Month: November 2011

Podcast: When God Comes Down

On the first Sunday in Advent this year, I chose Isaiah 64:1-9 as the text for my sermon, When God Comes Down.  Here’s the link to the podcast from that sermon. http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/When_God_Comes_Down.mp3

1st Advent: When God Comes Down

Isaiah wanted God to come down, but Isaiah wanted God to come down big.  Instead God comes in the form of a baby.  Not big by first century standards, but life-changing in ways no one could imagine. That’s what Advent is about — anticipating God’s coming in love and power. 

When God Comes Down

1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and made us waste away because of our sins.

8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look upon us, we pray,
for we are all your people.  – Isaiah 64:1-9 NIV’84

The Beginning of the Christian Year

Here we are again.  Usually on this Sunday after Thanksgiving, although there is the rare exception, we find ourselves at the beginning of the Christian Year, which is the beginning of the story of Jesus.

This first season in the Christian Year is called advent, which simply means “coming” or “coming toward” from the Latin adventus.  But adventus is itself Latin for the Greek word parousia which means “appearing.”

In other words, the season of Advent is the anticipation of the coming of the Christ, the Messiah.  So, it is fitting that we begin our journey through the life of Christ with the anticipation of Christ’s coming, both as the promised messiah and as the future coming king of all creation.

Advent incorporates both a looking back to the promises of the messiah, and of course to his actual birth, and a look forward into the future when “this same Jesus” shall come again, as the apostles believed and taught.  This is not just religious history then, but a story whose beginning and end are both marked by the appearance of this extraordinary figure we call Jesus.

Let’s get started then.  Today we start with the scene in Isaiah’s day, about 600 years before the birth of Christ.  Because Isaiah’s life spans several kings, the fall of the northern kingdom, and prophesies the Babylonian captivity, Isaiah has a lot to say about a nation that needs God.

When God Comes Down, We Want Him To Come Big

In the passage we read today, Isaiah is pleading for God to come back to his people.  As I mentioned, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are no longer united as they were under David and Solomon.  They are divided, and the northern kingdom has been splintered by the Assyrians in 722-721 BC.

Although Isaiah’s actual lifetime does not encompass the Babylonian captivity, he prophesies the result of that tragedy when he speaks to God in the verses we did not read and observes:

10 Your sacred cities have become a desert;
even Zion is a desert, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our fathers praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.

This sounds very much like the situation after the Babylonians captured the southern kingdom of Judah and overran Jerusalem in 587-586 BC.  The “holy and glorious temple” – Solomon’s temple – had been destroyed, and the city pulled down to rubble.

Isaiah then pleads,

12 After all this, O LORD, will you hold yourself back?

Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?

But the heartcry of Isaiah is in verses 1-3 –

1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

The idea that Israel had during this period, and which persisted until the first century, was that if they were in exile being ruled by a pagan power, that God had left them.

Why did they think that?  Because God’s promise to Abraham was to make his off-spring into a great nation, a nation with their own special place, a nation that would be blessed and be a blessing to the world.

The story of Israel was built on that idea.  They were God’s chosen people, and when things were going well, God was blessing them. But when things went badly, God had deserted them.  So, their prayer, and Isaiah’s prophetic cry is that God will come down from his throne of indifference, but come down in God’s unmistakable majesty.

But Isaiah doesn’t want God to come down from his throne in just any old way.  Isaiah wants a show, a spectacle, a little supernatural shock-and-awe when God makes his appearance.

Both Old and New Testament writers connect the manifest presence of God – God’s intervention – with cataclysmic events.

Here Isaiah talks about the mountains trembling, and the nations quaking before God.  As though he needed to remind God of what God’s appearances had been in the past, Isaiah says –

3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

Perhaps Isaiah has in mind God’s brooding presence on Mount Sinai.  The mountain peak was covered with fire and cloud, thunder and lightning, and all the nation of Israel was afraid.  So they sent Moses to meet with God on the mountain.  It was unmistakable that God was there, and when Moses came down off the mountain, his own face glowed with the glory of God, so much so that he wore a veil to keep the people from being afraid.

