Interim Time Living

 

Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for November 13, 2005, The 26th Sunday after Pentecost.  The sermon text is Matthew 25:23  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

I have given a title to today’s sermon.  It’s this, “Interim Time Living.”  The “interim time” that is being addressed in today’s 2 scripture lessons is the time between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return to earth at the end of time.  We Christians  surely ought to know that this is interim time, but the rest of the world does not know that this is interim time. 

 

Our scripture lessons for today are God’s way of teaching us that in this “interim time,” God has definite expectations of how we are to live as Christians.  My challenge today as I lead you through this sermon time is to lift up God’s grace and goodness in these lessons.  It would be so easy to fall back to only seeing a harsh and fearful taskmaster God, as some pastors in other denominations routinely do.

 

The gospel lesson is Jesus’ Parable of the Talents.  It comes near the end of Matthew’s Gospel, and is part of Jesus’ teaching about the parousia, the end times.  It’s Jesus’ way of teaching what the Kingdom of God is like, and how that kingdom begins here and now in this life when God’s people live and act in the knowledge that God is in charge of all things.

 

The pattern that Jesus uses for his end-time parables is a pattern that was used by rabbis and other good teachers in the first century.  It goes this way: something is entrusted for safekeeping…the owner goes away for a time…the steward uses the entrustment in either a good or bad way…then the owner returns…there is a judgment rendered on how the entrustment was handled.

 

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus presents us with three persons.  One is a five-talent person, one is a two-talent person, and the last is a one-talent person.  If we are putting ourselves into this parable, I suspect that most of us here are either a two or a one-talent person.  There are very few five-talent persons in our midst.  The master says to the first two persons, “Well done, good and trustworthy slaves; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

 

The anger of the master is directed toward the one-talent person, and this is the heart of the teaching of the parable.  This slave didn’t lose what had been entrusted to him; rather he buried it in fear that it would be lost.  What he said as an excuse to the master was this, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground…”

 

What kept this one-talent man from investing this talent?  In a word, “fear.”  He was afraid that he would fail, he was afraid that he would be punished.  He thought of his master as only a harsh taskmaster.

 

You know what?  This one-talent man’s perception of the master as one to be feared was all in his mind.  That one talent that he was entrusted with was equivalent to 15 years of income.  Rather than being harsh, Jesus wants us to understand that the master saw such potential that he was trusting this slave with something that had real value, and could become even more valuable.

 

In case we think that the applause in this parable comes for the five-talent and two-talent slaves’ success in multiplying what had been entrusted to them, I remind us all of who gets the credit.  Now we name the master as God.  It is God who provides the increase.  Those who trust and are not afraid to use their God-given talents and gifts for building up God’s kingdom are those whom God taps for even greater use in his kingdom. Those of us who do not trust God, who figure that success or failure is on our shoulders alone, are the ones who merit God’s anger.

 

In the past several months here at Resurrection, we have been having a bit of angst over finances (meaning church income and expenses).  There are a lot of good ministry things we believe God  wants to do, but back in May and June it became obvious that we were not able to balance income and expenses and we were having to regularly borrow from our Dedicated Account Funds.  All sorts of ideas and advice came to either explain or remedy this situation: don’t think about a building program, just maintain what we’ve got now;  cut back in giving to the synod and ELCA;  maybe the pastors are offending some folks in their sermons;  cut back on the number of worship services;  cut some of the staff salaries.

 

Then it was that some of the folks at the Congregational Meeting and our Church Council determined that we would try this approach:  ask our people to support our common ministry with faithful offerings; don’t cut back on staff salaries; remove the 12% “stretch” that had been included in our 2005 M&M Budget; keep our people regularly informed as to our progress; re-pay the funds borrowed from the dedicated account;  and above all, trust the Lord to provide.

 

Isn’t it amazing that the formula for how to do ministry in this “interim time” was right in scripture all along, and it took a seeming crisis for us to read the instruction manual?…

 

In the time remaining in this sermon, I want to concentrate on today’s lesson from 1 Thessalonians.  It is also about the parousia, the end times, the Day of the Lord.  When will happen?  St. Paul affirms what Jesus teaches, that no one knows when this will happen, it will come like a thief in the night.

 

Is that bad news or good news?  Paul says that for Christians this is really good news.  For we are children of the light, children of the day, we are not children of the night or children of darkness.  We are already in the Lord. 

 

Paul goes on to say to us, “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…

 

Some preachers preach a gospel of fear and teach about a God who is demanding.  I believe that Jesus wants us to know how much God loves us, that he is willing to lavish upon us wonderful gifts, and he wants us to use those gifts for building up his kingdom.

 

The last verse of today’s lesson from 1 Thessalonians is a fine way for all of us to live in this interim time:  Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

 

May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O God.  Amen.