By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 29, 2020
Mark 13:24–37 (ESV)
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
But in those days, after that tribulation. How many times do we read these passages? How often do we think about the words as we read them? Last week we discussed the apocalyptic message of Jesus. I mentioned that the use of apocalyptic language is to prompt us to think. We use this sort of language all the time. We use it to explain what might happen if things do not change.
People often use passages like this to encourage repentance out of fear. This has some benefit, but it is limited. We all know the dangers of smoking yet millions of people continue to participate in that activity. Apocalyptic language is not only doom, gloom, and fear, it is also filled with hope.
Today’s passage begins, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
At first glance this sounds horrifying. A few years ago, we experience a solar eclipse here in Missouri. Albert was not in school yet so our family went to the zoo to watch the eclipse. I remember the time vividly. We were standing near the tram station in the African exhibit, and as the eclipse began you could see the various animals get nervous. When the sun became fully eclipsed the various herd animals began to stampede in their exhibit. I understand the feeling because even though my mind knew the science behind the event, even though my mind knew that the event would only last a short amount of time, my heart began to race. I stood there thinking about the ancient cultures that first learned to predict these astronomical events and the fear of the people they lived among. How should you feel when the things you are accustomed to, the things you depend on and devote your lifestyle too fail to do what is expected?
We look at this passage and passages like this and we see them as depicting the end. But what if we look at them from a different perspective?
The verses just prior to today’s passage speaks of the Abomination of Desolation. This is a terrible event that was spoken of in a prophecy of Daniel and an event that came to pass in 167 BC. This is the event that first started the Jewish war for independence, and the reason for the feast of dedication which is the celebration of Hanukah. The abomination was when a pig was sacrificed in the Temple of God rendering the facility unclean, and left Israel without redemption. The act was to demoralize the Jewish people, to cause hopelessness. But the people of God rose, because they knew their true hope was found not only in the stones of the Temple but among the people called by the name of God. Just when it appeared that all was lost, they saw hope. Dedicated servants of God preserved some sanctified oil to use in the lamps within the temple, the only problem was they only had enough oil for one day and it would take eight days to purify the temple after the abomination. The light burned not only for one day but for the entire time required, and that light gave Israel hope and it inspired them to overcome their oppressors and established an independent nation again.
These events happened nearly two hundred years before today’s passage. Israel is free to worship in the temple, even though they are under the rule of Rome. Their temple is the pride of their people and is envied throughout the empire. Why would Jesus bring up this dark day of history?
At times we lose focus of what is most important. One day when Jesus and his disciples were leaving the temple they turned back and gazed upon its glory. The disciples marveled at the work of human hands in reverence to God. Jesus saw the pride in their eyes and told them that a day would come when not one of the stones would be stacked on another. These were massive stones, some weighing 160,000 pounds, each cut to perfection. The disciples looked at Jesus with concern because the temple could be a mighty fortress and what force of man could topple something like it?
Jesus spoke with apocalyptic words to highlight the course the people were traveling and the end that would come about. Jesus told them that they would see the abomination of desolation and that it would usher in a great tribulation for the people of Israel. He said that it would be the worst event since the dawn of time because it would separate the people of God from the land promised to them. He said these things, and the people rejected the words. He taught in parables saying that the kingdom is like ten virgins or like the investment of wise stewards, the kingdom is not a nation but it is a lifestyle of service and being ready to actively participate in ministry when needs present themselves. The kingdom is not land but people encouraging people. But the people that claimed to represent God’s voice failed to listen to the words spoken by the prophets of old, nor of Christ. They saw the kingdom as a land of their own, ruled and governed by people devoted to God, and I respect their view, but their view has a problem. Governments use force to keep people in line, and when those that command those that use force feel threatened the force is used on the people governed. God’s kingdom is about people living in cooperation and consent and the kingdoms of men are based on force. Israel was walking toward their destruction, and it would happen within a generation.
Just as it happened two hundred years prior to that day, there was hope just beyond the desolation. There was light in the darkness. The end may have come but the beginning is near. Jesus used language like the sun going dark, stars falling from the heavens, and the moon not giving light. These words all point to the things that we are putting faith in, we accept that they will be there no matter what. We can put faith in things that are not within our control.
