The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on: Matthew 25: 14-30  The Parable of the Talents

Listening to the reading, I find these lyrics from Abba running through my mind….

“Money, Money, Money, It’s a Rich Man’s World”-Abba

Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we share as we reflect together on your Word for this day, may all of it be acceptable in your sight.  Amen.

Here, this morning, as we enumerate the many ways we say ‘yes’ to being entrusted as stewards of God’s church in this time and in this place, here we have this story, the Parable of the Talents found in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.

I found it a strange and unsettling story that took me off and running in a few different directions! 

How about you?  What did you hear?

Did you hear a story about God’s investment in those whose industriousness and creativity will serve God’s world effectively and well?

Or

Did you hear a story about a courageous servant who refuses to be coopted by the prevailing wisdom of the time?

Or perhaps you hear a story about one who is willing to risk speaking truth to power in a dangerously oppressive and corrupt regime?

Or maybe even, you hear a story about two misinformed servants entirely too focused on wealth and being nurtured in that way that way by a harsh, judgmental, greedy, and bullying God?

and

What about God’s response in the story to the terrified man being held to account for burying God’s investment in him in a hole in the ground?

 

What do you hear there?

In the time this story was first shared in community, life was dangerous and difficult. 

Religious leaders were harsh, and with Jesus having just arrived into Jerusalem to meet his fate, the end of the world must have seemed imminent.

This morning’s story, the Parable of the Talents, is one of three underscoring the importance of making necessary preparations; about being ready for the end of the world as that community had known it, the return of the Messiah, and the coming to pass of a new world where all would be needed, welcomed, loved, and included.

In that sense, the parable falls in the apocalyptic or eschatological genre. 

If you’re not a fan of such stories from scripture, it can be a challenge to hear any good news but I did hear some right there at the very start of the reading. 

As I prayed the reading, I heard this:

‘Jesus, God’s divine representative, knows he must depart on a long journey leaving his property unattended. 

Jesus, however, has such confidence in his followers that he entrusts all of it to his property managers’ stewardship until his imminent return.

For me, it’s important to hold on to this concept of entrustment, this gift of being invited into the demanding work of stewarding the property on Jesus and God’s behalf. 

As Matthew’s story unfolds, we learn that the man entrusts two of his three slaves with an abundant gift of talent, or in biblical terms, a very large sum of money.

This gift of talent has been given to each slave relative to each one’s ability to multiply it for the well-being and longevity of the property in question. 

We learn also that the third slave has been entrusted with a less abundant gift of talent. 

Perhaps this is also relative to his ability to multiply and use it for the good of community or perhaps there’s a history here of the third slave having previously not shown capacity to be trusted.  Or not…

Regardless, on the Master’s return, the first two slaves are affirmed the use of their talents and named as being held in very high esteem.

The third slave however, terrified and immobilized by the task he was given, is severely chastised for his lack of initiative and risk taking ability; and, this is where the reading gets challenging for me-the third slave is condemned to a purgatory of darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

Now that hardly seems a fitting story for a day of celebration like we are aiming for today with our celebration of stewardship, does it?!? 

And how does the Master’s indictment of the third slave jive with our understanding of Jesus and God as abundantly patient, kind, and gracious?

Not much, that is, until we remember the other implicit good news found here: Because this morning’s reading from scripture is a parable, a story which shimmers and shines with as many facets as a ten carat diamond, its possible that it will need multiple listenings in order for it to make much sense to our postmodern, post Christendom hearing. 

That said, trusting in the power of biblical story to unsettle and transform our hearts, I think it does deserve another look.

Some biblical scholars, like David Mosser in his book, “The Stewardship Companion”* would say there’s good news to be found in more than just the opening lines of the story. 

David Mosser says this: As we watch and wait and take up our own tools for the building of God’s kingdom, we need folks who are willing to share their enterprising efforts paired with creative thinking and with risk taking!

Other scholars like Charles McCollough in his book the “Art of the Parables”**brings a different spin to the story. 

He argues that we need a finely tuned balance between the gifts and the skills entrusted to the first two slaves and to the third. 

How can you go wrong, McCollough wonders- when you combine enterprising, industrious and shrewd managers with such as those who dare to speak truth to power?

But the interpretation of the Parable of the Talents that I’m drawn to for today is that of the Reverend Dr. Anna Carter Florence, Professor of  Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.*** 

Her take on the reading has taken my imagination off in an entirely different direction. 

Instead of the word ‘talent’ to describe what’s appreciated here, she suggests we consider replacing it with the word  ‘calling’.

‘What if,’ she posits, ‘the first servant was entrusted with and called into living out of an abundance of stories about faithful living?’ 

What if, once shared, then multiplied, being called into the sharing of these stories, hundreds if not thousands of lives might be changed?

What if we were to see the second servant as being entrusted and called into the living out of a number of expressions of compassionate ministry?

In the same way, once called into the sharing of such expressions of ministry, these expressions of ministry were multiplied in such ways that hundreds, if not thousands, of lives might also be changed!

What if we were to see the third servant as being entrusted with a calling to risk stop doing things as they had always been done and, instead, felt called into making space for some new ways of serving God to be born?

How would just such an understanding of being called into sharing our time, talent, and treasure with our neighbours inform our own response to discipleship as the body of Christ, here and now, in this very moment?

After all, there are no shortage of stories of faithful living we at Knox might be called into living out together.

Similarly, there’s no shortage of expressions of compassionate ministry we at Knox might be called into sharing.

I also know that there’s no shortage of people longing to stop doing things as we’ve always done so that new expressions of ministry here at Knox might emerge.

Let us continue to ponder the meaning of this morning’s strange and unsettling reading from the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. 

Let us, like that third servant, risk burying all our fears in the ground as we enter into a time of silent mediation. 

Just so, we might be able to hear and listen to Jesus’ voice softly and tenderly calling us here and now this very moment.

In the name of celebrating stewardship at Knox here and now, blessed be and may be so, amen.

Preaching Resources

*”The Stewardship Companion, Lectionary Resources for Preaching”, David N. Mosser, 2007 Westminister John Knox Press p. 77-78

** “The Art of the Parables, Reinterpreting the Teaching Stories of Jesus in Word & Sculpture”, Charles McCollough

*** “Preaching the Lesson, Lectionary Homiletics,” Volume XIX, Number 6, p. 61