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Pentecost 22 Proper 28, November 13, 2011

Pentecost 22 Proper 28 A RCL November 13, 2011

Judges 4: 1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11
Matthew 25: 14-30

In our lesson from the Book of Judges, the people have been oppressed by Jabin, King of Canaan, and his military commander, Sisera. The people cry out to God for help, and God calls forth two leaders to meet this crisis. One of them is Deborah, a judge of Israel, wife of Lappidoth, Deborah is also called a prophetess. The judges of that period in Israel’s history were a combination of military leaders and wise people who helped to settle disputes as judges do today. Deborah was highly respected among the people.

Barak was a military leader of great strength, but Deborah was a thinker who was expert in strategy. This was going to be an important battle against a much larger foe, so God combines the gifts of two leaders, Deborah and Barak. They lead the people into battle, and the battle is won.

In our epistle for today, we are reminded that our Lord will come quickly, as a thief in the night, and we are called to be awake and to live as children of the light. We are called to live in faith and love and to build up each other, that is, to support each other in our faith journey.

Our gospel for today is the beloved parable of the talents. A man goes on a journey and he calls three of his servants and entrusts to them his estate. He gives to each according to his ability. To one he gives five talents, to the second, he gives two talents, and to the third, he gives one talent.

A talent is a huge amount of money. It is the equivalent of fifteen years’  labor. Bible scholar Thomas Troegher has computed the value in modern terms and he comes up with $31, 200 for one talent based on a wage of fifteen dollars per hour. Thus the first man received $156,000, the second 62, 400, and the third $31, 200. That’s a lot of money.

As we know, the first man makes five talents more, the second man makes two more talents. They each double their master’s money. The third man sees his master as someone who is harsh and mean and reaps where he does not sow, so he buries the talent for safekeeping.

After a long time, the master comes home. He praises the first two servants and gives them more responsibilities, and welcomes them to the joy of their master. The third servant is thrown into the outer darkness. Once again, this is more Matthew’s editorializing than the voice of Jesus. The comment that those who have will get more is also a later edition, It is not the vision of Jesus. He would never agree with the idea that the rich should get richer and the poor should get poorer.

A talent in those days was a coin worth a great deal.  Scholars tell us that the word “talent” came into English as a result of this parable. But this parable is not just about using our God-given talents, It includes that idea, but it involves much more.

One scholar notes that the master entrusts the entire estate to the servants. God has entrusted the entire creation to us. We are called to be good stewards of this planet. We are called to “live simply that others may live.”

The third servant sees the master as a mean guy. Do we see God as that old man with a beard carefully totaling up our mistakes, our sins? Or do we see God as a loving and generous God, the one who is waiting at the end of the driveway to welcome the prodigal son when he finally comes home?

God gives us everything. Every breath we take. Every gift we have. Our money, our health, our abilities, our ability to work, our ability to love and care, all come from God. These things are not ours. They are gifts from God. This moment which we are sharing is a gift from God.

Next Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, and we will be starting to make our pledges. In gratitude to God for all that God gives to us, we will return to God a portion of what God has given us. The Biblical standard is a tithe, a tenth. Nowadays, we often think of the modern tithe, or five per cent of our time, talent, and treasure to be returned to God, This includes all our donations to charities.

Some comments on this parable.  First, God is not a mean master, As someone has said, “God is a lover, not a lawyer.” When we truly realize what God has given us, it is natural to want to return a worthy portion to God.  Second, the master welcomes the first two servants into his joy. Stewardship does give us joy. The attitude of gratitude does generate deep joy. Third, the poor fellow who hid that one talent was operating our of fear. Dear Lord, help us to avoid operating out of fear. Fourth, the first two servants took some risk. They operated out of faith, not fear. Now, I’m not saying that this parable is telling us to take stupid risks, but I am saying that being people of God’s shalom sometimes involves taking some risks.

Together with our pledges for next year, we are also going to be collecting our offering for Episcopal Relief and Development. During this month of November, every gift to ERD will be matched. So, if you give ten dollars, that will be matched and become twenty dollars. As you know, ERD helps people both here in the United States and all around the world. Some of the folks who were on the ERD team for Hurricane Katrina and stayed to help all along the Gulf Coast for two years came here to help with the ministry to those affected by Tropical Storm Irene here in Vermont. They are continuing to help for the long haul.

So please think and pray about both your pledge for next year and your offering for ERD. Next month, in December, we will be making our contributions to the United Thank Offering.

God has blessed us with so much. May we be thankful.  May we share with others, and may we return a worthy portion to our loving and generous God.    Amen.

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