Words for Second Sunday before Advent Sunday – 15 November 2020 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. (Matthew 15.14-15
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Why do we help those who are in need? Surely, as some will say, we live in a society which has a safety net of Benefits so no one in these Islands should go hungry or homeless? Some may even proclaim that the hungry and the homeless deserve what they haven’t got as they should have ‘managed better’. Such words are only ever said from an often unconscious place of privilege and can lead to the demonisation of whole swathes of our nation. Sadly, despite statutory aid, need remains. There are many reasons but the Christian is faced with a Gospel imperative to love their neighbour as God loves them – which is to love without condition and, if need be, at personal cost.
This is the cleft stick which the One Talent Slave finds himself holding. He knows he should do something with the Master’s property – he is a slave after all – but he begrudges the fact that another will profit from his labour. He is the ancestor of those who dodge the full payment of Income Tax, walk past Charity Muggers (yes, I know they can be a nuisance but they do not deserve rudeness), and hurry by on the other side when they see the indigent calling out to them.
The problem the One Talent slave has is that he has got his world upside down. His master may indeed be a harsh man, reaping and gathering where he did not sow or scatter, but he has forgotten who he is; a slave. All his needs are met by his master – housing, food, and care – so, in debt himself, he should be careful where he points fingers.
Today we can easily become One Talent Slaves. Questioning why we should do the work which our Lord and Master expects of us and live lives full of grudges and unforgiveness instead of overflowing with thankfulness and joy.
We did not learn this from the Gospel!
What then, do we receive when we give to those who have little? The question is the wrong way around. We have received everything from the hand of a generous God and the question is how will we celebrate that generosity?
Later on in Matthew’s Gospel we will read the story of the sheep and the goats at the Great Judgement. The lesson there, begun this week in the Master’s call to be fruitful slaves, is that we do not give when we serve others but we, paradoxically, receive. We do not help others to bring them to Christ (though some may indeed come to follow the faith). We help others because they bring Christ to us.
And if, instead of stretching out our hand to help another, we bury our talent (which is not our possession but the Master’s), we will never ever enter into the joy and the freedom of the Children of God.
This is sad as I am pretty sure it takes as much time and energy to bury and protect ‘our’ talent as it does to use that talent to bring succour to God’s poor ones.
We need to learn that it is as we feed them and offer them shelter that we feed and shelter the Christ.
How do we resist this temptation to squirrel away God’s generosity and live a faith that is hemmed about with fear and grudging instead of joyful service?
It is difficult. Life is hard and we often have little idea as to what fortune or disaster it will bring us. Saving for a rainy day is prudent – after all who foresaw Covid this time last year – but that habit can become so pernicious that when the rainy day finally arrives we have little of substance left of our lives (save grudges and an ungenerous spirit) in which to invest our time, our treasure and our talents.
Here are a few pointers:
Firstly, our God is a generous God.
When Lesley-Anne and I went to Seminary we faced a large drop in our income and had to live on one tenth of what we used to earn, and that with our first baby on the way! A wise priest friend reminded us that no one has ever seen the newspaper headline, ‘Priest starves to death!’ In fact most clergy could do with losing a little weight! Yes, there have been a few empty larder days but since the day we both said ‘Yes’ to God’s call we have known more deeply what it means to be part of God’s family and ‘One of us!’
Secondly, the antidote to burying God’s treasure is to give some away.
This is the only way generosity can grow. Be it time spent with and for others, gifts of money to enable others to thrive, or using our God given skills to serve the church and the world, each of us is called to be ministers of God’s generous love. Ministry is not only for those with a Bishop’s Licence.
Thirdly, be intentional about your giving.
We have always tried to give a fixed 10% of our income to our parish and other charities. Sometimes it is less, sometimes it is more. But we know if we don’t put our giving of time, treasure, and talents first we end up burying God’s bounty.
Finally, be profligate and don’t hesitate to give when asked.
Over many years I have learnt this truth ‘If you give what you’ve got, you’ll receive what you need’. We should be people who actively look for opportunities to spend ourselves and our substance in the service of others. For so Christ spent Himself for us.
Buried Treasure is a waste of time. As the Master of the One Talent Slave said, at least put it in the bank to get some interest (not in 2020 though!). We are at the same time God’s slaves and God’s treasure. Let us spend ourselves serving others and so serve our Lord and Master that we may at the last receive the accolade ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’
[This blog ‘Buried Treasure?’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]