But here’s the problem.  Isaiah was sure that God was so displeased with Israel being held captive by Babylon that God would come down and show those pagans a thing or two.  And that God would come down big and hard.  Mountains would tremble, fire would fall, lightning would strike, thunder would roll.  It would be spectacular!

And don’t we still want that today?  Don’t we still want God to intervene in a big way?  And don’t we still try to explain natural disasters as God’s judgment on some group or people.

When the tsunami hit one of the most stridently Islamic sections of Indonesia – Banda Aceh – there were American Christians who impetuously explained that natural disaster as God’s punishment on that Islamic region.

We want God to come big, and we want to see his coming in the quaking mountains, or in the case of Indonesia, in the earthquake and tsunami that followed.

But be careful because when God did come to his people about 600 years later, he didn’t come big.  He came in the form of a baby.  That’s about as small, as helpless, and as insignificant as you can get when compared to the power of world kingdoms.

The first lesson of Advent is this:  God comes to us in many ways.  And as Elijah found out, God comes not always in the wind, earthquake, and fire, but sometimes in the still small voice.

When God Comes Down He Comes To Save

But Isaiah recognizes that God isn’t just coming down from heaven to put on a spectacular display.  When God comes down, he comes judging his people.

Isaiah is right to say that God has come to those who wait on Him.  But then, Isaiah continues by admitting –

5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and made us waste away because of our sins.

How can we be saved is the question.  How is it possible for God’s people who have disobeyed God’s law, broken God’s commands, and with them God’s heart, how is it possible for God to come and not destroy this rebellious people?

Because when God comes down He comes to save us.  Isaiah articulates the sins of the nation.  We are unclean, he says.  Even our religious practice – our righteousness – is like a filthy rag, unfit for the presence of worship much less God’s presence. As a result of the sin Isaiah identifies, he said that they are shriveling up like November’s leaves, with no more substance than to be swept away by the wind that blows them about.

So, how do we know that when God comes he comes to save us?  Because we have the words of Jesus, reading from the same scroll, the scroll of Isaiah.

As Jesus begins his ministry, Luke records the scene.  Jesus has gone back home to Nazareth, to the synagogue there.  Here Luke picks up the story in the 4th chapter –

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[e]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And there it is.  Right from the very same prophet, from the very same scroll.  Jesus identifies himself at God’s anointed – that’s what the word “messiah” means – and them proceeds to describe what he has come to do.  It all sounds like salvation to me.

“To preach good news to the poor;

to proclaim freedom for prisoners;

the recovery of sight for the blind;

to release the oppressed;

to proclaim a Jubilee – the year of the Lord’s favor in which all debts are canceled and things are restored to their rightful order.

 

When God comes down, he comes to save us.  And so to get people ready for the coming of the messiah, John the Baptist calls the nation to repentance, and as a sign of that change of heart, baptism in the Jordan.  Which in itself was a kind of crossing over into the promised land again, only this time to get it right, to follow God’s messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

When God Comes Down, He Comes Because He Loves Us

I may be stretching this passage a little here, but Isaiah identifies God as “our father.”  Which is also how Jesus tells us to address God in prayer – “our Father who art in heaven.”

And the idea of God as our father means that God not only brought us into being, and that we are his children, but that God also cares for us, guides us, nurtures us, corrects us, and has a purpose for us.

God does indeed have a plan for our lives. And that is why God sent Jesus.  Because when things look their darkest, when it appears as though God has forsaken his people, turned his back on them, and abandoned them to the mercies of the kingdoms opposed to everything God stands for, God comes down.

God comes down because he loves us.  He loves us so much that he sends his only son to show his love.  His son shares the father’s love.  His son also has a purpose.  His son will give himself a ransom for many, will become the sacrificial lamb, and will take on the sin of the world and the calamity of God’s people, to save them.

