Tag: lectionary year a

Podcast: A Story We Might Like to Forget

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Last Sunday I preached on the expulsion of Ishmael and Hagar from the family of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21:8-21). We spend a great deal of time on the Isaac story — the promise of God to make Abraham the father of a great nation — but, we often overlook the Ishmael story. God also promised to make Ishmael the father of a great nation. And, Ishmael as part of Abraham’s household is circumcised as part of God’s covenant with Abraham. In addition, Isaac and Ishmael never fight, and both attend the burial of their father Abraham. What does this Ishmael story say about our attitudes toward the descendants of Ishmael, the people of the Arab countries? Listen to the podcast and let me know what you think.

Podcast: The God In-Between

Here’s the message I preached on Sunday, September 14, 2014, titled “The God In-Between.” The lectionary reading for that Sunday was Exodus 14:19-31, and continues the story of God with the nation of Israel from Abraham through the Exodus experience. Click the arrow to play the podcast —

Podcast: It Wasn’t You, It Was God

This is the message I preached on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Taken from the lectionary reading, Genesis 45:1-15, it’s the story of Joseph and how God intervened to save both Joseph and the nation of Israel. It’s a great story with wonderful insight into how God transforms us and our circumstances as part of God’s plan for our lives. The podcast is about 26 minutes. Hope you enjoy!

Lenten Sermon: An Incurable Blindness

On the fourth Sunday in Lent this year, the lectionary reading from the New Testament was John 9:1-41, the story of the man born blind. Here’s the message I preached last Sunday:

Sermon: Seeing The Light of the Glory of God

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow on Transfiguration Sunday. I trust that your experience of worship will be rich and wonderful as you see the light of the glory of God together. 

Seeing The Light of Glory

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate (reflect) the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

4 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. — 2 Cor 3:12-4:6 NIV

When We Couldn’t See It
Debbie and I have lost some weight these past few months. Several of you have commented on our progress, and we’re pretty happy with the results ourselves. We have been following a diet developed by Dr. John McDougall, a physician in California, who began practicing in Hawaii. Dr. McDougall noticed that the older Hawaiians were slim, did not have cardiovascular disease, or all of the symptoms that go with it, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and so forth.

To make a long story much shorter, McDougall has devoted his life and medical practice to teaching people that a low-fat, plant-based diet leads to improved health and longer life. Now, Debbie and I started reading Dr. McDougall’s books back in the early 1990s. And, off-and-on we would try to eat as he recommended. McDougall recommends no meat (which means beef, chicken, pork, and fish), no dairy (which means no milk or cheese), and no animal-based foods such as eggs. In other words, a plant-based diet.

That sounds pretty simple, and we tried it over and over. But, its really hard to eat just vegetables and fruit, so we would add things like eggs to our diet. And of course, real butter–because it’s real and not artificial–has to be better for you than fake butter, so we ate real butter. And, we also ate peanut butter, which is vegetarian, but not low-fat. And, we didn’t lose weight, and things like my blood pressure and cholesterol only kept getting worse.

Last year, Dr. McDougall came out with a new book titled, The Starch-based Diet. In this book, McDougall said all the same things he had said in his other books about not eating meat, dairy, or added fat. But in this new book, Dr. McDougall had a new wrinkle — or at least I thought so. He made it very clear that the foundation of healthy eating is starches. I know that flies in the face of the low carb diets that are popular, but McDougall demonstrated that all of the world’s primitive cultures ate a starch based diet. In Asia rice was the starch of choice. In the America’s some form of corn or maize sustained entire civilizations. In Africa, root vegetables, rice, and other starches were the basis for their diets. In the Pacific Islands, poi is a starch-based staple. And, I come from Scots-Irish ancestry, and we all know the Irish ate potatoes, which is why the potato famine in Ireland created such a devastating result.

McDougall also said that you feel more satisfied eating starches, because starches generally are the foods that fill you up and give you as sense of satisfaction. Of course, you need vegetables and fruit, but starches should form the basis for your diet.

For some reason, when we read Dr. McDougall’s new book, The Starch-based Diet, something clicked. We understood what we had been doing wrong. You can’t successfully lose weight and improve your health on this diet without following it exactly as Dr. McDougall and others suggest.

