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Go For It

5talentsMatthew 25: 14-30 (from The Message)
Introduction to the reading

The parable that Jesus tells today is another that aims to teach what constitutes responsible and proper conduct as people await the far-off end of times when Jesus returns and ushers in the kingdom of heaven. The classic, theological interpretation of this parable, where each element stands for something else, goes like this:

  • The man, the master of the servants, represents Jesus.
  • The journey is his movement through earthly life toward and into heaven to be with God the Father. After a long time, the master returns from his journey; this is the long-awaited second coming of Jesus.
  • The man is exceedingly rich and the servants exceedingly fortunate. He lavishes talents upon them, a single talent in that first century economy being about 15 years’ worth of wages for a typical worker. The talents represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the forgiveness of sin and the spirit of reconciliation; the pursuit of compassion, justice and peace; the salvation of the world; the all-encompassing love of God. This is extravagant grace, enough to last for years and years.

The good and trustworthy servants symbolize wise and faithful disciples who hear Jesus’ words and make the most of them. The third servant chooses a different way.

Peter and I first went to Cape Cod the summer after we were married, almost fifty years ago now. After a night in Falmouth, we ventured further east, ending in Orleans, where we rented an apartment at Stewart’s Beachside Motel, out by Nauset Beach. We had a wonderful time and decided to go back the next year, which we did. But by the end of that vacation week, for some reason that made no sense, we concluded that we’d done what there was to do on the Cape and seen what there was to see. We’d close the book on Cape Cod, consign it to history and find somewhere else. How stupid was that…

Over the winter, we changed our minds and returned to Cape Cod the following summer. We graduated to a two-week vacation and could rent a cabin and then we bought a house there. Our children have grown up spending summers in Orleans and now our grandchildren call it a second home.

In other words, we chose not to bury the gift of that place but instead invest in it. And the return on that investment has been more than double. The joys of discovering the richness of God’s creation where the sea meets the sky. The gifts of refreshment, renewal and joy.

Our grandson Owen is a sophomore at STEM high school in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, which, my daughter Beth tells me, has just been rated the #1 high school in the state. The first year was rough, getting used to a whole new routine of completing assignments and communicating with teachers, not to mention the difficulty of the work. Last week was parent-teacher conference time. To a one, the teachers told Beth how glad they were to have Owen at STEM, his diligence, intellect, interest. But his grades could be higher – a C in Chemistry, a B in Biology. They are sure he can do better, but he seems to lose confidence along the way and then his work flags.
When Beth told Owen what the teachers had said, his response was, “Really? They said that? About me?” Almost immediately, his idea of himself was changed and his confidence boosted.

Now, the teachers at that school could have been more offhand, less caring: here’s another kid not working up to potential. They could have consigned him to ordinariness. But they were not going to let that happen because they recognize the gifts he, and all their students, possess. They invested in Owen and are determined to nurture his learning and see him mature in intellect and ability.

The first point of this sermon, from these two simple stories from an ordinary life, is this:

God has bestowed upon each one of us grace upon grace, gifts beyond measure, skills and talents and aptitudes and a wide world waiting to be discovered. If we ignore them – bury them, so to speak – we will fall far short of the purposes, expectations, and hopes that God has for us and far short of deep joy and abundance in our living.

The second point of this sermon is about risk. The servant who was given the one talent was afraid to take risk:

  • afraid of the master, who he thought was harsh and demanding, even with evidence to the contrary. Some people think of God that way.
  • afraid of failure
  • afraid of being uncomfortable, unsure, not in control

Tom Long, in his commentary on Matthew, makes this observation:

The tragic news of this parable is that the one-talent man pronounces his own judgment; he gets only the master his tiny and warped vision can see. In theological terms, he gets the peevish little tyrant god he believes in. The story is not about a generous master suddenly turning cruel and punitive; it is about living with the consequences of one’s own faith. If one trusts the goodness of God, one can boldly venture out with eyes wide open to the grace in life and can discover the joy of God’s providence everywhere. (Long 283)

The second point then is this:

Jesus expects us to take risks with the great gift of the Gospel. God expects us to make investments with it – for the benefit of others, for the benefit of ourselves, for the benefit of the world. Everyone is given the gift of the gospel message to guide our living. What you do with the gift is up to you. If you put it to use it is multiplied, bringing joy and well-being all around. If you don’t use it, well, no one benefits and there might just be hell to pay.

By now I hope, you have heard my announcement that I will retire from active ministry as your pastor effective August 1st. My last Sunday will be July 1st when I will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion with you.

A number of you have asked me why I am doing this and why now? Well, I’m over 70; it’s time. And speaking of time, I have been finding less of it for my own Sabbath rest, for study and reflection, for spiritual refreshment, renewal and growth, for exploring the world.

Certainly, it might be easier for all of us if I didn’t retire. Why can’t we just go on as usual? We have fallen into comfortable patterns or, some would say, familiar ruts. And that’s the problem. Participation in church life has declined on many fronts, not only here, to be sure, but also here. It’s like over time we’ve buried the talents that God has blessed us with instead of risking investing with them.
And indeed, God has blessed this particular church richly: the financial endowments begun years ago; the passion for mission giving and service; welcoming diversity in the congregation; genuine hospitality. And you do not lack for ideas to invest those gifts, as we learned through the survey you completed in the spring. Kristin spoke about that earlier; check out the bulletin board to see what you actually said.

And so the third point of this sermon:

The opportunity and potential for spiritual refreshment, renewal and growth as individuals and as the church is here for all of us. If we trust the goodness of God, we can boldly venture out with confidence to discover God’s providence, mercy, grace, and joy everywhere we go.

And now to the One who by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within and among us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than anything we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory now and forever. Amen.

Long, Thomas G. Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
November 19, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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