That’s what we look forward to during this Advent season.  We look back on the coming of Jesus as both a spiritual touchpoint, and a model for the future.  For God still comes in many ways to save his people because he loves us.  That is really something to look forward to.

 

Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg

On the eve of Thanksgiving watch this video by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg.  Try to view this on the largest screen possible because the photography is stunning.  Schwartzberg captures gratitude, and the reasons for it, in this memorable TED talk and short film.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wright Offers A Compelling and Coherent Vision In ‘Simply Jesus’

It goes without saying that N. T. Wright, recently called the J. K. Rowling of the evangelical world, is a prolific writer.  The author of more than 30 books by one count, Wright cranks out multi-hundred page volumes like others do tweets.  But the difference is that Wright also packs substance and soft-edged provocation into each of his texts.  As you might expect, Wright has done it again with his latest volume titled, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why It Matters.

In Simply Jesus, Wright gives his non-academic audience an imminently readable portal into Wright’s own framework for studying and understanding the life of Jesus.  This is not another Jesus Seminar attempt to get “behind” the Gospels to find the “real” Jesus.  Wright contends that what we need to do is get “inside them, to discover the Jesus they’ve been telling us about all along, but whom we had managed to screen out.”

We have screened out Jesus, Wright argues, by ripping Jesus out of the first-century, second-Temple milieu in which his ministry occurs, and transforming Jesus into a 21st century reflection of our own culture.  Wright critiques the popular evangelical assumption that Jesus has come to take us all to heaven, stressing that the story of God and Israel is at the heart of what God did and continues to do through Jesus.

Wright masterfully weaves together the converging perfect storm of Roman Empire domination, Jewish anxiety, and Jesus’ Kingdom ministry to explain why Jesus said what he did, and why he encountered the opposition of almost everyone who heard him.

Wright’s point in all of this is that Jesus announced that God was in charge, which is Wright’s shorthand for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus not only announced it, he acted himself as if he really was in charge by taking on the religious and cultural establishment through his teaching, miracles, and self-sacrifice.  But, Wright contends, what they, and we, want is not a king, but a religious leader.  And even if we want a king, we certainly don’t want one like Jesus who redefined divine kingship.

Most importantly, Wright makes sense of the Jesus story in a way that no one else has.  If you have read Wright’s magnum opus in three volumes (Christian Origins and the Question of God), particularly Jesus and the Victory of God, you will recognize Wright’s argument stripped down to its essentials.  Wright discredits the reduction of the Gospel into a “4 Spiritual Laws” parody.  He explains how the Exodus experience became the symbolic and actual story of Israel; and, how Jesus reinterpreted that story in his own life.

Wright sees the biblical narrative as one piece, and sees Old Testament fulfillment in Jesus’ New Testament life.  This is no longer the “Jesus came to take us to heaven” story; it is now the “Jesus came to be King of all creation” story, and all that implies.

Wright will not please everyone with his approach, and he acknowledges that himself.  But what Wright does do is to offer both a compelling and coherent vision of who Jesus is, “what he did, and why it matters.” Or to put is another way, the conversation about what God is up to in the world doesn’t start with man’s sin, but with God’s grand purpose for creation. Others have hinted around the edges of this, but Wright walks through the Bible blazing a trail that makes one ask, “Why didn’t I see this before?”

Wright’s Simply Jesus should be at the top of your reading list.  Small groups, Sunday School classes, and others interested in understanding the story of the Bible, and where Jesus fits in, will benefit from reading and discussing this book.  This book has the potential to be a game-changer, and others are already picking up the idea of Jesus as king and what that means.  Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel, is a case in point.  And, Wright is coming out with his own take on the Gospel in March, 2012, with his next book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.  This approach isn’t going away, and Wright is its most prolific spokesman.

Disclaimer: I purchased Simply Jesus as a Kindle book from Amazon at my own expense, and received no compensation for this review.

Podcast: Our Responsibility For Managing God’s Gifts

The Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30 is often interpreted to mean that each of us should use our individual abilities — our “talents” — to serve God. But this is a parable about the kingdom of God, and Jesus is saying much more than what we usually have understood. Here’s the link to the podcast of my sermon, Our Responsibility For Managing God’s Gifts.