If we are an employee, we trust that the people that employ us are making good business decisions that will keep our job secure, but at times corporations have economic downturns and will begin to cut hours or worse lay off employees. If we are not aware of the business cycles of the industry, we are working in this might cause fear. I work in retail and currently we are in the busiest time of the year, but in about a month we will be entering the slowest time of the business cycle. From the end of January through Easter sales in retail businesses drop significantly, schedules are cut to a minimum. Newer employees who were hired during the busy season were used to working long hours and even getting overtime, and suddenly they are asked to work less. If they were not properly prepared this causes stress. The same can happen in other industries. I have worked in agriculture and lawn care; both industries are based on a growing cycle of plants. In the spring as things start growing there is a great deal of work to do. Planting, weed management, and managing the soil fertility to ensure proper growth. As the temperature increases the focus shifts from planting and fertility to water management. And then when the temperature begins to fall the focus again shifts to planting and root development to prepare for the winter. During the winter there is little work to do in those industries so most of these workers are temporarily unemployed. I remember the first years I worked in the lawn and landscape industries I was extremely nervous during the winter months. I had a new wife and a young child and I was unemployed for three months.
The things I depended on were not as dependable as I once though. It caused fear and discomfort. I was forced to reconsider life as I knew it. Several aspects of life can cause distress like this. A new child changes the dynamic of the family, new jobs, retirement, changes in our health, governmental decrees, and war. Each of these aspects of life can cause ripples in the fabrics of our lives. Some cause great distress while others only cause minor inconveniences.
Jesus is warning the people of Israel that life will change. The things that they were depending on, the things they were putting their faith in were not constant and could fail. Jesus was telling the leaders of the people that they were poking a sleeping bear and eventually there would be retaliation. When that day comes their faith will be shaken because many were placing their faith in things that they though were under their control but were not.
How will we react in those times of uncertainty? Jesus tells us to look for signs and lessons in the world around us. Look at the fig tree, when the branches become tender and put out leaves you know summer is near. When we see things are changing around us, we should not fear but look deeper. What is changing? Why is it changing? Where are we in this change? And where is God? What remains when everything else falls apart?
This is where our focus should be. Nations rise and fall, empires rise and fall, politicians rise to power and they are voted out of office. What remains? Companies open, grow, and if they cannot adjust to changing tends close. What remains? Church Meetings open and close, what remains? Pastors come in and they leave, what remains? Friends come and friends move away what remains? Our health is here one day and is gone another, what remains? In each of those cases the people you interact with every day remain. The relationships you nurture remain. Your family, your friends, the people that you do not even really like are still around you. At times even those faces change but the interaction with others remain, the necessity of building relationships to survive remain. The sun may darken and the moon may refuse to give its light, but you remain and how you respond in that situation can change the world.
In places like the United States and Europe the church seems to be in decline, yet in places where the church is persecuted there appears to be rapid growth. Have we ever stopped to consider why that might be? Because the church is a source of hope. The church is in decline in America because we are comfortable, we are not struggling and we look to ourselves instead of to God for answers. When we face trials we often neglect to testify to the amount of prayer we invested during our struggle so when people speak to us they do not hear how God carried us through because we took the credit ourselves. The outside world listens to us describe our struggles but they do not hear of God’s provision because we say things like, “I applied for a different job, or I went back to school.” We leave out the part about the three months we laid awake at night crying out to God when we could not find our way. We leave out the part where we poured the last bit of rice in the water and praying that it would be enough to satisfy the hunger of our children because we would not get paid for another couple of day, and then receiving a phone call that evening with an invitation for supper the next day.
We speak of ourselves, and we neglect to mention God. We speak and we believe our words, and we begin to place our faith in our own abilities. But what is really happening? God is still at work. I could list off the ways that I have seen God working in my life or the lives of those around me. Some might say it is a coincidence but I do not see it that way. Timing of checks received just in time to make payments that were beyond my means. Calls received just when I needed to hear an encouraging voice. And yes, offers to join others for a meal when there was nothing edible in my house. I could say that it was because of my own actions and I am not fully wrong to say this, but it is not the whole story. God is still at work and he uses us as instruments of blessing.
