Kenora Proper 33 Pentecost + 24
15 November 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
O God, from whose abundance all gifts and skills are lavishly bestowed: give us courage to use our talents as generously as you have given them, so that, being faithful to your purpose, we may share in your glory; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Today’s gospel isn’t an easy passage to listen to.
Today we hear Jesus talking of casting someone “into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”! (Mt 25:30)
This isn’t the kind of message we’re accustomed to hearing from our Lord and Saviour. Instead, we’re used to Jesus’ parables being somewhat difficult to comprehend, yet, positive and uplifting, but that may be a difficult message to find today.
Looking at it on the surface, it’s a rough task master who expects growth in his assets at all costs. Sort of what I hear of modern stockholders who look for profits over and above even the bolstering of local economies in favour of their personal financial gains.
So then, is the problem with the text that this is truly how big business has learned to treat the world: as a commodity, as a stepping stone to greater and greater profits for themselves alone? Or have I seen Other Peoples Money (1991) once too often?
Is the problem, perhaps, with the imagery in today’s gospel, of making or gaining profits, assets, talents that we see?
Or, perhaps its the problem of the slaves, or one slave in particular, being afraid of their master and working out of that sense of fear instead of out of a sense of love?
Or is it that this is what Jesus shares with us today, using a financial model in order to be relatable to his audience who hasn’t yet encountered the Holy Spirit, nor have they had the opportunity to evaluate their lives for the idea of talents and abilities? And its out of the usual character of the messages that we’ve heard in other parables?
No matter what our personal or perceptual difficulty with this text, this is a parable that Jesus tells us, so then there is a lesson within, beneath, or even behind it for each one of us.
So, today, Jesus talks about us receiving the gifts of the Spirt, gifts in our baptism, gifts when we come to a life of faith.
Each one of us has gifts, and talents and all sorts of unquantifiable abilities that we’re give to us by God, by the Holy Spirit in order to bring us together as community.
Gifts and abilities to help us to grow into the family that we are, as a church, as a community. And especially to show and live into the love of God through the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus that draws us together and helps us to form our individual family units.
And so, then, at the root of all of our varied gifts, and talents, and abilities is the love of God that forms the foundation of our lives of faith, and give us a sense of belief.
And the gospel today tells us that three slaves were each given “talents” each according to his ability. (Mt 25:15b)
But, looking just at that love that comes to us fresh each day from God, through the Holy Spirit, if we lock it away, if we don’t show it, share it, or allow it to grow then we fail to enrich our own lives.
At the same time, we are unable to encourage love, especially the love of God in the lives and hearts of others. And in this covid restricted environment in which we find ourselves, this is an important distinction. How do we reach out to each other, in acceptable ways, to share that love, to show that love and to encourage the love of God in each other’s lives and hearts?
I’m reminded of an experiment done during the Cold War when orphaned children were refused any affection, kind word, or even unnecessary contact from the adults who were charged with their care.
In many cases, such basic skills as self care, basic language skills, and even normal social behaviour became things that these children never achieved, until this experiment was overthrown in the global back and forth of national politics and the search for independence, and even then, for some of these children, and now young adults these skills came only later in life.
So, today’s parable talks about a man who is going away. We don’t know for how long, or how far, and this information isn’t shared with those who are left behind with the “talents” that are distributed.
So, once again, we can find similarities with our lives. We’ve all received talents. We all use our talents, I hope, to better our lives, and the lives of those around us, both near and far away.
And yet we are still bound by the covid precautions and restrictions. We’re still required to wear masks, and wash hands, and maintain distancing, in order to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible.
From our knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry we know that Jesus is crucified for each one of us, so that we are able to live lives of faith without the burden of sin, of error being a curtain, a barrier between us and God. This is knowledge that Jesus current audience doesn’t have.
At the same time, after Jesus resurrection, we know of his ascension, to sit at the right hand of God the Father, and in the words of the creed, he will return “to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” (BAS Pg. 188)
We know that the Holy Spirit came into the world at Pentecost and gave, and continues to give people gifts of the Spirit, each according to our own ability (hmm, that sounds like a bit of today’s gospel, huh?)
Today’s gospel tells us “to one he gave five talents, to another he gave two, to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (Mt 25:15)
So, this also resonates with us because Jesus is speaking before the passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and yet here we’re on the other side of that earth-shattering, faith forming event, and so we’re aware that Jesus is, on some level referring to himself, as well as the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives after Pentecost. Although it’s not apparent to his current audience.
The other thing is that perhaps we have difficulty resonating with the idea of “talents” as a form of currency, but rather as our own gifts and abilities in our own lives.
Or perhaps we don’t acknowledge that our gifts and talents are a gift from God.
Rather we look to the skills and the abilities that we, each one of us, brings to the table. And we see that we are each ‘gifted’ “according to [our] abilities.” But does this mean that we’re not able to learn new skills and talents? Does this mean that our talents don’t grow and stretch? I think the gospel would wildly disagree with that idea, as does our own life experiences. (Mt 25:15b)
I’ve said in the past that I’m not a great public speaker, and I’m quite uncomfortable with the idea of public speaking, and yet, that, through the art of preaching, has been a huge growth factor for me, a place where my talent in that regard has grown, through the nurturing of various instructors, the practice of doing it, and the fact that people don’t necessarily throw vegetables when I deliver a stinker of a sermon.
Instead, today, the gospel tells us that the one who received five gave back ten, when the householder returned, and the one who received two gave back four.
In both of these examples, the recipient went out into the world and put their talents to work, and those talents, in response, grew.
Jesus gives us a financial model but think of the friendships that are built, the goodwill that flows because we, also, take our talents into the world, and encourage them to be put to work, to get our hands dirty, and to frow in knowledge of ourselves and what we’re able to accomplish.
So, the person with five talents grew them to ten. The person with two grew to four. In both cases these people were bold with their desire to stretch their talents and to increase their abilities.
It’s only the one who lived in fear, fear of reprisal, fear of failure, fear of disappointment who took his single talent and hid it, buried it deep and did absolutely nothing with it during the time the householder was away.
Out of fear, this person hid from the world and absolutely refused to grow, in any way whatsoever.
As much as this individual is our harsh example of what happens when we fail to put our varied skills and talents and abilities to work in the world, in some ways, the most obvious result of this level of fear and disconnect with the world around us is that the world will not know us, nor will the world come to know God through us, or because of our actions.
So, here we are, today.
We live in a world where we know that we are loved and beloved by God, by Jesus, and sustained through the actions of the Holy Spirit in and for each of our lives.
In this world we are each individually gifted with talents and abilities that some may in part share but no one out there has all of our particular talents and skills and gifts in exactly the same way. Each one of us are gifted according to our ability.
Yet, each one of us has grown, and continues to grow in those talents, gifts, and abilities to fulfill the need we find, in the world around us. And these days, as was mentioned at the book study, such needs and abilities are expected to be adjusted daily because of the pandemic in which we find ourselves.
This doesn’t mean our talents are lessened, and in many ways they’re seen to be in greater need because of the restrictions and the guidelines and the efforts to keep the numbers of cases as low as possible, so that he hospitals and medical fields are able to deal with the positive cases with which they are presented.
And when we look at the gospel for today, we can take heart that when we take our talents into the world, God walks with us, the Holy Spirit guides us and we grow those talents by sharing them, giving them, using them in the world that needs the love of God even more today than perhaps it did last week, or last month.
For all we know there is more ahead than is behind, and we each have talents to spare, because we are each gifted according to our ability. Thanks be to God.