If you prefer, here is the direct download link –http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/Our_Responsibility_For_Managing_Gods_Gifts.mp3

Sermon: Our Responsibility For Managing God’s Gifts

Have you ever been told that the Parable of the Talents meant you should use your own individual talents for God?  Well, that is certainly true, but the meaning of this parable goes far beyond that narrow application.  Here’s the sermon I’m preaching on Sunday, November 13, 2011, from Matthew 25:14-30, The Parable of the Talents. 

Our Responsibility For Managing God’s Gifts

Matthew 25:14-30 NIV’84

“Again, it [the kingdom of God] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talentsof money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The Story of a US Treasury Bond and a CD

When I turned 16 I received several presents from my family, and some from Debbie.  I probably got my usual complement of sweaters. I always got at least one sweater, and usually from Debbie.  That tradition has continued down through the years, and we now have a collection of about three dozen photos from birthdays, or Christmases, in which the subject and pose is the same – me holding up my new sweater.

But on this particular birthday I received a gift from my Aunt Betty Jackson, my father’s youngest sister.  Aunt Betty sent me a United States Savings Bond with a maturity value of $25.  The savings bond was enclosed with a note that said that my father, who is about 10 years older than she is, had given her a $25 savings bond on her 16th birthday.  She was returning the favor and continuing the tradition.

I think her note went on to celebrate the importance of saving, and how in only 8 years or so I could cash the bond in for its full face value of $25.

I of course took all that to heart, including the very touching story of how her older brother, my father, had sent her a savings bond, probably while he was still serving in the Air Force during World War II.

I also read with interest my aunt’s counsel to start saving now, and to use that bond as the beginning of a life of frugality and thrift.

But, of course, I was 16.  Debbie and I probably had a date for that Friday night, and my financial condition was in its usual state of insolvency.

You have to remember that in 1964, when I turned 16, both of us could have dinner at Shoney’s, see the latest feature film at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Nashville, and get a banana split afterward for less than $15.

So, of course, I cashed the savings bond.  I remember the teller counting out $18, and I also remember thinking that I would have had to wait 8 years for another $7 bucks!

But there’s more to the story.  When our oldest daughter, Laurie, was a teenager, she began working part-time jobs at places like McDonald’s, and then the local dry cleaners.  Laurie was very frugal with her money, and we kidded her about being so cheap.

One day she told me that she was going to take some of her hard earned cash and buy a CD.  I instantly thought “compact disc” and assumed that like any teenager she was going to buy her favorite band’s latest album.

But when I asked her which album she was going to buy on CD, she quickly corrected me by saying, “Not that kind of CD – a certificate of deposit!”

To this day, we do not know where she got those genes, but needless to say Laurie was always the one in our family who had money.  She still is.

A Story About Financial Management in the First Century

Which brings us to our story today. This parable is commonly called the Parable of the Talents, although Luke has a version of it also in which some translations use the word “pounds” to describe the amount of currency the servants received.

But for our discussion today we’ll stick with Matthew’s story.  Jesus tells the story of a man going on a journey for a long time.  This man is obviously quite wealthy, and before he leaves he calls his servants together.

To each of three servants the master entrusts his property.  The implication is that the master gives them most of his estate.  While the term “talent” doesn’t mean much to us, those in the first century who heard this story would have known immediately that it was a tremendous sum of money.  A talent was the equivalent of 20 years’ wages.  So when he gives 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent to each of the three servants, the master is putting them in charge of about 160 years’ worth of wages.

Obviously this is a sum that none of them will be able to make good on should their stewardship fail.  Matthew tells us that each receives according to his ability, so the master is sensitive to the fact that some can handle more responsibility than others.

Matthew says that “after a long time” the master returns to settle accounts with his servants.  We don’t know how long a “long time” was, but it was time enough for them to have managed the assets entrusted to them, and to receive a return.