When we see the world seem to be crashing in on itself around us, what do we do? “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” We read those words and we immediately think that God will take us out of the situation, yet we still face struggle. These words were once seen as words of hope in a time of despair. The word gather is important. It means to cause to come together or assembling. The key is together or bringing many parts to make a whole. When trials come the ones that face the trials often faulter and they need others to help them carry on. When trials come the gathering is what carries us through because we are the ones that assist one another. That is the mission of the church. The sun darkens and moon fails to give its light, those are words of despair and depression, but in the darkness, there is a light. Jesus came to live for us. The end of an age may come but that end is just a beginning. The winters of life will come, but spring follow. Jesus came not just to die for our sin, but to live for our glory. He provides the way and the means; he gave us an example and a lifestyle. And he calls us to participate in that life.
The abomination that causes desolation did come within that generation. Jerusalem did fall within the first century, yet the end was just the beginning. The end of the temple became the beginning of the church. The persecutions of the church placed people throughout the entire Roman Empire to speak of the hope of Christ. The church grew. Jerusalem fell but the church remained. Rome fell but the church remained, because the church is more than structures and institutions it is people gathered, encouraging one another through the storms of life by pointing to the hope of Christ. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overtake it. Let us not live in fear, but instead let us respond with what we have available to us and become a blessing to those around us.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 22, 2020
Matthew 25:31–46 (ESV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
For most of my life, I have lived within a church that has been focused on the end times. The left behind series was released when I was a teenager, and I read all of them. I believed all of them. I was looking for the signs and trying to figure out when these amazing things were going to happen. But even before those books were released there were other books like them. For the past century many in America have been counting the days down, so to speak, for the end. We have been trying to identify the antichrist and making attempts to explain how or where the mark of the beast will come from. We have been gorging our spiritual lives with the eschatology. I want to ask one simple question about this, what is it worth?
For my entire life churches have been making decisions, politicians have been using eschatological references to spur their bases into voting, and to garner support for foreign policy. It does not even matter what political party us support both sides have used the church to promote their policies, both have twisted the words of scripture to shame and promote their policies. Both sides try to put a divide within our ranks, if you do not follow us you are not a true believer.
The truth of the matter is that we have been living in the biblical end times since the first days of the church. For the past two thousand years the apocalyptic words of scripture have been playing out before our very eyes. We have experienced the end of the age and have been experiencing the end for generations. The first Christians, the followers of Christ believed that the end was upon them, those that lived at the turning of the first millennia believed that the day of the Lord was upon them. Those of us that lived through the Y2K panic also believed that we were going to see that glorious day. But there is something common with all those events. They distracted us from the reality that the apocalyptic literature was attempting to convey.
When we read this passage what is the first things that comes to mind? We focus on the last judgement of Christ, we focus on the end, we focus on justice being executed on those that have different opinions. We focus on the end.
I have been a pastor for most of my adult life. I entered ministry in 2003, meaning I have been active in church leadership for seventeen years. It is hard for me to wrap my head around that because in my mind, I still feel as if I have just started. Last week I talked with James on the phone as he was trying to determine what he wanted to do in the future and we laughed because I had to admit to him that I was still trying to work that out in my own life. In those seventeen years I have been asked many questions, I have entered many conversations and encouraged many people, but there has been one question or comment that has troubled me. That comment is that all Christianity is, is a death cult.
A death cult, for those that do not know what that might be, is a religious expression that glorifies death. Everything that they do is devoted to death. When this person made that comment to me, I was at a loss for words. In a flash, the synapses in my mind were working at lightening speed reviewing my knowledge of church history and personal experience. I reviewed every theological book I had ever read and considered a perspective of an outsider looking into the Church. And considered what they might see. And it grieved my heart. That one statement shook me.
I looked at my friend and I told him, that he was not wrong. That is often how the church is portrayed. We focus on the end. We focus on life after death. We focus and celebrate the sacrifice of our Lord. And we look forward to that time where justice will prevail, where those that oppose our Lord will be vanquished and the world will be at peace. I told my friend that I understood why he said those words.
