The Matthew gospel story is one that is often taught in children's Sunday School. It is a good Bible story for kids. They learn big kids & little kids are expected to do what they can.
In the story, the master goes on the journey & while he is gone, we learn what his servants do with the talents - the money. The master gives the talents according to the servant's ability.
The parable of the talents is told by Jesus. He teachs us through the parable about the kingdom of heaven. We learn we are to use the talents God gives us to do his work. Furthermore, we learn that even if we have been given very little, we are expected to use the little we have to the glory of God. Bottom line, we all have been given talents & God grants us no excuses for not using our talents to do his work.
We can get a little feisty about this. We say things – or, at least think things like - “I don't want to do this or that.” “I don't want to volunteer.” “I don't know why, I just don't want to do it.” “Why me?” “What's in it for me?” We get this way because we believe our talents, our lives are ours alone. After all, we are the ones who study, practice & master the skills we each have – be it musical, athletics or whatever.
In many senses of the word, this is true. We do the work. We are responsible for how we live our lives. On the other hand, we did not create our being born. We have nothing to do with our being born in the U.S. We did nothing to have our specific propensity towards our talents. Our talents, our very life, is granted to us by God. God gives us life - gives us our talents so that we may use our life - use our talents to do his work. We are, after all, children of God. Our life-giving parent, God, has expectations for his children.
Being a child of God is all good & fine when we want comforting. It is a whole other thing when being a child of God cuts into our private time - our plans for the day - our use of our talents. Sometimes being a child of God is a pain in the posterior. At the very least, being a child of God is humbling.
I think no matter how many parables about the kingdom of heaven we read & study, it boils down to what we do with our life day in & day out. Two phrases jump out at me when I read the parable of the talents for this sermon. One phrase is right at the beginning when we read the master is "going on a journey" and the other phrase is mid-way when we learn the master was "gone a long time." “Going on a journey” & “gone a long time.”
In almost 64 years of living, I have read the parable of the talents countless times. I confess this is the first time I am giving the master any thought. I always focused on the servants. I recognize the master serves as God in the parable. Right there, I should have spent some time considering the master in the parable. Duh!
This time, I want to know why & where the master is taking a journey. And, I want to know why his journey takes a long time. I put myself in the parable, not as the master over slaves or as God, but as one who is going on a journey & will be gone a long time. I thought about God placing me in my mother's womb. I began a journey on earth. I am hopeful & prayerful that my journey does take a long time!
For some reason, the camp song “Going on a Bear Hunt” keeps creeping into my thoughts. Do you know this song? It is an American folk song with lots of verses. There are actions to the verses. The refrain for all the difficulties one runs into on a bear hunt is “We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it.” Aha! The song may be for kids but the message is applicable throughout life.
The message reminds me of words of wisdom my mother would say to us when we were moaning & groaning about life. I confess we five children often rolled our eyes & referred to mom's advice as “words of aggravation.” At some point in our spitting & sputtering, mom would say “I know you can do it – then, she'd pause just a bit & say “because, you are going to have to.” It isn't that my mom resisted building up our strengths; rather, it is that mom knew we were going to face many things in life that we would have absolutely no preparation for or no skill at doing.
As you know, moving from St. Paul – leaving friends & relationships – leaving my job, church & community – to move to Litchfield to finish rearing my niece, Mally, is a journey for me. I was someone who chose not to marry or have children – someone who was responsible only for me, myself & I, meaning I thought about only me, myself & I most days – someone who loved city life & culture – someone who was knee deep in my career, church & community - someone who loved living alone & knew where the scissors was at all times – this someone found herself going on a journey in December of 2002 – a long journey of spiritual growth.
No doubt, all of us have experienced some such journey. It may not be a journey of leaving a place but it may well be a journey of grieving a loved one leaving our world on earth or a journey of rearing children or a journey of losing a job or a journey of illness or depression or a journey of aging & facing death. Reasons for journeys are multi-faceted. Vacations & such are trips. Personal growth & struggles are journeys. Naming journeys is part of the deep healing we can open ourselves up to, be it in prayer or talking with people.
Think of Job. He basically sits in a pile of ashes & goes on a journey. We say things like “the patience of Job.” However, when we read Job – one of my favorite books in the Bible – we recognize Jobmay be patient but he also is a complainer big-time! He has the audacity to complain directly to God! Job says to God “I will not keep silent. I will speak out of the anguish of my spirit. I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Whoa! – we like to think of our souls as all rosy & joyful – our best selves – this is not always so. And, the clinker is God knows our souls are not all rosy & joyful 24/7.
Job is my kind of complainer – melodramatic – a rant & raver! He tells God that God is petty. He rails on about injustice in the world. He blames God for making his life bitter. Job tells God to leave him alone! It takes a Winnie the Pooh Eeyore spirit to say “God – leave me alone.” We all have experiences where we are Eeyores – be we having a bad day of doom & gloom or be we sunk in the disease of depression.
Job needs to release his Eeyore spirit before his spirit is freed – before his prosperity is restored. When Job releases his Eeyore spirit, he understands he is made of dust & ashes and he repents to God for his complaining. Job shows us we can be upset about what happens in our life & we can lay our ranting & raving at God's feet. Doing so – going on the journey of becoming authentic – real – with God – is a far deeper journey than bottling it up & not speaking with God again. We all know people who are so angry with God they cannot move from the ashes. We all know people who cannot cease talking about their problems because they freeze-up when it comes to going on a Job journey with God. And, we all know people in the midst of Job journeys, perhaps ourselves.
In the New Testament, we experience Jesus ranting & raving about his complaints with the scribes & Pharisees. I love this story – knowing Jesus was upset about what he experiences in this world is a gift. Jesus does not make a habit of complaining & causing a ruckus in the temple. Jesus' behavior does not create a toxic environment. Instead, Jesus provides solutions - a pathway to journey through life with God. Jesus walks with us on our Job journeys extending mercy & grace abundantly.
On December 6, 2017 at 7:00 p.m., we are inviting people in our area to “grieve as a community.” Personal lamentations as well as worldly events like the mass shootings can render us hopeless. This is our 8th annual Blue Christmas worship service. We are inviting the community to, as Jesus says “Come see”, his compassion, love, mercy & grace. We will light candles representing our individual journeys & lamentations. And, we will take our candles home knowing Jesus is the Light of the world. I hope we “Come see.” I hope we invite the people we know who are in the midst of Job journeys. Like Job's friends, we are called to sit with those who are on Job journeys. Amen.