June 2019   
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Message for 4-6-14 THE THREE APPRENTICES


Matthew 25:14-30


            One of the most popular so-called reality shows recently has been Donald Trump’s show “The Apprentice”, where contestants compete to outdo their rivals on assigned business ventures.  Who can sell the most product at a wedding boutique?    Who can create the best commercial, or the best radio show?  Who can create the most successful restaurant from scratch?

Viewers who think that the words “Judge not” are the only words God ever spoke, nevertheless love to watch Trump pronounce judgment on those who fail to perform to his expectations.  Viewers love to hear Trump slam the door on the loser with those final words, “You’re fired!”  We all have people we wish we could fire.

            (Of course, Donald seems to forget that if a handful of major lenders hadn’t chosen to cut him a huge break bigger than anyone ever gets on his show, Trump himself would have been fired a LONG time ago.  He would have lost every inch of his hide.  But I digress.)

            1975 years before Trump, Jesus tells an “Apprentice” story with 3 contestants.  Each of them gets 75-pound units of money called “talents” to work with, each according to their ability.  Their job is to manage the boss’s resources while the boss is gone.

            The first contestant manages to double his boss’s money.  That wasn’t too difficult; all he had to do is buy some Chinese silk or some Himalayan nard and resell it to someone from Rome.  Even US Savings Bonds used to be able to double your money in 12 years.  The second contestant is able to do the same.

            The third contestant is wary.  He thinks his boss is like Donald Trump: all he cares about is results, wherever he can get them.  And he is convinced he can’t afford to lose one shekel of the boss’s money in a bad investment.  So the third contestant takes the strongest legal precaution he can take with his boss’s money: he buries it in the ground.

            The boss comes back.  The contestants come to report on their assignments.  The boss is pleased with the performance of the first 2 contestants.  But the third guy, he says, has failed to grasp the assignment: to maximize the boss’ return on his money.  “The least you could have done”, says the boss, “is taken out a CD at the bank.  At least you could have earned me a little interest on the deal!”  And then the boss in Jesus’ story says to the third contestant, “You’re fired!”  “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  There people will weep and gnash their teeth.”

            Jesus’ episode of “The Apprentice” demands our attention far more than any contest on Donald Trump’s show.  Why?  Because in Jesus’ story, God replaces Donald Trump.  Yes, Donald Trump is a shrewd judge of human ability.  He knows how to listen.  He knows a lot about teamwork, loyalty, and pleasing the customer.  There’s a lot we can learn from him.  But I would question Donald Trump’s credibility when it comes to making judgments that only God can make.  We can be glad Someone else will decide who deserves to be fired at the end of this assignment we call life.

            God tells us it’s the one who fails to maximize what we’ve been given who hears those words, “You’re fired!”  In Jesus’ story, the talent was a term for 75 pounds of metal currency.  In English, the Greek term has been borrowed as a term to mean “abilities”.  Jesus’ lesson applies to what we do with whatever God has given us: our money, our abilities, and all of our other resources. 

What have we done with the resources that God has entrusted to us?  Have we sat on them?  Have we buried them in the ground for fear of losing them?  Or have we invested them to produce a maximum return for our Boss?  Have we taken the necessary risks to maximize God’s investment?  Or have we tried to play it safe?  “Your talent is God’s gift to you.  What you do with it is your gift to God.”

            Sometimes when we try to serve God, we’re afraid of taking risks.  We’re afraid that others will reject what we offer.  (I’m afraid to teach Sunday School, or run a youth group, or organize a work team.  I’m afraid of failure.)  We’re afraid to give, for fear that our money won’t accomplish what we intended, or for fear we won’t have enough left for ourselves.  Or we as a church may have tried to do outreach, and we’ve failed and we’ve failed to where we quit taking any more risks.  Jesus wants us to remember what the first 2 apprentices did right.

            Again, I’m amazed at the popularity of shows like Donald Trump’s, in a society like ours where the only sin is to pronounce judgment on anybody.  People love it on shows like “American Idol”, where the panel pronounces judgment on singers for reasons that are anything but timeless or objective.  But those same viewers are scared to death that anyone will ever pronounce judgment on them.

            Perhaps they know more than they’re letting on.  Perhaps they know what Jesus says: “To whom much is given, from them much will be required” (Luke 12:48).  I think of a gal like Anna Nicole Smith.  By the sheer gift of God (her beauty), she managed to snag close to $100 million.  But what did she ever do to help anyone else with what God gave her?  She didn’t even leave a will that would have placed her fortune in the hands of her newborn child.  Folks like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey (and others) have done a lot more than Anna Nicole Smith ever did to give back to a world where everything is ultimately a gift from God.  It’s a sad story.  Did she have a relationship with God?  I have no way of knowing.  But by just about any other measure you can use, Anna Nicole Smith was a loser in life.

            What have you and I done with the resources that God has entrusted to us for this assignment called “life”?  I’m not just talking about money.  I’m also talking about our time, talent, and efforts.  I’m talking about our willingness to take risks for God’s sake.  And we’ve got to start where we are, not where Anna Nicole Smith was.  Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a little, is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).  Only if you’re faithful at the cash register is God ever going to put you in charge of the store.  That’s exactly what Jesus’ story of the Three Apprentices is all about.

            A lot of us struggle to be faithful in small situations, and we can’t see whether our efforts are paying off.  We may not ever see any evidence down here.  Jesus says, “You have been faithful in a little.  I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your Master!”  That promotion may never happen down here.  But which would you choose?  A promotion down here, or a promotion in eternity?  Forever is a long time to be stuck being the ultimate loser.  I’d rather hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” where it really counts.

            The loser on God’s “Apprentice” show is not the person who tries and fails.  The loser is the person who plays it safe, the person who does nothing, the person who sits on what God has entrusted to them.  Will God say to such a person, “You’re fired!”?  That’s where God’s grace is such welcome Good News.  If the words “To whom much is given, from them much will be required” were the last word, all of us would be toast.  We can be so thankful that God’s mercy is based, not on what we’ve done, but completely on what Christ has done for us.  But if we want to be winners, if we want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we need to maximize God’s return on the money, talents, and other treasures that God has entrusted to us in this assignment called life.

            Lord, you have given us so much to work with down here.  Help us not to bury it in the ground.  Help us to be faithful with it.  Help us to take risks by putting your treasures to work to meet the needs of your kingdom in this world.  As we use and manage what you have temporarily placed in our hands, help us to strive, not  to achieve our own private wants and wishes down here, but to hear those words “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when we stand before you.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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