Making the Most of the Time We Have

Parables & Prophets  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  22:49
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Who will we be as we await the coming of the master? Will we throw in our talents with one another or will we succumb to the worry that we are not enough? The Christian community is called to lean into the work together, to contribute what they can, and to work for God's justice until the Kingdom comes.

The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Talents

The Parable of the Talents

(Lk 19:11–27)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 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.’ 23 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.’ 24 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 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? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

An Urgent Text

Linked with previous parable of the bridesmaids. We do not know the time when the bridegroom or the master will arrive. Both are invitations to readiness and taking the agency of this moment.
Inviting the agency of the servants — entrusted with few things, now many things
There is an urgency to this text that should make us feel uncomfortable and moved to action. I have heard this text preached on many times, looked at it myself many times in study, and it often comes back to me with a word of urgency. But I often look at it from a pretty narrow focus — isn’t this about building up the Kingdom of God through developing missions and ministries? It’s pretty easy to read this text and think: “Jesus wants us to build up and grow our churches.” Or “Jesus has blessed me with financial resources, I best use them wisely.”
This is not an inaccurate reading of the text. It is clear that the master wants his servants to grow his financial resources and expand his estate. Got it. But…I wonder as we approach this urgent text today, if we need to see it in a new light, one that will shine a different kind of urgency upon it to illustrate the vital work we also must do as we prepare for the Reign of God.
What are the urgent conversations of our world today? We talk about them frequently, don’t we?There is political division in our nation and around the world like many of us have never seen before. There are clear, scientific signs of the immense shift in our climate we are undergoing and how this threatens much of God’s created world. There is the uprising and calls for justice around centuries of racist policies and attitudes directed at black and brown people. These are urgent conversations, urgent places where God’s people are called to act.
I wonder, perhaps are we able to hear this parable as a critique of inaction on issues of justice? What if we could turn the prism of this reading just a bit and see through it the call to speak up for these and other important issues in our world today? For instance, think about the call of peacemaking that rests upon the Christian Church: we are entrusted with the cause of ending conflict, war, and destruction. This is an urgent and real calling. Some of us, God entrusts with resources and position that make our impact larger. These would be politicians and business leaders, those who serve in the military and those who set policy around war and conflict. Perhaps they are the ones with the 5 talents — how will they use them? Or maybe its the preachers, the teachers, the writers and artists. Their contribution to peacemaking might not be as far-reaching, but with each time I preach a sermon peacemaking and justice, I can make a contribution to moving us toward this hope of God’s shalom. Perhaps God has entrust folks like us with a couple of talents to work with.
Perhaps you feel like you’re a 1 talent person. Like perhaps what you can offer isn’t going to make that much of a difference. I mean, it’s just 1 talent. My action doesn’t matter all that much, so I’ll leave it to the bigger players. I’ll bury my talent. Yeah, that’s not how this is supposed to go. When we separate out the conversation from simple investment terms, we can perhaps begin to realize that even the 1 talent can make a difference. How about some ideas on how to use it: throw your talent in with a friend — then you’ve got two talents, two voices, two people united around the cause of peacemaking. That’s as much as the preacher and the teacher have — now you’re in new league. Or perhaps you and some other friends throw in your talents to support a leader who has more influence — you can amplify their voice and action by the way we throw in our lot with them.
We know how this works, the exponential way movements grow and influence. And yet, so much of the time, we feel like our 1 talent isn’t significant enough. We hold it and resign ourselves to its perceived ineffectiveness.
When we turn the text this way, we begin to see how important our participation in the collective work of God is. It isn’t about the one servant doing right with 5 talents at all. It’s about collective action to grow the master’s estate. It isn’t about one loud voice talking about peacemaking, it’s many small voices speaking up in unity.

