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Sermon and Prayer for Ordinary 33 - Year A
I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
"Using What God Has Given"

READING: I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30 SERMON : "Using What God Has Given" Rev. Richard J. Fairchild a-or33se 343000 CALL TO WORSHIP (from Psalm 76) L: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. P: Blessed are the people whom He has chosen for his own inheritance. L: Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love. P: Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. Our hearts rejoice in him, because we trust in his holy name. PRAYER OF CONFESSION L Lord God, we confess to you our sin: those things which have hurt others and which have offended thee. P Forgive us for not investing your gifts wisely. We have been negligent with the time and energy you give us - often spending it all on ourselves while others have had to do more than their share of helping and caring. ............... (silent prayer) ............... L We confess, O Lord, that through fear, greed, or ignorance, we have not always used in a faithful and responsible manner the wealth you give us. P Forgive us for being satisfied with sharing so little with those who are in need, while spending so much, not only on our needs, but also on our desires. ............... (silent prayer) ............... L We confess, O Lord, that we are prone to forget the purpose behind what you do for us. We forget that you judge us by what we do with your gifts. P Forgive us for when we have buried the talents and failed to work with all the things you give us. L Gracious God - forgive us. P Touch us and make us whole. Amen SERMON: Using What God Has Given The parable of the talents is a parable about the manner in which God will judge the world and his people. It is a straightforward account. It describes a situation that was common in the mid-east at the time of Jesus, and in fact a situation that is common today. A man who is about to leave on a journey entrusts his servants with different portions of his property. They are to look after that property, to ensure that it is not damaged, and more - that it continues to work for the master, that it continues to make a profit while he is away. Two of the servants double the investment they are intrusted with, the third gains nothing from it for his master, in fact he does not even try because he is afraid, and so what he was entrusted with is taken from him and he is cast off the estate of his master - he is, in other words, fired. As I said - it is a straightforward account, but what as Christians are we to make of it, what lesson does it have for us? I have seen this parable interpreted as a frank and simple exhortation to work hard at developing the gifts and talents that God has given us. The message is - "if you aren't productive with what God has given you, you will lose it." Basically this method of interpretation focuses on the gifts that God has given and whether or not we multiply them. I want to suggest to you that while there is an important lesson in this method of understanding the parable, that it misses an essential element of the story, and thus of the Christian faith. It is true that God wants us to use his gifts, and to multiply them for the benefit of his Kingdom, but it is not true that we are judged according to the quantity of the work we do for God, nor even on the quality of that work. As Paul writes, it is by grace, through faith, that we are saved, not by works, lest anyone should boast. If we reduce the parable of the talents simply to a matter of developing the gifts that God has given us, to a matter of how productive we are for God, then we miss what is so good about the Christian life, we miss the good news of Jesus Christ, and I believe that we will end up like the servant who failed to invest the talent We will end up being afraid - worried about how well we will do, and whether or not it will please God. The parable of the talents is not a lesson about ability, or productivity. It is a lesson about moral quality - About the faith and attitude we should have. Consider the servant who buried his talent. When he is asked by the master to give an accounting of what he has done with his talent what does he say? Master - he says - I knew that you were a hard man and that you harvest where you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed, so I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you. The judgement of the master then falls upon the servant, and I want to suggest to you that it falls upon him not because the servant has failed to produce wealth for his master, but because he was afraid to try. "You wicked, lazy servant. You knew that I harvest where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have had received it back with interest." There is no sin in failure my friends. There is only sin in not attempting to succeed, in not listening to God and striving to do his will. The man was afraid - and so he did not try... This is the basis on which he was judged. And this is the basis on which we are judged. You knew that I harvest where I have not sown...!! You knew!! You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers so at least I got interest...!! But you did nothing! You were afraid, you tried to absolve yourself of responsibility by burying your talent. You knew - but you did nothing - you did not even try. How many times have we told our children that what counts is not whether we win or lose but how we play the game? That is a truly biblical statement. One that we should always remember for ourselves when we look at both the gifts and the problems we have. But do we remember this statement when it comes to our own lives? Do we work with the resources that God has given us? Or do we focus on the fact that we might fail and so refuse to try? Do we remember that God will judge us and so become afraid? And in that fear do we forget the basis upon which God judges us? a basis that is not concerned with the quantity of the harvest but whether or not there has been an attempt to plant a crop in the first place? The servant in the parable of the talents was not just someone who failed to invest the item of value given him - he was someone who tried to disown any liability for it. He followed the pattern in the Mid-east of the time, the pattern that said if you were given something valuable you could absolve yourself of responsibility for it by burying the valuable thing in the ground. This has led to delightful finds for archaeologists many years later, but it does not work for us, just as it did not work for the