You know how the story goes.  The master calls the servants and asks for an accounting.  The servant who was given 5 talents reminded his master that he had received 5, but then also reported that he had earned 5 more, for a total of 10 talents.  That’s a 100% return on investment, which is great by any measure.

The master is thrilled.  “Well done.  You are a good and faithful servant.  Enter the joy of your Lord.”  Which is a very first century way of saying, “Way to go, dude!”  Or words to that effect.

The second servant, who has received two talents makes the same report.  “You gave me two and I have earned two more.”  Again, the master gives him a high five, and a well done, and invites him to share his joy at this report.  But note also that the master makes no distinction between the first servant who earned 5 talents, and the second one who earned 2.  Both achieved a return of 100%, both are praised, and both are invited to celebrate with the master.

But then the third servant has to report. He had received only 1 talent.  But instead of reporting on his stewardship, he begins to talk about the master himself.

‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

This is not what the master wanted to hear.  The master replied, “Oh, you knew that I harvested where I did not sow.”  The implication in the master’s observation is “Of course, I harvest where I do not sow…that’s why I have you!”

Then, he commands that the servant who has buried his 1 talent and produced nothing by way of return, be thrown outside.  But, not until after the one talent he still has is confiscated, given to the servant who now has 10.  The master also calls the servant wicked and lazy for failing to produce any return on the master’s investment at all.

Doesn’t that strike you as strange?  I mean, in this day of uncertain economic conditions, with the Greeks, and now possibly Italy about to default on their international debt, shouldn’t this very conservative servant at least get the benefit of exercising caution?  Why does the master treat him so badly?  After all, he didn’t steal the one talent, he didn’t lose the one talent, he just failed to double it like the other two servants had done.

The Meaning of the Parable Then

Okay, let’s look more closely at this parable.  Usually we talk about this parable as one that encourages us to use the individual gifts God has given to us.  I have heard preachers say things like, “If you have the talent to play the piano or sing, you need to be using it for God.”

Of course, that’s true.  But that’s not what this parable is about.  If it’s not about using our individual talents responsibly, what is it about?

Let me answer that question this way.  First, this is another parable about what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Jesus’ announcement of the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven is made at the beginning of his earthly ministry.

Secondly, we have to read this parable in light of all the other things Jesus has said, particularly in these closing chapters of Matthew, because Jesus is now in Jerusalem and will be crucified before the end of this week in which he tells this story is over.

I believe the parable of the talents can be understood like this:  God is the master, and God has gone away from the nation of Israel.  And, because the Roman army occupies the Promised Land now, it must seem like God has been gone a mighty long time from his people.

Third, the idea that God will come back to Jerusalem, back to the Temple, was a prominent theme in the preaching of the Old Testament prophets.  Jesus is the incarnation of Israel’s God who has returned to Jerusalem, and to the Temple.

But instead of Jesus’ coming as Messiah being a glorious event, an event that Israel could look forward to, this coming of the Messiah is one of judgment.

Remember what Jesus has already done?  He has cleansed the Temple of its corruption and defilement by driving the money changers from its courts.

And, Jesus has roundly criticized the religious leaders of his day as corrupt, evil, hypocritical, full of dead men’s bones like painted tombs, and he has also accused them of misleading the nation who depends on them for interpreting God’s Law to them.

So, God is the master, and the religious leaders of the day are the one-talent servant.  The servant with one talent is the one who receives the most criticism and to whom the bulk of the parable is directed.  Perhaps these are the Pharisees, or all the religious leaders.  Jesus has expressed his outrage with their hypocrisy and self-serving religious performance before.

Perhaps the Essenes represent the servant given 2 talents.  This servant has limited ability, and perhaps the limitations are self-imposed.  The Essenes were really big on righteousness, but so much so that they had moved outside the city of Jerusalem, and had given up marriage to live pure and righteous lives.  Many believe that John the Baptist was an Essene himself.  But, obviously, their movement would not last long if it never produced any offspring.

