Sermon for November 16, 2008
Sermon for November 16, 2008
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
Grace and peace. It must be mid-November. Leaves have been falling from the trees. Snow flurries are in the air. A congregational breakfast and annual meeting follow worship today. I’ve been asked to make this sermon short so that some of us can be home to catch the football game. And the lessons from the Bible grow dark and apocalyptic, focused on the end of the world. It must be mid-November.
Speaking of those dark and apocalyptic lessons, Zephaniah, like Amos last week, warns of a day of judgment, end of the world, or day of the Lord. Zephaniah may make more sense to us when we consider the prophet’s situation.
After many years the people have been set free from slavery in foreign countries and have now returned to rebuild their homeland. It should be a time for national rejoicing and religious renewal. It was the opposite. As the people returned; lawlessness, greed, cruelty, religious and legal corruption prevailed in the political vacuum. The first years back resembled a lawless western America or the first years of Russia after communism failed.
In this rough and tumble time, Zephaniah warned that such lawless disregard for God and others would bring a day of reckoning. The passage we have is part of this warning.
In the second lesson, as last week, the Thessalonians are still waiting for a judgment day or end of the world. This day of the Lord is seen as a day of purifying destruction. The passage says we cannot calculate the day of God’s return. But there is a possibility for salvation through Jesus.
Here is probably one of the most primitive expressions of Christian ethics. It begins in verse 8: since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith, love, and hope.
In the third lesson from Matthew, we have another story about judgment day, the end of the world, day of the Lord, or a day of reckoning. In this story, talents are given to stewards to manage while the owner is gone.
The exact value of a talent is unknown. It is equal to the amount of either gold or silver that a man could carry on his back, probably between forty and seventy pounds. It was the largest denomination of monetary measurement in the states of the Roman Empire.
In the story, the amount varies with each steward but for all stewards there is a day of reckoning. Talents are expected to increase, and there is judgment, accounting, or reckoning. For some the day of reckoning is good. For others it is not so good.
All of today’s lessons speak of a coming day of reckoning or day of the Lord’s return. Each lesson calls us to lead our lives in light of this reckoning.
For many reasons, this story of Jesus is often interpreted as a story about money. Talents were originally money. It is a story about stewardship. The story seems to support the foundations of capitalism, interest, leverage, and return on investment. Use it or loose it seems to be the moral of the story.
Further, the story is read at the time of the harvest and many congregational in-gatherings and stewardship drives. We have a capital campaign going on, and you’ll find a commitment card for 2009 in the Thanksgiving mailing this year. So naturally the story and the season turn our attention to finances.
But I think the story is about something else. The most precious asset of the church, the most precious gift of God entrusted to us, the most significant thing with which we have been empowered is not money. It is the gift of compassion, forgiveness and love. This story is really not about the money we can carry on our backs. It is a story about the compassion, forgiveness, and love we carry in our hearts.
We are to be stewards of this most precious of all gifts. Kindness, mercy, grace, peace, forgiveness, and love are words that describe the most important thing about our lives and the Christian faith. This talent of tender kindness is what God has given to us and entrusted to us. We are to expand the compassion we ourselves have received.
The story says that not everyone is equally capable of being kind, forgiving, and loving. Some of us have experienced abuse that limits our compassionate nature. Others of us have never experienced human want and that lack of exposure to others limits our compassionate nature as well. Some people have a more gentle or generous spirit than others. Some of us find some things very hard to forgive that others hardly pay attention to. Not everyone is equally capable of the kindness, forgiveness, compassion and love of Jesus.
But all of us are called to work on the compassion we have received. We should not bury it or absorb it into ourselves so that no one else experiences it. Compassion grows when it is shared. It grows in our own hearts. It grows in the heart of the person who receives the compassion. It grows in the eyes of the person who witnesses compassion.
So even if you are really upset with someone or about something today, this story calls you and me to share love, kindness and compassion so that it will grow in our own hearts and in the world. I guess with love and compassion the saying is true: use it or loose it.