The challenges & encouragements of the talents

Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the talents

Christ Church Highbury, November 19th 2017

Have you ever participated in a challenge based upon this parable? Where you’re given a sum of money and challenged to do something creative with it…

Several years ago, Tewkesbury Abbey – where my sister worships – did this with its congregation in order to raise money for a worthy cause. Every participant was given £10 and challenged to use it to raise more money for the church. She spent the money on ingredients for Christmas mincemeat, selling the jars to friends and family and giving the abbey back not just the original £10, but also a tidy profit.

Obviously, this wouldn’t have worked as a fundraising strategy had everyone at the abbey buried their £10 note in the ground and returned it when the abbey asked for it back. It’s a pretty good contemporary illustration of Jesus’ parable.

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We know this parable best as ‘the parable of the talents’ – but our modern translation has exchanged ‘talent’ for gold. A ‘talent’ was a measure of wealth equivalent to more than could be earned over 15 years as a labourer, but we can probably visualise bags of gold more easily. Either way, the servants are entrusted with a phenomenal amount of money by their master – and acquired a good deal of wealth on their master’s behalf.

In Jesus’ time, servants were often expected to care for their masters’ properties and businesses while they travelled – potentially for long periods of time. The masters needed to be able to trust these caretakers, and expected faithfulness in return. In addition, it was important for the servants to do their job, but not to inflate their own status – believing themselves to be stand-in masters.

In this parable, not only are the servants trusted, they are given the extra responsibility of caring for their master’s money. Verse 15 states that the gold was given to each ‘according to their ability’ – so one could argue that the master already held the last servant in low esteem!

The third hapless servant is overcome with fear. That is his motivation for burying the gold. Perhaps he was concerned that he might be tempted to spend his master’s money. Perhaps he feared that he wouldn’t manage to keep it safe from thieves. He doesn’t trust his master for giving him this responsibility and seeks to protect his own interests. In contrast, the two other servants are ready to take a risk – for themselves and for their master – and it pays off.

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I wonder which of the servants you find yourself identifying with? Entrepreneurship is a gift that I don’t think I possess, so I’m not sure that I could have thought of a way to double the master’s money!

 

This parable is an invitation from Christ to us to take up the gifts we have been made responsible for, and to do the best with them for the good of the kingdom. It is one of a series of parables Jesus tells to illustrate what will happen when he returns and brings about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

The message is stark: ill-treat what God has entrusted to us, and face miserable consequences. The unfortunate servant is thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

But it is also an encouragement – I promise!

We should be encouraged that all of us have been entrusted with gifts by God. They take different forms of course – for some it may literally be bags of gold to use wisely and for the benefit of others. For others it may be practical gifts that can be used to give our society a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. The parable tells us that each servant is given money according to their ability. God does not call us to tasks or situations without also equipping us with the gifts we need to fulfil his calling.

Each of us, as Christians, have the opportunity to multiply the gifts God has entrusted to us – in turn, growing the Kingdom.

The challenge is to overcome the fear that is the third servant’s downfall. It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task that God has put before his church. When we are overwhelmed – as I’m sure we all have experience of – the temptation is to bury our heads (or our gifts) in the sand, and to put off offering any kind of contribution to God’s mission – the proclamation of the gospel.

But, as I said, the encouragement is to be found in the faith and trust that the master placed upon his servants. We have been entrusted. God has confidence in us, his children. All we have to do is act!

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I had one further thought that struck me as I thought about this familiar passage was how helpful it is for Christ Church, during this season of being in vacancy. While we are without a vicar, we are responsible for the church and the resources that God has given us. I’m not suggesting that Jonathan (our previous vicar) was our master, but that it’s an interesting parable to draw comparisons with. We have been entrusted with keeping Christ Church going – all of us, not just the staff team and Church Wardens – and, to each of our abilities, God has given us even more.

Vacancy periods are great times to give people new responsibilities, particularly those who are not ordained. So  a few members of the congregation, have had training in how to lead some of our services and over the next few months this will be a really valuable contribution to keeping our worship going. Similarly, a group of people have taken on the responsibility for our monthly Jazz Vespers service.