But whether or not I have the other two servants right, there is no doubt about the servant with the 5 talents.

Who then was the servant that had 5 talents, produced 5 more, and then got the 1 talent taken from the unfaithful servant?  These are the followers of Jesus.  They are the ones who get the whole idea of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God.

They not only get it, they share it, and by doing so double their wealth, and their reward.

The Parable Today

So, here’s my take on this.  The parable is told about Israel, the people of God.  God is the master, God’s people are the servants, and some do a much better job than others of providing the master with a return on his gift.

This basically is a parable directed to groups, or communities within first century Israel.  Each of these communities has their own belief system, their own theology, their own mission.

But the real mission is to do what the master expects – to produce a return on the master’s investment.

To put is plainly, we as the modern day people of God are God’s servants.  And while it is certainly not wrong to say if you have musical talent, or any other kind for that matter, you are to use it for God’s glory, there is a bigger message and caution here for us as 21st century followers of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God growing like a mustard seed – from the tiniest of seeds to the largest of trees in that area.

He also spoke of the kingdom of God permeating society like yeast permeated bread dough.  It goes all through it until it leavens the whole lump of dough.

And, he also spoke of the kingdom of heaven like light which by its very shining dispels darkness.

All of those images point to the fact that the expectation of the rule and reign of God is that Jesus’ followers will do what he did – announce, demonstrate, and live out the kingdom as a contrast society in this world.

God had given the religious leaders of his day a position of responsibility, the Law of God, and the Temple.  With those “talents” the Pharisees and Sadducees should have been able to produce the equivalent of doubling those who understood that God was the creator and ruler of all creation, that the God of Israel was the God of the Nations.

Its interesting to note that medieval mapmakers, working long before cartography became an exact science, often depicted Jerusalem as the center of the globe, with all the continents revolving around the City of God.

Their maps were obviously drawn as theological statements rather than geopgraphically-correct documents.  But the idea that God was in charge, to use N. T. Wright’s phrase, was evident in their mapmaking, even if their maps were not very useful for actual navigation.

That is what we are to do today as well.  Draw the maps of our lives with the kingdom of God as the center of our being.  With God in charge, with the kingdom of God as the guiding principle of all of creation.

While God gave the first century religious leaders the Law and the Temple, we have so much more.  God has entrusted us with the story of Jesus, with the Bible as the record of that story, with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and with the insight of 20 centuries of Christian witness.  Our responsibility is greater than that of the Pharisees of the first century, or even Jesus’ first century followers.

If they are given the equivalent of 5 talents, and they produce 5 more, we must have been given by God the equivalent of 10 or 20 talents.  We know more, understand more, have the benefit of history, the mistakes and achievements of others, and the energizing presence of the Holy Spirit to both guide and empower us.  We have more, and yet often do less than the first disciples.

But that can and must change.  The kingdom is not our exclusive possession, nor is it our exclusive destination.  We have been given a gift to share, a gift to give away, and as we give that gift away it produces a return of 10-fold and more.  Our reward will be God’s joy that out of all the centuries, and all his people, that this generation understood what it meant to act so that God’s gifts were not merely preserved for the few, but announced to the many.  Only then will we hear, Well done, good and faithful servant!

Sadly, we in the 21st century have fallen into some of the same errors of the religious leaders of the 1st centry.  We confuse our limited understanding of God, which we call doctrine, with the God of all Creation, and limit ourselves in effective kingdom work with our own shortsightedness and misplaced self-assurance.

We are warned not to inhibit the growth of the kingdom, but to encourage it by our own actions. In doing so, we earn the reward of hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Podcast: Preparing For The Kingdom Then and Now

What if the parable of the 10 bridesmaids isn’t about just the second-coming of Christ?  What if it was about the coming of the kingdom of God in the first century, and how some were prepared then, and some were not?  Does the warning of Jesus to watch and wait mean anything before he comes again?  I think so, and here is the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 6, 2011.  http://chuckwarnock.libsyn.com/preparing-for-the-kingdom-then-and-now