Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sermon: Matthew 25: 14-30 The Parable of the Talents

The work has been finished, the time of reckoning has come. Each person has some explaining to do, their actions under scrutiny, trying to gain the boss’ approval. It’s a moment of drama before those all important words are uttered: ‘You’re Fired’. Lord Alan Sugar is looking out for a business partner among the sixteen hopefuls in each series of The Apprentice, and they’re whittled down to the winner - this year the Northern Irish doctor, Leah Totten.

I couldn’t help thinking of the boardroom when I was working on our passage this week. The Master is settling accounts, he’s reviewing the performance of his workers (slaves), and the outcome brings joy for some and loss for others. But before we jump to the end, we need to set the scene.

Jesus is teaching his disciples, preparing them for the time when he is no longer with them physically. They’ve had Jesus with them for three years, but now it’s the last week before the cross, and after that, the resurrection (when Jesus is raised to new life) and the ascension (when Jesus returns to the Father’s side in heaven). Jesus is reminding them that one day he will return - his coming is sure - but what should they ben doing in the meantime? How should we live between the ascension and his return?

Last week, the parable of the bridesmaids called us to ‘watch’, this week, the parable of the talents calls us to ‘work’. We’re introduced to a man who is setting off on a journey. He’s disappearing from the scene, and before he does, he puts everything in order.

It’s the arrangements you need to make before you set off on holiday - someone to water the plants and feed the budgie. The man entrusts his property to his slaves while he is away. It’s still his, but they have the use of it for him.

And it’s here that we sometimes run into difficulties. This is the parable of the ‘talents’ - and as soon as we hear the word talent we might think of Britain’s Got Talent, some special ability. But the talent here is an amount of money. One talent is the equivalent of twenty years’ wages for a labourer - by my reckoning a talent is about £250,000 in our money. This is a vast sum! The man then gives out the amounts to his slaves: 5 talents (£1.28 m); 2 talents (£500k); and 1 talent (£250k).

Jesus has left his disciples to get on with the work, entrusting each one with his property, giving grace to each of us. The work of building the kingdom and spreading the good news continues, as we wait for his return.

So fast forward to the boardroom scene. The master returns, it’s time for the accounts to be reviewed. The first slave has used those five talents, traded with them, invested them, and has made five more talents. He has doubled his master’s money. He’s greeted with a resounding answer: ‘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 it’s the same for the second slave. Remember him? He had received two talents, and now, he has two more! The same response, the same welcome, in the exact same words greets 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.’

The master is delighted with their work; they have both been ‘good and trustworthy’ or ‘good and faithful’ - they have pleased their master, and he brings them into his joy. You see, it’s not about doing the same as someone else - one had five, the other had two, yet they both heard the same words. They were faithful with what they had been given. They got on with the work they had been entrusted by their master, so that faithfulness in small things brings the reward of being entrusted with more.

Have you ever had to give a presentation after other people and you get more nervous as time goes on, hearing how they have been so great, and you haven’t really prepared and you think it’s going to go badly? Or perhaps you’re opening that results envelope after your friends have been opened theirs. Eventually it’s the turn of the one talent slave.

Rather than saying what he has done with the money, he rounds on the master: ‘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.’

The slave has received this amazing trust, given twenty years’ worth of wages - a generous act, yet he turns on the master. He accuses him of being harsh; he simply buried the talent and now gives it back untouched, unused, and unloved. He thinks he’s being safe, now losing or wasting the talent, but he never used it, didn’t put it to work - not even to gain some interest from the bank.

Far from being faithful, the master calls him for what he is: ‘You wicked and lazy slave!’ What a tragedy, to receive so much from the master, and to bury it. He thought that it didn’t matter how he got on while the master was absent - he didn’t need to worry about working. But that slave loses even what he has, and is thrown into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus is calling us to work faithfully as we look towards his return. Could this be the right time to think about how we’re getting on; how we’re working in the kingdom? Over the summer things tend to ease off, but come September with organisations starting again, we’ll be busy. So take some time this week - maybe when you read your Bible; maybe when you’re driving; or if you have a spare fifteen minutes. Ask yourself these questions:

How do I view the master? If we were to ask you, what would you say Jesus is like? The last slave thought the master was harsh, cruel, exacting. Is your Christian life just a dull and dreary duty? Or are you filled with wonder as you recognise the master’s grace and generosity? When you think of how much Jesus has given us; he has left us with the task of being the church in this generation and passing on the good news to the next.

What is the work I’ve been given to do? Just as there were different amounts of talents, so there are different jobs and tasks and opportunities for each of us. If you have children or grandchildren, then you’re seeking to teach them about Jesus - not just when you read or pray with them, but in every moment. Little eyes are watching! Perhaps you’re home alone - could you spend time in prayer for our church or for other situations? Or what about the many ways you can serve the church family - too many to list, but with vacancies for so many things. Commit to reading the Bible to an elderly neighbour; or in a nursing home; or helping Sunday School...

As we rejoice in the grace gifts of our master, so we’ll work for him with all our heart, seeking to do our best in his service. Look forward, and imagine that moment when you hear the ‘well done’ - it will all be worth it, to discover his pleasure.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 18th August 2013.

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