRA that's earning 7.2%, 72 divided by 7.2 is 10 years. So I take about 10 years to double your money at a 7.2% return. Now, if your investments only earn 1%, that's gonna take 72 years to double your money, but it doesn't mean that these individuals you serve, these first two servants found some Microsoft, Google, Apple stock to invest in that suddenly made them wealthy overnight. The master was gone for a while after all... The master was gone for 10 years. Well, they only needed a little over a 7% return on whatever they invested in to actually have doubled that money, and the fact that when the master returns and those servants come and say, Here's what you gave me and I doubled it, They're commended. The master tells them, Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things. I'll put you in charge of many things. Come and enter into the joy of your Master. I have to say this parable would be so much easier if we just stopped after those first two servants, right. Both of them did well. Both of them are commended. Who wouldn't wanna hear, Well done, good and faithful servant. But the thing about it is that for those servants... And part of the lesson of this parable is that faithfulness... Well, faithfulness doesn't mean that we get to kick back and say there were done, but rather faithfulness leads to additional faithfulness or opportunities for it, additional responsibilities.
You see, at first we thought that this master maybe was saying, Okay, I'm gonna be gone, take care of this, I want it back when I return, but as we see later, it appears that maybe the master intended it for these individuals. Because we come to the part of this parable, then that suddenly makes it a struggle to understand who this master is and what we should think of him. First, we have this master that gives this super abundant gift to each of these servants on his return, the first two come back and say, Look what I did, and he commends them, and we're liking the master at this point. But Then the third servant kinda calls the master out and says, Well, I knew you were a harsh master, in fact, I know that you read for you don't plan and you gather where you don't sow.. So I took what was yours and I buried it, here it is, and the master, the master that we were liking a few moments ago, suddenly is someone who turns and becomes a bit harsh and says, You wicked and evil servant, you knew those things about me. Well, why don't you go in and put it in the bank and at least get some interest on what is mine, and then we're told he took it from him and gave it to the one who had 10, and then he says Take him and throw him out into the darkness. And we think, Whoa, wait a minute. What just happened? And I think the same happened to Jesus' audience as well, who thought, Okay, digging a hole and burying it, that's not a bad idea when someone's given you more than you will likely earn in your lifetime...
So what do we make of this? How do we understand for one, the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach and what it means for us, because we'd much rather be the servant hearing Well done, good and faithful servant, then you wick and evil servant. To each of us, God has entrusted much. Yes, part of it might be the financial resources at our disposal, the house we live in, the things that we're responsible for, but God's also given us our time, God's given us the abilities that we have, and God has given us a super abundant amount of grace through his son, Jesus. And so the question is, what do we do with what God has entrusted to us? Well, I like those first two. It wasn't that they went to Vegas, and bet it all on black and doubled their money, or bought a lottery ticket and got extra lucky.
They were frugal and prudent and made good choices about what had been entrusted to them. And the fruit of their labor was evident that over the time that the master was gone, they had doubled it, and in doing so, they were blessed for the third servant, I don't know about you, but putting that in terms of 5 million or 3 million or 1 million, I've never had anybody offer me a gift like that. So if it's one or five, it's all the same, it's an excessively abundant gift, and even to this third servant who had received an excessively abundant gift, his response was to take it and to bury it. There's one commentator that I read said, not only did that servant bury the gift, but in effect, he buried himself, that in burying the gift, he was cutting himself off from that abundance that had been given, but he also was buried himself in the sense that he was cutting himself off from that opportunity to be blessed.
And So it is when we think about the things that God has entrusted to us. About how wise and diligent and prudent we are in using those gifts that have been given. It's not that we're motivated to hoard and amass more and more and more, but it's about recognizing that we have received... We have been blessed. And so how will we now use these blessings to impart blessings to others and return more blessings in our own lives?
