Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 November 2017.
I well remember my first driving test – which as you have guessed, I failed. (The second test went better).
But I recall having to do a right hand turn using hand signals: lower the window – OK. Hand out – OK.
Then hand in so as to take the wheel and change down with the left hand: awkward.
Then take the wheel in the left and continue signaling with the right – even more awkward.
Then repeat the whole process in order to change down from 3rd to 2nd – near panic, but I and the car came out OK.
And the turn was made. My pass ticket did not prosper however! And as you see, I remember this test vividly.
But each exam or test is a form of judgment, and yes, as we grow up so, we get used to the idea that some tests may not prosper. That is part of maturing.
But what of the Last Judgment? That final interview with God when our lives will be examined in minute detail. Here we will still have to acknowledge our sins, especially the besetting ones which we might well have tried harder to overcome.
Even when our salvation in Jesus Christ is secure, that leaves plenty of room for reflection on what we could have done better, if we really had a mind to it.
So no, the Day of the Lord is not just a day when our perennial enemies will be brought low – it is also the day when we also will be confronted with that we are and what we have become.
And yes, in some things the Lord will praise us, while in others we will find that we have come short. And now indeed is the time to reflect on what we are and have become and what the Lord desires us to be.
Writing to the church in Salonica, Paul brings a word of encouragement, that they are still chosen by God for salvation and not for condemnation, but that they are still to be alert to the times and sensitive to the temptations to which they are subject.
But God is looking for their salvation and their deeper fellowship with Him, and not for an excuse to hurl Jovian thunderbolts around the heavens, for that is not the kind of God that He is.
And all this brings us face to face with one of Jesus’ most disturbing parables, in which He tells of a time of settling accounts on the Last Day.
For the issue is not so much that the master had been unequal in distributing his money to his servants – maybe he already had a reasonably shrewd idea of what each was capable of.
Rather it was the actions of the servants. Some received what they had joyfully and employed the money with zeal and enthusiasm, all for the benefit of their master and not of themselves.
This was not however the issue for the third servant who received the entrusted money resentfully and used it or rather rejected it sullenly.
For this is also a parable for today as we now recognize the great variety of abilities and aptitudes. Some are glamorous and some are definitely practical. Some are in high demand in the world and others are despised. Some may lead to high honour and great wealth while others may lead to happy homes and marriages with children who are balanced and secure, and who do not inflict their hesitations and resentments on others.
And yet other abilities may be used to bring stress and misery to others, leaving only regret and sorrow and anger in their wake.
And what commercial or artistic ability in the hands on one faithful servant may indeed enrich the world, in the hands of another more self-centres person may result only in destruction.
And part of the gifts that are entrusted to us are our ability to learn deeply and extensively or to inspire others with personal presence and rhetoric, but there are other things which enrich the world.
In this we may well find that a faithful heart that is ready to forgive, alert to serve, and full of kindness is more highly blessed in the economy of God that the one who may be efficient but cold, and is prone to holding grudges.
More than that, but in the parable, the greatest danger was in comparing one’s gifts with those entrusted to another, possibly more glamorous or confident person – and not with the will and intent of the Lord who gave them.
At the end of it all, it is the praise of God that matters far more than the fame and acclaim accorded by our media circuses.
The prizes given in today’s culture are indeed prone to being lost, stolen, to being snatched away by a change in the prevailing state of opinion. In this we need look no further than the humiliation being heaped up on some of our entertainers and law-makers.
But the Lord looks to us, seeking the best from us and for us. He looks for those things that will endure in the coming Kingdom of God, but which may not be marketable in today’s culture.
Indeed, He looks to us to become more and more like Him in His cross and in His resurrection.