November 15, 2020 Chapel by the Sea Worship via Zoom
Matthew 25:14-30 Between Now and Then A sermon by The Rev. Dr. Flatley

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Between Now and Then

Weeping and gnashing of teeth certainly gets your attention. It certainly would have scared Matthew’s listeners into paying attention. Matthew places this parable in a series of parables about the final judgement. Last week we read about the separation of the 5 foolish bridesmaids from the 5 wise ones. Next Sunday we’ll read about sorting the sheep from the goats. What are we to make of today’s end time parable about three slaves? The Greek word doulos could mean servant or slave. This parable is not describing chattel slavery, nor is it condoning slavery. We’ll have a lot more to say about slavery as we continue our Matthew 25 challenge and move our focus from building congregational vitality to the other two challenges of the PCUSA Matthew 25 challenge: dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty.

These are huge issues for our times and we are not going to bury them in the sand or the forest or stay in our bubble. We are going to talk about them, invest in them, and do our part because when we join in with our denomination, other ecumenical partners, faith based organizations, and movements we can speak truth to power.

These are some of the conversations we’re going to be having between now and then. “Now” for us is 2020 in the year of the Lord, anno domini , here on earth. “Then” refers to our joyous entrance into the heavenly realm, the wedding banquet at the end of the age or the end of our age whichever comes first. This parable is what we are to be and do in the “in-between” time. Usually this parable is associated with the stewardship campaign encouraging us to pledge our time, talent, and treasure because it shows up in the lectionary at that time of year when we do budget planning for the following year.

The word “talent” came to mean a special God-given ability, or gift because of this parable. The word talent entered the English language in the Middle Ages.

Originally a talent was a unit of measure, a weight. One could have a talent of gold, a talent of copper, This parable is most likely referring to a talent of silver. Accounting for the exchange rate and inflation a talent of silver is probably worth @ $500 today. In the first century a talent of this sort was worth a huge sum of money: equivalent to 15 years of wages for a day laborer! Now we’ve read other parables in Matthew where extravagant sums or measures are mentioned: the yeast in the dough for example where the woman made an extravagant amount of bread.

These extravagant amounts are symbols of the immeasurable love and generosity of God as Jesus ushers in this new realm which Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ came that we might have life and life in abundance. Yet too often we live from a place of scarcity or fear like the third servant. He acts from a place of fear and even given one talent, an extravagant amount, he plays it safe and buries it. As we say “only pirates bury their treasure”! Burying your treasure is the safe option especially if you don’t trust anyone. Sometimes we just don’t trust our own abilities! Alternatively, the third servant could have squandered the money like the prodigal son or taken a risk and lost it but this is a parable about the between time, the here but not yet time.

What are we to make of the undertones of this parable where investments are earned with exploitative labor. At the time of writing this parable Jesus was up against the religious rulers of the day, the Pharisees, and the Roman occupying force who wanted to keep things the way they were. Jesus had to work within the system to create a new thing that God is doing.

The third slave could be interpreted as an example of resistance who does not buy into the scheme.

But context is everything and in the Gospel of Matthew we are quickly approaching end times: we are almost at the end of the Gospel of Matthew and he places this parable near the end to emphasize the final judgement. We are all given according to our abilities where we are equal is in our effort to use those abilities before time runs out.

Like the bridesmaids whose oil was a symbol of being prepared, the talents here are a symbol of God’s grace, extravagant grace, unmerited favor where we experience God’s wealth of love for us . God sent Jesus Christ: friend, savior, and lover of our souls to show us the way, truth and life. As we wait we are to do something with the grace that has been extended to us as grace-filled beings and be graceful ourselves.

In the chapel one my favorite verses to read before the offering, before we passed the plate is 1 Peter 4:10, “as good stewards of God’s grace let us serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received”. It’s not about the 10% tithe, it’s about the rest of it too, the 100%, our whole selves, the whole world and everything in it belong to God.

How then are we to live in this in-between time in this state of grace?

I’m reminded of the verse “We have this treasure in clay jars” (2 Cor. 4:7-9) The treasure is the Good News, everything we know about God. We are the mere messengers, the vessels that carry the Good News of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and our God-given gifts and graces.

When Jesus commends the two servants for increasing the return on investment he calls them “good and faithful servants” and invites them to enter into the joy of the master. What Jesus doesn’t want us to do is hoard our treasure, bury it, hide it, put it under the mattress, or put our lights under a bushel.

As we await Christ’s return we have been “in-vested”, if you will, with the Holy Spirit to remind us of all that Christ taught and did. We are led on this journey through the Gospel of Matthew on paths of higher righteousness, and led in our curiosity by the Holy Spirit on some risky ventures. When we attend to the Holy Spirit is never the safe option but it is always an adventure as we step out in faith.

We are all called to use the weight of our talents in different ways. This parable teaches that in God’s economy of grace each individual receives gifts according to their abilities and each person is given the freedom to use those gifts.

Some like the third servant act from a spirit of fear and preconceived notions, or heresay about the master. The fearful servant did the safe thing, just like the Pharisees gave the safe answer when questioned by Jesus about John the Baptizer in Matthew 21.

Jesus came to tell us that we belong to a generous God who loves us beyond measure and invests in us. Let’s not bury those gifts and graces. You are worth the weight of a talent… or we might say you are worth your weight in gold! I would even go as far to say that in this year of the Chapel’s 60th Diamond anniversary you are a talent of diamonds: YOU, the ministers of Chapel by the Sea are like diamonds reflecting the Light.

In the Celtic tradition where heaven and earth meet, the founder of the Iona Community in Scotland the Rev. McLeod called this a “thin place”. It’s a lovely vision of heaven and earth meeting right there in a thin place where the veil is gossamer thin and translucent, a glimpse of heaven from earth. I pray this time and place between now and then during this pandemic will be a thin place for you. Amen

Sources: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4
New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII