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Investing in God’s Way of Life

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

The first part of our word section of worship today is a brief reflection on today’s scripture. Then our treasurer and resident saint Rod LeRoy will share a stewardship presentation with you.
Both the letter to the early church at Thessalonika in Greece and the gospel reading from Matthew were written to communities anxious about their future. In Thessalonika, some had quit their jobs, sold everything, sat around on a mountain, waiting for Christ’s return, fearing for the future, investing all their energy worrying about when the end would be. (Sounds like a Monty Python skit; or these days a gathering of Wall St. bankers and North American auto makers; or maybe some United Churches in Montreal, bemoaning waning power,and turning inward.)

Almost 2000 years ago, Paul takes a very wise, seat of the pants approach to this anxiety. You have no way of knowing when or even how Christ will come says Paul. Use your faith to reflect on time, and how you use it. Remember you are children of the light. Live out of that light. Keep vigilant, awake, alert to God’s way, knowing you are surrounded by the protective armour of faith and love and hope. Invest your energy and time in creating hope and aliveness, in encouraging and building up one another as you help one another grow in faith and hope and love. Not bad advice for Cedar Park or indeed any church.

The parable of the talents also speaks to an anxious church of abundant living in difficult times. And of letting God’s gift of life flow through them as a power for good in their neighbourhood and beyond. The first hearers likely found this parable controversial. Imagining God’s reign as money at work would have been disturbing. Money often was an instrument of exclusion and oppression, and not associated with God’s activity. We still have trouble talking about money in the church, yet the bible has far more to say about money than it does about sex. Jim Wallis of Sojourners community speaks of a friend who took scissors and cut out of the bible all the passages that deal with economics. Very little was left.

In the parable of the talents, the master was not stingy with any of those servants. ONE talent is worth anywhere from a quarter to a half million dollars by our standards. More than a life-time’s wages for most workers. The Point? God is Outrageously generous to everyone. The senior servant had over l00 lifetime’s income to play with! And even the one talent servant had far more than was needed. Nobody is hard done by, even though the 3rd servant might winge and complain.

The one who really risks in this story is the owner who trusts these servants. That owner could lose everything. The risker is God, who risks the whole of creation by entrusting it to us, by investing in us. What if we do nothing with it? What if we let it rot and decay? Or fill our oceans with plastic? What if we start to parcel the earth out and come to believe that we actually own it ourselves, and completely forget the Giver?

In the parable, two of the servants recognize a generous owner, who entrusted them, who believed in them. This gave them a sense of abundance and confidence to model their own actions and response on this gracious, generous owner. They risk towards the future with no more guarantee of success than the third servant had. Their’s is an open-handed embrace of life. They invest the life of God in the world around them.

The third servant operated out of an image of someone as little as he was; someone more concerned with keeping a list of wrongs than in empowering life; a judgmental, frightening, punishing old ogre. This servant then blames and criticizes this master for his inaction. His fearfulness breeds poverty thinking and fear based actions. He turns inward, burying the generous gift he has been entrusted with. The third servant buried the “life of God,” fearing punishment for underachieving. The judgment for this servant’s lack of trust urges would be disciples to a radical change of heart and behaviour.

Our image of God matters. Those who live in fear of God create fear in others. Those who have an image of a stingy, not-enough, penny-pinching god, respond to life and to invitations for generosity with fear, protection and tight-fisted giving. They just don’t get it!! When will we learn Jesus’ message to trust the God of abundant love, who has taken an outrageously generous risk on us? If we could trust God enough and take appropriate risks to show our trust,…. then there would be no shortage of talents in our world, and there would be no shortage of funds and energy for our ministries. Fullness of life would be unleashed outrageously.

This week you are being invited to participate in the Stewardship campaign for the mission and ministry of this congregation, and through the Mission and Service fund, for the work of the United Church of Canada at home and abroad. I invite you to reflect theologically on your giving. Look realistically at what you have been given by God, at what means you have. Then respond as you are able. We know that there may be some in this congregation who are already giving sacrificially and can do no more. God bless you. There are others who are living very precariously and can do no more. God bless you. But I’m sure there are others who are giving without reflecting on what they have, and what they are able to do to strengthen the ministry and mission of this congregation. If we were to respond to the Stewardship challenge, we would not need to work so hard at fundraising. Our energies could be focused in ministry to our community and our world. We can make a difference

Jesus’ parable challenges us to invest ourselves for God, as we resist the poverty-based thinking of our times.

God’s life-giving power let loose in the world brings a richly expanded capital of love and compassion. For those who would limit God’s way to those inside the walls, it is clear that Jesus asks us to invest in life around us so that God’s presence is acknowledged where disciples might not expect or even desire it. Churches are called to embrace neighbours and strangers with extravagant acts of compassion and grace, working together to find ways to reach out to a universal community. God’s life-giving love flows through the people of God into the wider community. I think we are doing that here at Cedar Park. I invite you to “Be ready to invest in God’s way of living, using your abilities generously, sharing your time wisely, confronting the powers courageously, and risking God’s love extravagantly.”

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Paul’s letter to the early church in Thessalonika (in Greece) is the first scrap of writing we have from the early Christian church. Scholars feel it was written about 51 or2 AD just 20 years or so after the death of Jesus. It was written to a community very concerned about about the future. Paul resists any temptation to offer them false security by giving a definite time. Rather he tells them to invest the time that is theirs in encouraging one another and helping the community grow in love and faith and hope. Worrying, Paul suggests, diverts them from the true task, which is to live the time that is theirs, investing themselves in faithfulness to God’s way of living.

Matthew 25: 14-30

Today’s parable of the talents is the second of three consecutive images about the reign of God in Matthew 25. Jesus uses money to visualize the power of God released into the world. It further develops Jesus’ command to love God and neighbour, and provides a picture of God’s Spirit at work. The parable encourages disciples to let God’s life-giving grace and compassion flow through them as a power for good in the neighbourhood and beyond.

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