Sermon for Sunday 13th November 2011
Next Sunday is the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church’s year. On this day we celebrate the final triumph of good over evil, the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the end of all time and history. Nobody knows when this will really take place or what it will be like. Plenty of people have dreamed dreams about the end of time and there are plenty of false prophecies. However, Christ himself urged us not to worry about the future or the final plans which God has for the world. It is enough to know that we will be in God’s safe care and keeping.
Apart from Jesus, a number of wise people over the years have said, learn from the past, live in the present and prepare for the future. This is exactly what St Paul teaches and what we find when we read Matthew’s gospel. Today we have one of the three parables about those who are living in the present while waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ.
In the first parable Jesus speaks of “the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time. Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.”
This parable is usually interpreted as applying to the leaders of the Christian community whose task is to give the members of that community nourishing spiritual food while they wait for the coming of Christ. A good church leader is rewarded, but a lazy and corrupt leader will be, according to the parable, “cut in pieces and put with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The second parable is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom, five wise virgins who had filled their lamps and had more oil with them in case the bridegroom was delayed. The foolish virgins had no spare oil so that when the bridegroom, that is, Christ, arrived; only those with brightly burning lamps actually went into the wedding banquet, while those whose lamps had gone out found the door of the kingdom shut.
This parable is usually applied to all followers of Christ. The oil could stand for faith which must be constantly renewed. If we do not strengthen our faith then we will lose it, and without faith we will lose our way and perish.
Thirdly there is the parable of the talents, which we heard today. Again, the parable looks towards Christ’s coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. The master, going on a journey entrusts his property to his slaves. In the same way, Christ has entrusted the gospel and the community of the gospel to us. Each person is given exactly the amount that they can deal with. Five talents, two talents or one talent, to each according to their ability. A talent is an enormous amount of money, equal to about twenty years’ worth of wages. Matthew wants us to understand that the gifts God has given us are incredibly, unbelievably valuable. We are often tempted to say, “Oh, I’m not really clever.” Or “I can’t contribute much.” But, in the parable the least of the gifts, one talent, is worth at least half a million dollars. So even if we feel totally inadequate, what we have is infinitely precious in God’s sight and beyond value when we use it in the service of God and God’s community, which is the church.
Anyway, we all know how the parable goes. The slave with five talents makes five talents more and the slave with two talents makes two talents more. These slaves are welcomed into the joy of their master, not because they have made lots of money, but because they have used what they had in the best way possible. Their work has been good for the property, good for them and their master and good for their community.
The third slave buried the talent in the ground and gave it back to his master unused and unchanged. The master calls him wicked and lazy, strips him of whatever possessions he had and has him thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Now, if this parable is about us, how shall we make sense of it. We usually think of the talents as individual gifts or abilities that God has given. We might think of people who can sing, or play a musical instrument. We might think of teachers and carers, people who are good at whatever they do. You could have a talented plumber or a talented painter; we might say that someone is a wonderful parent or a wonderful friend. All these abilities are talents which can be used for the benefit of all. In our church we think of how we can use our own abilities to serve others in the congregation and fellowship. In this we include those who are generous with time and money. Our church community needs time and money to grow and give back to those who support it.
But consider also what a great gift all of us have in common. God has given us the community of St Luke’s as a gift. St Luke’s is inclusive, loving, faithful, and supportive. It is an example to others, a light on a lampstand, a city on a hilltop. It is Christ’s body which is the priceless piece of property which our master has given us to care for.
St Luke’s community is our present, it is where we are now, and as we look to the future we must decide what to do with such a generous and priceless gift.
Will we work with it and grow it, improving and strengthen it, leaving it to those who come after us in better condition than when we began. Will God commend us for our stewardship?
Or will we be like the third slave who was too afraid to invest time or effort into his talent. Will we bury our faith community in the corner of our lives?
Over the next six months we’ll be doing some serious thinking about our choices to build a future. We’ll start with the Op Shop at a special meeting of the Parish Council on 14th December, to which you are all invited.
Our Diocesan Synod wants us to look towards the year 2050, which is great, but I would make some more talents by the next Annual Vestry Meeting in March.