I've known a number of people over the years that have different thoughts and ideas about the money and the things that they come into their possession. In the first appointment that I served in Middletown, Ohio, there's a gentleman by the name of Roger who was in his 80s. And he was a short spry little guy who would take the stairs coming from the church basement, fellowship hall, two at a time, and he was an avid golfer and he had worked hard his entire life, and I heard him say, on more than one occasion, he said, You know, he said, I always thought that, come pay day. If I have a nickel left to my name, there's no difference between me and a rich man, because we both have money left over. He wasn't driven by more and more and more, but he recognized that he was blessed, and even if that abundance was only a nickel. It was still more than enough to satisfy what his needs and his family's needs were. There are people that you have probably met in your life as well, who have been prudent, and wise about how they have made use of the resources at their disposal? When I went to United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, there were a husband and wife who were the librarians and had been for a number of years. Being a librarian, if you didn't know, is not necessarily a lucrative career, but they had invested well, and they had saved and they've managed their money well, and after they retired, they made a gift to United to endow their library, and so now the Elmer and Betty O'Brian Library has been endowed with a gift, and I believe, if I remember this correctly, with a million dollar gift that the two of them gave because they had just been wise and prudent in saving, but that's not always why some people save, growing up.
There was a woman that lived not too far from us, and we would often drive past her house, and our family sort of knew who she was, but she lived in a very small... In a very modest house, he was a little square bungalow that probably only had one room and maybe a bedroom in it... She still had an outhouse, she still had a pitcher pump, and she didn't have running water in her house out of the road going through Cedarville, she had the biggest mailbox, I think anybody had. That was enormous. And often when we go by, and again, this is maybe a caricature I have in my child's memory of it, but she'd have that door open and almost her body inside checking her mail, and it seemed like it never failed that when we go by she'd be out there checking later, as I grew up, I understood that she had had some hard circumstances in her life, but as a child, we'd often... My sister and I make little cards or color pages out of our coloring books because we knew that she'd be looking in her mailbox for something, so occasionally my mom would take us by and we put some things in her mailbox for her, even on occasion we'd pick her up and take her to the grocery store. 'cause she didn't have a car. As I mentioned, she did have indoor water, and I do remember that she didn't smell the best, it seemed as though this woman was really struggling, but come to find out after she passed away and then when they were cleaning out this modest little house that she lived in it was close to a quarter of a million dollars of cash and shoe boxes under her bed, she had saved, but to what end?
So finding that balance. Finding that sweet spot is where Wesley is calling us to understand what it means to be good stewards, like those managers that have been entrusted with much... We too have been entrusted with much, but the question is, what do we do with it? We don't squander it, we don't dig a hole and bury it, but we wisely and prudently save and use and invest in the things that God would have us to invest in. In people, in simplicity and being the people that God has called and created us to be. When we hear Wesley say, save all we can, again, it's not about accumulating more and more in hoarding and amassing as much as possible, because you see, sometimes saving means that when it's time to purchase a new car, maybe we look at the pre-owned instead of the brand new.
Or maybe when we're needing something to replace an appliance in our house or something else, we actually do our due diligence and shop around and find the best deal possible, that sometimes being frugal means that we are spending... But we're making sure that we get the most bang for our buck, that we are using it as wisely as we can, but at the end of the day, we need to remember that it still all belongs to God. Pastor and Author, John Ortberg has a book by this title, but he talks about having grown up and having learned to play Monopoly with his grandmother, and one day after having finally mastered monopoly, he beat his grandmother, and he was filled with pride and as the game was done. And as he was finishing celebrating, she taught him another important lesson, she said, Well, she said, The thing you need to remember is when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. Well, Pastor Jim Harnish in his book points out the fact that what we have in this life, we can't take with us. He shares that a colleague had had a woman come into his office and hand him a check when she'd learned that the church was experiencing a financial crisis and needed some additional resources, so she came in and handed him a pretty substantial check and he looked at it and he thanked her and he said, Well, I guess... We can't take it with us. And she said, Boy, I wish I could ? Harnish points out, he said, funeral garments don't have pockets in them and he said I'm yet to see a hearse that's pulling a U-Haul.
So friends as a people who have been richly blessed by God not just abundantly but a super abundance of blessing that has come into our lives, yes we receive those blessings but we also need to be wise and prudent in saving and knowing that through our good efforts of managing what God has given us He will bless this all the more.