St Paul's Parish Church
Tel: 01737 353849
Second Sunday before Advent 19th November 2017Introduction and Call to Worship
As we come together in worship, let us bring to mind the gifts and opportunities we have been given by God. Let us remind ourselves that God is loving and generous and always wants the best from us and for us.
First Reading Zephaniah 1:7. 12-18
The prophet announces that the day of the Lord is close. This will be a day when the Lord will execute judgement on all the earth, and for some there will be terrible punishment.
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Paul likens the day of the Lord to a thief coming in the night. It will be sudden and there will be no escape from the consequences. However, unlike Zephaniah, Paul is able to soften the hard message of judgement with the hope of salvation through Jesus.
Gospel Matthew 25:14-30
Large sums of money (talents) are left with three servants, with the clear expectation that they will invest the money profitably and wisely while their master is away. On the master’s return there will be a reckoning.
“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.’”
The prolific hymn-writer Fanny Crosby wrote over nine thousand hymns. Born in New York in 1820, she was blind virtually from birth, but resolved to dedicate her life to God and to use her gifts to help the poor. At fifteen she entered the New York Institution for the Blind, where she spent thirty-five years as a pupil and teacher. Her determination not to be beaten by her disability was awe-inspiring, as was her prodigious memory. Before Braille was invented she learned a number of Bible books by heart. When Fanny began missionary work on the deprived streets of New York’s East Side, she supported herself through hymn-writing. Her usual fee was two dollars per hymn, which was frequently given to a poor person. She lived to the age of ninety-five, and was writing hymns right up to her death in 1915. Some forty years later her best-known hymn, “To God Be the Glory”, emerged as part of the official songbook for Billy Graham’s London crusade of 1954. So enthusiastic was the reaction of the audience, that Billy Graham insisted the hymn be repeated every night of the crusade.
One interpretation of the parable of the talents, in today’s Gospel reading, is for the man going away on a long journey to be Jesus ascending to heaven. In this interpretation the slaves represent Christians, the talents the gifts of the Spirit, and the return of the master is the return of Jesus. But whichever way the parable is interpreted, the teaching is clear. The talents were given to people according to their abilities. Talents are what make us what we are and set us apart from other people. But in God’s eyes there are no winners and losers, no pecking order, no hierarchy. The reality that some people will be able to run or swim faster than others, or some be better writers, musicians or businesspeople, matters not to God. What matters is that we put our talents to good use. It is significant that the slave who had made two talents was given equal praise to the slave who had made five.
This parable is part of a series at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, all with the theme of judgement. Talents are given to us on trust and we are each held responsible for full and faithful use of these gifts. The reward for good service may be a larger responsibility in the work of God’s kingdom, but inaction and timidity will bring judgement and spiritual destruction. Significantly, the Gospel story devotes more space to the exchange between the master and the “wicked” slave – and to his fate – than anything else.
To whom much is given, much will be expected.” The billionaire Bill Gates’ mother said these words to her son shortly after he was married and just before she died. Our gifts are unique to us in both nature and quantity and we are duty-bound to use them in the knowledge that we will help and enrich others, not just ourselves.
We will also have opportunities in our lives. Opportunities to influence others, or to determine a course of events, can be regarded as talents. Fanny Crosby saw her disability, with which she dealt without blame or self-pity, as an opportunity to concentrate on what she could do best, to the glory of God. Also relevant is our availability. Time after time in the Bible, when there is a particular task to be accomplished, God does not look at the ability or inability of a person, but their availability. Some people, blessed with more devotion to God than obvious talents, make themselves available with their willingness to serve.
Whatever our talents, we must never let them wither from lack of use. We are to improve the quality of our work for God, and widen its scope according to our circumstances and abilities. We are to do what we do, but better and with greater focus and attention. Like the slaves in the story, we are to be stewards and, as St Paul says to the Corinthians: “it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy”. If we are faithful and trustworthy stewards for God, it will never be a chore.
1. The prodigious and prolific hymn-writer Fanny Crosby used her talents to the full.
2. Our talents are not distributed equally, but according to our ability to use them.
3. The reward for faithfulness is the same, whether five or two talents are made. That reward may be the opportunity to do more.
4. Using opportunities and being available for God can also be regarded as talents.
5. If we do nothing, and hide our talents “in the ground”, we can expect judgement.
Original text: ‘Living Word’ for Common Worship, Redemptorist Publications 2017.