Sermon - 2nd September 2018
Parable of the Talents - 'Shape a circle ever wider'
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
The past few months in this church have been a time of celebration and affirmation. We have celebrated a baptism and welcomed our largest even number of new members. And we are planning another baptism and the admission of more new members in the coming weeks.
We have congratulated a number of our members and friends who have come through the asylum system with leave to remain in the UK, and we have cautiously welcomed progress in cases which are moving forward through the complications of the process.
The values of this church underpin the work of the First Wednesday group and there have been further asylum successes among the extended family of over 100 people which the First Wednesday team support and minister to.
We have welcomed a steady stream of new friends into our church and I pray that they will travel with us on their faith journeys for as long as they feel that this is where God is calling them to be.
And we are still sharing photos and comments on social media after the wonderful experience of the Pride weekend. I can still recall the cheers and the smiles and the handshakes from the crowds who recognised that Christianity and diverse sexualities and gender identities can walk together with pride.
By any objective measure, we should now be feeling good about ourselves - as a church and as individuals who come together to be a church with a rich past and much to be thankful for.
And this is the time of year when life around us returns to its familiar rhythm after the summer holiday season. From now onwards, we instinctively get back into our routines - children return to school, students go back to their studies, the days grow shorter and the weather begins to change. This is the time when we put into action the ideas we had and the insights we gained from our summer of projects, parades, celebrations and long days in the pleasant weather.
Then we hear Jesus say something challenging in today’s reading: he poses a question, ‘How are you investing your energy, your achievements, your wealth and your gifts, for the future?’
And what better time to hear this challenge than now, when we are energised and feeling uplifted, when we have been enjoying our achievements, when we are seeking to be good stewards of our resources in difficult times, and when we are exploring our gifts to bring forward new ministries among our people. It’s a challenge which grounds us in the reality of deciding where we go from here.
We do need to experience and celebrate the good times and to feel that spiritual uplift which great occasions often provide. But we also need the commitment to work with the day-to-day, the ordinary and the less glamorous facets of our existence as a Christian community.
And what the parable says we must *not* do is to lose our momentum, bury ourselves among unimportant things, let the world pass us by, forget about our mission, and make no investment in our talents for the future. There is a clear message in the parable that Christians are called to be creative, pro-active, involved, effectively providing God with a return on the investment which God has made in us through the gifts which God has shared among us.
The ‘talent’ or ‘gold coin’ mentioned in the parable was actually a particular amount of money which was measured by weight. It’s value came from the amount of precious metal contained in the coin. Depending on where in the ancient world you happened to be, you might see silver talents which were of high value, or gold talents which were of very high value.
In either case, the value of just one talent was thought to be equivalent to at least one year’s wage for a worker; so the parable is talking about life-changing amounts of wealth when it describes what the Master hands over to his servants. This, in some way, explains the panicky reaction of the third servant, who was so overwhelmed by the responsibility he had been given that his only thought was to preserve, protect and hide the fortune that was now in his care.
The extended meaning of the word ‘talent’ to include our own personal gifts and natural abilities emerged from how this parable came to be interpreted. It has always been seen as a metaphor for the giving of spiritual gifts among God’s people and the expectations that are placed upon us to make the most of those gifts.
So much so, that the original sense of the gold or silver coin has disappeared from sight and we now quickly recognise the extended meaning of the parable as meaning spiritual wealth rather than hard cash.
This is one of those parables which needs a bit of pondering. Perhaps in our personal prayer times this week we might look back on where we’ve travelled in our faith journey since that time when we first made our own serious commitment to our faith.
- What are the markers on that journey which show growth and increasing maturity?
- How and when have we learned more about the nature of God?
- How have we developed our relationship with the Christ who lives at the heart of our faith?
- When have we spent time and effort understanding the scriptures which form the background to our tradition?
- How good are we at discerning how God’s spirit works in our lives to guide, to strengthen, to empower?
- How well do we serve as ambassadors for our faith, both by what we say and by how we live?
- When does a more Christ-like attitude take over from our less attractive inclinations to be self-focused, or jealous or aggressive?
These are tough challenges; but the parable suggests that we do need to be ready to account for how we have grown in response to the gifts Jesus has entrusted to us. A faith journey which is going nowhere, or a lack of attention to the foundations of our Christian tradition, seem not to be valid options for those whom the Master regards as good stewards of his treasure.
The story of the early church is a story of spiritual gifts being discerned, ministries and missions being launched, and talents being put to use in the service of the gospel. The people who first heard the words of that parable from the mouth of Jesus would have been in no doubt that his message demanded commitment, activity, self-exploration, and quite probably a change of priorities. As one of our songs puts it: “This is our task, this we can do, working for the coming of the Kingdom”.
My belief is that this church makes a good return on the investment which Jesus has placed in us.
The challenge of the reading provides a good opportunity to look back at our journey so far, to celebrate the good times and to learn from the bad times. But when our time of reflection ends, we must look forwards and walk confidently into the future which awaits us, making full use of all the talents that have been given to us for the Master’s purpose.
To this congregation I say the most heartfelt 'thank you' for everything you do. Your commitment is outstanding, your gifts are remarkable, your achievements are truly amazing. But as one of our songs says, and as the parable challenges us, we must ‘build a circle ever wider, and a people ever free’.
We move forward blessed by new members, new guests, new visitors and by the many allies beyond our immediate church family who support what we do with their love, prayers and good wishes. And we will be supported and strengthened in the future by the gifts and talents which they bring to our cause.
I believe that for as long as we work for the coming of the Kingdom of justice, peace, equality and inclusion, we will ensure that we never bury our talents for safekeeping, or become fearful of our responsibilities as modern disciples, or fail to make proper and generous use of the gifts we have been given.
God calls us here for a purpose, and we come with our failings and weaknesses as well as our gifts and talents. This has been the case for as long as our church has existed. But there will only be a future for us if we make the most of the talents we have been given, and reap their rewards in the foreseeable future.
That is how we will provide a strong foundation for those who will come after us, bringing their gifts and talents, and recognising that this is where God is calling them to be, as we walk together down the timeline of this church’s journey into the Christian gospel of love for all God’s people and abundant life for all God’s children.