Do not look at my friend as being an enemy though. We often want to judge those outside of the church as being unspiritual, or not willing to embrace faith. This is not true. This individual, though an atheist, read more scripture than most people within the church, and could speak to the deeper meaning within the words. Those that seek to disprove our faith, are not necessarily people in league with Satan, but are people that are searching and struggling with that of God within themselves. They are looking at the world around and inside them and are attempting to find a way forward. They are just like each one of us, the only difference is the conclusions they have drawn.
This friend of mine would never have said that he was seeking Christ and to be honest most of us would not say he was seeking Christ. But when people make attempts at disproving something, there is a reason. They are seeking to prove the necessity of faith. And his conclusion of Christianity being a death cult had merit in his eyes. What is the point of birth and life when our focus is on death? This has been a struggle for the church for most of our history. We do focus a great deal on the life beyond the veil. Each night as Albert goes to bed, we read a devotional that has been speaking about salvation, and in the words, it says that salvation will give us eternal life with God after death. This is important. But what about everything else?
I have lived forty-one years. I have been a follower of Christ for thirty-six of those years. Some of us have lived much longer while others are just beginning their journey through life. If all that is important is the end why does God require us to linger? Because the dash between the year of our birth and the year of our death is important. That dash is filled with stories of triumph and defeat, despair and hope, and miraculous heroism. That dash is life.
When I attended classes at Friends University, I loved theology class. I loved it because I had a teacher that loved theology. This guy could speak hours upon hours on theology and not once see it as being boring. He spoke about the theology of marriage, the theology of death, the theology of ministry, and the theology of pretty much everything. To him theology was incorporated into every aspect of life. He was also the church history teacher, so you could imagine if he got excited about theology, when he spoke about history, he saw the hand of God in everything. In a discussion about scripture and what needed to be included, he said the funniest thing. We need a fat bible not a skinny bible. By this he meant that we needed the complete bible, and not just the New Testament. He was not a fan of handing out pocket New Testament because he felt like it was not giving the complete story. Without the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament we cannot understand the hope of Christ. This same teacher once asked us a question in class, “what is the most important church holiday?” Is it Easter? Is it Christmas? They are all important. Without Christmas there would be no Easter without Easter there would be no Christmas, and then there is the dash in between those dates. There were Thirty-three years between the birth of Jesus and Good Friday, thirty-three years of life.
Life is important. All of life. That dash between the beginning and the end is filled with the most important and most meaningful events. It is the things within the dash that encourage generations and are spoken of during our memorial services. Jesus came not just to die, but to live life, to show us life. He came to restore all of creation to life.
This is the point of apocalyptic literature. It is not to strike fear in our minds or to worship the end. It is to jumpstart our minds to remember that we are in the dash of our lives, the end may be soon, and at this moment we still have time to live. The apocalyptic literature is there to encourage us to reexamine the current trajectory of our lives and to make necessary course corrections. The church is not to focus on the end but it should live.
Jesus, for the past few weeks has been speaking in apocalyptic language. He told stories of the kingdom using illustrations of ten bridesmaids and the stewardship of servants. In each of these stories there is something to look forward to, a feast or the joy of the master which is a welcome home party. But the most important aspects of those stories were not the end but what was going on during the space between the beginning and the end. In the story of the bridesmaids, the focus was on the availability of the oil. The whole point of the story was being able to complete the mission set before you when the time comes. The point is to be prepared, and the apostles understood that theme and Peter taught us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to the hope that we have.
The story from last week dealt with the Stewards of the Talents. I asked a question about how we are investing the uniqueness of our lives, which is what God invested in us. The point of that story again is to boldly live our lives, investing into the lives of those around us, and not cowering away in fear. Live the lives of our faith boldly entrusting every aspect of our lives in the lifestyle of Christ.
Today we see the culmination of these shorter parables. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will gather the nations and separate the sheep from the goats. This imagery speaks deeply to Hebrew spirituality. Israel began as a nation of shepherds, even their greatest king began his life as a shepherd. Throughout scripture Israel is often called sheep. The people of God were seen in their scriptures as God’s sheepfold. Jesus spoke of this as well. He said that his sheep hear his voice and respond, but he extends this imagery out to those outside Jewish heritage by saying he has sheep in other folds as well. The goats are a different story. Goats are often used to signify those outside of God’s influence, even today those that claim to follow pagan religions associate with the goat. But the goat has significance to the Hebrew people. The goat was used during the celebration on the day of atonement, it was a goat that carried the sins of the nation out into the chaos of the wilderness. Jesus in this parable brings the nations together and separates the sheep from the goats. He separates those that follow the ways of God from the ones that carry or bear the sins of the nations.
