SERMON 11/13/11 Pentecost 22A
Matthew 25;14-30 Today’s gospel includes a parable about a few overseers, who were called to account about how they administered portions of their benefactor’s portfolio. One invested well, another very well, another even better, but another who did nothing with the money, kind of like stuffing it in a mattress. Each of these financial advisors was rewarded for their fine efforts, with even more responsibility being given those who did well. The last manager was fired. This parable could be the subject matter for one of those episodes of Donald Trump’s show The Apprentice, but this parable is no reality TV drama, it is a lesson for us Christians. If examine our lives closely, each of us could identify gifts or talents, which God has given us. The question is, for what purpose have we been the recipients of so much grace? Some folks assert that the blessings we identify in our lives are given primarily for our own enjoyment. Some say those same blessings are intended for the purpose of serving others. Others say their purpose are for both. Either way, God’s gift of grace is just that, a gift. It is not something we can earn, something we can manipulate, or something we deserve.
There is a message circulating out there today, sometimes found on those religious television networks, that defines God’s grace as something we can somehow control. Some media theologians assert that prosperity, personal wealth, financial well-being, health, and blissful happiness is something we can insure is ours, if we but offer a sacrificial commitment back to God. There are some misleading notions about grace in these assertions. Grace is unearned and un-coaxed. It does not depend on our doing, our status, or our efforts at all. God’s grace flows abundantly and without distinction. God’s grace abounds and it is evident in our lives. Grace is not something to be hoarded or hidden, it is to be passed on, shared, and given out as freely as it has been given to us. The evidence of God’s favor towards us can be found in the many spiritual gifts we have been given.
The purpose of spiritual gifts is to strengthen, to empower, and to support our participation in God’s ongoing, transformative ministry of reconciliation. Like the managers who invested the talents with which they were entrusted, they returned more to their benefactor, from what they had already been given. The one manager who hid his master’s gifts, returned nothing. In a small, local non-denominational church there were three people named Sarah, Carl, and Alice. Sarah was a talented singer, but she never used her gift to further the kingdom. Carl was a patient teacher, but he never considered leading Sunday school for the kids. Alice had a pleasant disposition and a friendly smile, but she never would offer her smile in service as a greeter. Sarah, Carl, and Alice were given gifts from God, but missed the blessing of service, the grace of ministry found, the joy of returning to God that, which had been so abundantly given.
In the same church there were three other folks named, John, Sherry, and Fred. John’s heart was moved by the plight of the homeless and misfortunate, so he served weekly at the local pantry. Later, he received more responsibility in this ministry when he helped open a food bank that fed thousands. Sherry loved children and felt called to share the Gospel with them, so she volunteered as a substitute teacher in the Sunday school. Later, she was given the opportunity to create a new class for high school kids and her ministry flourished. Fred loved the outdoors and found great satisfaction working around the grounds of the church. Later, he was offered the opportunity to form a beautification committee and within a few months, the church looked better than it ever had before. Some of God’s people recognize their ministry call in the gifts God has given them, and God provides deeper ministry opportunities. Others refuse to utilize those gifts and miss the blessings of service. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The blessings of our personal ministry become evident from out of the use of the abundant gifts we have been given.
Ministry has been described as the intersection of the world’s greatest need and our greatest gifts. Where there is a need, and a there is a God-given spiritual gift that meet, ministry happens. Look back on your life and all with which you have been entrusted. Doctors are gifted as healers, lawyers/bankers are gifted as administrators, and teachers are gifted as guides and mentors. Each one of us has been given gifts, but using them is the key to participating in God’s ongoing work of salvation. The church is the community through which God’s ongoing work of salvation is made manifest in a hurting world, and God will see it through, regardless of whether we participate or not. The gospel will be preached, the sick will be restored, the broken reconciled, the least will be blessed, the lost found, and the lonely will share community and family. The question with which we must wrestle is whether we will actively participate.
Participating in the mission of God’s church, partnering with God to share the kingdom, being in collusion with God to restore all to unity with God and each other, means we are walking toward our destination with God. However, things have changed and our work is becoming more and more difficult. In this day and age, our mission is subject to a whole new set of societal norms. There number of folks who participate in church as a whole is in decline, but there is hope out there. There are emerging fresh voices, fresh expressions, and new ideas about community and as a result, the gospel message continues to be spread. Becky, the priest who preached at our celebration last Sunday night, reminded us that our work as a community comes with new challenges. We have to do things, not just a little differently, but very differently in order to keep the mission of the church going. For us, we have to hold on to our beautiful tradition, and at the same time attempt to translate it into a culture that does not understand it. We begin by listening to others. When new folks arrive, are we willing to embrace them? Are we willing to listen to their journey? We already have this talent of listening, embracing, and welcoming right here at St. David’s. I have been told by many of our new folks how they experienced radical welcome on their first visit. We are well on our way, but we have to keep going. We cannot hide our talent underground, We cannot hide from the mission that is before us, because we must be the instruments by which the life-changing song of the Gospel is heard.
We can no long gather merely to be fed, but we must be fed so we might be able to go out and feed others. We come here for strength and not merely renewal so that we can go out into the world (our little piece of the world … Englewood, Rotonda, South Venice, Placida … and be a lighthouse to all who are in need of Grace! Our mission is to show others the reconciliation; love, grace, and mercy we have found in Christ and we do that when we make new friends for Jesus.
We must take a look at our God-given gifts and ask God to reveal how we might use them to further the kingdom. It may be that some of us are called to give meals out to the homeless, maybe some of us are called to make warm clothing for the destitute, maybe some of us are simply called to greet a new person who arrives next Sunday and sit with them. Maybe, just maybe, we are merely called to answer the tough question from our friends outside the church, when asked. It may be the tough question like “what is it about you that makes you so filled with joy, with peace, and with love,” that opens the door to share your faith. It very well could be that your answer will be the only glimpse of the gospel our friends may ever hear. Let your gifts meet the needs of the world around you, and in so doing, you will be doing ministry. The gospel will be shared; God’s work will be done, not only in our generation, but in the generations to come.