|Text: Matthew 25:14-15
Jesus said, “Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave to each one according to his ability: to one he gave five thousand gold coins, to another he gave two thousand, and to another he gave one thousand. Then he left on his trip”.
Today I would like to start with a deep philosophical and theological question that has been pondered over through the centuries by learned and simple people alike. It’s a question that has caused a lot of head scratching, deep thinking, and answers like “I dunno” as well as complicated answers that fill books. The question goes like this, “Why were you put on this planet at this particular time and in this particular place?” Or to put it simply, “Why are you here?” “What is the purpose of your life?”
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Nazi Concentration Camps observed how some people were able to survive the terrible conditions and concluded that there was one factor that enabled those people to endure the impossible – it was the driving conviction that there was still some purpose in their lives, that they still had something to live for, some important work yet to do.
“What is the purpose of my life here and now on this planet?” Let’s go to the Book of Genesis – the book of beginnings – and see what it tells us about why we are here? In the beginning humans are put here to care for the earth and the living things on this earth and to live in relationships – with the rest of creation, with each other and with God.
We also note that when God created the world there was evening and morning, sunrise and sunset. That means God gives us our days. God gives us our time and we are told that he was very pleased with what he had given us. Note also that he gives us days to work and days to rest. So while we carry time around with us, we wear time on our wrists and live as though we own time, time is actually God’s, not ours. He made it. He owns it. He gives it to us as a gift!
When we look at the opening chapters of the Bible and then follow the message through its pages it’s clear that God puts us on this earth to look after the gifts he has given us. This is not just about looking after the world and not abusing it, exploiting it, destroying it, but also looking after everything and everyone that God has given to us.
That includes our bodies and our abilities,
the people he has given us in our families, our friends and our brothers and sisters in the church.
God entrusts to us and wants us to look after his world and that includes the physical world and its environment, the people he has placed in our lives – those we know well and those we don’t know personally.
In all of this there is something worth noting. The Bible never talks about us being here to get as much as we can out of the world for ourselves. The Bible is always pointing us away from ourselves to God, to others, to relationships, to the earth itself.
Why am I here on this planet?
If we answer, “I’m here to work” (and we all spend a fair bit of time doing that), it’s worth thinking about why we work. How is the energy we use at work related to this earth, to relationships, to God, to serving others? If we are retired, how does the way we spend our days related to our purpose for being here: related to serving others, to the earth, to God, to the relationships God has given us?
We all know Jesus’ story about the rich farmer who had such fantastic crops that he decided to pull down his barns and build bigger ones. “Lucky man!” he said. “You have all you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and enjoy yourself”. (Luke 12:16-20). This man’s purpose in life was get from the earth all he could get and keep it all for himself – there is no connection here with God; no thought of relationships and the people around him; no inkling that he has been given so much to serve others. He died a rich man but in God’s eyes he was poorer than the poorest.
In Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel reading a man is about to go away on a journey and so he entrusts his servants with his property “I am going away. I want you to look after what is mine!” Then he gives to each of his servants various amounts of his assets for them to manage and we note that he doesn’t give them all the same amount – he gives to each one according to his ability. He is not asking the impossible; he knows his workers and simply wants them to manage well what he knows they are quite capable of taking care of. There is no favouritism. All he asks is that each one is faithful in their task. He says, “In time, I will return, and then I want to know how well you have managed what I have given to you!”
The question that you and I are left to consider is this, “How well am I using what God has given to me? When I am called to give an account of what I have done, what will I have to report?”
First of all, how much do I do for myself and how much is for others?
As I have already said, when I look in my Bible I can’t find anything which says that I am to use my time, my talents, my wealth, the resources available to me through work to advance my own cause, to make myself more comfortable, to get myself respect and become the envy of everyone else – the emphasis being on the ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’. I don’t see any of that in the Bible but I do see a lot about others. I am here for the other person – to build the other person up, to make them look good and feel good, to ensure that they are well off.
The Bible even suggests that the reason I work is so that I am able to be more generous – the more I earn, the more I can give away (2 Cor 9:11). Here’s a challenge.
If I work so long and so hard that I don’t have time for my family, don’t have time for my church, don’t have time for God – how well am I using what God has entrusted to me? The ironic thing is that we work hard and long hours to provide for others, for those who depend on us to earn an income, but if all they get from us is our income and never actually see us, or we are too tired to be of any use to anyone, how wisely are we really using our time? If that’s how I have been managing what God has given me, then how will I answer my Master when he comes back and asks me to give an account of what I have done?
On the other hand, if I waste my time, and I am lazy, unproductive and do nothing to benefit someone else, then how do I answer the Master who asks me to give an account of how well I have managed the gifts he has entrusted to me?
When we answer the question, “what is the purpose of my life” the answer God is looking for is how our work, our money, our time, our abilities, our leisure time have actually benefitted the world and the people around us in some way.
God is looking to see
what legacy we have left behind,
what people we have touched,
in what way is our world a better place because we have lived here for however many years we have in this life.
Some are gifted in such a way that they can be an Albert Schweitzer or a Mother Theresa and leave a legacy that is famous because they touched so many lives and books have been written about them. That’s like the servant who was given 5,000 silver coins and faithfully did great things with that money.
But there was also the servant who was given just a small amount and with that small amount he was faithful and able to do great things. Using what we have been given to serve others and honour God, no matter how humble that might be, we will receive the commendation, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. … Come in and share my happiness” (Matthew 25:23).
When we answer the question, “what is the purpose of my life” will we be able to say that we have used the time God has given us to get to know him more, love him more, serve him more, share him more with others?
When the time comes to give account, I suspect the Master will want to know: in all the things you did in your life, where did God figure? What priority did he have in the things you devoted your time to? What difference did he make in the way you spoke, in how you talked about other people, in whether you criticised and gossiped, or built up and encouraged? Did you commit an hour or so a week to God and things to do with God, or was he quite clearly your constant companion in every moment of your life? What time did you have for God?
As a preacher of the Christian Church every sermon must have some good news in it. The truth is that there is a lot in this parable that leaves us feeling guilty which really isn’t good news. The last words of the parable echo in our ears, “As for this useless servant – throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth” (Matt 25:30). Sometimes we need a challenge, we need to re-think, to re-evaluate. Jesus forces us to do that, as we listen to this story. The parable forces us to ask ourselves,
What is the purpose of my life?
Why have I been put here on this earth?
Why has Jesus called me to be his disciple and made me part of the people of God in his church?
How am I using the time, abilities and resources that God has given me to be a blessing to others?
And as we prayerfully think through these things we will fall on our knees and acknowledge how often we have failed and how often we have believed that life’s purpose has been all about us to the exclusion of everyone else.
Jesus came to take on the heavy load of guilt that we bear. He came to take on himself our failures, our self-centredness, our selfishness, our inability to use what God has given to benefit the people around us. He died for those moments when we let our sinful nature overwhelm the new life that we have in Christ. He forgives us when we think that our purpose in life is to accumulate as much as we can for ourselves and forget that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. He gives us the Holy Spirit to renew us and fill our hearts with new desires and new plans and new ways of service to God and the people in our lives.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy