A Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Years ago, I had a conversation about God with an acquaintance who later became a friend. My friend was an alcoholic who had finally gotten sick and tired of being sick and tired, and he had become ready – as people in recovery will say – ‘to give up the high cost of low living’ and started going to AA meetings. And at these meetings, he heard people talking about their ‘Higher Power’ whom they chose to call God. He heard people say, “If you don’t have a Higher Power, you need to get one.” They said if at first, it’s not God, don’t worry, for now it can be your sponsor or it can be the sky you look up at at night or it can just be the group – anything bigger than you are. But get one.

My friend said, “I know I need a Higher Power to stay sober, but I don’t believe in God.” And then he talked about the God he didn’t believe in. He described God as being harsh and far away and judgmental, and ready to punish him for just being human. I said, “Well I don’t believe in that God either.”

He didn’t know it, but his description of God was right in line with the description of the Third Servant in the Parable of the Talents we just heard. Remember, he says, “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…” I don’t know where my friend got his idea of what God is like. I don’t know where the Third Servant got his idea of what the Master is like either. All we know is that the Master said, “I’m going away and won’t be back for a while. So, while I’m away, I’m entrusting you and the others with everything that’s mine, all my property. So, here’s a talent for you to use and take care of while I’m away.”

Many sermons have been preached about this talent describing it as an ability you’ve been given, like painting or singing or an ability to read the financial markets well. But that’s not what the word that Jesus used meant. It meant a sum of money. In fact, a lot of money. When Jesus first told this parable, a talent was roughly equal to the amount of money a regular worker would earn in 15 years; a really unimaginably large amount of money. If you used the median income in the U.S. from the 2020 Census and multiplied that by 15 that would be $1,035,315. The point is, he gave his three servants everything he had – all his property – to use and take care of while he was away. And it was a lot. It was all he had.

I don’t know about you, but I might be afraid about that, too. What do you do with something that big? The odds feel pretty high that you could mess it up.

My father-in-law purchased a new computer and a printer for me to take with me to seminary. He said, “You’re going to need these.” This was 1990 and the computer and printer together cost almost $5,000. Could the use I would get out of them, could anything I could possibly accomplish with them, be worth that much?! I thought it was way too much. But he’d said, “I want to do this for you because you’re going to need them.” He had more faith in me than I did. I remember thinking of him when I sat down to start working on one of my first paper and thinking, “OK, not sure it’s worth all this but here we go!”

We’re coming to the end of the Church Year and every year we’re given three Gospel readings to prepare us for Advent and a new beginning that lies just ahead of us – as brand new and unimaginably fresh as a brand-new baby. Last week, Harrison preached beautifully on the first of these three Gospels and next week, we’ll hear Jesus’ great vision of the separating the sheep and the goats at the end of all things. Along with today’s Gospel, all three of these readings ask us to lift up our heads (maybe from the latest alert on our phones) and look down the line a little and to think about the future and what’s out there. How do you think about the future? Where are we headed? Which in the short-term in our lives is pretty unsettling because it feels a little dicey. Where are we headed? Are things going to get worse – more contentious, more angry, more violent? How does this time we’re in end – with a whimper or a bang? Do we just buckle down and get through this, circle the wagons, hope for less, put that ‘still small voice’ speaking in our souls on hold with its words of forgiveness and justice and mercy and peace till things calm down a little? When the world goes temporarily ‘to the dogs’, what do cats do till all the woofing ends? If it ends?

All the commentators on this passage wonder about the same things. But they all agree that that’s why this passage is such a precious word for us. This word sees further and deeper that this present moment. We have been given a gift as great as the one described in this parable, almost beyond being able to count. You, we have been given a life that God sees as eternally precious, born from God’s own loving gift of creation and bound for love at the end. In the meantime, we are now, already, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, our true home. And Jesus says that God’s Kingdom is among you now because he is among us now, here and there, now and again, like yeast growing secretly in the dough, signposts of grace to light the world on its way home to God. It’s worth risking everything for – not burying in the ground because we’re afraid.

Sometimes I think our lives are like parables – signs that the future Kingdom of Heaven is already among us. Like this one. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a group of people who went out to plant 3,000 daffodil bulbs so that in the spring the beauty of God’s work would be there for all to see and a sign that God’s grace still abides. Some wondered if it cost too much to get that many bulbs. Some wondered if there were so many bulbs that maybe they wouldn’t all get into the ground and the unplanted bulbs might dry out and wither and be wasted. But then many people showed up so that there were enough and more than enough to get the job done. Some bulbs were planted expertly at just the right depth. Some less so. Some were planted in good soil. And some in not such good soil. But they were all planted. That happened here at St. Mary’s a week ago. We’ll have to wait to see what God will do with this. But I’m glad we did it. I hope we keep planting seeds of the Kingdom with our lives, acting from love and not fear, giving and receiving forgiveness, trusting that the future belongs to God no matter how much the world seems to have gone to the dogs.

Dear friends, we – God’s Church on earth – have been given a great gift. Like the servants in the parable, we have been given all that God has – the promise that God’s Son, the Lord Christ, has laid down his life for us to bring us all home. Apparently, he has more faith in us than we do. Still, God’s grace abides, and the Kingdom is among you now. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May