Sermon - 13th November 2011
The Parable of the Talents
Scripture - Matthew 25:14-30
The past few months in this church have been a time of celebration and affirmation. We have paused to look back on twenty years of ministry and we were blessed to have with us the founder of our denomination - the man who embraced the early vision of why our church should exist and what it should be saying and doing. Troy Perry’s visit connected us with our history; he wove us into the twenty years of MCC that existed before our own twenty years, and he bound us into the story of liberation which is MCC’s heritage and its gift to the Christian faith worldwide.
We were also uplifted by two more personal events which filled this building with joy and excitement when we welcomed Nate into the Christian community at his baptism, and when Jenny-Anne and Elen came here to celebrate God’s blessing on their marriage. At both of these events, people from beyond our immediate reach came here to experience and connect with the spirituality which Nate, Lee and Rosa, and Jenny-Anne and Elen were declaring to be a significant part of their lives. The church was full and worship was vibrant.
Then, over the weekend of the Network Gathering, friends from other MCC churches in the UK and Europe joined us at Sedgley Park and created a community of spiritual power who worshipped together, learned together, debated together, made new friends, and reawakened past memories and affections. Some people came here on the Sunday evening and worshipped with us before returning home to their own churches. The whole weekend was a success because MCC Manchester people, primarily Andy, served as the local organisers and worked hard in the background to ensure that everything came together and that people’s needs were met. And for those from this church who attended the conference, I sensed that there was a renewed sense of empowerment and connectedness with something which is greater than the sum of its parts. It was good to belong.
The Network Gathering was then rounded off by having our Elder, Reverend Darlene Garner, with us here for worship on the Sunday evening. In her sermon she also affirmed the history of our congregation, praised our achievements, and shared a very positive view of our reputation within the denomination and in the outside world. And, as Darlene always does, in the social time after worship, she made everyone she spoke to feel special and convinced them that they are a key player in this church’s journey into the future.
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.
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 reviewing 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’ 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 that constituted 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 working man; 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 continual engagement with 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”.
Jesus’s parables can reveal quite challenging truths when we take them to heart and reflect on them. My belief is that this church makes a good return on the investment which Jesus has placed in us. Our anniversary celebration gave us a good opportunity to look back at our journey so far, to celebrate the good times and to learn from the bad times. But now 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.
Another great joy is that we move forward blessed by the healthy number of new members who joined a couple of weeks ago and we will be supported and strengthened by the gifts and talents which they bring to our cause. There we can see that constant forward momentum which will ensure that we never bury our talents for safekeeping, 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 *our* talents and reap their rewards in the foreseeable future; that is how we will provide a strong foundation for those who will come after us further down the timeline of this church’s journey into the Christian gospel of love and inclusion.