Don't tarnish your talents (2nd before Advent)
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.”
May my words be in the name of our living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Kingdom of heaven is as if a man, going on a journey… Clearly he wasn’t in lockdown was he? We aren’t really allowed to do journeys at the moment, are we? In fact the most exciting highlight for me this week has been going to Longacres Garden Centre. And if anybody has seen my garden they’ll know it’s not for gardening equipment.
But I did manage to pick up a bag of sweets – wiggly worms I think they’re called.
When I was at primary school I remember the teacher having a bag of these in her drawer and whenever a child excelled at something they would be allowed to have one. So for those of us who so rarely excelled they remained more an aspiration than a reality!
As incentives go, if Wiggly Worms are great then surely the Kingdom of God is absolutely awesome.
Yet today’s Gospel, the parable of the talents, is one I’ve struggled with in the past. The notion of taking from those who have nothing and giving it so those that do doesn’t sit well with me.
It’s like failing schools and hospitals being deprived of additional funds when more “successful” ones get financial incentives. Kicking somebody when they were down, and not helping them.
It also fits into that illogical perception that those people without are lazy whereas wealth and success denotes a strong work ethic. I see this a lot on business networking websites. Interestingly in Victorian times it was the opposite – only the less successful had to work.
Today’s Gospel forms part of what’s known as the Final Discourse – Discourse on the End of Times – in Matthew’s Gospel. In it we learn about the Kingdom to come and the second coming of Christ. I think it’s also good to remember the circumstances in which Matthew’s Gospel was written.
The Gospel writer was writing for his fledgling Christian Jewish community. A community that recognised Christ as Messiah whilst also coming from a strong Jewish tradition. We believe the Gospel to have been written around 75AD, about a decade or so after the Gospel of Mark.
In Matthew 24 we’ve seen Jesus foretell the destruction of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem.
And in 70AD, just five years before the Gospel, it happened – the siege of Jerusalem resulted in Emperor Titus burning and destroying the second Temple and sacking lower Jerusalem. Imagine what that must have been like, the most sacred, the Holy of Holies, all destroyed as Christ had said. Matthew was writing to a community living under foreign occupation, with volatile Jewish neighbours and holding this dangerous Truth that the Messiah had come and living in anticipation of the second coming.
As we look to the text, we see that Jesus is talking to his disciples. Unlike some other parables, this is told specifically to them. It’s important they understand what is to come and what they must do.
The master would be absent, leaving those behind to tend to his property. He entrusted his slaves with talents and each tended them differently. Upon his return the Master was pleased with those whose talents had grown, casting the worthless slave into the outer darkness.
If we look at the Parable as an allegory for the Kingdom of God, we see that each of us receive talents for which we are responsible. We will be judged on how we have used them come the return of the Son of Man.
But there’s something really special in this text: “to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one – to each according to his ability”. Jesus is telling his disciples that he knows they are all different and have different skills and strengths. Yet despite this difference they will all be welcome into the Kingdom and all judged according to those abilities.
God knows us. He knows our abilities. I suspect he knows our abilities better than we do. But it’s not enough to have these abilities, we must use and develop them. And I think many of us have discovered new skills and abilities over the last few months.
Look at today’s service. I have a feeling that Susi, Bryan and Jane probably never thought they’d be recording themselves at home and grappling with technology for use in this service. And no doubt Fr. Damian now knows more about audio visual equipment and facebook than he ever wanted to.
God provides us with a whole range of talents. Some may lie dormant until the right circumstance. We adapt. I’m stunned that the Fundraising Committee managed to raise over £600 for the Royal British Legion and St. Mary’s recently through creatively arranging a socially distanced walk. Their talent for fundraising didn’t stop and we’ll come through this current lockdown benefitting from their work.
What skills have you suddenly found yourself using recently? If it’s baking please leave your address in the comments on Facebook and I’ll just pop around to make sure you’re ok.
Look at our second reading – Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: we are called to be alert and to encourage and build up one another. It’s often too easy to be negative about ourselves and others but we know what we can achieve when we are encouraged. Our first reading from Zephaniah, also warns about complacency and ambivalence and the consequences for being so.
Jesus is telling his disciples in the Gospel that the talents they’ve received must be put to work. He is telling them knowing that he won’t be with them forever and that they’ll be tasked with spreading the Good News. So this parable is for us as Christians and the Church today. We have been given the gift of our relationship with God, the incredible sacrifice that brings us around this table when we can, but we cannot just bury this gift and hope for the best.
What happens when you bury something? Even the hardest and shiniest of metals lose something after they’ve been buried, they may get tarnished or bent out of shape, becoming unusable. Our faith cannot be buried. Our talents cannot be buried. Our relationship with God, our living faith, cannot be buried.
We are called to grow our talents. How are you growing your relationship with God? Your prayer life? It can be difficult especially when we’re isolated. That’s why, like the early church, we need to encourage and build up each other.
In a few weeks time members of the congregation and the Clergy Team will be leading a series of daily reflections from Advent through to Christmas. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus. These creative and prayerful acts will be available on Facebook, the church website and our exclusive Maranatha website. And we hope that through these we can learn from each other, helping us grow individual and as a community in the faith and love of Christ.
God understands our unique abilities and he wants us to grow. We may sometimes feel, to use the popular expression, out of our comfort zone but we are empowered and encouraged in our growth.
This Kingdom Season we can give thanks for the talents we’ve been given and look forward to always growing, always learning and always living in that incredible gift, the love of God.