Sermon for 24th Sunday after Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 Psalm 90:1-8, 12 I Thess. 5:1-11 Matthew 25: 14-30
The Thanksgiving holiday was looming. It was Wednesday, the day before. A priest is waiting in line to fill up his car with gas. The attendant is working quickly, but there are many cars in front of him. At long last, the priest is motioned to go to the empty pump. “Sorry Father,” said the young man. “It has been a long delay. It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.” The priest laughed, “I know what you mean. It’s the same in my business.”
Whether it is gas or God, we are all tempted to put things off – to play it safe. Jesus wants us to be prepared, to have a plan, to do something with the gifts we have been given. The hearers of today’s parable would have recognized the situation. It was not unusual for a rich landowner to entrust his servants with significant responsibilities. A talent was a significant resource (worth more that fifteen years’ wages for a typical worker. Two of the servants were commended: one was not. The fears (that the talent might be lost) or the resentment) that it is unfair for the servant to labor on behalf of his master) are very bad excuses.
The English word for talents is limiting. We are not talking about a special skill – like playing the piano or being good at football. Instead God has given us – everything. We are, in our entirety, a gift from God – our minds, hearts, resources, relationships, even the gift of every moment of every day. We have an obligation, a privilege of taking risks for God. We should put every effort into pushing forward the values of the kingdom.
God will hold us accountable for the way we use our talents.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” In the New Testament reading, Paul instructs the church that the best way to prepare for the Lord’s return is by conducting ourselves properly and establishing meaningful relationships within the community of faith and not by calculating the time and place. The hour is not important. What is important is to be alert so that we are prepared at any hour!
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the talents, where he says that the end may not occur until “after a long time.” He insists that the question of how well we have handled our trust in God will eventually be raised.
The timing of these lessons just happens to fall during the time we traditionally talk about stewardship. Imagine that! The story about the three servants entrusted with differing sums by their master before he travels is frequently heard during this time. The talents have evolved into something more than money, and can be seen as ability or skill. We can’t miss the final appeal to give generously of our time, talent and treasure. I hate to miss an opportunity to talk only about stewardship, because financial commitments are needed to meet the budget, but I won’t narrow this story to be just about money. Our Grace family has been great in responding to our budget needs in the past. We are so very grateful for your heartfelt response for next year. In this parable, the talents represent any kind of resource that we have been given.
God gives us time, gives us individual gifts, and other resources according to our abilities. God expects us to invest our gifts wisely until Jesus returns. We are responsible to use well what God has given us. The issue is not how much we have, but how well we use what we have. Two of the servants prove to be risk-takers, and self-starting types, doubling the money given to them. The third servant reminds us of the sort of person who must have buried the treasure in the field, that we heard about earlier in Matthew (13:44). His fear hindered him and he didn’t even try to increase his talent.
We all, at times, are driven by fear. FEAR - false evidence appearing real. Fear limits our lives. It can come from a need to protect ourselves or our family, or concern about the current financial crisis. In examining our lives, we can see that sometimes our anger can be driven by fear. We may be afraid of what other people will say, or of losing control, or of looking bad, or of embarrassing ourselves. When a heart is filled with fear, there is less room for love, there is less room for God. The third servant found out that when we are governed by fear, we can’t embrace the joy and hope that God offers us.
Growing up, I was extremely shy. I had a real fear of standing up in front of people and talking or reading. After I attended Cursillo, I prayed that God would embolden my spirit so that my gifts could be used for God’s glory. You may be thinking, “Be careful what you pray for.” But I knew that God was calling me to do more, to use my gifts and that fear was getting in the way of that happening. I knew that I had to let it go, to give it to God, so that my heart could be opened to love and joy – so that my heart would be open to serve God’s people. God is calling all of us to let go of the fear, let go of the anxiety, let go of the indifference, to rise above it, so we can live fulfilled lives. Fulfillment is using our God-given gifts for the glory of God in the community of faith. God’s desire for all of us is healing and wholeness. We can’t be whole when we are separated by our fears.
An old Cherokee tale tells of a grandfather teaching life principles to his grandson. The wise old Cherokee said, “Son, on the inside of every person a battle is raging between two wolves. One wolf is evil. It’s angry, jealous, unforgiving, proud and lazy. The other wolf is good. It’s filled with love, kindness, humility, and self-control. “These two wolves are constantly fighting,” the grandfather said. The little boy thought about it, and said, “Grandfather, which wolf is going to win?” The grandfather smiled and said, “The one you feed.”
What do we feed within us? Is it doubt, inadequacy, anger, jealousy? Or is it love, care, compassion, devotion? This parable reminds us that the greatest risk of all is to not risk anything, not to care deeply or profoundly enough about anything that we are willing to invest deeply in it. There is no risk in not giving our hearts away, and if we hold on to our hearts, in the process we are not living into ourselves. The greatest risk of all, is not to play it safe, and not to live cautiously. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the sin of respectable people is running from responsibility. Bonhoeffer, who was a pacifist, took his own responsibility so seriously that he joined the Resistance and helped plan an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. His sense of responsibility cost him his life.
How important is this to us, in terms of how we live our lives? Jesus’ warning is that the outcome of playing it safe – of not caring, of not loving passionately, of not investing ourselves, of not risking anything – is like death. It is like being banished into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Here in this parable, Jesus invites us to be his disciples, to live our lives
as fully as possible by investing in them, by risking, by expanding the horizons of our responsibilities, so that we will be ready when he returns. Clearly the message is that we need to pay attention to what we are doing with what we’ve got. We need to pay attention to how we live our lives.
Jesus says, to be this man, to be this woman, is not so much believing ideas about Jesus as it is in following him. It is to experience renewed responsibility for the use and investment of these precious lives of ours. It is to be bold and brave, to reach high and care deeply. So, the parable is an invitation to examine our lives, to examine who and what we treasure. Grace Episcopal Church has so much to offer folks, so grab hold of the opportunities. Amen.