On Sunday November 16th I led worship at Wesley Chapel. We sang ‘Lord for the years your hand has kept and guided’ to open worship before our worship leader Christine Bunting led the opening prayers. I told a story about Rick Little who found when faced by a life threatening accident and the attempted suicide of his mother felt that his time in school had not prepared him to cope with such social and emotional issues; that made him decide to do something to change that. He decided to do research to find out if he was alone in feeling ill prepared for life and found that 1000 30 year olds felt the same; he asked young people still in education what skills they felt they lacked. All seemed to agree that they lacked relationship skills; the ability to find and keep jobs; the ability to handle conflict; the ability to handle parenthood and financial management. He then worked on setting up the curriculum needed through getting the expertise from counselling services, psychology services, and top educators before the struggle for funding for these life skills was embarked upon. He did not give and against all odds he persisted until the funding was in place to begin to teach the life skills needed for teenagers. That has now become an International Youth Foundation as he saw the need and did not give up. We all have gifts and need to nurture them and use them so they are not wasted.
We then sang ‘The kingdom of God is justice and joy’ before we heard the reading from 1 Thessalonians 5v1-11 and then had a dramatised reading based on Matthew 25v14-20. We then sang ‘Take my life and let it be’ before I preached.
I reminded the congregation of how James Barrie came from a poor background in Scotland to London and used his talent to write the story of Peter Pan. From his earnings he was able to adopt 5 orphan boys and educate them and even after his death left a legacy to help sick children in the Great Ormond Street hospital. The parable of talents in Matthew’s gospel described how the servants should behave properly whilst their master was absent, even though the absence had been for a very long time. The long delay of the return of the master referred to the fact that Jesus’ return was much longer delayed than the early church had expected. Paul thought the return was imminent but not necessarily immediate, as no one knew the day or time; not even Jesus knew the time only God knew.
A talent was not a coin but a weight so the value of the talent depended on the value of the metal it was made of, copper, silver or gold; silver was the most common metal used. The talents represented the differing gifts of each person; the first receiving 5 bags, the second 2 bags and the third 1 bag. It was not the person’s gift that mattered but how it was used. The parable showed us that whatever talent or gift we possess we must not waste it or we will lose it. Those who use their gifts to make more are rewarded with an increasing work load and greater responsibility. The useless steward admitted that he knew his master was a strict man, who reaped what he did not sow but instead of trying to use the talent he had buried it. If he had tried to make more but failed, it would have been better than doing nothing at all. He was not prepared to take the risk for the common good. William Barclay suggested that the lazy servant was like the Pharisees and Scribes, who had failed to move on from their understanding of the Law to the truth of God. Their aim was to keep the Law exactly as it was with all the added burdens it put upon the people and they refused to see the need for any development or change. Jesus came to open their minds to new possibilities.
However we can also in the light of our times take an upside down look at this parable. It can also show us the world as it is, in the inversion of its usual meaning; grasping and aggressive acquisition predominates today, in fact it is actively encouraged. Dominant forces in today’s society are violent; all seek celebrity and fame at the expense of those who are different. Bullying and victimisation fills our papers blaming those who are poor, vulnerable, as scroungers; wages continue to be static for the lowest paid whereas the wealth of the rich continues to increase; food banks increase, homelessness increases as rents exceed the ability to pay. Who is the wisest; the ones who collude with the system and gain more or those who resist it? Surely the one who swims against the tide and demonstrates what it is to prepare truly for God’s kingdom does not practice injustice? Parallels for this counter culture approach can be seen in Jesus’ life, when he approved and accepted outcasts, sinners and prostitutes, who were rejected by society, when they heard and understood his message and responded in repentance, receiving and accepting forgiveness.
third servant who refused to engage with hard-nosed business practices to gain a profit defies the culture which rewards the deserving rich; for example in Jesus’ parable the landowner, who paid all his workers the daily wage even if they had worked a short time, showed his generosity to those who had waited most of the day for work. When we stand up to the economy which rewards the rich and powerful in our society and show loyalty to Jesus’ alternative vision of God’s kingdom we stand with the third servant, who at considerable cost to himself stands for non-compliance with the system.
What difference does our faith make to our lives and influence in the world? Does our faith grow and change the world around us or do we bury it? Paul reminded the Thessalonians that no one would know the day or the time when Jesus would return. However he told them there was no need to fear being caught unaware, when Jesus returned, as long as they lived in the light and presence of Jesus. He warned them not to be complacent but to be vigilant and resist being tempted to slip back into their old habits. May we use the gifts we have been given to grow in our faith and witness, as we allow Jesus to be our constant companion and advisor.
We then sang, ‘Longing for light, we wait in darkness, longing for truth, we turn to you. Make us your own, your holy people, light for the world to see;’ with the chorus, ‘Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church gathered today.’ I then led the prayers of intercessions before worship concluded as we sang, ‘Give me the faith which can remove and sink the mountain to a plain.’