November 15, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Judges 4:1-7 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30
Have you ever had trouble making up your mind about something?
It can happen easily as you consider whether you want a red or a blue lollipop, or where you should take your next vacation. Those of us who are musicians had a moment when we had to choose which instrument we wanted to learn. But some decisions get more difficult, and more expensive, as we get older. Choosing between a minivan and a pickup truck has consequences and it’s usually too expensive to choose both or to change your mind once you’ve chosen. Choosing a major in college can be hard but changing your mind after you’ve already invested several years of your life can be expensive. If you move to a new town, finding a church that you like can be difficult, but changing churches after you’ve established yourself and made friends can be painful. We’ve all been through it and, at one time or another, we’ve all wrestled with indecision. But when we read the book of Judges, we discover that the entire book was written during a time when the entire nation of Israel was having trouble making up its mind about God. For a while Israel would love God, but after a generation or two, they would forget God and drift away. And then, as life often happens, things would get hard, and the people would pray for God to rescue them, again, and God would send a judge, or a prophet, people would return to their faith and follow God… for a while, and then the cycle would start over again. That is exactly the story that we see in chapter after chapter of the book of Judges, and that is what we see as we read this passage from Judges 4:1-7 as Ehud, the previous leader of Israel, dies and the people, once again, drift away from God.
4:1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.
4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leadingIsrael at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”
So, as we joined the story, Ehud, Israel’s previous rescuer, who had rescued them from the nation of Moab, had died and, as they had often done, Israel drifted away from God. Once that happened, they were captured and oppressed by the Canaanites. But after praying for twenty years, God raised up the prophet Deborah to lead the people and to rescue them from their oppressors. God speaks to Deborah, and she creates a plan to trap Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies, and all his troops and chariots. In this plan, Deborah will get Sisera to chase her up Mount Tabor and when they reach the top, Barak would be waiting, on the strategic high ground, with an army of men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and would destroy Sisera and all of his troops from that region.
But imagine what would have happened if Deborah had trouble deciding whether she trusted God. Or what if Barak couldn’t decide whether he could trust Deborah? Or what if no one answered Barak’s call to arms so that there was no army waiting at the top of Mount Tabor? At each step, every person had to believe in the power of God, trust that the message that they received was true, and be willing to take action, and risk their lives, based on what they heard.
And that brings us to Jesus’ parable about the unfaithful servant in Matthew 25:14-30 where we hear this:
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’
21 “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!’
22 “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.’
23 “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!’
24 “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. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “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? 27 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.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 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. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The wealthy man could have easily entrusted his money to the bankers and received a modest profit when he returned. But instead, each servant was given gold because their master trusted that they could manage his money better than the banker could. While he did not believe that they had equal skills, he entrusted them with his money in proportion to the trust that he had in their abilities. But the unfaithful servant was paralyzed by indecision. He was unable to choose how he would invest the money, abandoned the mission, and failed in his duty. Worse, as the master had pointed out, if the servant had so little confidence in their own abilities that they feared losing it, he could have, at the very least, invested the money with the bankers and received some small rate of interest on it until his master’s return. But rather than use what had been entrusted to him, he buried it instead.
So, what should we be doing with our lives? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle Paul explains it to the church this way:
5:1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Paul says that, of course, we don’t know exactly the day and time that the world will end, but we know that when that day comes, it will be a surprise to everyone and Jesus will come unexpectedly “like a thief in the night.” And, when that day comes, as there always is, there will be politicians spouting campaign promises about peace and safety, but our calling to always be ready and prepared for the end. We are to be the people who wear our faith, hope, and love where is it visible to everyone around us as if we were wearing armor. Paul reminds us that Jesus died for us so that we could live, together, with him and for that reason, we are to encourage one another, and build each other up.
And if we use this perspective to help us understand Jesus story of the unfaithful servant, we begin to see that his failure was not only due to his lack of faith in himself, and not only due to his lack of trust in his master, but also due to the failure of his friends to encourage him, help him, and to build him up spiritually and intellectually.
We are our brother’s keeper.
Our calling, that that of Deborah, Barak and the people of Israel, is not only to have faith in God, and to trust in his instructions, but to build up the people around us, to call them to Jesus, and to call them to action, so that they are prepared, willing, and ready for action when God has need of us.
We are our brother’s keeper.
We cannot stand idly by and watch as fellow believers, and unbelievers, lose trust in God and fall away from him. We cannot be happy with our success as we watch the failures of the people around us.
Like the servants of the rich man, God has given us gifts, each in proportion to our abilities, and regardless of how much, or how little, we have been given, God expects us to use those gifts for his benefit, and for the benefit of the people around us. We must not be deceived into thinking that we only have a “personal faith” or a “personal relationship” with Jesus. We are called to use our gifts, both as individuals, and as a community, to lift up the people around us, to encourage them, help them, and to build them up emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
We must use the gifts that God has given to us or, like the unfaithful servant, God will take what we have and give it to someone else. Instead, we must lift one another up and, work together to rescue the lost, heal the suffering and the hurting, bring hope to the hopeless, and to the build God’s kingdom until our master returns “like a thief in the night.”
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ZLDcfVPWNp4
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.