Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to be the light of the world. Free us from all that darkens and ensnares us, and bring us to eternal light and joy; through the power of him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Matthew 25: 14 – 30
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven 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.”
Every family has an eccentric old aunt, doesn’t it? I’m sure you can all think of one in your own. In mine that eccentric old aunt was known as Aunt Lizzie! And what an eccentric old character she was! Raised in Glasgow in the early 1900s she never ever had very much, so what she did have she looked after with the frugality and carefulness of an Ebenezer Scrooge or a Bobby Burgon! To save money, she would walk to her work as a seamstress rather than take the bus, all the way from Polmadie near Rutherglen to the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street – and in all weathers. To burn as little electricity as possible she would get up at sunrise and retire at sunset so that she didn’t have to put the light on! If she was cold she’d wrap herself up in her coat and hat, if she was frozen she’d stick on an extra pair of socks and a scarf. And when it came to feeding herself, she lived on doll size portions, meagre morsels that she served herself, not on a normal dinner plate, but on a wee white saucer with a chip on it. When she died and the family emptied the house they discovered – under beds, at the back of drawers and on the top shelves of lobby presses – loads and loads of tins, biscuit tins, sweety tins, shortbread tins, tea caddy tins, all stuffed full of unopened pay packets! She died a very rich woman, did Aunt Lizzie, but she never felt the benefit of it for herself because all her days she had been frightened to risk spending her money in case a day came when she might need it!! Dear old Aunt Lizzie! What an eccentric old soul she was! I often wish I had kept in with her a wee bit more. She might have opened one of her tins for me and given me something from it!
Every family has someone like Aunt Lizzie! Someone who is frightened to take risks. Someone like the one talent servant in today’s scripture story, who wasn’t just frightened to take risks, but was also frightened to take responsibility, to take decisions, to make a loss, to annoy a demanding boss!
For people like Aunt Lizzie and the one talent servant life can sometimes seem too frightening, too sketchy, too uncertain, too dangerous to take a chance. After all, if you keep your treasure in a biscuit tin, or stuffed into the toes of a pair of boots, or in a deep, deep hole out in the back court behind the wash house you know exactly what you’ve got, you know exactly where you stand. You may never double your money, you may never make any extra cash, you may never impress your relatives or astonish your boss with your entrepreneurial verve, but you’ll know how much you’ve got and you’ll know IT IS SAFE. And in a world where many people harvest what they don’t plant and gather what they don’t scatter, in a world filled with dangerous opportunities, uncertain markets and demanding masters, safety can sometimes feel like the best policy, the biggest prize of all.
But this story in Matthew’s Gospel today throws out a bit of a challenge to us, it wants to turn our expectations inside out. It invites us to see that people who play the percentages, people who hedge their bets and hide their treasures, people who are fearful and risk nothing are actually the ones who risk everything.
Like the servants in the story, God offers us all a partnership.
The 5 talent and the 2 talent servants saw that partnership as an opportunity, an adventure to be explored. They knew that what the master had given them could easily be lost or stolen or invested badly, but they took the risk anyway.
The third servant, on the other hand, saw the partnership as a burden, as a responsibility that, for him, was too heavy to bear. He knew that what the Master had given him could easily be lost or stolen or invested badly and for that reason he opted for damage control. He avoided the challenge of partnership only to find that, playing it safe, was the biggest risk of all.
Preachers often use this story as a launch pad to talk about stewardship, that biblical concept of being careful with and making the most of what God has given us in creation – our gifts and talents, our natural resources, our buildings, our money. But stewardship isn’t really about money or pledges or building campaigns or talents. It’s not a program, or an event, or a theme for a particular Sunday of the year. Somewhere along the line we’ve allowed the idea of stewardship to get too narrowly defined. It’s become a word that we use when the roof needs a repair or the Rector needs a rise in his stipend! But stewardship, like discipleship, is much, much more than that. It’s actually a way of life, a way of testifying, celebrating and living each day in gratitude. It’s a lifestyle of receiving, of multiplying, of letting go and, yes, of taking risks. Stewardship is a way of remembering that we live in a world we didn’t create, that we receive blessings we haven’t earned, that we use resources we do not own. And our response to this generosity can either be a profession of faith or a profession of fear.
Dear eccentric old Aunt Lizzie made a profession of fear, sadly. And so too did the third servant with the one talent. Today’s Gospel story challenges us to be different, to make a profession of faith and to take risks. So, let’s risk forgiving someone who has wronged us, even if they don’t reciprocate; we stand to gain peace in our minds and love in our hearts. Let’s risk believing in the spiritual realm, even if we are ridiculed in these short-sighted days of the here and now; we are promised our reward in heaven. Let’s risk speaking up for God’s justice and the dignity of every person made in God’s image and likeness; we may risk being criticised and pilloried by those with other agendas but we will surely gain favour in God’s eyes and play our part in ushering in God’s kingdom.
Our calling is not to be people who refuse to take risks and settle for playing it safe because that is actually the riskiest thing to do. Our calling is to be a people who, in faith, hope and love, always take risks because it’s in the taking of risks for God’s sake that we stand to make the greatest of gains.
Heavenly Father, your Son Jesus teaches us to take risks in faith and so to make the most of everything you have given us for the building up of your kingdom. Hear us this day as we pray for Christian risk takers everywhere, asking you to give them courage and conviction in what they say and do in your Son’s name.
We pray for Christian leaders in the world: that they may always keep in the forefront of their minds your justice, your peace, and the dignity of all your children, made in your image and likeness. May they be willing to run the risk of the persecution of the prophets as they work tirelessly for the true flourishing of the people they serve, that all may enjoy fullness of life.
We pray for Christian leaders in the Church both lay and ordained: that they may always seek to deepen their faith and be emboldened by the vision you give them. May they be willing to run the risk of losing their lives for your Son’s sake as they work tirelessly for their congregations and communities, that all may see your love in action.
We pray for Christians in the communities from which we come: that they may know your grace and presence with them as they seek to serve those around them. May they be willing to run the risk of dying to self and living for you as they work tirelessly for the needy, the lonely, the sick and the desperate in their midst, that all may experience your compassion and care for real.
Heavenly Father, hear these and all our prayers, whether uttered on our lips or echoed in our hearts and make us all risk takers for you and your Kingdom, in line with your Son’s teaching, in whose name we pray. Amen.