Second Sunday before Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship As we come together in worship, let us recall the gifts and opportunities we have been given by God. Let us remind ourselves that the Lord is loving and generous and seeks us to play our part in resourcing his Church and making proper use of our talents. Today’s Readings First Reading Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18 The prophet announces that the day of the Lord is close. This will be a day when the Lord will execute judgement on all the earth, and for some there will be terrible punishment. Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Paul likens the day of the Lord to a thief coming in the night. It will be sudden and there will be no escape from the consequences. However, unlike Zephaniah, Paul can soften the hard message of judgement with the hope of salvation through Jesus. Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 Large sums of money (talents) are left with three servants, with the clear expectation that they will invest the money profitably and wisely while their master is away. On the master’s return there will be a reckoning. HOMILY “His 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.’” (Matthew 25:21) You are talented – yes, all of you! The truth is that we each have different and various gifts and talents and that is an exciting place to start this sermon, because just think for a moment about what we could achieve together if we truly used all those abilities for the building up of God’s Kingdom! And I say this full of confidence that there is no challenge that, if faced together, we can’t overcome, if we are working for God. Traditionally, the parable of the talents we heard in today’s Gospel reading can be interpreted as metaphor; the man going away on a long journey is Jesus, ascending to heaven. The slaves represent us, Christians; the talents are the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the church. The return of the master is the return of Jesus to judge the world at the end of days. So, the question posed is simple: Have you used your gifts and talents for God’s Kingdom? Or for your own gain? Could you do more? Whichever way we choose to interpret this parable, the teaching of Jesus is clear: talents are given to people according to their ability and for the building up of God’s Kingdom. Talents are what make us who we are and set us apart from each other. But in God’s eyes there are no winners and losers, no pecking order, no hierarchy here because we are each fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm 139:14) The reality is that some people will be able to run or swim faster than others, and some will be better writers, musicians or businesspeople. What matters is how we use those talents, and that includes how we choose to spend the money we have. Imagine how much we could achieve together by pooling our talents, sharing our various gifts, abilities and money for the building up of God’s Kingdom here in Thorpe. Did you notice how the slave in the parable with two talents is given praise equal to the slave who had made five? Faithfulness is important here. Indeed, the early Christian community lived together and shared what they had which was essential for their survival. It was safer that way as they faced the daily threat of persecution. But this also followed a pattern found in the Old Testament, where the Israelites gave both time and money to God’s work. As Christians here in Thorpe we are, and have always been, compelled to give to God’s work with great generosity because of God’s generous love for us and the diversity of abilities that are among us – and thank heavens for that; how boring would life be if we were all the same! Giving requires faithfulness. God loves all the people that he has created equally. We can see that love reflected in this building which has stood as a testament to generations of Christians and their desire to offer God the very best of who they were in worship and in financial support. They recognised that they had been gifted with a very special Talent – not something to be buried, but something to be treasured and grown – indeed multiplied! The same should be true of us today. It is for this reason, in response to all that God has done for us and for the whole of humanity, that we are each called to be generous in our gifts of time and money, and some here among us are already and I am so thankful for that. Our generosity needs to reflect all that we have, all the gifts that we have from God including our financial resources. Our generosity in response to God means that we should give generously and regularly and not simply what is left over at the end of the month or when all our other bills have been paid. Surely God deserves more than loose change? We see this dedication to God in the people of the Old Testament and the early Christian Church and we should likewise give of the first fruits of all that we have. So, before we do anything else with our time and money we should work out what we are going to give to God’s work – this Church. That’s not a very popular idea today I know, and I’m sure some here won’t like me making the point and for many of us it seems very difficult to do as there are so many calls on our time and money. We don’t yet have the new parish share figure for 2019 – in two weeks’ time our Standing Committee are meeting with Alan Hulme who is the Director of Parish Development with the Diocese of Guildford. He will advise us of the actual figure and in what timescale the Diocese would like to implement it, but what I do already know is that Thorpe will see a significant increase in what we are asked to contribute. For various historical reasons St Mary’s was subsidised but Diocesan Synod has decided that will end. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as I wrote about this possible change back in March in our annual report and accounts booklet. We need to trust God with this significant challenge, but we also need to be honest with ourselves about our priorities and generous in our response to all that God has given us. We are a talented bunch here in Thorpe! We are blessed with so much and the Old Testament reminds us: “All things come from you Lord, and of your own do we give you.” (1 Chronicles 29) Today’s Gospel turns upside down the world’s view of money and talent, for burying our talent in the ground or keeping everything to ourselves is not God’s way. By contrast, Jesus speaks of sharing and holding things in common as we seek to build up the Church. Do you think that it might be possible to share at least some more of what you have with this community of faith here in Thorpe? Just for one moment ask yourself, how might this work and what extra could you offer back to God in thanksgiving for all that you have already received? Like the slaves in the story, we are to be stewards and, as St Paul says to the Corinthians: “it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2) If we are faithful and trustworthy stewards for God, there can never be a challenge that we can’t rise to meet or overcome as we strive to build God’s Kingdom here in Thorpe. Amen SUMMARY 1. Our talents are not distributed equally, but according to our ability to use them. Jesus calls us to pool our resources for the sake of the kingdom. 2. The reward for faithfulness is the same, whether five or two talents are made. Now that reward may be the opportunity to do more – so have a think about your gifts... 3. Using opportunities and being available for God can also be regarded as talents. 4. If we do nothing, and hide our talents “in the ground”, we can expect judgement. 5. It is of God’s generosity that we have so much to offer back to the Lord of love.