servant in the parable. God holds us responsible for what he has given us, he expects us to try to work with it, and the lesson of the gospel is that if we try God will honour our effort even if we fail. God will not, however, honour us if we absolve ourselves of the attempt to try in the first place. Rather he will condemn us. Let me explain this by reference to something that befalls us all. I want us to look, not at the talents we have been given, - the money we can share with others less fortunate - the love that we can give to those who are rejected - the food we can use to feed the hungry, - the various abilities we have that we can develop and use for the benefit of both ourselves and those around us; No, I want us to look at the problems we have been given, those things that befell us all through no fault of our own, situations like the loss of a child or a spouse, situations like an upbringing which was unhappy, a childhood that was abnormal, or a career that was terminated by a plant closure or a technological change. Like our talents - our problems often come to us unbidden they are things that are thrust on us by an unkind world, things which God, in his wisdom, permits us to experience, and which he watches to see what we do with them. And, like our talents, our problems need to be worked with, We cannot, despite their source in the world beyond us, absolve ourselves from the tasks that they call us too. We cannot bury them and expect to avoid judgement. Think with me for a moment of people you know who have been raised in homes that are unhappy, in homes where the parents always changed the rules, and in which the children were abused verbally, or emotionally, perhaps even physically. Recall the many problems that those people have had - their fear and uncertainty, their doubts about whether they are really loved by anyone, their compulsive drive to appear happy and normal when they have an immense pain in their heart. I know people who are like this, people who have had problems that no one should ever have, and I have seen their sadness, their compulsiveness, and their fear. And I have also seen, as have you, some of these people deny their problems. Some of them bury their sadness, they refuse to acknowledge their anger at their parents, and they hide the horror of what was done to them so deeply within themselves that they are almost unaware of what has happened to them. I have also seen some of these people who, while aware of their problems, fail to deal with them because instead of working with them, they spend all their time blaming others for them. Whether you bury your problems or blame others for them, the effect is the same, they do not get dealt with, they do not get worked with, because responsibility is not claimed. My friends many of the problems we have we are not to blame for, we did not cause them, nor did we did deserve them, but - and this is a big but - we are responsible for dealing with them, just as we are responsible for using the good things that God has given us for the good of others. The judgement upon not taking responsibility for our problems and dealing with them is that they will remain with us, causing us to suffer endlessly. Much as not working with our talents leads us to lose them, so not working with our problems leads us to have more of them. In both cases we, and the world around us, suffer because we have not tried. Go back in your mind to the people you know who have suffered, who have had problems thrust upon them not of their own making. Some of these people are now strong and happy people are they not? They have looked at their problems rather than burying them, They have taken responsibility for working with them rather than just blaming others for them, and because they are not afraid to take risks, because they are not afraid to enter their pain and examine it and expose it to the light of day and go through it anew as they look at it, they are healed. But the others? The parent who refuses to talk about the pain of his dead child, but instead hides all the pictures and avoids mention of his or her name for fear of the pain that it brings, is eaten alive by that unexperienced grief. The woman who loses her job because a plant is closed and who then refuses to take the risk of learning new skills for a different labour market because she feel inadequate or uneducated is consumed by poverty and hopelessness. Everything we avoid, everything we bury, everything we refuse to take responsibility for, be it a gift or a problem, has its revenge on us. God gives us many things, and God allows many things to happen to us. Why he does so is not always clear, but what God expects is clear. God expects us to try to develop the good things we have so that the world around us can benefit from them, so that those gifts might be fruitful in us, and add to the good things God's world needs. And God expects us to try to work with the problems that befall us, so that we might become stronger and happier and experience the blessedness of life, a blessedness we can then add to for others who are struggling with the same problems. But more than this - and better yet, God in giving us his talents, in giving us his love, does not expect us to have do all this work alone. God gives us companions, He gives us a church, He gives us friends and counsellors, He gives us his Holy Spirit and his living Word - Jesus Christ so that we, like the servants of the parable, can together bestow new love and new hope upon the world. Today, at Saint John's we will confirm/have confirmed three individuals in the Holy Spirit and we have all professed our faith in God, the father, son and holy spirit. We and they together have been entrusted with talents by God, and we all here too have pains which we must deal with. We have been given the tools we need. We have been given each other and we have been given God's love. God, like the master in today's parable believes in us, He trusts us to do well with his love, to develop the gifts he gives us. He trusts us because he made us. Have faith that God will honour your endeavours. Do not fear failure - because even if we do not double the goodness in the world, even if we do not personally conquer all our problems and together solve all the crises we face, if we have tried to work with what God has given, then God will be pleased with us - the cistern of peace and goodness will be more full than it was, and we will drink from it at the time of judgement. copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1996 - 2005 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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