Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness

    08.11.23 | by Jennifer Parks-Snyder

    July 23rd: Scripture Lesson: Matthew 25:14-30 Sermon: Fruit of the Spirit is Faithfulness by Pastor Jenn
    In the scripture we just heard, this is part of Jesus’ final dialogue with his friends and followers, it is, some of his last words of his public ministry before his arrest and crucifixion, according to the gospel of Matthew. And I don’t know about you, but I have always found it interesting to note what people’s last words are. As a pastor, I have heard some great insights from various parishioners about life and death at that time.
    But there are records of famous people and what they chose to say as they knew they were nearing death.
    Composer Ludwig van Beethoven said, “Friends applaud, the comedy is finished” Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwriter, was lying in a hotel, looking at the wallpaper and said, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do”. The hotel changed the wallpaper after his passing. Scientist Thomas Edison said, “It is very beautiful over there.”
    Underground railroad guide and Civil War spy, Harriet Tubman, said, “Give my love to the churches. Tell the women to stand firm. I go to prepare a place for you.” American playwright Wilson Mizner, who died in 1933, was approached by a priest on his death bed, and when the priest said, “I’m sure you want to talk to me” Mizner replied, “Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss.”i But my favorite last words will always be John Wesley’s “The best of all is, God is with us.”
    Now, going back to some of Jesus final words, in our text today, Matthew records Jesus preparing his followers not only for his absence, but also the end of times and judgement using parables and warnings.
    Matthew records this through a few chapters, so in the chapter before this text, chapter 24, Jesus speaks about Noah, and how people lived their lives not considering a flood could occur, but it did. Jesus then tells the story of the thief in the night; the house owner should be ready for his arrival. And before the story you hear of the talents, Jesus speaks of ten bridesmaids waiting for their groom, but only half were ready. When we look at all of these lessons, Jesus wants to encourage the faithfulness of his followers while he is gone. Which is why today’s lesson begins, “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
    Now, a talent was a unit of money worth about 15-20 years of a laborer’s wages. That’s a lot of money. And the question will be, who will take those talents and use them to the ability the man trusted they had? In other words, who will be faithful to the man who had faith in them? As we look at this lesson, we are not going to study it as a story that teaches us what to do with our money, rather today, I want to suggest we see it as a story that teaches us what faithfulness is about. Jesus sets this teaching up so his disciples will know that when he is gone, he hopes they remain faithful to what he has entrusted with each of them, his gospel of love and grace, of God’s kingdom.
    You heard how the story went. Jesus says the master comes back, and the first two servants did take the money and traded it, bringing about another profit. Both are praised being told, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’
    But the one who buried the talent and did nothing, said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ Unfortunately, this guy condemns himself.
    So if we look at this parable as a lesson on faithfulness, we do see that the master had faith in each of his workers, and in return, two were inspired and doubled their faith, while one did nothing, because they didn’t know their master, they didn’t have faith in who their master was, and in the end, gives back what they were given. The reason why I chose to use this parable on teaching the Spiritual fruit of faithfulness, is because from it we should recognize that being faithful is about proving your trust in what you believe, and proving the trust others have in you. In particular, the faith we have in God, trusting, believing in God’s faith in us.
    To be honest, the Bible is filled with such stories. Where God had faith in certain people to lead God’s people, and they proved their faithfulness to God. Like Abraham. Do you remember his story?
    First, he was called by God to move to another land, away from his family because in so doing he will have heirs as many as the stars. And he did so. Then he was told to travel and go various places as God was leading him to the land he promised Abraham, and he went. And when God continued to remind him of the promise of an heir, Abraham believed and trusted so much so that when God tested Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, Abraham was willing to do so, because Abraham had faith that God would provide the sacrifice needed for Isaac to live. In other words, Abraham was faithful to God, because Abraham knew God was faithful to him. And such faithfulness began our belief system revealed in many more Biblical narratives.
    There was Gideon, sent to battle the Midianites, and at first, he started with a large army, but God told him he could overcome them with a small troop of 300 men, and so Gideon obeyed, and they won.
    Queen Esther gave herself to become a leader of God’s people in a tainted kingdom of persecution. And because of that, she saved the lives of God’s people.
    Jeremiah, who time and time again tried to warn the kingdom of Israel of their downfall, and was chastised for his words, even though his words, were God’s, yet he remained faithful to God, and the words he shared brought understanding and hope with time.
    And let’s not forget Mary and Joseph, both making social sacrifices in order to bring the Son of God in this world and raise him.
    Jesus of course was the perfector of such faithfulness, and he revealed God’s faith to fishermen, outcasts, women and children which inspired their faith in God and what God was doing to make God’s kingdom on earth.
    The Spirit of God continues what Jesus revealed, with the fruit of faithfulness, working in and through us, reminding us of God’s faith in us, inspiring our faith in God and God’s good will.
    Before I wrap up this message, I want to go back to the third servant in our parable today. The one who didn’t believe in the goodness of his master and gave back what talent they had received. While we can accept him as lazy and unfaithful, what if we consider he is confused and lost? There are a lot of people who question the gospel. Some question it because they were told that God is an angry judgmental God that should be feared, so how is that good news? Some question it because they have been let down by the Church, physically, emotionally, spiritually hurt and rejected. And some never got the gospel, that is being told of the faith God has in them and shown the unconditional love God offers.
    While Jesus says the third man in this parable was thrown out into the darkness, I don’t think he says that to scare the people into religion, I believe he shares it so the rest of us will pay attention and notice who is out in the darkness. The lonely, the confused, the angry, the misunderstood. In fact, maybe Jesus offers that third person as a lesson for us to remember how far some of us have come in our own faith and understanding of God. That at one point, we did not receive what God was offering, until sometime later in our lives. After all, the man was given a talent, therefore God did have faith in him. He sadly did not have faith in God, nor himself.
    Friends, what I don’t want us to miss is that the fruit of faithfulness is given for us to affirm God’s faith in us, and our faith in God, but I believe it’s also given so it leads us to have faith in each other.
    If we learn to have faith in each other, there will be no more darkness or gnashing of teeth. There will be no more loneliness and fear. But a true understanding that God’s faith in us, and so to trust in that faith, is to learn to trust in God and in each other.
    Today we come to the table, a table Jesus says is made in his name so we might know “the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”.
    John Wesley took that to mean this table is offered to all. And while this is a means of grace, in which we can affirm our faith, may we take a few moments now and consider who is missing from the table. Who should be here and who is not? Is it that they can’t be here due to sickness or impairment? Is it because they haven’t been invited? Or is it because they are waiting for us to find them and bring them?
    To consider them this day I believe is to follow the Spirit of faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ. Further, to do so is to aspire to receive these as our final last words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master.’
    Let us Pray: Gracious God, you formed us in your image, and you called us very good. You believed in us from the start and continue to believe in us and what we can do to follow your good will.
    On this day as we prepare to receive the sacrament that not only reminds us of but proves to us your faithfulness to and for us, may it inspire our faithfulness to you and to each other. For those who are not here, we offer this prayer, that as you reveal them to us, our eyes, ears, and hearts will be open to see them, reach them, and welcome them. Because we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law of grace, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray.
    Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for us while we were yet sinners, proving God’s love toward us. Proving what faith looks like. A faith that has claimed each of us here. And so, as children of this faith, we join together in the words Jesus taught us to pray, Our Father…. (sins) Offering invitation: As forgiven and reconciled people, let us offer ourselves and our gifts to God to be used in such ministries like the Volunteers in Mission groups of our conference, who have been reaching out to assist the victims of flooding this summer. We thank you for your gifts, which are faithful to God’s will of salvation.