TRADITIONAL SERMON PENTECOST 24
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Colossians 1:3).
Money, money, money—finances tend to be a concern for many of us, especially when things are not going well. This past week I had a setback at my home. Monday morning, I had gone down to my basement and discovered that one of my water pipes had burst. Almost a quarter of my basement was flooded with close to two inches of water. I was not a happy camper! I was not looking forward to dealing with the mess and I especially was cringing at the prospects of a major plumbing bill (which my friend at Spartan Plumber actually ended up saving me big-time on), not to mention the loss of property since I ended up not being able to salvage any of the things I had in storage due to water damage. Yes, this burst water pipe hit me in the pocketbook. I started to think about how I could have used what I lost financially on other things.
Now let’s flip the financial aspect of this around! What if we were given a large amount of money that was not our own and were entrusted to manage it? This scenario would be akin to today’s gospel lesson from Matthew. In the Parable of the Talents, we have three slaves each being given money by their master. The slaves are entrusted to manage the money while the master is away. This is where we can see how this gospel lesson ties in perfectly with the issue of stewardship.
I believe I can safely say that stewardship is a topic that congregations look at throughout the year, but especially around the fall the issue really gets a lot of attention. We have seen that here at St. Peter’s, too, with the recent Town Hall and Annual Meeting, not to mention already having had a Temple Talk on the subject.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stewardship as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” Regarding the Gospel of Matthew and stewardship, biblical scholar Mark Allan Powell notes that the Parable of the Talents, today’s gospel lesson, is one of three stewardship parables within the gospel, the other two parables being The Faithful and Wise Slave (Matthew 24:45-51) and The Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46). However, the Greek word for steward is never found in any of the three parables or anywhere else in Matthew’s gospel, as a matter of fact. What is understood, according to Powell, is that in each of the three stewardship parables, people were allowed to use things that did not belong to them. Powell explains that “these parables make the point that all we have (or apparently have) actually belongs to God.” The theological basis for stewardship, based on Matthew’s gospel, therefore can be stated as follows: “We ourselves and everything that we apparently possess actually belong to God, on whom we are dependent for everything and to whom we owe a debt that we can never repay.” This almost sounds like it could be mission statement for stewardship! This being said, look at how generous God is to us! How often do we even think about God’s generosity? Whenever we pray using the Lord’s Prayer, one of the petitions is “give us our daily bread.” We are asking God to give us everything we need and God certainly does that! Now going back to my basement issue from earlier in the week, did I ever indicate that despite the incident, I was thankful for all that God had provided me, namely a beautiful home and all the things I have plus other things like an income to help maintain my lifestyle, etc.? No, I did not. In fact, I was stuck on “my, mine, and me” without any acknowledgement that God was the true provider and that everything really belongs to God. And when I thought about what I could have done with the money that I lost due to the burst pipe, did I even think that maybe the funds or even a portion of it could go to a charity or to support the church in some way? Again, no, I did not. So, I am not a very good example of being a good steward, am I?
Getting back to the issue of stewardship, it is complex and not necessarily only tied to financial matters, even though the Parable of the Talents specifically used money as the focus of what was entrusted. The three slaves that were given money were indeed given a large amount since a talent was a unit of currency used by the ancient Romans and Greeks that equated to about 15 years of an average laborer’s pay. Interestingly, the word talent as we know it today, namely referring to one’s natural aptitude or skill, is derived from the word used as a currency. What I found even more interesting is the research I did on the word talent at an etymological website noted that today’s definition and usage of the word talent began in the 15th century and it was because of the Parable of the Talents since the two slaves who doubled the money they were given had to use their skill and aptitude to make that money grow even though there is no information on exactly what they did to accomplish this.
Therefore, our own talents, what God has given us, can be used as part of our own stewardship. We can use our talents to the glory of God, but it is all up to each of us to come forward to put these talents to use. Moreover, God has given all of us the ability to live as creatively as we want, to conduct, supervise, manage, mold, shape, etc. to not only glorify God but also to responsibly take care of all that God has created for us!
Having my internship here at St. Peter’s, I am technically an “outsider” not only looking in but also, as Vicar, part of the St. Peter’s inner circle. I have been witness to many remarkable activities that go on behind-the-scenes within this congregation that most parishioners here do not see and may not even be aware of. For instance, stewardship in the form of time and talent expended here at St. Peter’s, in my view, is amazing and something that St. Peter’s should be proud of. One of the goals in my learning contract for my internship is to attend at least one meeting of each committee. What I have noticed thus far having attended meetings of 18 different committees is the difference in membership from committee to committee. What I do not see at St. Peter’s that has often been the case at the churches I have been to in the past is having the same handful of individuals on most of the committees and practically doing everything with little to no involvement from the rest of the congregation. You cannot imagine how refreshing it is to see the variety of parishioners putting their time and talents to use here at St. Peter’s involved in committees, not to mention participating in other mission work or parish activities. St. Peter’s should consider itself blessed! So, Vicar Pal gives St. Peter’s two thumbs up!
However, there is a little dark side to this parable that can be viewed as a little disturbing which involves the one slave who did nothing with the money he was given and only stashed it away. When it came time to settle accounts when the master returned, this slave simply returned the exact amount of money back to the master. What is important to note is that the slave was not condemned for failing to expand the master’s wealth, but for not doing anything with what he was given. Not only does the master berate the slave harshly calling him wicked and lazy (verse 26) but the slave is also punished (verse 30). Does this mean that if we are not good stewards by ignoring all that God has generously given us, to include our skills and abilities and/or the wealth and resources put to work, is something that will result in punishment? By reading this parable, it is clear that God expects us to use the gifts he has given us to serve him and we all will be accountable regarding our activities when Judgement Day comes and our account of activities will include how we put our talents to use to glorify God. Keep in mind that God is well aware that everyone is unique and will not necessarily have equal gifts. Moreover, each of us is worthy in God’s eyes—God will love us no matter if we are good or mediocre or outright lousy stewards!
One last thing regarding the one slave, who I will refer to as the one-talent slave. I am actually quite sympathetic to him. How many of us would or have at one time or another fit the bill of this one-talent slave? I know I have. I really hate to admit it, but I know I have. As I had said earlier, God has given us so much—talent, gifts, all that has been created, resources—the list can go on and on because everything we have is God’s and from God. Unfortunately, there are times when there are those of us who also blame God for what we don’t have that can result in disobedience, poor stewardship and even being unfaithful. There are also times when we can be tempted to act like that one-talent slave because we may not think we have much to offer, we don’t think we can make a difference, or we are just afraid to take a risk to do something, especially if it is outside our comfort zone, so the end result is that we don’t do anything at all. However, God wants us to be good stewards and to do whatever we can do despite what we personally may think about ourselves and our abilities. One way to help overcome being so cautious like that one-talent slave is to trust God. It seems like such a simple fix but really is not necessarily easy to do: put your trust in God! Let God and the Holy Spirit lead the way on our faith journey to include leading us in the right direction toward good stewardship!
Here is something to think about after leaving St. Peter’s today. Have you ever thought about everything you have? Have you ever thought about what gifts and talents that God gave you? Could you put these gifts and talents to use to glorify God?
The Good News is that God provides us with so much and we have the ability to give back in so many different ways. Do not be afraid to take risks to glorify God. Amen.