From the Combined Service at the First Universalist Society of Hartland. Rev. Paul Sawyer provided a scripture introduction.
Matthew 25:14-30 November 19, 2017
Combined Service – Thanksgiving
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[Jesus said:] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”
Who in their right mind would risk using all those talents in a world where there is so much innocent suffering? Who would risk using the one talent they had been given in a world where injustice is a vivid, ugly reality? A wonderful man is addled by Alzheimers, an eight-year-old is dying of cancer, there’s yet another outbreak of gun violence. Icebergs are melting and endangered elephants are shot for trophies and the headline news is full of voices using the language of Christianity to deny the reality of a sexual predator. Really, why risk your limited gifts in such a world by using them? And who can believe in God? in a better world? and why bother with church? Sometimes, it seems, we imagine we’re the first generation to ask such questions, the first people ever to see how much awfulness there is and conclude, “I’m just gonna keep me and mine safe as I can. I just can’t buy this working and serving this broken world. Who can believe in God? Not me. Nope.” Truth is, people have been dealing with these challenges to faith for forever. You can check out Job or Jeremiah or the Psalms or just about any honest history book. And that’s just for starters. (based on a Tony Robinson Stillspeaking Devotional)
Jesus was speaking this parable to people who were marginalized and politically powerless, living in a country occupied by a foreign power in a time when life was hard and short. And then he offers this story – not words of comfort , but this parable which challenged those listeners to use their talents in the world. NOT to bury them. This parable challenged the people in his time as it challenges us today to take risks in a world that needs us to speak out and act out against injustice, to love in the face of suffering and to offer hope. Interesting that the word which meant monetary “talent” then has come to mean to us – talent as in natural ability, a gift.
UCC Preacher Tony Robinson writes: “One of the really startling things, in fact, is that often it is the people of the deepest faith in a living and loving God who are also the people who ask the hardest questions about suffering and injustice, and take the biggest risks to challenge what’s wrong. It takes no great courage – especially if our own lives are comfortable and secure – to declare ourselves too enlightened – given all the suffering and injustice – for faith in God. Faith worth its salt mean facing – and acting against – evil and injustice while yet daring to trust in the living God. Robinson concludes: Courage is facing that which challenges meaning and yet affirming that life has moral meaning and living that faith daily. ” (repeat bold)
In this story, we hear about a servant who buried the money he had been given, instead of circulating it in the world and multiplying its value and its effect. As Winston Churchill said “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
You know, once my father received a very expensive new rain coat – foul weather gear as it is called on a boat. And you know what? He didn’t wear it for TWO YEARS – didn’t want to get it wet or ruined in a squall. BUT THAT IS WHAT THE GIFT WAS FOR!! One very rainy day, when my Dad was complaining about his old leaky jacket, I realized that he wasn’t wearing the new one. He smiled sheepishly, rain dripping off his hood and down his face, and admitted that the new foul weather jacket was safely and dryly hanging in a closet! So obvious to use a rain coat in the rain isn’t it? Doesn’t do much good in a closet now does it? You laugh, but it is the same with our gifts and talents.
Have we buried our faith, our Good News, keeping it safely hidden and taking it out mostly on Sunday mornings? Or have we opened our lives up to the extravagant transformation of love, of faith? Have we buried our talents in fear of failure or scarcity? Or have we opened our lives in extravagant generosity?
There is a reason that we are created with a desire to be in community, to love and to care for others. When you do a kind thing for someone else, you feel good. When you spend a day sweating and working with Habitat or Cover, you may be tired at the end of the day, but you also have a deep sense of satisfaction. People who serve feel fulfilled in a deeply satisfying way. So too, when you have a talent – say for art or music or math or language or gardening – you feel fulfilled when you use that talent. When you get your hands in the dirt or on the piano or holding a paintbrush or writing a poem or doing a problem set you feel energized, whole, full. When you bury that talent, you lose something, we all lose something. There is more energy and love – the multiplier effect – when you use what has been given to you to serve the world. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
This parable forces us to look in the mirror and ask some very hard questions. What have you done with what has been given to you? How many people have you encouraged with your hope? How much love have you shared with your neighbors? These are the questions that we are challenged to ask ourselves by this parable. Because how you live in the world affects how you experience the world. But, there is an important disclaimer here. PLEASE NOTE, I am not suggesting that you can prevent bad things from happening to you by your positive attitude, nor am I suggesting that if you have been abused or harassed or struggle financially that that is somehow your fault. This parable urges us to use what we have been given to serve the world as best we can. I think of a friend who struggled with addiction and now, having been sober for several years, dedicates a lot of time and energy to her NA group, is a sponsor and tells her story to encourage others who struggle with addiction. That is using her experience, her story, her truth, her belief in a Higher Power in the world. We are asked to do the same – to use what we have been given in life – abilities and resources, life experiences – the good and the bad – and connections, opportunities and relationships – to serve the world as best we can. And by doing so, we can bear witness to our faith. In Christian language, we are not to bury the Gospel – the Good News – but to live it in our relationships, our jobs, our decision making – walking our talk.
So what keeps us from living as generously as we can? What keeps us from living as fully as we can ?
You see, as the one talent guy in the parable felt, Living generously is risky. It takes courage to look at your abundance and say – it is enough as a matter of fact – it is more than enough. We have a tendency instead to look to our places of scarcity and to be afraid. We have a tendency to compare what we have to what others’ have and think scarcity rather than abundance. But, as Winston Churchill said “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” Living generously is risky and scary, especially if you’ve been hurt in the past, and yet, and yet, living generously is ultimately fulfilling and gratifying. Living generously is an act of faith. The third servant’s fear prevented him from taking the risks of a life fully lived. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
(UCC Weekly Seeds) A story always says this sort of thing better, and I remember reading the story long ago about one of the Desert Fathers from early, early Christianity, when people were driven by faith into the wilderness to live with very little material comfort but with tremendous spiritual riches. One day a young monk came to Abba Joseph and asked him what more he could do, since he was already doing some fasting, and some praying, and some work, mostly weaving baskets. The holy man responded, the story goes, by raising his hands, and fire shot out from his fingers as he responded to the young man with this great challenge: “Why not become totally fire?”
The story may stir our spirits, but how well does it describe the faith of our congregations and the whole church? Are we going along, doing some fasting and praying and basket-weaving, but not “becoming totally fire”? Is our faith life more about safety and reassurance and security, or is it about risk-taking and openness and courage, and the unimaginable abundance to which these virtues lead? Have we even thought of such things as virtues? Are we willing to be a blessing to the world?”
From A Return to Love
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually who are you not to be?
You are a child of God
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do,
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
May we all have the courage to make our lives by serving and living with generosity, giving to others what has been gifted to us – forgiveness, faith, hope and love. May we all be on fire using our talents to serve the world because the world needs us right now. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
-UCC weekly seeds – Kate Huey
-UCC StillSpeaking Daily Devotional
– Our Light
From A Return to Love