But what is the criteria of separation? As much as I would like to say that the criteria is something as simple as a prayer it is not. During the past generations of the church we have made attempts at fine tuning our faith, even the Friends have participated in these activities. We have whittled the law down from over six hundred and focused on ten, but for much of church history those ten laws were accompanied with means of grace called the sacraments or mysteries. We were required to follow the commandments and participate in the sacraments for our atonement. When the reformation occurred, these things were again revised to some degree. The commandments remained, but the means of grace were minimized to only two of the seven. Friends in their attempt to purify the faith made the bold statement that all of life is a sacrament and that we should live our testimony daily, this kept the commands but distilled the means of grace to one thing, a life lived. The problem is that through all of this we institutionalized religion, we made it into a series of rites, or a checklist of sorts and as long as our cards had all the proper marks we were assured by the keepers of the institutions that we have obtained our salvation.
This is not what Jesus describes. The nations are brought before the Son of Man and are separated. Like the bridesmaids both groups were attending the church, because both call the Son of Man Lord. It is those that ministered and encouraged those that were thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned, sick, and provided hospitality that were brought into the kingdom. It is not the amount of knowledge we possess or marks of religious adherence, but how we interact with those around us.
We are saved by grace through faith. This is the crowning theological achievement of the reformation and one that I fully agree with. We cannot work our way into heaven because it is only through Jesus that we have access to God. What Jesus is pointing out is true faith bears fruit. True faith is not just something that we have in our heads, but it is where we entrust every aspect of our lives to the direction of God. Faith is not something we believe only but it is lived.
These words of Jesus were being spoken to people that claimed faith, yet their faith did not reach their hearts. They may have been clean on the surface but deep within remained aspect of sin and rebellion. Where are we in this story? Where is our church? Where is our nation? Are we sheep or are we goats? Are we living our lives as visible testimonies of God’s provision and grace or are we seeking to control our own destiny?
Jesus is calling out to us in this passage. He is calling for us to repent and turn toward him. He is calling us to follow him, to take on his life and lifestyle. He is encouraging us to make it our custom to love God in worship together in our community, to embrace the Holy Spirit in prayer, and to live his love as we serve and minister to the needs of those around us. This is our purpose and our mission. This is true faith distilled to the purest essence, loving God in all that we are and do, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As we enter this time of open worship let us examine our lives. Let us recognize the areas in ourselves where we may be falling short and let us repent and turn toward Christ more fully. And let us be open to God’s Spirit and become willing to become a blessing and instruments of hope for those struggling in the chaos of our world.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 15, 2020
Matthew 25:14–30 (ESV)
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Last Sunday we considered the delay of Christ’s second coming. In the parable of the ten virgins Jesus gives us this insight that maybe the delay is because God is still negotiating terms of the marriage. God is still working on securing the finest for a bride of Christ. The church is still working, there is more work to do.
The ten bridesmaids are there serving the church. Five of those bridesmaids were wise while five were considered foolish. All ten were there ready to escort the bride to the feast, they all had their lamps ready at the beginning of the day but when the time came for them to step up and serve, only five were in a position to answer the call.
I hope the words of that story percolated through your mind and heart over the past few days. So often we look at the world and we see the negativity in the media, what we see distracts us from what is most important. We cry out to God and plea that the day of the Lord would come soon, and usher in the kingdom now. I want us to consider that for a moment, where is the light? God is actively negotiating for the bride; God is actively at work even through the chaos of the world. God is working because of the great love God has for the world, love so great that He sent his son not to condemn the world but to save it.
This is where I want our mind today. Not condemnation but salvation, not hate but redemption, not retreat but active pursuit. This is our God. This is our God coming from the throne of heaven, entering the societies of humanity, and showing us the way to our true home. Not wanting anyone to perish but actively seeking our hearts to give us life more abundantly.