In this way, when a new vicar is appointed, they will be greeted with more than was left behind when Jon left us in July. Many of you will have acquired new skills; developed new responsibilities; and grown in your relationship with God. A church that buried its riches during a vacancy period would stagnate, even regress – but I am very confident that this is already not the case with Christ Church.

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I asked you earlier which of the servants you identified with this morning – and that’s a question that I would love you to leave today pondering.

If you are confident that you are using the gifts you have so well that you’re multiplying them – great! And thank you! Perhaps you could do some encouraging of those who are apprehensive of the responsibility.

If you are feeling apprehensive, perhaps disbelieving that you have been given anything, may I encourage you to take just one small step. Perhaps that’s reading a book that will deepen your understanding of God and your faith. Perhaps it’s volunteering with the church or in our community in some way. It could even be taking the time to sit down with someone you trust to talk through what gifts you may have that you don’t even realise you possess – often we need other people to point them out to us.

Christmas again?

I’ve succumbed to the reality that Christmas is just 4 weeks away, so the annual task of working out what to get as Christmas presents has started.

My sister likes to help with this, in an effort to ensure that she doesn’t end up with a pile of crap I suppose, although she only has a limited influence on other friends/family… The last couple of years I’ve received a helpful, if just a tad sarcastic, e-mail along the lines of this one (from 2006):

Subject: I don’t want a lot for Christmas

Christopher and Elizabeth,

Again it has fallen upon me to notify my nearest and dearest as to what I might desire for Christmas. May I take this opportunity to point out that this does rather take the excitement out of the whole occasion and confirms for me that no one in the family really knows me.

Firstly, a brief introduction:
Name: Mim
Age: 22
Likes: Comedy, clothes, Disney, Christmas jumpers.
Dislikes: People not knowing what I might like for Christmas, being called Megan
[the family labrador].

Down to business:
My little unimaginative friends…
You should already know a selection of my favourite televisual entertainments. This year these include: Qi, Little Britain, Scrubs, Arrested Development and many many more. Should you peruse a website such as Play or Amazon you will find dvds of the above as well as tie-in paraphernalia and more importantly the little section on “people who bought this also bought…”. This is a mine of information and can lead to exciting little discoveries.

By way of feature films I much desire Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The seaweed is always greener and so on. There are also always classic films that can be enjoyed time and again. My personal likes are often found in bargain basement-type areas. I don’t know what this says about my tastes but it makes present buying that bit more exciting. And sometimes less expensive.

Now there is the essential Christmas jumper. This should be a woollen affair, preferably with a bold, unavoidable pattern. Classic colours are pink, dark red or purple. I am still looking to branch into tank top wearing but I would like these to supplement, not replace my Christmas jumper collection.

I like scarves. Contrary to popular belief, one can never have too many scarves. Some of mine have gone missing in this summer’s move. These will need replacing. Burgundy, dark green, purple, dark pink etc. Patterned, foreign-looking ones. There is a nice shop in Tewks that has these. (Also, Gap has a lovely woolly burgundy one…)

Failing any of the above there is the option of theatre tickets. I would like to see Wicked, Avenue Q and anything else cheesy and/or racist. Nothing to beat a bit of cheesy racism.

I think that’s all. Any questions please let me know.
Please discuss any potential purchases with each other to avoid the issue of duplicate gifts.
Happy shopping!

Mim

The great thing is that she’ll probably never know this e-mail is online as she never, ever, reads my blog. (I love my sister…) I’m going to have a hunt for her 2005 missive, which was a total classic as she basically wanted (and still wants) a drum kit – each part of the kit was a different gift-buying opportunity.

I’m just waiting for the 2007 edition to turn up. When it does (I’m assuming it will, she’s only told me about one rather high-brow book that’s on her list so far), I’ll see if it’s worth posting.

And as for me? My problem is that I like surprises…but my family aren’t always that creative. However, a wish list in the form of a facebook note may be the way to go this year.