Sunday 19 November - Pentecost 24 - Eucharist - Sarah Kilbey

Judges 4v1-7, 1Thess. 5v1-11, Matt.25v14-30

A long time ago I had an appointment with Bishop Richard about this time of the year and, in passing, he asked how my Christmas preparations were going. I think I said that they weren't! He said, “Oh I know, at our age Christmas seems to come round every six weeks doesn't it?”, which did at least make me laugh. But the thought that Advent is just around the corner can be a bit scary! However, the three Gospel readings for the Sundays prior to Advent, from Matthew Chapter 25, are there to help us navigate a way through this challenging time for they are all about about preparedness. Last Sunday we had the foolish bridesmaids who ran out of oil and so missed the wedding. Next Sunday will have the sheep and the goats a story of opportunities to help, that were missed, and now today we have the servant who wasted his chance of increasing the one talent given him by burying it, and so lost everything. The people in these stories make their own judgements, no one else does. The foolish bridesmaids decide there is no great rush and are complacent. The servant is so paralysed by fear he decides to do nothing, while the proud goats have made a fateful decision, that some people are just not worth bothering about. But God then makes his judgements and, unfortunately, it's totally different from theirs.

Judging is at the heart of the story of the talents or the bags of gold as it is sometimes called. It's deceptively simple so it's horribly easy to stop listening and thus fail to take on board it's lessons; how we are to prepare and so be able to cope with this waiting time, which can feel quite uncomfortable. All of us long for certainty, we want to know exactly where, how, and when this time is going to come to an end. But it's not for us to know, as Paul tells us in the Epistle today. Nevertheless he says it is coming, for definite sure, and we have to be fully prepared. So we should look at this gospel carefully for It provides us
with pointers enabling us to grasp that to be prepared is never a one off, but always a process lasting a lifetime. Unfortunately, I never learnt that lesson until much later in life, Consequently I didn't do any reading around my A-level history, preferring instead to set my alarm for 1:30 AM on the morning of the exams to mug it all up!! Unsurprisingly, the result was a C level pass, not at all the best way to be prepared! But to get back to the parable.

The talent was not a coin but a weight. It's worth depended on whether the metal used was copper gold or the more common silver. Therefore, the value of the one talent given to the last servant was probably about £250. The other two slaves were each given much more, indeed it is worth reminding ourselves that the master invested his very capital into their hands, we are told, which was a great responsibility. The two who were given more begin to use the money to buy sell and trade until each of them had doubled their sum.
However, the final servant did nothing with his share. He neither speculated nor spent it, but buried it in the ground until his master returned. Some commentators suggest he may represent the Scribes and Pharisees who wanted to keep things the way they were, refusing any possibility of change and development. In their own phrase they wanted to put a fence around the law. But Jesus tells them there can be no religion without adventure, and that God finds no use for the closed mind. It was the desert monk, Charles de Foucauld who once said, “The absence of risk is a sure sign of mediocrity.” The Tuareg murdered him before he had even attracted one monk to come and join him but, ironically, hundreds joined his community after he died, so he was vindicated. The first lesson of this parable then is, we must never fear, nor be inward looking, because analysis only leads to paralysis. We have to look outwards, being prepared to have a go. Again and again Jesus urges his followers “Don't be afraid.” Come out from the apparent safety of
your home, your church, your secure job, where ever it is you think you found peace and security; where you hide yourself and your money. Come into the light and let go, use what God has given you - or lose it.

The second lesson is that God gives us all different amounts of gold, according to our abilities and we shouldn't mind about that. The master praises the man who has doubled his two bags of gold and made four just as much as he praises the slave who now has 10. We can waste time and energy gazing enviously at the skilful scientist, the successful tennis player, even the celebrity on Strictly Come Dancing but we are valuing and looking up to all the wrong kinds of people. It's worth remembering that our society will grind to a halt much faster if all the carers, dustman, and nurses go on strike, than it will if the tennis player, M.P., celebrity or scientist downs tools! We have all got something essential to contribute. Which is why the human body is such a good analogy for the church. As St Paul reminds us, if we were all ears how would we speak, or noses then how would we see? The vital thing is to discover the God-given bit of gold within you and then to use it for the common good, offering it back to God, as the two hard working servants did. God
doesn't ask of us what we don't have, intention and effort is everything and we can all be equal in that.

The third lesson of this parable is that there is no room for complacency in all of this. There’s an old Methodist hymn which ends, “And now to work, to watch, to pray, and then to rest for ever.” I'm afraid that hymn writer got it all wrong! We are never done! The verdict of the master, when presented with the two servants who had doubled his money for him was this, “Well done both of you. Now I've got something a bit more challenging for you which places even more responsibility on you. See how you get on with it.” But this does raise a question for me, as someone who is getting older and definitely running out of steam! To slightly rephrase the red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, does God still expect me to do seven impossible tasks before breakfast as I think I always used to try and do? Not at all! God doesn't ask what is beyond our capabilities and energy. These change over time so that we learn to use our hands, our feet, and mouths, as Saint Theresa urges us to do, a bit differently but still for Christ's sake. But polish them up and make use of them we must otherwise we become rusty and good for nothing at all like the lazy servant. There is not one person in this congregation who has not been equipped by God to do some particular task for Him. He has something he needs you to do for Him and perhaps you are the only person who can because of your very own circumstances and strengths so, if you refuse, God may not have anyone else He can ask.

To sum up, judgement is at the heart of this story and the warning to us is that we make our own judgements. It is horribly possible to land up with the God we have come to believe in, and fear, like the servant who hid his bag of gold, instead of the God who loves us, forgives us, trusts and, indeed, entrusts us with all his capital, wanting only that we make use of it for his glory. To do that, we have to be prepared to risk, change and grow. So then, no fear, be faithful in your daily tasks while guarding always against complacency and thinking we are done! That's what preparedness is all about and it takes a lifetime I want to finish by reading again just a few words from today's epistle, but from “The Message”, a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Patterson, as it's such a great antidote to the choices made by the silly bridesmaids and the lazy servant. It’s where Paul urges us to use our gold at every stage of our lives. He writes, “Speak encouraging words to one another, build up hope so you will all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you are already doing this, just keep on doing it while we wait in hope for the coming of our Jesus Christ.” Amen.