So, this time around, we eliminated all the things that we thought we could have a little of, such as eggs, butter, oils, fats, fried food, along with meat, and dairy (all of it including cheese). We started this diet in May of 2012, and by November of 2012 — 6 months — I had lost 40 pounds and Debbie had lost 30 pounds.

Okay, I do have a point here, and today I don’t have time to answer all your questions about where do you get your protein, and shouldn’t you be eating more fat, and isn’t it boring, and what does tofu really taste like. That’s for another time and another discussion.

But my point is that for the first time in over 20 years of reading Dr. McDougall, we finally got it. The light went on in our heads, the plan made sense, and we followed it, and lost weight, and improved our health.

What happened? Why did it take us 20 years to get it? Why didn’t we see it before? I think it was a combination of the culture we grew up in where you were encouraged to clean your plate, and where fried was the preferred method of food preparation. We just couldn’t see past our own life experiences into a world of thinking about food differently.

Two Experiences of The Glory of God
In the same way, and for some of the same reasons, we miss seeing the glory of God. Okay, let me back up here, because today is Transfiguration Sunday. We’ve read that story before. Jesus invites Peter, James and John — the three disciples to whom he is closest — to come with him for a time of prayer. Luke tells us that while they were praying Jesus’ “face changed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:28-36 NIV).

And, while Jesus is radiant as the sun, two figures appear with him. Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets in Jewish life, appear and converse with Jesus. Luke says they spoke to Jesus about his “departure” which we understand to mean his death, burial, and resurrection.

The disciples were sleeping, but when they awoke, they awoke to this dazzling display of the glory of God. Peter, of course, has to say something, so he suggests that they build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Of course, you know that Jesus does not allow that, and further that the disciples don’t even tell anyone else about this experience, until much later.

But there is a backstory to the Transfiguration experience. Apparently, this is not Moses’ first experience with glowing like the sun.  In Exodus 34:29-35, we have a very interesting account that we read earlier in the service this morning. When Moses came down off of Mount Sinai, he called Aaron and all the Israelites together to hear the word of God.

But, Aaron and everyone else saw that Moses face was radiant, shining like the sun. Apparently, Moses couldn’t tell this himself, so after he tells them what God has said, Moses puts a veil on his face to keep from scaring everyone half-to-death. Which is why whenever anyone encounters an angel in the Bible, usually the first words spoken to that person are “Don’t be afraid!” There must be something about people and angels glowing like the sun that is rather disturbing, to say the least.

So, that’s the backstory behind our reading from 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6 today. Paul is referring to this incident where Moses wears a veil to hide the glory of God. But then Paul turns the image around to use the metaphor of a veil as that which can in itself keep us from seeing God’s glory.

How Do We See The Light of God’s Glory?
Our question today is then, How do we see the light of God’s glory? Well, between these three passages, we can find some answers.

First, we see the glory of God by being in the presence of God. It was only when Moses was in God’s presence that his face shone like the sun. Moses left the people to spend time with God, and when he returned, his countenance glowed and radiated brilliantly. It is only as we spend time with God that we can see, or hope to see, God’s glory.

But, what is God’s glory? Well, in the Bible, the glory of God is usually represented as the dazzling bright light. So, we have Moses’ face shining, and Jesus face and clothes being transformed into a radiant presence. But the word “glory” itself, actually has the idea of “weight” or significance or an imposing presence. So, glory, especially God’s glory, isn’t just light. The light is the expression of the glory, the announcement that God is present, the translation of God’s magnificent presence into something we humans can understand.

But, back to the glory of God. So, first if you want to see the light of God’s glory, you have to be in God’s presence. You’re not going to see the glory of God if you never are in the presence of God. I know that God does sometimes intervene, as he did to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, but in the sense that Jesus and Paul both talk about the glory of God, and in the sense in which Moses experiences that glory, you have to be in God’s presence.

But, the point of being in God’s presence isn’t for us to get all shiny. Moses apparently didn’t even know he was shining. The point is to be with God; the shining is for the benefit of others. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Secondly, to see the light of God’s glory, we have to understand that we’re only a reflection of God, we don’t glow on our own. As soon as Aaron pointed out to Moses that he was glowing, Moses knew immediately where the glow came from. Moses simply reflected the presence of God to the people. Which is why, I think, that as Moses speaks to the people, he doesn’t put on the veil. He wants them to know that these are the words of God, that he has been with God, and that God is speaking to them. It’s only for the daily routine of living life that Moses wears the veil so everyone will not be completely distracted.

