1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
2nd Sunday before Advent
St Barbara’s 15.11.2020
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Imagine a person being given a wonderful offer. Somebody rings them up and says, we’re going away for a few months, and we would love you to stay for free in our house. Its a beautiful house, the kind of place they have always dreamt of living in. Before the owners go away, they tell them, “We’ve bought you a lawn-mower. Don’t worry about anywhere else, but if you could keep the front lawn looking tidy that would be great.” The lawnmower is a fantastic machine – easy to use, and ideally suited for the job in hand.
Now imagine one of two responses. When the owners return after their months away, they find the front lawn beautifully cut and perfectly manicured. Not only that they find the back garden that they expected to find an overgrown wilderness has been beautifully cut and managed. And they hear from their neighbours that the person has also been cutting their lawns too. The gift of the lawnmower has been put to good use.
And now imagine another response. When the owners return, they can hardly get to the front door, the lawn has grown into not so much a wild meadow as a tangled thicket. And the lawn-mower they had bought for the person looking after their house – still in its box, unused.
The parable Jesus tells in our gospel reading is about how we use the gifts we have been given. In the parable, a wealthy businessman entrusts his servants with large sums of money before he goes away. A talent was a huge sum – the equivalent of the tax revenue of one small province in the Roman empire – so five talents was just an enormous sum. He wants them to use the money well, to put it to work. When he returns, he finds that the first two servants have done just that. In response the master not only entrusts them with more; he invites them to share in his happiness, to become his friends.
The third servant, however, seems to have been paralysed by fear of his master or a lack of confidence in his own abilities, and so takes the easiest route, burying his treasure – an act that involves no risk, no imagination, no work. No wonder his master is not impressed. Even just putting it in the bank would have been better.
The parable is a well known one, so much so that we get the word “talent” in our English language, meaning gift, skill, accomplishment, from this very story. And the application of the parable is relatively straight-forward: use, don’t waste, the gifts God has given you. Let’s unpack that a little bit more.
Firstly, we have all been given gifts. God entrusts us all with gifts to be used in his service. Those gifts may change according to the circumstances of our lives, but God gives all of us gifts. For some of us, our gifts may be the ability to chat to people, to make people feel welcome; for others, it may be the gift of caring for people, spotting when someone may need that extra bit of love and attention, popping a card through their door or giving them a ring. For others, our gifts may be practical, fixing things, cleaning things, making things, helping things grow. For others, it may be having good insight and awareness into situations, being able to step back and see the bigger picture. For others, it may be the ability to see the detail and know what needs to be done to make things happen. For some of us our gift at the moment maybe time, the ability to do things in a non-hurried way, to simply be there for others. For some of us our gifts may include the ability to give financially. For others, it may be the confidence to pray with and for others. We all have gifts. Take time to reflect on what gifts you have.
Secondly, the gifts that we have, we are to use in God’s service. We are not to let our gifts sit idly by, like that buried money or that lawnmower still in its box; nor are we to use our gifts simply for our own pleasure. The joy and the responsibility of the Christian life is to use all that God has given to us in his service. And as Jesus’ parable, and our reading from the letter to the Thessalonians shows, we are accountable for all that God has given us. God expects us to use all that he has entrusted us with.
How, I wonder, can you use the many gifts you have to serve God? Some of those ways may feel a little restricted at the moment because of lockdown, but can you find new ways that overcome those barriers? Remember those four things I mentioned last week: pray, phone, participate and promote. And again, how can your gifts help you to grow in love for God, each other, our community and the world. Just take a moment now to reflect on how your gifts can be used this week to serve God.
Thirdly, sometimes using our gifts may feel a bit risky, may leave us feeling a little vulnerable. Even, for example, the thought of picking up the phone to speak to someone we haven’t spoke to for a while, can leave us feeling a little nervous. We may feel safer just to keep our heads down. But when we use our gifts we contribute to the work of God among us – what an extraordinary privilege! So let us encourage one another. When we see someone using their gifts, doing something well, let us encourage them, let us build them up, just as Paul encouraged the Christians in Thessalonica to do. A plant thrives when all the conditions are right – the soil, the amount of sunshine and rain, the temperature. We thrive when the conditions are right too, and one of those conditions is receiving encouragement from others. Have a think: who do you want to encourage today?
And fourthly, this parable would have had additional meaning to Jesus’ listeners that still applies to us today. When Jesus’ listeners heard this parable, they would have understood the talents given the servants as a reference to the wonderful gifts the people of Israel had been given – the law of Moses, the words of the prophets, the promises of how God would bless Israel, and through them, the whole world. And they would have heard Jesus’ challenge: had they put these gifts to work, living them out and sharing them with the nations, or had they buried them in the ground, hiding them away from everyone but a select few. To use a different one of Jesus’ metaphors, had they put their light under a bushel?
It is a good question for us too. We have received the most valuable of all gifts – the joy of salvation and fellowship with God. As Paul puts it, “Christ died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” We have been given the gift of knowing the presence and love of God, a gift beyond price. Do we bury that gift, do we keep it still in its box in the garage, or do we share that good news? As we finish this morning, let us pause one more time, and ask: who can I share the gift of God’s love with this week?