Message by Pastor Pokora – Nov. 15 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

My friend, Bob Lee, retired as provost at Palmer College and subsequently, took a part-time job working for an investment firm, dealing with taxes, investments and retirement accounts. He called and asked to meet with me to discuss how his company’s financial management services might be useful in the future. 

I don’t mind listening to and learning from investment professionals. I know my knowledge of the field is limited and good advice hard to come by.

Fewer people today have a defined benefit pension plan. Instead, they must take their funds available and invest wisely for retirement. That’s not easy to do. In fact, the task can be a little scary and intimidating. Interest rates are low, the stock market fluctuates and a good investment one day may not look so good the next day. Investment pitfalls can ruin a retirement plan. I still remember Bernie Madoff, the New York investment guru, who absconded with millions of dollars embezzled from his clients’ funds and brought them to financial ruin.

Today our Gospel brings us to stewardship and investment issues thru the parable of the talents, an entirely appropriate text for our stewardship reflection.

I don’t know if there is any truth to it or not, but the story is told that when Britain faced a critical shortage of silver during the days of WWII Winston Churchill launched a search of possible sources of silver. They discovered some sterling silver statutes of saints in some of their churches and cathedrals. When Churchill was made aware of this he said, “Well, it’s time to put the saints into circulation.”

This parable is about saints in circulation. Jesus is addressing his followers. In Matthew’s Gospel there are five major discourses attributed to Jesus, this parable is part of the last teaching block that begins in 24:1. Jesus and his disciples had just come out of the temple. His disciples were admiring the beautiful buildings when Jesus warned of the temple’s coming destruction. Then they walked over to the Mount of Olives and Matthew says that the disciples came to him privately with their questions about the destruction of the temple and end of the age. That is the setting for these parables. This is private instruction to insiders. The judgment parables of Matthew 25 are not directed to the crowds, but to his disciples.

In the parable a master passes out money to his servants – actually a considerable amount of money – and puts them in charge of investing it while he is away. To one he gives five talents, another two talents, and still to another one talent. A “talent” is a lot of money. One talent was equal to 30,000 denarii and a denarius was equal to a day’s wage for a common worker. So the servant who was given one “talent” was given more money than a common worker could have earned in a lifetime. We are also told that to each one of the servants the money was given according to his ability. The ability belonged to the servants; but the money belonged to the master. This is the master’s money.

I recall the story of an elderly woman who just finished shopping and returned to her car. She found four men inside. She dropped her shopping bags and drew a handgun. She pointed the gun toward the men and screamed for them to get out of her car. They flew out of there like crazy. Somewhat shaken, she put her gun away, picked up her bags, and got into the front seat. But for some reason the key would not fit the ignition. Then it dawned on her; this was not her car. Her car was in the next row. So she found her car and drove down to the police station to turn herself in. As she told her story the officer behind the desk who was about ready to fall out of his chair laughing pointed her to another desk where four men were reporting a carjacking by a little old woman with a handgun.

She thought it was her car, but it really belonged to someone else. We think what we have belongs to us– we earned it, we worked for it, it’s ours. Except that it isn’t. It’s God’s. All of it. We have been entrusted with it to put it to use for God’s good purpose in the world.

Remember, Jesus taught this parable to his disciples. To accept the call to discipleship is to accept responsibility to use whatever we have in the interest of God’s kingdom. To accept the call to discipleship is to accept the reality that it all belongs to God. We have been given resources of money, ability, and time and entrusted with the responsibility to use these resources for the good of God’s kingdom, for the good of our sisters and brothers and the good of society.

The parable prompts us to ask we here we fit in the story? If we are honest we have to admit that we like both the two servants who doubled the master’s money, and the servant who did nothing with it. We are somewhere in between. Sometimes we are like the two faithful servants, and sometimes we are like the faithless one who did nothing with the master’s money. So when we stand before God to give an account, we fully expect to be evaluated, to be assessed, and expect to be both commended and judged. We will be commended for some things and judged for other things and found wanting.

Should we be worried? Not too much. And why are we not worried or anxious? God is always looking out for our good even in judgment. God’s judgment is not like so much human judgment that is punitive and retributive. God really does seek our good. So whatever “outer darkness” we must walk through it will function to open my life to the light of God’s love and grace and enable that light to shine through me more visibly. Whatever “weeping and gnashing of teeth” we experience, whatever suffering we undergo it will only serve to move me along the path to greater spiritual maturity, integrity, and depth of character.

The parable of the talents reminds us God richly endows us, but also expects wise stewardship from us. We are sometimes faithful, sometimes motivated to take greats risks, sometimes willing to give much in terms of our money, time, and ability, and other times – well, not so much. If we are hampered by fear, open our eyes to God’s goodness and grace, help us to know how much He love and care for us, so we won’t be afraid to fail, afraid to take risks, or afraid to give our resources for your cause in the world. Thank God for all the good things and help us not be too upset with the bad things – but to allow them to grow and mature us. May we become the loving, compassionate, and caring persons intends for us to be. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.