24th Sunday After Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who trusts us in the meantime. Amen
Well, here we are,
nearing the end of the church year,
and we have another set of readings about the coming of the Lord after a long delay,
and again this ends in weeping and gnashing of teeth and outer darkness,
the word of the lord thanks be to God?
While it’s tempting to get caught up in the language of the end
and visions of judgment
and whether or not we think it’s fair
the end is not really what these passage are about,
rather they are about the middle, the meantime,
living life right now and what God expects of us,
They speak to where we are
because we are living solidly in the middle,
our life and faith is lived out in between already and not yet,
between Jesus came, lived, died, rose and ascend to the father
and Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.
Which begs the question:
what are we to do in the meantime?
Which is where our parable comes in.
In the parable we have a master and three servants,
the master is going away
and has quite a bit of property
which he entrusts to the servants to take care of while he is gone,
he gives each what he thinks they can handle
and even the smallest amount is a large sum of money,
a talent is equivalent to 15 years of wages for a day laborer.
It’s a big responsibility,
but the master hands it over with no instructions
other than the understanding that the master will return
and reclaim the property at some point,
this is a care taking situation not a gift
and the master leaves.
Two of the servants take the money and put it to work,
they invest it and trade with it
and by the time the master returns
they have doubled the original amount
and are celebrated when they give it to their master.
The third servant,
the one with the least amount,
fearfully takes the one talent,
digs a hole and puts it in the ground.
When the master returns he digs it up
and fearfully gives it to the master
who berates him for mismanagement,
at least you could’ve taken it to the bank the master says
as he takes away the talent from the third servant.
We who live in the meantime have a big responsibility
because God has entrusted to us the world
and God’s message for the world,
the message sent through the good news of Jesus Christ.
God expects us to do something with what God has given us,
to live out the message, the good news,
to share it and by sharing it, growing it
so that even though we’re in the middle,
the world starts to look like God’s vision for the world,
where all are loved and fed and clothed,
and there is no more war and creation flourishes.
We are entrusted with love,
the love of family and friends,
God expects that we work to make that love grow
by sharing it with others.
We are entrusted with a community
that shares good news with us,
God expects that we work to make that community grow
by sharing the good news with others.
We are entrusted with physical resources,
God expects that we share those resources with those who lack them.
Because the way God created the world
There is more than enough for all
And when we live in this way
we share, not because we are fearful of judgment,
the weeping and gnashing of teeth
but because we are grateful that God has trusted us in the meantime.
The actions of the first two servants
are riskier than the third, it’s true,
sharing is risky
but only by sharing will the message spread and grow.
If we are overwhelmed by fear and take no risks
there is no hope of anything spreading or growing.
And the tricky thing is that we in the meantime
are left to determine how much to risk.
How much of what God has given us do we give away?
We need some of it to take care of ourselves,
so how much is enough?
These are the questions we find ourselves asking
as we develop our congregational budget,
and we ask these questions when we consider our own giving
and resources of time and talents
and there are very few concrete instructions from God.
In some way this situation reminds me of one of my favorite professors in college,
I took several classes from him
and after the first class,
it was always fun to watch people who hadn’t had him before
when the time came for the first essay,
because in assigning essays
Dr. Jodock simply assigned a topic
there was no required word count or number of pages,
Dr. Jodock told his students
that the essay should be as long as it took to thoroughly address the topic.
And people freaked out,
because it meant that they would have to think hard
about the content of the essay,
and find the balance between what was too little and too much,
they couldn’t just write something
and then if it didn’t meet the required length add more,
or if it was too long cut things out.
It was up to them
to decide how much was enough.
It really stressed people out
who were used to having these things spelled out for them
whether it was so they could do enough to get by
or because they wanted the best grade possible
there was no way to calculate your potential grade
and that struck fear into some students’ hearts.
But after you got to know Dr. Jodock a bit
you learned that he was a gracious grader of essays,
and then it became fun to write for him,
because then it became about exploring the topic
rather than trying to meet a word or page count.
Don’t get me wrong,
he still took off points for things
but you knew that as long as you honestly engaged the topic
to the best of your abilities
you would get a passing grade.
When we think about stewardship,
that big church word
that means taking care of what God has given us
I think it’s in some ways like writing an essay for Dr. Jodock,
we’ve been given a topic
and it is up to us
to figure out how much is too much or too little,
and when we get to know God more,
we realize God’s a gracious grader
which frees us to take some risks,
explore what happens when we give love away freely
and invite others in to share what God has entrusted to us.
Sure God is going to be honest with us
when we miss the mark
but if we know anything from scripture
it is that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
God wants us to succeed
and God will give us all the help we need
including God’s own son.
The Thessalonians were worried about the end
Paul exhorts them to live according to the light
to stay awake
but he concludes with these comforting words:
“For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
So whether we are awake or asleep
We give thanks to God. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.