My Sense of Urgency

I want to share another example of how we might shift the line of sight through this text, something from my heart that is dear to me and present.
Many of you know that this Fall term I began my studies for a Doctorate of Ministry at Portland Seminary. This has been a life goal of mine and I’m excited to get to share this journey with you all at St. James.
These last few months, I’ve been praying and discerning about what the focus of my research and project will be. I’ve been trying to figure out what the urgent problem is for me to address, the thing I need to say and contribute. And the urgency that keeps emerging for me is about speaking up for justice.
When I step back for a moment and look at the issues facing our world, as I mentioned before, I find it very disconcerting how little I believe faith leaders like myself take the risk to speak into them with the truths of Christ’s gospel. There are certainly reasons for this: fear, threat to their position, the possibility of making someone uncomfortable or angry. (And don’t worry, I know these are reasons because I’ve felt and experienced them myself).
So I’ve started to ask this question, with the help of conversation partners: Given that faith leaders have the calling to proclaim the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ, why do we so often shy away from saying what needs to be said? For example, why, given the climate of racial justice uprisings in our country, why are so many faith leaders unable or unwilling to name the ways Jesus spoke of liberation for those bound by systems of racism and oppression? Sure, there is threat and historic trauma and power dynamics at play. But why not even say a little? Perhaps its not a 5 talent contribution to the fight, but maybe I can throw in 2 talents towards deconstructing racism in my neighborhood or city, right?
I have felt a sense of urgency about this and will spend the next few months honing in on that as a focus for research and study. Given that I, as a faith leader, am called to speak the truth of the Gospel, what are the things that limit this? Why are we afraid to be challenged and to grow? And, on the positive: what kind of contribution could I (and we all) make if we chose to actually speak up for those who need it most?
Thankfully, there are plenty of examples of faith leaders through our history and tradition who have pushed through this fear. They stand on the firm foundation of Christ when they do so.
This is an urgency for me to lean into. And again, I relish the opportunity to share this journey with you all too. I hope it enlivens your witness to the justice of the gospel of Christ as well. I believe by pushing into the fear of speaking up, we have the opportunity to witness that gospel reinvigorated, awakened for such as time as this.

Who will we be?

At the core of this text, for us as we hear it today, I hope you feel a question: “Who will we be?”
I titled this sermon “Making the Most of the Time We Have” because in its urgency, it puts our lives into perspective. This year especially, we have seen the fragility of human life. What we may have taken for granted before has become incredibly clear: human beings are not as stable and secure as we like to think we are. We need each other. We need rest and healing and hope.
So who will we be? Will we make the most of the master’s entrusted talents and gifts? Will we speak up and work in unity with one another? Will we lump our talents in with others to create collective movement into the reign of God? Will we be a people of love, of grace, of forgiveness, of mercy — not alone in our weary attempts to do this, but gathered together as a people agreeing upon these practices as those which will guide us?
I’m asking this question for myself: Who will I be? Will I be a pastor who shirks away from the responsibility to speak truth because I fear someone’s negative reaction or disagreement with me? Or will I use the talents and place I have been given to stand up and speak.
I know this year has, for our church and for our world, been a call to make the most of what time we have. We’re feeling that as a church, aren’t we? We’re feeling the urgency of how we live in community with each other in this very challenging time. Because we haven’t all been in the same place physically for so long, it can feel so depressing and overwhelming to even think about acting and participating in God’s work. We might feel like that 1 talent we were given is slipping away, what does it matter?
I want to close with a word, perhaps a strong word, for those of us who need to hear it: You are so, so needed. You matter. You are a part of this church community, this quirky little Presbyterian congregation in Bellingham, WA. Perhaps you feel like you are less and less connected these days because we haven’t gathered back in our pews together yet — please, don’t believe that. You are beloved by God and called a part of God’s family here. Perhaps you’ve never actually joined us in person but somehow found us online over the course of this time: Please, know this, you are a part of what God is doing here. You have been called by Christ to participate with us. You have a talent and can throw it in with us — you are welcome.
We need these reminders.
And, finally, we wait. The text today is urgent and it anticipates a Reign of Christ is which is yet to be realized. So we wait for the master, we use our talents, we throw in with each other and long for all things to be made right in the Reign of God.
Hallelujah, Lord, come quickly, Hallelujah! Amen.
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