Like the moon reflects the sun, we don’t generate our own razzle-dazzle. We only reflect the glory of God, and we may not even be aware that we’re reflecting God’s glory, but others will be.

Third, we see the glory of God as God goes about his work of calling people into his plan for all creation. In the desert with the Israelites, God speaks through Moses and allows the nation to see his reflected glory so they will know Moses has indeed been speaking with their God, the God who has made covenant with Israel. If you want to see the glory of God, you’ve got to be part of God’s new people, of the community God is creating to reconcile all things to himself.

Peter, James, and John get to see God’s glory, not because they are Jews, but because they are the first of this new community of the Spirit which God is creating. Many biblical scholars believe that the 12 disciples symbolized the 12 tribes of Israel made new, and that Jesus was symbolically reconstituting the nation of Israel into a spiritual community, not a biological one.

As Paul writes to the church in Corinth in our passage for today, he addresses another community of believers. The Corinthians are one of the first churches to be almost exclusively non-Jewish and formerly pagan. So, you can expect that they would have a lot of problems, and they do. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to correct errors in their worship and their conduct. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to re-establish his relationship with them, a relationship that has been called into question by some “super apostles” who are challenging Paul’s standing as an apostle. So, Paul writes to persuade the Corinthians that as a community they must remain faithful to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

So, those are three keys to seeing the glory of God —
1. Be in the presence of God
2. Recognize that we reflect God’s glory, not our own
3. Be part of a community in which God has established a relationship

The Problems of Seeing The Light of Glory
But, there are problems we can encounter, because obviously seeing the light of God’s glory isn’t just an everyday experience. There are things we need to understand.

First, Paul uses the story of Moses’ veil to make a point. At first, Moses used the veil to conceal the glory of God. But then, the glory fades, but because of the veil, no one notices.

We can get so attached to the veils that make us comfortable in the presence of God, that we focus on the veil, and not the glory. And that’s true of both the leaders and those who follow. The veil that once gave us some relief, now keeps us from seeing that God isn’t with us anymore, that we’ve lost that intimate relationship with Him, and we no longer stand in his reflected glory.

Let me give you an example. Coming to church is a kind of veil. Of course, its a good thing to come to church because this is where the gathered people of God meet God together. But, if we’re not careful, coming to church becomes just coming to church. We can forget that the purpose is to meet God here, and so we can show up, greet each other, comment on how great or not-so-great the service was, and all of that can keep us from seeing the glory of God, because we can’t see past the veil itself.

But the answer isn’t that we quit coming to church. Of course, you expected me to say that. And, that is a popular approach today. Many are saying that what’s wrong with Christianity is the church, and if we can get rid of the church then Christianity will flourish again.

Of course, people have been saying that for about 2,000 years, and it is simply the wrong approach. They’re looking at the veil and not seeing past it.

What needs to happen is for God’s people to spend time in his presence, reflect his glory, and gather as his community. But how will we know if we are reflecting the glory of God?

Others will see it, just like others saw the glory in Moses face, just like Peter, James and John saw the radiance in Jesus’ face. Others will see it and be moved by it.

Iris Dement is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. Iris asked her mother to sing on one of her albums the gospel song, Higher Ground. Her mother sounded about like anybody’s almost-80-year-old mother would sound singing “Higher Ground,” but I’ve got the feeling that Iris put her mother on that album because she knew her mother lived what she sang.

As a result, Iris Dement’s songs are filled with references to the Christian life she was exposed to growing up in Oklahoma with a mother who sang gospel hymns while she went about her daily chores.

In one of her new songs, titled, There’s A Whole Lotta of Heaven, the lyrics to the refrain capture what I’ve been trying to say today —

“There’s a whole lotta heaven shining in this river of tears…”

When the glory of God is reflected in our lives, so that others see it even before we’re aware of it, then there is a lot of heaven shining in this river of tears. When others see God’s glory in your life, even if you’re unaware of it shining, then they are transformed just like Aaron, the Israelites, and Peter, James and John were.

When our community sees the glory of God shining in our church in the ways we help those who need help, in the concern we have for young families and senior adults, in the programs and activities we plan for children and youth, in the leadership we give to this community, and in all the other ways that change lives, then that is when we can say with the apostle Paul —

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
–2 Cor 3:18 NIV

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.”