Tag: responsibility

Six Questions To Ask Before You Tweet

20-social-media-iconsBefore social media, a snail mail letter to the editor of your local newspaper was about the only way to make your voice heard. Now Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, WordPress, and Google+ make it easy for anyone to shout out their opinion on any topic, at any time.

In fact, social media might make it too easy for us to let everyone know what we’re thinking at the moment. That may be fine for most folks, but some politicians and celebrities have lived to regret exposing their thoughts, and other things, to public scrutiny. Just ask Anthony Weiner.

Like politicians and celebrities, pastors should exercise some caution with social media, too. Although we’re not running for office, we’re always in the public eye in our own circles of friends, colleagues, and fellow church members.

When I started blogging seven years ago, almost no one in my small town of 1200 people read my blog. For a while I enjoyed my local anonymity because I was able to express opinions on topics I never would have addressed in a Sunday sermon or Wednesday night Bible study.

However, as my local readership increased on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter, I began to rethink my previous reckless “opinionating.” I developed some personal guidelines to regulate my social media posts, tweets, and status updates.

These are six things I consider before I take a public stand on controversial topics:

1. Is this an ethical issue or just a pet peeve?

Like lots of folks, I have an opinion about most things. However, I have discovered I don’t need to weigh in publicly on everything. I now restrict my blog posts to church ministry topics, and my Twitter and Facebook updates to church or ethical topics. Of course, that doesn’t count the times I am just goofing around on social media, but I play that safe, too!

2. Can I influence the situation?

If I can’t have some influence on a situation, I have decided there is not much point in my commenting on it. Therefore, I never write about the latest Federal Reserve Bank efforts to jump start the economy because there is nothing I can say to influence the Fed’s action. You get the point.

3. Have others spoken out who are more credible or qualified than I am?

My example in #2 comes to mind here, too. No one cares what I think about quantitative easing or economic stimulus. Those topics I leave to the experts, the pages of the New York Times, and other esteemed sources. If somebody more credible than I am is addressing the issue, I probably don’t need to add my two cents worth.

4. Do I have something constructive to offer?

When I first started blogging, I quickly fell into what I call “blogger’s syndrome” — posting righteous indignation and scathing opinions eviscerating others who disagreed with me. One day it occurred to me that anyone can rant, but I ought to be offering positive perspectives and solutions. I deleted more than one blog post after coming to that decision. Now I try to offer a positive solution, outlook, or suggestion, and I don’t attack individuals or groups. I know it is a cliche’, but I decided that I would actually be the change I wanted to see. In other words, the way to peace is the way of peace, to paraphrase Thich Nhat Hanh.

5. Am I willing to risk my friends, my reputation, and possibly my job by taking this position?

What do you do when there is an issue so compelling that you must take a public stand? I think then you heed the words of Jesus from Luke 14:28b — “Won’t you first sit down and count the cost…?” If you take a public stand, are you ready to risk your friends, your reputation, and possibly your job as pastor? Sometimes the answer to that question has to be “Yes!” However, most of the time, it’s not. I’m not encouraging cowardice, just awareness that public positions also have personal consequences.

6. What am I personally doing now to change the situation?

Finally, before I write about an issue, I reflect on what I am doing to change that situation. Call this hypocrisy-avoidance, but if I am not willing to “put some skin in the game” as the saying goes, maybe I ought not to comment.

Since developing these questions, I am enjoying blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking more than I used to. I notice that I regret fewer posts, delete fewer tweets, and in the process have increased my readership. If the unexamined life isn’t worth living, according to Socrates, then maybe the unexamined opinion isn’t worth tweeting either.

 

Sermon: Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

On Mothers’ Day, I delivered the chapel message at Hargrave Military Academy. The 800-seat chapel was filled with cadets and their families on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility
1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV

27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Mothers In The Bible

The Bible, as I’m sure you know, contains the stories of several mothers. First, there is Eve, whose name literally means “mother of all living.” Then there was Sarah, wife of Abraham. Moms, how would you like to have God’s messenger tell you at the age of 90, that you were going to have a baby? That’s what happened to Sarah, and she became the mother of Isaac.

Isaac married a beautiful girl named Rebekah, who eventually gave birth to twin sons – Jacob and Esau. To make a long story short, Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob, and she helped her son trick his aging father out of the birthright that really belonged to his brother, Esau. After that, Esau was pretty unhappy, so Jacob left home for a long time. And people say the Bible isn’t realistic. Here we have one of the first completely dysfunctional families, with a lot of drama and intrigue. Think “Survivor” but with relatives. Anyway, things finally work out for all of them, Jacob included.

