Dear Church Family
I trust you are all surviving lockdown 2?
We are thrilled that there is potential light at the end of the tunnel with progress toward effective vaccines.
Last week we were able to continue with our (small) Act of Remembrance at the memorial. It was even more moving knowing that we did so against the backdrop of the sacrificial service of so many front line workers. Our PCC met via Zoom this week and we gave thought to how we would approach a very different kind of Christmas. It will not be a year for large services, but a year of helping us all celebrate the great Christian Festival at home. A document with more details will be included in the next parish newsletter and I include a copy as an attachment.
You may not realise that our bishop is still doing a biblical reflection twice a week with his wife Sarah. Carol and I love these. The latest one closes with a lovely worship song.
On the Second Sunday Before Advent we look at one of the great parables from Matthew’s gospel. As we approach it we take time to reflect on the prayer for this week.
SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT COLLECT
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: grant that we, having this hope, may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that when he shall appear in power and great glory.
(Mat 25:14) “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.
(15) To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
(16) The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.
(17) So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.
(18) But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
(19) “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
(20) The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
(21) “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
(22) “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
(23) “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
(24) “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
(25) So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
(26) “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
(27) Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
(28) “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.
(29) For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
(30) And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
You and I have one life. When it comes to our earthly existence we only get the one go.
We start with another important truth. Life is not a level playing field. There is much that can seem, from our point of view, to be arbitrary or at least beyond our control.
We have no control over when we are born. If we had been born in England in 1000 BC we would probably never travel more than a few days walk from home and we would be likely to live for 30 to 40 years. We would never read a book. We would never know that matter is made of atoms or that the world is round or what pineapples taste like.
We have no control over where we are born. We could be born in 2020 in some parts of the world and still all I have just said about 1000 B.C. would be true. We have had the good fortune to be born in a relatively wealthy country with lots of benefits flowing from it.
We have no control over our gender and many things like our height and our proneness to some disorders was hard wired into us from day 1. Our genes are a given.
Into the massive sweep of the history of the universe we can contribute to one tiny slice of earthly time.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed with our smallness. Yet the bible brings a very different picture of who we are and what is our destiny and of what effects we can have on the great scheme of things. If God made us and we are His and He has decreed that we are made in his image and live in his world then that changes the stakes.
Our God wants so much for us to become what he has created us to be and in this frail limited body he has put the essence of eternity and enormous things that cannot be weighed or measured on any physical scales;
Faith Love Hope
Love being the greatest of the three. We are able to do awesome things.
We are able to worship, able to give, able to serve and able to sacrifice. We are able to show courage. We are able to overcome incredible odds and when we are at our very, very best we are able to look like the God that made us and in fact at those moments we achieve the highest purpose for which we are created.
On Wednesday and at the memorial last Sunday (available to view of Facebook), we rightly took some time to think about people who, even though they were scared, overcame and went on which is a definition of courage. People who did some sums, and reckoned and decided for the sake of a ‘greater good’ they would take steps that risked their own lives and in the process paid the price which they knew might be required of them; ie. their own lives. People who for the freedom of their families and their homes and in order to maintain the good in a good but flawed world had come to believe that those things were worth dying for.
They laid down their lives for family friends and wider community and Jesus declares there is no greater love than that.
So let’s come on to that parable. Another of Jesus’s earthly stories with a heavenly purpose. It would be easy to underestimate this story. When we were at college we did a little fund raising project.
Each student that wanted to take part was given a pound and the idea was to see if we could multiply it. A pound went further in those days and my first wife and I used it to buy flour and yeast and make home-made bread. We sold the bread which looked, smelled and tasted fantastic and used the proceeds to buy more flour and began to add seeds and other fancy stuff. By the end of the month of the project the one pound had multiplied to well over £20. I can’t remember if we won but I know we were among the most productive.
That exercise was fun but it was a whole order of magnitude different from this story. The stakes were so much greater.
Doing the sums
5 talents was worth £200,000 in today’s terms
2 talents was worth £80,000
1 talent around £40,000
If we have learned anything from scripture it is that one part of the body is not more important than another part; it is just that each different part has a different function.
It is our human society that gives values to functions and apportions different rewards. Our society says that a person who cares for an elderly sick patient in a rest home should be rewarded with a minimum wage and another person who moves a hundred million notional pounds from a notional place in Switzerland to a different notional place in Grand Cayman should be rewarded with a seven figure salary.
That’s not how God’s economy works at all.
Please understand this. The different amounts of the returns from the three servants are not the issue here at all.
The five talent servant is not more valued by the master than the two talent servant. Each pleases the master to exactly the same extent and each is rewarded with exactly the same form of words
Look at verse 21 and then at verse 23. The form of words is exactly the same.
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Only one change needs to be made for the response to all three servants to be exactly the same.
All the holder of one talent needed to have done to get exactly the same affirmation was to use his one talent to produce one more. Again, hear this; that would not have made him half as fruitful as the two talent servant and 20% as fruitful as the ten talent servant, it would have made them all equally productive.
Notice that neither of the first servants has a bad word to say for the master. It is only in the mind of the unproductive servant that this master is hard. This is only a parable and I don’t want to push it too far but we can never be productive for God if we have a wrong picture of him.
The words used to the two productive servants are so different. They are invited to share their master’s happiness. The most literal translation is ‘the joy of your Lord’. The root word is ‘chara’ from which we get all those words centred on gifts and blessing.
The amplified bible fills it out
21 His master said to him, Well done, you upright (honourable, [a]admirable) and faithful servant! You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little; I will put you in charge of much. Enter into and share the joy (the delight, the [b]blessedness) which your master enjoys.
So who has the true picture of the master, the first two or the last one?
Is God as a hard dishonest master?
Is this your picture of God? A God who leaps on your failures and hits you with a stick?
Is this the Bibles picture of God?
Two verses, one from each Testament.
(Psa 145:8) The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
(Mat 11:29) Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So, the unproductive servant has the wrong picture of the master and that led him to wrong actions based on fear.
In a number of the parables, Jesus contrasts pictures of angry and unjust masters with the true picture of a loving just and generous God. In those parables even the apparently unjust masters turn out right. The grumpy neighbour does give in and give the needy neighbour food. The unjust judge of Luke does yield in the end to the widow knocking on the door and gives justice.
In each of those stories Jesus says how much more will a God who loves you want the best for you. That’s the true picture of God.
So in this story even the hard master makes a very simple call on the life of the unproductive servant.
All you needed to do was invest your talent and then the reward would have come.
So, the question for us is ‘how can we best invest our one short life so that it might become the good thing that the master wants for us?’. What can we do that will enable us to share in his joy and delight. Make no mistake the joy he wants to delight in is our joy. No profit we can make for him will make him richer. He already owns everything. The profit that we make with the talent given to us generates blessing for us and for others and it is that which pleases our master.
Three brief things.
You are a potential servant of the Lord, so here are some key points
- Invest in eternity. Make sure that your first and foremost investment is offering your life in the service of the master.
- Make sure you have a true picture of who the master is. Please don’t be scared of God he really, really, only wants the best for you. He is the best parent you could ever imagine. Some of us did not have the best experience of being parented and out of that image we have a flawed view of God. He is gracious and compassionate and so full of accepting love. The Christian life is challenging and sometimes hard but God is a rock in the middle of any struggle.
- Don’t judge your worth of fruitfulness against what you believe to be the worth and fruitfulness of others. That is their business and God’s business with them. He wants the best for you and he knows the capacity and potential of your life. He can help you become the best you can be. More than that, He wants to.