The kingdom is like ten bridesmaids serving the bride, waiting for the bridegroom to call out so that they can enter the feast. Jesus called his disciple, He called them and they chose to join him in that journey. He called them to walk through life with him. He called them to become fishers of men, meaning that he would show them a way of life that is foreign to their current ways of thinking but would amaze all that see it. Jesus calls, we respond. Not one of the disciples were completely the same. Matthew was a government official and one of Simon’s were a zealot. Each had skills and personalities that were used to expand the influence of Christ throughout the world. Matthew wrote, while Peter spoke. Some of the disciples we know little about and others are nearly larger than life. Each of the disciples lived through persecution, most suffered martyrdom, they participated in miraculous events, and they saw God’s kingdom stretch across the Roman Empire, into Africa, and east into Asia.
This is where the parable of the servants and talents comes in. A man is going on a journey, and as he is preparing, he needs to entrust his estate to stewards. He considers the various servants that are available. He considers their various skills and abilities and decides how to divide the responsibility of his estate.
To one of the servants, this man entrusts five talents, to another two is given, and to a third one talent is entrusted. For many of us we fail to grasp the great responsibility that is entrusted to these individuals. It is difficult because we do not use the same measures of wealth as they did in ancient times. This is not only something that happens over the course of time, but even when interacting with those of different cultures. For us one dollar does not mean a great deal, we look at minimum wage and think that it is a ridiculously low amount of money. When I went to Ukraine, we were advised to never speak about the dollars we made at our jobs but instead we were encouraged to discuss our work lives in terms of how many hours we would have to work to attend a movie, or eat a meal at McDonalds. When we discuss wealth in those terms the people of Ukraine would see us as equals instead of rich Americans.
A talent is a measure of wealth that we do not fully grasp. I have often considered a talent as being basically a year’s wage, but as I have researched this more fully, I found that the talent is a measure of weight not money. A talent is approximately seventy-five pounds, so depending on what is being weighed the value is drastically different. A talent of silver today would be worth just under $30,000, so a talent of silver would be around the annual salary of a common day laborer. A talent of gold is worth $2,251,080. If this landowner is using gold talents then one talent is approximately worth seventy-five years of wages. The first steward was basically entrusted with three hundred seventy-five years of wages, where the second was entrusted with the wages of one hundred and fifty, and the third seventy-five. That is if the talents were gold, but we are not told what metal is being referred to, because that does not really matter.
I feel that it is important to look at this in the terms of annual wages because it sets it in the perspective of management and human interaction. The man that was given stewardship over five talents could basically be managing a business with three hundred and seventy-five employees. This is a large business and a large responsibility. We have also been provided with much.
Each of us has different skills. We have different talents. Each of us have differing interests and unique perspectives. There is not one person in existence that is completely the same. Our uniqueness is the very thing that God has invested in you.
We often think of theses stories as being things way beyond ourselves. I have never been granted the opportunity nor the responsibility of a major business. I have not had to manage or encourage more than a few individuals. I am not that important. What if the talents given in this story are not gold, but silver? A talent of silver is what many of us manage every year. When we look at this story in terms of silver instead of gold, suddenly every one of us are right in the middle of this story.
The manager of our local grocery store could be the man the landowner invested five talents with. The postal worker bringing the Christmas cards to your mailbox could be the one in which the two talent were invested with. And the one who received the one talent is every minimum wage earner and every recipient of social security. God has invested in us all. God through countless ages and multiple generations has worked everything out so that you at this time and place would be positioned to participate in His kingdom work. And his desire is for us all to take what he has invested in us. He wants us to take our talents: our musical abilities, our technological prowess, our economic logic, our empathy, our abilities to cook, and even our ability to drive a car. He wants us to use all that investment. The investment that our parents and teachers encourage us to develop, the investment our grandparents made in our parents, the investment the clerk at the market made when they smiled at you as they packed the groceries into sacks. Even interaction we have been in and will be in are investments of life that God has made in you to be used for His kingdom’s glory.
