Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 15 November 2020.
• First Reading: Judges 4: 1-7 (Israel sinned – put into the hands of the king of Canaan)
• Psalm 123
• Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 (The Day of the Lord – like a thief in the night when people speak of peace and safety. But you are children of the light and of the day and do not belong to night or darkness. Let us stay awake and sober. Put on faith, love and hope)
• Gospel: Matthew 25: 14-30 (Parable of the bags of gold. ‘See here is what belongs to you’ – judged and punished)
Those who are familiar with such things will know about the commencement dates for Acts of Parliament. I certainly recall that the long-repealed Community Land Act 1975 had two Appointed Days.
These were the days when legal provisions would come into effect. And then there are other special days which nations designate such as Remembrance Day, or Independence Days or days of liberation.
The church itself has its liturgical days to reflect on different aspects of the life of faith.
And then there is the Day of the Lord. This was the day when ancient Israel expected the Messiah to come to destroy her enemies and to rule the world in unchallenged and undisputed peace and justice from Jerusalem.
Enemies would be overcome, foreign powers would acknowledge the God of Israel and bring their tribute.
Decisions concerning the affairs of lands far away would be made in Jerusalem. Israel would never again live in fear of her enemies.
But then Paul says something else. Yes, there would be a Day of the Lord but it may not be quite what the people had in mind.
It would come when least expected and people were living in peace and plenty, when their guard was down, especially in the moral and spiritual realm.
It would come when it was not really wanted and people were getting on with their own business quite well, thank you very much.
But then the Day of the Lord is not about our agendas: it is about God’s. It is not a response to our disputes and aspirations, our grievances against others or even the institutions of society.
It is about His righteousness and His provision for our needs – and that means our needs as God sees them and not just as we imagine them to be.
And among the hosts of the Lord are those who were cut off without any kind of appeal or justice – those destroyed in the womb, but whose lives and names are precious in the sight of God. Do we imagine that on the Day of the Lord, the justice of their claims will be unheard?
And what about those fashionably excluded because they do not fit the profiles and preferences of the rich and powerful, the opinion-formers, the movers and shakers, and those who decide what laws to enact and what funds to spend?
No, the Day of the Lord will be highly inconvenient to those whose decisions and deliberations are made in secret and intended to stay that way.
But then Jesus makes it personal with His parable of the bags of gold, or the talents.
It is a word to the church, for these are His servants in this age. And in the parable, Jesus speaks of a man going away and entrusting his wealth to his servants. The servants are not all the same and do not have the same abilities and aptitudes, so the bags of gold are not given out equally.
The first two receive them seriously and use them wisely. It is interesting that they were expected to trade with them, and this they did. When the days comes to render an account, they produce the fruits of their labours and they are commended for their efforts.
But the third is defiant and resentful. ‘HERE, TAKE WHAT IS YOURS!’ And he is promptly condemned. He did not even think to deposit the gold in the bank.
This was not just laziness, it was a refusal to use what was there. He could have asked others what to do and worked with them. No, it was not worth it and he had his excuses ready.
This is always a rather frightening parable for it tells us of our own accountability in the sight of God.
It may be that we do not recognize the things entrusted to us, and even if we do are not certain what to do with them.
There are modern fashions which denigrate and devalue aspects of the life of the church, including its scriptures, its orders of ministry, its liturgical life, its sacraments and its ways of ministering in the community where it is set.
But then the Day of the Lord is about God’s agenda and not ours. In order to make sense of it perhaps we need to start with what God has done and what He has said.
In this sense it will start with Jesus Christ and His life, ministry, passion, atonement and resurrection. It will start with what He has already done for us and how we respond to it in our lives.
In almost every age of the church, there has been a renewal movement. In the early church it was the Desert Fathers, and then came the various monastic movements climaxing with the Franciscans. Then there was the Reformation when the scriptures were given to the people, and possibly the over-reactions of the Puritans and the missions and evangelists of the 18th and 19th centuries.
More recently there have been the Tractarians and the Anglo-Catholics, followed by the Pentecostals and the Charismatic movement.
Where the Lord is doing a new thing among us, it is essential for us to discern it and not to let it pass us by. That may be the bag of gold for our times and in these days we dare not ignore it.