November 6, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Seeing a fig tree along the road, Jesus went up to it and found nothing but leaves and no fruit. He said to the tree, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered and died.” When the disciples saw this, they remarked, ‘How did this tree die so quickly?’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only could you cause a fig tree to wither up and die but you can command this mountain to be thrown into the sea and it would obey. If you believe, whatever you ask for in prayer will be yours.” (Matthew 21.18-22)
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1.3)
So much of the world’s encouragement suggests the satisfaction of life’s meaning and purpose comes from the exercise of our worldly power. If that was the truth, then why are people so driven to fill their emptiness with things of this world gained by the works of their hands, the words of their mouths, the industry of their bodies and the desire for even greater things in their heart? It would seem that people in the world are driven by the pursuit of the elusive “one” thing. Funny thing about that “one” thing. Even those who believe they have it still strive to keep it to themselves for fear of losing it. While they treasure their “one” thing, the drive for more of everything else dominates their culture and climate of living for themselves. Jesus must have seen this already as a part of the world’s thinking when He presented the Parable of the Talents also known as the Parable of the Pounds. In that story there are only two real perspectives presented as options for how we decide to live our lives.
The first perspective is framed in the living out of “faith and obedience.” The first servant used his option to demonstrate his ability which was affirmed by his master. His master had faith in him which built up on the faith he then had in himself. His affirmation of faith and faithfulness resulted in obedience. You might think I was going to say it resulted in his reward. The first servant did not choose to be faithful to the calling of his master in order to gain a reward. The servant knew that the master was fair, just and without fail. The servant lacked for nothing, had all he needed for a productive life and was not motivated by want. It was the same with the second servant who was motivated in the same way. He was able to accomplish his master’s good will which was to steward the portion of the master’s business given to him according to his ability. “According to his ability” was what was determined by the word of the master to him about him. The master saw the potential of the servants and did not ask more of them than they would be able to accomplish or manage.
The same would be true for the third servant from the master’s perspective. However, the third servant failed to trust the master’s vision of him which is the other perspective. He had a difficult time believing in the word of the master for his life. He saw the master’s tenacity to the task, whatever task he took on, as a judgment and not a discernment. He saw a shrewd master instead of a wise master. He feared the master’s wrath because he had no belief in himself. That translated into having no faith in the master who had faith in him. So, even though he received a portion commensurate with the master’s perspective of him, he viewed it in the negative as something that could be lost. His other option would have been to view it as a positive affirmation and something that could be built upon. I heard recently of a study about the tendency of the human brain to focus at least fifteen times more on the negative than on the positive. Even in the responses to messages received to the contrary, the message given back was framed from a negative perspective. We can call it modesty, denial, deferral and the like but it is still negative. How difficult it is to receive a compliment! So difficult, in fact, is it that we perceive a critique as a criticism, an encouragement as a question and a call to accountability as a condemning judgment. There is little wonder why we hear such defeatist language and vulgar responses in today’s world. Or worse, we see the various expressions of shunning which alienate, isolate or subjugate. What was the response of the third servant to the faith and trust of his master? For fear of losing the portion entrusted to him either by poor management skills or “bad” luck and misfortune, he buried it in the ground like it was a bank vault for safe keeping. I suppose that is where we get “nothing ventured nothing gained.” Except in this case, it wasn’t about “nothing gained” but everything lost. The third servant lost faith in himself, if he had any to begin with. The third servant lost the faith of his master and what was entrusted to him. The third servant lost everything and had no one to blame but himself.
Now which was the most important “one” thing the third servant had? Was it his self-esteem and the lack of it or the one portion his master believed he was worthy of stewarding in his absence? Of course, it was his self-esteem and the lack of it. What if we identified “self-esteem” as faith. If faith is, as scripture describes it to be, “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen,” then having faith in the one who has faith in us actually acknowledging this gift comes from the master of our lives. Now measure that faith based on who is the “master” of your life? Are you, mighty one, the master of your life? What faith have you given yourself? Is it faith in works? Is it faith in financial power? Is it faith in words of consequences? And if you are limited in what you can do on your own, even if you deny that limitation exists because “you think more highly of yourself than you ought,” then your faith and the consequences of it are limited. If your master is the Master of all life and existence who has given you all faith so as to say to this mountain “be moved and it will rise up and fall into the sea” or to a plain “rise up and it will become a mountain of great stature,” then what does that say about your life? From the perspective of scripture then “faith is a great gift to be exercised for the benefit of others and to the glory of God.” Of course, Paul will add, “if I have great faith but not love, then I have rendered myself useless.” So, if faith, love, hope are intertwined then what is it that becomes our best understanding of what the “one” thing is?
I believe Peter had this in mind when he declared “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” This “one” thing is His Holy Spirit, the divine power of God, invested in all those who truly believe that Jesus is the Christ and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Or perhaps it works this way- because of the divine power of God invested in us from before we were born we are able to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. So then our work as believers to those who have not yet allowed themselves to give credence to that yearning in their heart for the “one” thing that makes all the difference is to be an encourager, empowerer, teacher, example, entruster, modeller and friend of faith. We dare not take what we have and “bury it” as if we shall keep it to ourselves for fear of losing. We are called to invest the trust the Master has in us who sees us as we truly are with the intent of drawing us into being who are truly are instead being who the world in us and around us says we are.
And isn’t that exactly what we should have been doing all along as we prepare for empowering the next round of leaders for our nation, our communities and ourselves? Shouldn’t we walk by faith instead of sight believing in the power of God to prevail in us and through us for the good of all and the glory of the “ONE” who makes all the difference in our lives in this world and in the next?
Remember the lesson Jesus taught, as recorded in Luke’s gospel, “A tree is known by its fruit.” (Luke 6.44) The barren fig tree certainly was. The third servant certainly was. The cross certainly was. Jesus certainly is and so, too, shall we be and should already be now in this time and place!
O God who has trusted us with so much that You would not and could not withhold even the life of Your Son and His Spirit from us, we do more than give thanks…we receive this trust and commit ourselves to investing it in the word, work and world of which we are a part for Your glory. May Your will be done as we prepare for Your Kingdom to come on earth as it already is in Heaven. AMEN.