Then we have the mother of Moses, Jochebed. You remember the story of how the evil Pharaoh wanted to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Moses’ mother put him in a waterproof basket, and set it in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter appears, sees the baby in the basket and takes him as her own. Moses’s sister, Miriam, is hiding in the reeds there, and pops up just in time to offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. She, of course, finds Jochebed who gets to raise her own son, until he moves into Pharaoh’s palace. Mothers, even in the Bible, are always looking out for their children.

Of course, the most famous mother in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know that Mary loved her son, marveled at the work God had in store for Jesus, and suffered at his death. We know that Jesus loved his mother, Mary, because as he hangs on the cross dying, Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of his close disciple, John.

But for all the stories of mothers in the Bible, I think the one I like best is in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. You heard part of that story in the text today, but let me fill you in on the whole story.

The Story of Hannah and Elkanah

This story happened about 3,000 years ago. Elkanah was a kind man who was married to two women, which I would not recommend today, but 3,000 years ago things were different. Hannah and Penninah were his wives, and Penninah had given birth to children but Hannah had not. In those days, children were the equivalent of Social Security today, and parents needed children to help them, and to provide for them in their old age.

Because Penninah had children and Hannah did not, Penninah picked on Hannah mercilessly. Elkanah, caught in the middle, (which is why you shouldn’t have two wives), tried to make it up to Hannah by giving her his attention, and a double portion of meat to offer when the went up to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. As well-meaning as Elkanah was, I don’t think an extra chunk of meat made Hannah feel better.

As a matter of fact, one day when they were all at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Hannah was so distraught that she began to pray. As she prayed, she wept so hard that she could not speak. Moving her lips in silent agony, Eli, the old priest at Shiloh, thought she must be drunk.

Eli accused her of being drunk, but Hannah protested that she was only praying out of her grief because she did not have a child. Eli understood, and pronounced a blessing on her, saying, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grand you what you have asked of him.”

Of course, what she had asked was for a son, and in her asking Hannah had promised that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord’s service.

She prayed, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”

Hannah Brings Samuel To The Tabernacle

Of course, God hears Hannah’s prayer, and Samuel is born. Perhaps three years pass until Hannah is ready to keep her promise to God. So, on the appointed day, she and Samuel, who is probably 3 or 4 at this time, appear at the Tabernacle in front of the old priest, Eli.

There Hannah gives Samuel into Eli’s care, with these words –

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

So that’s the story of how Hannah prayed for a son, and then trusted him to God for the rest of his life.

A Story We Can Live

But this is more than a Bible story, even though it certainly is that. This story has the ring of authenticity. Here’s a woman, Hannah, who wanted more than anything to have a baby. Her prayer to God wasn’t a negotiating ploy, but a revelation of her own faith in God.

Hannah trusted God with her deepest desire, and with her future son. Hannah believed that if God allowed her to bear a child, that child would be so special that God would have great things planned for him.

Like Hannah, those of us gathered here today believe our children are special gifts from God. Our prayer may not have been the agonizing prayer of Hannah’s, but in some way each of us has prayed for our children.

If at your house, your children were happy accidents, as they were at ours, you may not have prayed for them to come. But as soon as you knew they were on the way, your heart was filled with concern, with love, with hope, and with a kind of desperate desire that God would bring them into this world safely. And, your on-going prayer, is that God keep them safe, guide them carefully, and help them reach their potential.

There is another way in which you moms and grandmothers, and others gathered here today are like Hannah, though. Like Hannah, you trusted your child to others at a young age.  Okay, maybe not three, but at 12 or 13, I’m sure you weren’t ready for your son to leave the safety and security of your home.

Yet, because you love your son, you have entrusted his safety, his education, and his future potential to Hargrave Military Academy. Like Hannah, last fall, or several falls ago, you delivered your son to this campus, to give him into the care of the faculty and staff here at this historic institution.

Why did you do that? Because you believed, like Hannah, that your son deserved the best. That your son would benefit from attending school here at Hargrave, an institution founded upon Christian values.

I can’t imagine the sacrifice that this must take on your part. For some of you, that sacrifice is financial. But for all of you, there is a bigger sacrifice that you as mothers and grandmothers have made.

Now, I don’t want to make any of you cry, but I do want to salute your sacrifice. When you sent your son to Hargrave, you realized that the back door would no longer bang loudly at 3:30 PM each day when school was over, because your son is here. You realized that you would miss out on that whirlwind of endless soccer practices, football games, drama club presentations, and all of the other afterschool activities kids are involved in.