We often think of the investment of Jesus. His life, death, and resurrection are monumental investments. But those are not the only investments God has made. Jesus said in his teaching that he came to give life, life more abundantly. That means everything and every relationship is part of that life-giving abundance of Christ. How are we investing what God has given to us?
In the parable, Jesus says that the landowner went away on a long journey. Each of the servants took what was entrusted to them, and they made decisions in the use. God may have worked things out for us over countless ages to bring us to this place and time, but God continues to work with us and through us. We make our own decisions and we pay the consequences or benefit from the reward of those decisions. I have often heard during this pandemic that our health is in God’s hands, those that say this are not totally wrong, but neither are they right. We should be mindful of the investment God has made in us and of how we invest in others. God might miraculously save us from certain death, but He might also let us taste the fruit resulting from the desires of our hearts. We must work with God as we live out our lives.
A few years ago, there was a resurgence of the question “What Would Jesus Do?” It has almost become a cliché, but it is important to consider. To fully answer that question, we need to know Jesus, we need to know his actions, his method of decision making, how he responds and why he responds in the ways he responds. To answer that question, we must be his disciple, we need to walk with him daily, study him, and practice what we observe. We need to become familiar with his manner and customs. John encourages us to abide in the vine, and when we abide, he says that we are no longer servants but friends because we know what our master is doing. The master in the parable that Jesus told in today’s passage is looking at those servants not as men that serve but as friends. They are trusted stewards that were entrusted with their master’s abundance to do as they saw fit.
The master returns from his journey and calls his friends to meet with him. There is a celebratory air in this portion of the parable. The first friend comes before the master and says you gave me five talents look from my careful stewardship; I have five more to give back to you. The master is pleased with the results, and tells him, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” The second man also present an additional return and receives the same invitation. But the third man has a different story.
The third man was trusted by the master. The master thought enough of this man that he entrusted to him one talent to invest as he saw fit. From all we know of this man, he was qualified and likely, knew how the master would have intended to use what was entrusted to him. But there was something about this third individual that was off. He did not fully trust the master. He looked at what was entrusted to him, and instead of seeing it as an opportunity to share in the blessing of his master, he saw it as a cruel test. This man took what was offered to him, and out of fear he dug a hole and buried what was given to him hoping that in the end he could simply give it back.
I want us to think about this third man. This third man was trusted by his master yet did not fully know who it was that he served. His master desired a relationship, but this man was not open to what was offered.
The church is filled with people like this third man. I have been that third man for much of my life. As I have looked back through my life, I can see all too often how I lived in fear of the one I claimed to love. Always looking over my shoulder wondering if the action I was about to take would result in the wrath of God. There were days when I was a child that I would wake up in a panic because my parents were not in the house and I thought for sure I had been left behind and missed God’s blessing. Those that live in fear of God, are like the third man of this story. When we let fear drive us, we do not fully trust God.
I say this, knowing full well that I am not perfect. There are times even this week that I have succumbed to the anxiety of fear. When these anxieties grab hold of us, we can often shrink back into a defensive mode, burying ourselves with the hopes that we might manage to survive. I spent a great deal of time in prayer as I recognized this in myself. I do not want to live like that. I know that there is more to life than that. I know that lifestyle is not what God wants, but how do we loosen those chains?
God has invested much in each of us. Through countless lives and events, God has been investing in our lives to bring us to this moment. And he offers to us our lives. We might have access to five talents of gold, or maybe we are only offered one talent of silver, that does not matter. What matters is how we invest what we have been offered. Jesus encourages all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and find rest, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He is encouraging us, when we are gripped by the anxieties of life to turn to him and his lifestyle. He is calling us to make it our custom to worship, to withdraw to isolated places to pray, and to invest our lives in service to those around us.
We are not alone. God has given each of us talents of life. He encourages us to invest our lives in those around us for the glory of his kingdom. If we have a business use that business for God. If we have a listening ear, listen to those that have burden they struggle with. If we have skills that could ease the struggles of a friend use those skills to help them understand that God loves them. God has invested much in each of us, how are we investing what he has given us?
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, consider the investments made in your life, and the investments you have made in the lives of others. Consider your weaknesses and your strengths and how God might be urging you to invest what he has invested in you. And let us all seek to enter the joy of our Lord.