The Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: As part of the Bishop's address, on Saturday, at the Convention, Bishop Anne spoke about the results of the Listening Sessions that she conducted across the Diocese through the Summer. There is a lot of information that was collected and analyzed. I want to touch on just one aspect of that report and Bishop Anne's response to it.
There was a lot of conversation in the Listening sessions about the "decline" of the church. There was also a lot of talk about the need for "growth" in our church communities across the Diocese. Bishop Anne addressed the decline head-on. She said that there is empirical evidence that the church, in general, and the Episcopal Church, in particular, is in decline.
She then went on to talk about the need for growth. Bishop Anne said, now I am paraphrasing here because I didn't take notes and I don't have her exact words written down, but she talked about how when we talk about growth we should be focussed on the desire to bring our family, our friends and our neighbors, our community, into a faith relationship, and a knowledge of the love of God. When we do that she is all for it. She said: "Jesus is what we are all about. Drawing people to know Jesus. To follow his directive to love God and to love our neighbor is our mission."
She then went on to talk about a concern she has when she hears people talking about the need for growth. Particularly when it comes to growth in the area of young people and young families. She talked about her concern that when we do that in the church we often talk energetically and forcefully about how "we need more young people."
She talked about how she sometimes hears that with an unspoken or unfinished sentence. She said that what we don't say is that we feel we need more young people or need young families because otherwise we, the church, won't survive.
She said what that does is to turn the young people or the young families who might be attracted to our churches into a commodity. They become numbers or goals that we have to achieve. When we do this we devalue them as people and as fellow members of the body of Christ. We don't intend to do this, but the way we talk about them has a depersonalized feel about it.
I believe at the heart of what the Bishop was saying was the question: "Why are we looking for growth?" Or to put it a different way: "Do we want growth for our sake or is it for their sake?" Or maybe we should ask ourselves: 'Are we concerned for them or for us?"
The Bishop said that sometimes we also don't realize the other impact of talking this way is that we are actually saying that the people we do have in our church communities are "not enough." So again without thinking about it, or doing it on purpose, we are devaluing the people that we do have. "Oh yes they are here, but they aren't enough to do what we need to do."
Basically what The Bishop was saying is that we have to be careful we don't begin to operate out of a poverty mentality.
That, when we think, and talk about our churches and our fellow parishioners we have to be aware not to talk about them as being inadequate. We can begin to operate as though there are aren't enough, people, or resources to meet the needs of the community.
Now if you read my Mike's Musings this week in the Weekly Update you will already know where I am going with my message this morning.
Before I talk about that I want to quickly say I don't think there could be a better Gospel reading for us this Sunday as we prepare for our ingathering for our Stewardship Focus.
The Parable of the Talents says it all, doesn't it? When it comes to the issue of giving into the resources of the Kingdom of God. It addresses what happens when we don't do anything with what God has given us. It also addresses the real need for us to participate and engage in the work of the vineyard, the community, the church.
Can I just say at this point that I believe that the poor guy who buried his gift from the landowner was operating out of fear. I relate so clearly to this poor guy. He is so afraid, that he buries his gift, even when he knows that eventually, when he is found out, exactly what he is afraid is going to happen to him. And it does.
As I said in my Musings column I was struck, as I was reading The Gospel, how interrelated the stories of Scripture are. There are so many connections between this Gospel lesson and the story of God providing Mana for the people in the desert, and also with the Parable of the Sower.
Let's do a brief recap. The people of Israel are in the desert and cry out to God for food. God sends the Mana but warns them that it must be used. Do we remember how there was always enough for their needs, but if they tried to store it, for the future, it went rotten? The people hearing the story Jesus tells in Matthew of the Parable of the Talents and of the servant, who was given the one talent, would have known the story of the Mana.
Then the parable also connects to God's word to Abraham when he called him to be the Patriarch of the people of Israel. He told Abraham he would be "blessed to be a blessing." The people of Israel had an active part or role in this process. They had to collect the Mana and prepare it for meals. They couldn't just sit back and let it fall and expect it to turn into food they could eat.
This need to be actively involved is also illustrated in the Parable of the Sower.
That parable begins: "The sower went out to sow." He didn't stay home, with his seed kept safely in his barn. He didn't expect a crop would come if he didn't do anything with what he had. Just as the second and third recipients of the gift from the landowner went to work and multiplied their gift, so we have a responsibility to participate and to develop what we have.
In my Musings this week I shared a couple of quotes, about the "life of ministry," from two people who have influenced me. First, The founding Dean/President of Trinity School for Ministry, Rt. Rev. Alfred Stanway served on the mission field in East Africa for 30 years. When he was called out of retirement in Australia to begin Trinity he said: "If you do good ministry, the money will follow." Then another great missionary voice, Hudson Taylor, who was the founder of the China Inland Mission, said: "God's work, done in God's way, will never lack God's provision."
How blessed we are. What will encourage us to participate in the life and ministry of Christ's work in this community? We need to recognize when our uncertainty about whether we have enough or that there will be enough makes us hold back. Are we willing to sow/invest in to the eternal future of those that the Lord sends us? We need to do it for their sake!
Finally, as we consider the question of "Do we have enough....?" I would like to read from one of the weekly Meditations from the SSJE Brothers. Brother Curtis Almquist in his sermon "Children of the Resurrection" says this: "You have been given access to the power you need for the here and now. I’ll give you a metaphor. This power is not like a “booster shot” from your doctor where, at some point in your past you got this surge of power from God and you’re set for life. A booster shot is the wrong metaphor. A better metaphor is a solar panel. You’ve been created with the capacity to receive the light. It’s of your essence. And with that light, God’s light, you have the power to be transformed and to be transforming of others. You have access to power. Be present to that power."
He goes on to say: "If you were to ask me, “So what kind of power are you talking about?” I would answer with a question, “What kind of power do you need?” Because God is the source of the power you need; God is also the source of your awareness of need. Christ gives us two promises: his presence, and the provision of his power. The doorway to this power will be through your poverty, where you are powerless. You have been given power, resurrection power, in the here-and-now."
As we consider the Parable of the Talents today are we able to recognize that we have been blessed to be a blessing? That we have enough, that we are enough. And can we do it for their sake?
Bishops & Father Mike