Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 November 2023.
• First Reading: Judges 4: 1-7 (Israel disobeyed God)
• Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 (The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, when people are saying ‘Peace and Plenty’)
• Gospel: Matthew 25: 14-30 (Parable of the talents)
I am not sure whether this is due to the effect of social media, since I do not use them. But there is an overwhelming sense that folk have to project themselves, and if they do not, or do not do it in the right way, then they are Nobodies and their lives, views and opinions are worthless.
Once, it was the fabulously rich and the genuinely famous who could claim to be leaders in society. This was when property and position mattered, however the effect of death duties seems to have put paid to the former aristocracy of our land.
Now it is those who project themselves – and whose image is so critical. Outfits must be the most glamorous (I am not sure whether these are supposed to cover up or to reveal, but that is another matter). For the ladies, hair, make-up and accessories must be just so.
For the men – perhaps it is the more outrageous the opinion or the life-style that matters most.
But all of them have the same message: unless you are in the glamorous set and are photographed in the most inspiring or attractive settings, then you are nobody.
If you are neither famous nor outrageous, then you just do not count. Go away into whatever hole of misery suits you best.
But Jesus’ parable of the talents – or the bags of gold – has a very different angle to it.
The point is not the earnings gained by those servants who had been given the greatest sums to work with.
The point is rather the servant who had received least but had done nothing with it.
Compared with the other servants he had much less to work with, and it seems that he resented this bitterly.
Instead of doing the best he could with what he had, he would only nurse his resentments. Life had not been just to him. He had deserved far more than this miserable pittance. Not his fault that he was not blessed with the go-getting instincts of others. He was just not a hustler.
And so he buried the money entrusted to him, and did nothing, except remember where he had put it.
And then the time came to settle accounts.
The other servants had been diligent for their master and had traded to yield major returns. In this they were praised.
But the resentful and idle servant had done nothing – and in settling his account he presented his master only with a load of snash as we say here.
He was insulting and condescending, but essentially covering up his own choices and indolence.
And yes, his efforts were recognized and rewarded accordingly.
Fair? Well, it depends on what you are looking for and how you receive this parable.
For our purposes, the point is fairly clear. Nobody in the household of God is of no account. Maybe not cut out for the most glamorous or prominent of roles, maybe not having squads of helpers to order about, maybe not great artists or musicians.
But for all that, all have something to offer. It is there in the way we treat one another, the way we can help in the life of the Body of Christ. It may be there in how we pray, the comments we make afterwards, the way we offer or are faced with criticism.
It may be there in the way we are and live when outside the church, when all of us are being watched to see whether our lives match up to the gospel message and the teachings of Jesus.
It may be there in the things we laugh at, the ways we find pleasure and amusement.
We do not have to be glamourous or well turned-out. But we can still have our self-respect, which comes not from where we live or what we have but from what we are as disciples of Jesus.
Now the parable of the talents or the bags of gold contains far more than a message of judgment.
It also tells us that whatever the community around us thinks and has, our perspectives are different.
Nobody is unimportant. All have a place in the Body of Christ, whether this is prominent or not. Indeed the most important organs of the body are not seen at all – like the brain, heart, lungs or stomach.
And then the gifts that are bestowed on us are different as well. In his letter to the church in Salonica, Paul points especially to the importance of their faith, love and hope.
These are the things that in the sight of God are the most important. Wealth and position, beauty and glamour all fade with time and certainly do not follow us after death.
But love of the Lord and of one another do – so does faith in the truth of the gospel message and hope of our personal salvation.
We may not feel that we have much to offer – but as we offer ourselves then we will find that the self that we do offer has already been blessed and enriched.
It has a new kind of beauty, and a glow of truthfulness; it has a depth that calls out to others and which also hears the call of faith in others.
It is not for nothing that the Psalmist says: ‘Deep calls to deep …’