Sermon
Proper 28, Year A

This is another gospel that is difficult for me to understand, let alone try to tell it as good news to you. Matthew has a theme, last week with the maidens and their oil lamps, this week servants and talents, and next week the separation of the sheep and the goats. There was an earlier ‘kingdom of God is like’ where a king throws a banquet for his son and those invited do not come. The ending to all these parables is that someone is left out or thrown out in the darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Our challenge is that Matthew’s audience was different than those of us listening to his words today. Matthew writes, primarily, to Jewish Christians who are struggling both with the delay in Jesus’ return, the parousia (pair-oo-see-ah), and the Jewish population surrounding them. They have differentiated themselves from their Jewish family and are not sure how to embrace the Gentile Christians. It seems the end time has come – the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and yet Christ has not returned as they expected he would. As time went on Christians began to focus more on how to act than on preparing for the arrival of the son of man in the near future.
Looking at the gospel in the terms of what it meant to Matthew’s audience may give us ideas as to how this is good news for us today. The ‘talent’ in the gospel story is a huge sum of money. Five talents today would be around 4 million dollars. It is only important to know that it was a great amount of wealth to leave with a servant.
“In the Parable of the Talents, the master showed great trust by leaving so much money in the care of three servants. The FIRST servant honored that trust by using the master’s money wisely. Likewise the SECOND servant. Those two servants respected the master. They knew what he wanted, and did their best to give it to him. The THIRD servant, though, acted quite differently. (Perhaps) he acted differently because he felt differently toward the master.
He didn’t respect the master. He didn’t love the master. He feared the master. He thought of the master as a hard man, even though the master has been generous to all three servants. This third servant didn’t care what the master wanted, so he didn’t try to do what the master wanted. The third servant cared only about himself –– his own life. So instead of using the master’s money wisely, he buried it in the ground. In the culture of that time, he would not be held responsible for the sum if he buried it and it became lost. Because he didn’t want the responsibility, he just hid it away. But it didn’t work. The master left the money to be used. He expected his servants to DO SOMETHING –– to make the world a little better place –– to make someone happy –– to put the money to work. “ (Sermonwriter, Dick Donovan)
God gives us gifts, abilities that we call talent. We are expected to use those gifts. When they are used, they multiply, and spread the goodness of God’s kingdom. When we hide them, ignore them, or choose to not do anything (like burying them away), we do lose them. They remain unused or worse fade away to nothing. God asks that we use the talents that have been bestowed upon us.
I tend to picture God as a merciful, loving, forgiving, creator. To see a judgmental, condemning God is difficult for me. That third servant pictures a God that is indeed unmerciful, unloving and most definitely unforgiving. Fear of the consequences of losing what God has entrusted to him leaves him one option – to hide it all away. Would God care if we try to use our talents and end up losing them? I don’t think so.
It seems that God is most upset and hurt when we turn away and hide – only because God knows that in the end we will be hurt by our own actions.
How you respond to God by either boldly using your gifts/talents or hiding them away will indicate the way you envision God. Are you the beloved child of a loving, merciful, caring, forgiving God? Or are you the servant of a Master “who is harsh, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed”? Paul tells us that we are “children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness…God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Over the next week, reflect on three things: What has God given you? What are you doing with those gifts? What should you be doing? Next week’s gospel will outline how we are to use our God given gifts/talents. It is a special Sunday, Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the season after Pentecost. It is the last Sunday in our church year. We can continue this conversation next week…

Sermon
Proper 27, Year A

How many choices have you made in your life, and how many choices has life made for you? It feels that way sometimes; we don’t get to choose. Life happens and we find ourselves dealing with it. There is seemingly so much beyond our control that we hold on to the things that are familiar, comfortable or stable – until someone or something comes along and messes with our life. Perhaps that’s why religion survives. We need the hope that all will be well.
The Israelites have made it to the land that God had promised them. They have been on a journey for years and almost nothing is the same. Sure they have something to eat and water to drink, but they still longed for the ‘good ole days of slavery in Egypt’. But now, they have settled in their new land and they are asked to make a choice – a choice for how they will live out their lives. Joshua gathers the tribes and says, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods our ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, …or serve the LORD.” It is an important decision because if they choose to follow God, their LORD, then they can’t change their mind later without paying the consequences. The God of the Israelites was a vengeful and jealous God, and yet the people choose to follow the one God, to forsake all those other gods. They make their choice publically in front of the assembly so as to be held accountable. They choose to stay with the God that has protected them and done great works in their sight.
This morning Jesus tells another parable about the kingdom of heaven. This one has to do with 10 maidens and their lamps. Five bring extra oil – just in case. Five do not. Well, the bridegroom is delayed and all ten lamps are low on oil. The five that brought the extra oil are present when the bridegroom comes and get into the wedding feast. The others are late because they had to run to the market to get more oil and get locked out. Culturally, at that time, “the bridegroom has gone to the home of the bride to determine and sign the marriage contract with the bride’s father and then he will return with the bride to his home (or that of his father). Since negotiations about the terms of the marriage contract could get involved, perhaps the groom’s delay should not be considered unusual. At the return with his bride, the wedding feast could begin at the bridegroom’s household. The ten maidens await the groom’s return with his bride.” (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, page 349).
Hard to say what choices were made by the maidens that led some to get extra oil and some to not bring any. Did some choose to go have manicures/pedicures in preparation for the banquet and then not have time to get to the market? We can identify with this scenario. We’ve overscheduled our day so that we don’t have time to pick up something at the market or we are late for a meeting or we miss our child’s event? And we’ve done it more than once! That’s one lesson to take from the story. Don’t get so involved with doing, that you forget to take care of living.
Jesus was speaking in parable using events from everyday life. The people listening to Matthew’s gospel would understand that he is the bridegroom and that the “maidens become positive and negative models on how to act in view of the Son of Man’s delayed arrival.” (Sacra Pagina, Matthew, page 350). This parable reiterates the need to be prepared, to be ready, “because you do not know the day or the hour.” Another lesson to take from this parable is not so much about judgment or the character of God as about being ready for the kingdom of heaven and what the time of Jesus’ return will be like.
There are two ways of looking at the “end time”. One is called cataclysmic, and the other is the continuum. The people to whom Matthew was writing lived with a belief of a cataclysmic eschatology. The Son of Man would suddenly return and if you weren’t prepared, you got left out, like the foolish maidens at the wedding banquet. My preference is the continuum, that the end time comes with the reign of God. All people on earth will work together and bring about the reign of God. We are all ready, because it can’t happen unless the whole earth is one family. It rather goes along with the vision of a loving, merciful, God. It also makes our job harder. We not only have to get our own lives in order, we need to help and support each other. In this way, we need to use the resources we receive to help bring about the reign of God (heaven on earth). That is the lesson to take from the readings today. For the people in Matthew’s day, they thought Jesus was coming at any time and had to be prepared. For us, so much time has passed; it is a matter of continuing to work more than being prepared.
We gather our pledge intentions this morning. The money is used to continue our work in bringing about the kingdom of God here in our community. I pray that we share our gifts and talents with each other and with those in need, believing that God will continue to provide for us. We, as Christians, have promised to serve the LORD. Let us follow the role model of the wise maidens and be prepared to do this work. AMEN.

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