November 19, 2017
The Rev Rod Sprange
Last spring, we quietly designated today as Stewardship Sunday, more for planning purposes than anything else. Many parishes have a financial stewardship Sunday around this time of year for practical reasons. It’s almost a new fiscal year and financial planning for the parish is underway for the next year. And many households are probably or probably should be thinking about their budgets for the next year. The problem with this approach is that it creates the impression that stewardship is all about the church asking for money; and that we only need to think about our stewardship once a year.
As we have been saying in our presentations, stewardship should really be about recognizing that all we have has been entrusted to us by God, and as Christians we need to be intentional about living lives of gratitude and generosity - we are aiming to achieve ‘An Attitude of Gratitude’ and ‘A Spirit of Generosity’. We also need to realize that stewardship isn’t a once a year thing. As you know every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, think about that, we celebrate the Easter miracle each and every Sunday. In the same way every Sunday should be a celebration of our gratitude and a reminder of our call to be good stewards. A time to think about our stewardship. Actually this should be an everyday thing when we try to be aware of God’s generosity to us and God’s trust in us. And to consciously make good use of our gifts, God’s use. After Jesus had been lost for three days and finally found by his anxious parents studying in the temple, Jesus said to them “Didn’t you understand that I need to be about my Father’s business”. Well we too need to be about God’s business, that’s our calling.
Interesting things happen when you get involved in God’s work! Last spring when we chose today for this particular celebration of stewardship we hadn’t looked at the lectionary readings. We just fit this into a busy fall worship schedule. Three weeks ago, when I started to prepare this sermon, I was so surprised and happy to discover that the appointed gospel reading for today is probably the most recognizable stewardship parable in the New Testament. I was left, once again, wondering at the mystery of God.
Jesus’s parable of the talents is full of important teaching about stewardship. Unfortunately, because the parable deals with money it is frequently used just as a financial stewardship text, missing the main point. Jesus wasn’t really talking about financial stewardship in this story, he was talking more about the gifts of faith and the Gospel. We have been entrusted with the gifts of faith and the Good News of God in Christ. When we are good stewards of the gifts of our faith and the Gospel we can’t help but recognize and respond to the call to good stewardship of all of our gifts including our finances.
In our renewed focus on Stewardship at St.Peter’s we are highlighting three areas of stewardship - Our time & talents, our faith and our finances. Perhaps we should really put these in the order of Faith, Time & talents and finances. Together let’s explore the parable of the talents.
A landowner is going away for an unknown but significant length of time. He divides up an extremely large amount of capital among three servants or slaves. He gives to one 5 talents, one 2 talents and a third 1 talent. One talent may not sound like much, but a talent was worth about what a labourer would earn in fifteen years. This is a very generous and trusting land owner. I have a few questions for you: My answers follow the sermon text
- The landowner gave them different amounts - why?
- Were these gifts to these men, in the sense of presents?
- What was the landowner expecting his slaves to do with the money?
- Did the landowner leave instructions on exactly how the slaves should do manage the money?
- When the landowner finally returned the first two had doubled the money - they had used their ability to trade wisely with the finances with which they had been entrusted. But the third had buried his in the ground. Why did he bury the money?
- Whose judgement did he not trust?
The question that hangs in the air for us is are we like the first, second or third slave? When we think about our gifts of faith and the Gospel - what are we doing with them? Hiding them under the mattress just isn’t good enough. It’s not enough to go to church once a week and then bury our faith for the next six days. And what about all the other things that God has entrusted to us - our lives, our families, our relationships, our skills and abilities, our intellects, our finances and other resources. Can you see that Jesus’s point in presenting this parable is for us to recognize that everything has been given to us by God in trust - to develop and use in God’s interest. Or to put it theologically, to use these gifts to further Christ’s mission on earth. Can you see, through this parable, that while God has given us free-will to use these gifts, there will be an accounting for what we have done with them. There is Good News! The parable is also telling us to be bold and unafraid - because God has given us these things according to our abilities. All we need to do is trust God’s judgement - Trust God - really believe in God. What we must not do, if I understand this parable correctly, is just try to preserve the things in our trust, just safely hand them on without risk.
Today, each of you has mail! It’s been put into your church mail slots during worship. The idea of this package is to help you to discern how God may be calling you to respond to God’s generosity over the next year. So let’s give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus Christ, the Gospel and the abundant gifts entrusted to us. And let’s pray that the Holy Spirit gives us grateful hearts - an attitude of gratitude and a spirit of generosity. Amen
My answers to the questions the parable raised.
- The men were given different amounts because they had different levels of ability. He gave them what he knew they were capable of managing
- These weren’t gifts to the men - these remained the landowners property, he had entrusted the men to make good use of it in the interest of the landowner.
- The Landowner was expecting the men to use the money in his interests. He expected them to grow his capital.
- The landowner didn’t micro-manage his slaves, he gave them freedom to use their own judgement.
- The third man buried his master’s money out of fear. I wonder how many of us bury our gifts out of fear, or hide our faith because we are afraid or embarrassed.
- The third slave didn’t have faith in his own judgement or abilities. But more seriously, he didn’t have faith in his master’s judgement. After all the master had judged the man capable of using the finances well. That’s one of the reasons the landowner was so angry at the third man, because he didn’t trust his master. He lacked faith.