When you sent your son to Hargrave, I’m sure you realized that when he got hurt, you would no longer be there to put a band-aid on his scraped knee like you did when he was six. (By the way, don’t do that now because he’ll be really embarrassed!)

You and your family have missed seeing him compete at swim meets, or on the baseball field, or in the science fair because you made the sacrifice to send your son here instead of keeping him at home.

You made these sacrifices because just like Hannah, you believe that your son is special, that God gave him to you and your family. Because you believe in your son, and his future, like Hannah, you have entrusted him to others to shape his life, strengthen his character, and send him home as a responsible, mature young man.

So, on this Mothers’ Day, I commend your sacrifice, your love, and your dreams for your son.

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

But, before I finish here today, I have a word for your sons, for these cadets whom you have entrusted to this institution.

The sacrifices that your mother, and your family have made need to be acknowledged and repaid.

Let me tell you what happened to Samuel after his mother left his at the Tabernacle in Eli’s care.  As a young boy, Samuel was sleeping one night, when he heard a voice calling him. “Samuel, Samuel” the voice said.

Thinking it was old Eli calling, because young Samuel was now old enough to be Eli’s helper, Samuel went to the old priest’s room. “Did you call me?” Samuel asked Eli.

Eli replied, “No, I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

This happened again. A voice calls “Samuel, Samuel” but when Samuel went to Eli’s room, Eli said, “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

Well, the third time this happened, Eli figured out what was going on. “God is speaking to you. The next time you hear the voice call your name, say ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears you.”

Samuel did just that, and God called Samuel to be one of the great Old Testament leaders. Samuel would become the spokesman for God, God’s representative to the nation of Israel. When Israel clamored for a king, Samuel would anoint Saul, and when Saul failed, Samuel would anoint King David to be King over Israel. Samuel took his mother’s sacrifice seriously, and lived up to the opportunity given him as Eli’s helper, and then as the spiritual leader of Israel.

Let me tell you a story about a young man who responded to his mother’s sacrifice. Peng Si is from Guangzhou, China. About four years’ ago, his family scraped together enough money for him to attend college in the United States. Peng Si enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado, and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

During the three years it took Peng Si to complete his degree, he was very careful with his expenses. His family had already sacrificed over $75,000 to give him an education in the United States, so Peng Si did not even travel home to see his mother and father during his entire three years of study. He did not want to spend a penny more of his parents’ money, than he had to.

After graduation, Peng Si planned to start a master’s program. But word came from China that his mother was gravely ill with hepatitis. Her only hope was a partial-liver transplant. Peng Si’s twin sister volunteered to donate a part of her liver, but doctors said she was too thin to survive the surgery.

Against his mother’s wishes, Peng Si volunteered to donate 60% of his liver to his ailing mother. The surgery took place on July 22 last year. Both mother and son came through the surgery well.

The Chinese press picked up this story of mother and son. He was called a “shining example for all his peers all over China to follow” by the doctor who performed the surgery.

But the reason Peng Si gave for his act of love was interesting. He said, “Everyone at my US university was very proactive about getting involved in charity and social justice causes,” he said. “It really focused my outlook on what I need to do to help other people, not just to take care of myself.”

I hope you never are faced with a situation like Peng Si and his mother were, but you can still honor the sacrifice your mother and family have made by sending you to Hargrave.

You can listen for the voice of God in your life, maybe not like Samuel did, but God’s voice just the same. That inner voice that tells you to rise above the crowd, to distinguish yourself in your studies, your sports activities, and your relationships.

Several weeks ago, the news media carried the story of 11 Secret Servicemen. These men thought that because they had a privileged position — guarding the President of the United States — that they were exempt from the rules of decency and self-respect. That’s a mistake that is often made by those who enjoy special privileges.

What these 11 men failed to understand is that their special privilege demanded a higher level of accountability and conduct than would be demanded of most people. They made the mistake of thinking their privilege was a license to do as they pleased, when really their privilege was the opportunity to excel. Instead they embarrassed themselves, humiliated their families, and brought shame and ridicule on the United States.

Character counts. The decisions we make matter. You can’t just take care of yourself. Sacrifice demands responsibility. Honor your mothers today by exceeding expectations, overcoming obstacles, and demonstrating character. That is your mom’s hope for you. Give her the gift of your best on this Mothers’ Day.

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.”