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The Twenty first Sunday after Pentecost
November 13, 2011
The Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
Sermon: "Annual Forecast"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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.' "
Writing this sermon has been a bit of a challenge this week. Having been your Rector for three whole months now, my assignment has been to assess our current position as a congregation while drawing from and acknowledging our past, and predicting our future; all in the next 10 minutes or so.
Add to that challenge that the source of wisdom for all this is to be drawn from our Gospel lesson from Matthew, the parable of the Talents, well…let’s just say that I’ve done a lot more praying about this message than writing it.
Let me begin with this; when I arrived here, just three months ago, I was convinced that this was a dynamic, alive, and thriving congregation. As I have come to know you better, to become involved in the ministries here, to work with you in all the day to day and week to week challenges that arise, nothing has changed my mind about that conviction one bit. If anything, you have confirmed and strengthened this conviction.
So much has this conviction been affirmed that, as I looked to our Gospel lesson for this morning, I found myself protesting that this really doesn’t describe us; where we are at as a people. After all, the focus of this story is on the one talent servant who unfaithfully buries the talent his master entrusted to him. Observing our emphasis here at St. Thomas on service, our mission trips, outreach center, soup kitchen, community Thanksgiving Day dinner, fundraising for outreach, and all our inreach ministries, no one can say that we have hidden the gifts our Lord has entrusted to us for his service.
In saying all this, it might be helpful to look at who exactly Jesus was aiming his displeasure at in reference to the unfaithful servant. It would help us understand why the punishment is so severe on this poor guy. This useless servant, at least in part, stands for the Scribes and Pharisees; especially for their attitude toward the Law and the truth of God. The useless servant buried his talent so as to return it to his master exactly at it was. The whole aim of the Scribes and Pharisees was to keep the Law exactly as it was. In their own phrase, they sought, “…to build a fence around the Law.” Any change or development in understanding, any alteration, anything new was to be avoided at all costs. They were causing a paralysis of truth, and a hatred for all things new. Like the man with the one talent, they desired to keep things exactly as they were, and it was for that that they were condemned. On this point Jesus is saying that there is no true faith without openness to the new. God has no use for the shut mind. That’s why the condemnation of this man in the parable is so harsh and final.
That man is not us. Oh sure, we all possess at least some desire to preserve the past, (a few of us more than others), and we all are cautious about change, but as long as our minds remain open to the future, and flexible to change, as I believe we are at this point in time, that man is not us.
But there is something this man says in his own defense that rang a bell in my thoughts, and possibly it does so in your thoughts too; something that just might be taken as a word of caution for us. When asked why he had behaved as he had, he said, “I was afraid…”
One thing I have picked up among us is an undercurrent of fear. It’s small, actually; it does not rule us, it does not govern our decisions, we do not cave to it, yet it is still there like an irritating fly that we have to constantly brush away. This fear comes in part from the uncertainties of our times; not the least being the economic uncertainties we face. We are in, what experts have termed, The Great Recession. We wonder what’s coming, and fear what could be down the track. Like that fellow who said that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it was an oncoming train. We do have fear.
If there is one area of our church life where fear may be getting an upper hand, it is in our financial stewardship. Pledges are coming in slowly, and, so far, there’s not enough to make the kind of difference our Lord is calling us to make here. Fear is definitely at work on us in the area of money. But there is good news here as well, and we all need to hear it so that we might be encouraged; the pledges that have been received toward the New Year are at least holding steady so far. Several of you have actually increased the amount of money you intend to invest in our future together. A number of these pledges are coming from folks who are new in our congregational life, and there are even some from folks who’ve been with us for awhile, who are now going to pledge for the first time. That’s a very promising sign, because it means that many of us are letting Faith overcome our fear. It is a faith that trusts our Lord for the future. It is a faith that seeks to invest in that future he is leading us into.
So what does our past have to say to us about this? St. Thomas has been here before. Remember, this congregation went through the Great Depression. The people of this congregation let their faith overcome their fear then, and St. Thomas emerged from that time stronger than it had ever been before. By God’s grace, St. Thomas will emerge from this time now, stronger than ever.
So, what does this future look like? Here’s a few of the blessings I see coming here to St. Thomas:
-a reestablished youth group, and growing opportunities for our youth to serve and know Christ
-a new fellowship among our young adults-marrieds and singles
-the annual mission trip
-a growing nursery, and a growing Sunday School-for adults and children
-a reestablished Scout troop
-I also see more people dedicating themselves to our outreach ministries
-more people coming forward to take leadership roles in worship
-more new people joining us as they get caught up in the sheer joy of life and the love of our Lord to be found in this holy place
All these things are being seriously considered, and some are actually being planned; a few are already beginning to happen because the Spirit is here, and the Spirit is moving among us. Our Lord is leading us into this future he is calling us to. To you and me he is saying, “Fear not. I will be with you. I am with you.”
That is the word for this morning. Fear Not! The Lord is with us. Let your faith in him overcome your fear. By his grace our future is bright!