Saturday, 18 November 2017

Sermon Opoho Church Sunday 19 November 2017 Pentecost 24

Readings:  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11    Matthew 25:14-30

We pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. 

‘Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.’[1]
Words of affirmation by Paul to the church in Thessalonica.  Words of confidence and encouragement to a congregation in need of some reassurance, perhaps tired, perhaps finding the time of waiting for the coming of Jesus difficult, perhaps uncertain about their future, perhaps tempted to wander off course enticed by that which they can touch and engage with in real time.
We don’t know exactly what was going on in this conversation of faith 2000 years ago but we can recognise some of the same issues that we face today as we too wait and live in that waiting.
Paul exudes confidence: of course you are prepared, he says to a wondering people, because you live in the light, the faith, the life of the resurrection.  Don’t be anxious – trust in the sustaining love of Jesus present within us and work out our preparedness in everyday acts of love and service.  Be patient and be awake for we know it will happen just not when.  Straightforward really.  And yet not.  If these people were struggling with uncertainty and anxiety for their future after just a generation distant from Jesus death and resurrection, how do we, 2000 years later, find certainty and hope in a time when it’s no longer about how we do faith but whether we bother at all.

Maybe it is even harder for us.  But I don’t think so.  Perhaps different in its context but not in the need.  For in the end there are times when we all need reassurance of our purpose, our pathway and Jesus offers the same answer then as now – that he is present now and working in us and through us to bring moments of the kingdom alive now and here.  That is the sustaining truth that Paul is expressing, is it not – that we are a people of the light, always prepared to exercise our gifts and our faith in our living and service to God and others. Living in a state of readiness – for we know not where and when we shall meet the living Christ. 

For all people, communities of faith, who wonder what difference they are making, who can feel lost, helpless among the overwhelming dreadfulness of life, who retreat into their shells of anxiety and fear, personal or corporate, perhaps a helpful analogy is to live as if we are everyday opening the gifts that we are to God and to each other.  Imagine that – a present every day, an anticipation of what the day might bring, a fresh Alleluia when we realise the depth of love that has gone into that gift for us, a careful or careless unwrapping so that we can get to the thing that makes us spend the rest of the day with a grin on our face, the repeated realisation that we are loved, valued and gifted by God. 
How we open it will be different for each of us – some in prayer, others in grounding ourselves in creation, others impatient to see what the day will bring – but the important thing is that we acknowledge the gift of Jesus Christ, light in our lives.

Then the question is ‘what shall we do with it today’?  How will we use the talents we are given, fresh every morning, to encourage each other, build each other up, to live in the light of love and service that is Jesus Christ here and now?

Gifts, talents, whatever we call them are a tricky thing.  Sometimes they abound with possibilities, fit with who we know ourselves to be and our confidences, other times they are perturbing, challenging, confounding. Not an unexpected tension when we consider the ways in which Jesus encouraged, confounded and challenged and perturbed.  It’s called living in the Gospel message is it? And confident or perturbed, it is incredibly important that we place Jesus at the centre of their use.  For a confident gift can easily turn into thinking you know best for everyone and the troubling gift can cause grief if we try to ignore it.

Time for a story: it’s a once upon a time story – a king and queen needing to leave their kingdom and entrusting the needs of their country to three people: outstanding exponents of the three most important values of justice, love and peace.  Having scoured the kingdom the three were found.  When the queen and king returned the three were called to make an account – sound familiar?  The woman of justice said she had spent her time asking for people of wealth to share with the poor and people with power to listen to the powerless.  Well done and continue in this way, she was told.  The woman of love told of looking for the lonely and the unloved to share her love, of warming cold hearts and freeing people from their hurts and angers.  She too was thanked and asked to go on loving – and the king and queen would support her in her work. 
Finally the man of peace came: perplexed and troubled.  For he had tried to guard the peace within him so when he heard angry voices, he turned away, when he saw quarrels he closed his eyes to keep his peace intact.  But it didn’t work for the anger and the quarrels penetrated his heart and his peace was lost – a deep sense of failure troubled him deeply.
And the Queen and King replied:   ‘So it will ever be.  Until you use your gift, it will be lost to you.’

A retelling of the parable of today that speaks all too clearly of the perils of shutting ourselves off from exercising our gifts as people of the way.

For gifts are to be shared are they not?  Held close for a little while perhaps but then shared in service and love. 
Sometimes we are not good at sharing – perhaps scared that our gift might be tarnished in some way or that others will ridicule it as too small or unimportant.  But then we remember: its God’s gift to us – valued and valuable and to be used in God’s service.

But here is another thing – not every gift is to our liking.  Not at first anyway.  Think on the gift of the Christ child – totally unexpected, couldn’t see how that would work, not the expected parcel at all.  But for those who trust in the wisdom of God, the baby Jesus was a revelation of hope and deliverance.   We might ponder the talent that we have been given, think it more suited to someone else, but then we remember: God works in ways we do not always understand, God knows us before we are born and sees possibilities in us that we do not see in ourselves – perhaps a little trust here would be useful!

Gifts are not to be envied or given a place on the status ladder.  Personal story here.  I have often regretted that I am not a competent singer or musician, but also been in awe of those who can stand up and sing and play before others.  I tried it once and completely froze.  I felt inadequate – less than whole – but then I realised that I had a skill that others were intimidated by and that was the ability to stand up and talk before others, both in this ministry role and my previous life as a librarian. I am also in awe of those who can arrange flowers, run a marathon, or build a house.  We can’t all do everything but we can stop envying other’s gifts and begin appreciating our own.

And so, people of God, are we aware of the talents we have been gifted, are we eager to use them the building of the kingdom, today and the time to come, and is the driving force for how we live our lives Jesus Christ, made new every morning? 

May we continue to encourage one another and build each other up in the faith so that we are the undeniable light of Christ for our time.  Blessed be God who has given to us Jesus Christ in our lives.  Amen

Margaret Garland

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5: 11  NRSV

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