Sermon preached by Revd. Duncan Strathie

Sunday 19 October, 8:00am, 2nd Sunday before Advent (Parliament Sunday)

Matthew 25:14-30

The Parable of the Talents

14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.” 21His 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.” 22And 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.” 23His 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.” 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As we continue through this Kingdom Season heading towards the last Sunday of the Church calendar next week, Christ the King, we are presented with another Matthean parable that appears to have a plain and simple meaning. It is a familiar story to us. Most of us probably first heard it in Sunday School decades ago—I know I did. But the challenge is for us to come to it with fresh eyes and ask “what does it say to you and to me today?”.

A ‘Talent’ wasn’t a coin but a weight of precious metal—either copper, silver or gold. The most common was silver. A talent, depending on which scale you used, weighed in at about 33kgs or 75 pounds. That much silver today is worth £18,000—a tidy sum. Some churches, as a missional challenge, give every member of the congregation a £10 note and ask them to grow it for God and give the results back to the church. If I gave you £18,000 today and asked you to do the same what would you do? Would you be like the last servant in the story and bury it in the ground and then give it back to me? How would that advance the mission of God and make his kingdom more real in Moseley? How do you invest your God-given gifts for mission of God and his kingdom?

In the parable, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is likening the useless last servant to the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes. They delighted in maintaining the status quo. They didn’t want change, they wanted to keep all things—and especially God’s Law exactly as it is. They thought it was so special they ring-fenced it to make sure no-one fiddled with it, or contaminated it or could change it in any way. Are there bits of your faith and life, or mine that are like that—fenced off from contact with the outside world? The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes didn’t want any development, any changes in anything, no new ways of doing things. As William Barclay says “Their method involved the paralysis of religious truth”.

How is your religious truth doing? Is it vibrant and alive or is it moribund, paralysed, lacking any life? Perhaps it’s harder as we grow older to be as vibrant and dynamic as we were when we were younger. I guess we can choose to collude with that outlook or challenge it and do something about it. We may have slowed down a bit but we have a lot of experience to offer and share. We can still pray—perhaps even having more opportunity to do so these days. We can still encourage, maybe even mentor someone younger in the faith? We can share stories of God’s love and goodness to us as we have found it down through the years.

It’s great to see the sense of community among this congregation as we gather each week. It may be the early service on a Sunday but your quiet prayers lay the foundation for our worship in the parish each Lord’s Day. Our monthly breakfast shared together is like multiplying your talents. The phone calls and visits you make and cards of encouragement that you send—these are multiplying your talents. The way you respond to requests for help when they are made—these are multiplying your talents. Your warm smile and handshake as you greet me at the back of church each week—these are multiplying your talents because they are a blessing to me!

God calls us to a faith that has adventure, it grows, evolves, changes as our understanding of God does the same. Our relationships with one another, our families and friends, deepen and grow more meaningful as we grow older. We have the opportunity to invest in the lives of others. You might be sitting here this morning thinking but I don’t even have one talent, let alone two or five! Anyway, what would you do with £90,000, the equivalent of 5 talents? The important thing that we need to take away from this parable is, it’s not the number of talents you have that is important but what you do with what you’ve got.

God is generous but he doesn’t give everybody the same talents. He gives different gifts to each of us—things that are needed in our life and in the outworking of his kingdom here in Moseley. How are you using them? God never demands from us abilities that we do not have, but he does demand fruitful use of the abilities that we do have. We may not all be equal in talent, but we can be equal in effort. Whatever talent we do have, we should lay it at the service of God. You might be sitting here this morning thinking that you’ve used your talents well for a lifetime and now it’s time to take a rest! Well, this parable tells us that the reward of work well done, is that there is more work to do.

I am not sharing these thoughts about this parable as way to make you feel guilty but to encourage you, and me, to see how we can each of us use our talents today, tomorrow and in the weeks that lie ahead for glory of God. The two servants who did well and multiplied their talents weren’t invited to sit back and take it easy—no, they were given even more work to do, with even greater responsibility. How that view of things contrasts with the view of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes of the Law with their paralysis.

How do you feel this morning? Paralysed or active and ready to respond? The parable goes on to make it plain that the servant that was punished didn’t lose his talent—he simply did nothing with it. Not so much a sin of commission, but a sin of omission. I get the feeling that even if this servant had tried to do something adventurous with the talent but ended up losing it, it would have been better for him than simply doing nothing. Too often the temptation towards apathy and inactivity can feel so strong and seductive that we allow ourselves to get sucked in.

God calls us to take risks and not to always play it safe. Risks need to be calculated and probabilities worked out—but we have to do something if we are to be co-workers with God as he builds his kingdom in Moseley. There is a temptation with this parable to use it to justify what is known as the ‘prosperity gospel’. In a nutshell, it teaches that you know God is blessing you if your personal wealth is increasing. Bigger houses, bigger cars, jobs that pay well, never mind the ethical implications, all of these are held to be good things to pursue. Perhaps with the Scientologists having moved into our parish, we need to be wary of the power of the seduction of wealth and control.

This parable is not about increasing your personal wealth in cash terms. It is about transacting in a currency that delivers a return that stands for eternity. It is not about building your personal kingdom but about building the kingdom of God. If you have a proficiency or a gift for doing something, the more you exercise it the better you get at doing it and the bigger the task you are able to tackle by using it. But is you fail to exercise that gift or proficiency, it will wither away, atrophy, and you will, in time, lose the ability to use it. That is what happened to the last servant—he did nothing with his talent and so ended up losing it.

So, as we come to the end of the Church year and prepare to celebrate Christ the King, let us check our inventory of talents. What has God given to you to use for his glory and how are you using them?