Sunday, November 15, 2020

Risking it for Jesus
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
November 15, 2020

Both the Epistle and Gospel are about waiting. I find this very interesting because we are fast approaching the season of Advent, which is just two weeks away. This is a season where the focus is on waiting. But there is more to waiting than just standing around.

Waiting and what we do while we wait is the focus especially of the Parable of the Talents. Like last week’s parable of the foolish virgins this is another judgment parable and the focus is on the harsh judgment of the master on the slave who buried his talent.

The Parable of the Talents is the third of three judgment parables in this section of Matthew. It comes directly after the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids with five being wise and having oil for their lamps as they wait for the bridegroom and five being foolish who were not prepared. That parable is about being prepared and watchful. The Parable of the Talents involves how we act while we are waiting.

We need to look at the symbols since with any parable we need to examine the symbols in order unlock the meaning. Of importance is discovering what a talent is. In our world we look at the word talent as God given gifts. This is not at all what Jesus had intended. I think however that Jesus selected a talent in the sense that his audience would understand. A talent in Jesus’ time was a lot of money. A talent equaled 6,000 denarii. A denarius is a day’s wages. So one talent equals 6,000 days salary or almost 20 years salary. So the 5 talents would be equivalent to 100 years of wages. While the amount in current dollars is hard to ascertain the point is that this is a large amount of money. In fact at a wage of $200 a day the total would be 1.2 million dollars for one talent. Another person calculated that a talent was worth 1.7 million dollars based on the price of gold and that a talent would have been about 90 lbs of gold. No matter how you calculate it, all three have been entrusted not with a small amount, but with a large sum.

This parable is about a time of waiting, which is symbolized by the master being gone for a long time or on a long journey. If we place Jesus in his role as the master this becomes a parable about the time between the resurrection and his coming again in the end times, which is called the parousia. On his return he will judge what his servants, that would be us, have done with the wealth that he has left us. This is what makes this a judgment parable.

The third slave is really the focus though for today. Look at the relationship between that slave and the master and contrast that with the relationship of the other two with the master. My wife reminded me at dinner the other night of the saying that the God you imagine is the God you get. This slave’s image of the master, either Jesus or God is so small and so punitive he is paralyzed by fear.

This fear, being afraid of God and Jesus may be at the root of much of the dissatisfaction and disaffection of so many people today with the Christian faith. How do love and receive love from someone you are afraid may condemn you to an eternity of torture if you don’t follow their rules.

It was not unusual in that world to bury coins as a way of safe keeping. When you lived in a world where a conquering army might over run your village at any given time, keeping your money hidden was a very safe action. We know people did this since it is from these stashes that have been found by archeologists all over the Middle East.

Burying his treasure reminded me of my dad who, back when times were uncertain and prior to when people were allowed to own gold other than in jewelry, purchased several Krugerrand coins from South Africa. He wanted an emergency supply of “money” in case, well in case I don’t know what happened. He took these coins, put them in a glass jar, filled the jar with rice and “buried” them in the downstairs refrigerator. Now besides giving new meaning to the term cold hard cash, the metaphor is the same. They sat in the refrigerator not doing anybody any real good until they finally sold the house and gave the coins to the grandkids. His decision was based on fear and an outlook of scarcity.

How many times in the Bible do we hear, “don’t be afraid”. As Advent approaches we remember how the angel came to Mary, saying, “Do not be afraid.” An angel tells Joseph not to be afraid, but to take Mary as his wife. When Jesus calls Peter to follow him, he says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Or the women at the empty tomb, when another angel says to them, “Do not be afraid.” In Acts the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent.” Apparently, we need reassurance that when God is asking us to do something we don’t need to be afraid.

I was watching some videos to use in a variety of settings and I found one that I showed to the Wednesday theology lunch discussion and will show the vestry on Wednesday when we meet. It is by Rachel Held Evans. A millennial who before her unfortunate early death was in great demand because she had written and spoken eloquently about what millennials are looking for from religion. This video is about not being afraid. It is entitled Risking it on Jesus. She says that faith isn’t really worth much if there is no risk. Jesus is not about being safe and secure, but about being faithful to God. We are called to be willing to risk using, investing, growing those talents that we have all been given by God and turning them into work that will bring the kingdom closer.

Remember the old saying God does not call the equipped. God equips the called and he is calling on us, every one of us. Now the challenge is to discern what those talents are for each of us. The beauty of a congregation like ours is that we all have different gifts and talents. Maybe one of the things we need to do as a congregation is step back and help each of us discover what those talents are and how we can use them. Maybe in this time of waiting, for a vaccine, for life to get back to normal whatever that will be me we are called to look at our talents and examine our gifts so that when we come out of this time, we are ready to meet what awaits us.

I want to close with a prayer that I saved a while ago from Pastor Steve whose meditations I get every so often.

God, what coin of you
is buried in me?
What gifts have you given me
that I have interred,
rolled a stone over?
What skill or passion, grace or yearning,
have I hidden away in fear?
What is the breath of your Spirit in me
that I neglect?

What is the fear that binds me?
What am I afraid of?

Is it real?

What if I were to spend myself for you,
to put your treasure in me to use?
What would that be like?

Would you, the Giver of My Life,
not be pleased?

lend me your shovel.1