The Rev. Ray Medeiros is the Pastor at First Congregational Church UCC in Westminster, MA. and the author of When Skies Fall: 8 Sermons on Finding God in the Midst of Life’s Trials and Snowflake Strong: Preaching Kingdom (Not Political) Correctness
Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 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.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 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.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “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. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Reflection: The God We Think We Know
The Parable of the Talents was never exactly one of my favorites. The way that my eyes glaze over at the sight of a spreadsheet reminds me that my management of the master’s portfolio might have been no better that of the “worthless slave” in this story.
It is a story of a master who entrusts three slaves with varying shares of his wealth for them to manage while he is away. Upon his return, he is delighted to find that the two slaves who were entrusted with the greater amounts of property had invested wisely, and one might assume—boldly. Each of them doubled the value of what they were given. As a result, they are invited to enter into the joy of their master. But when the third slave steps forward he is still brushing the dirt off the burlap bag he used to bury the master’s treasure in the ground. He returns exactly what he was entrusted with—no more, no less. The justification he offers for playing it safe with his master’s cash is based on what he thought he knew about him. "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. Here you have what is yours."
Sometimes, the God we think we know turns out to be the God we get. If we imagine God to be impossible to please and quick to punish when we don’t make the grade, we are more likely to fear failure than to anticipate joy in serving such a Lord. And it’s unlikely that we would venture boldly into the work this God calls us to do. What’s worse is that, the God we get often becomes the God we give to others. The severity we associate with the God we think we know does not easily translate into extravagant love toward our neighbors. Sooner or later, the God we think we know becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no need for us to be cast into “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” because that is the place our souls already call home; not as a judgment levied upon us, but as a consequence of our misjudging God’s true nature. Is it any wonder that we end up with very little to show for the opportunities given us for investing in the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth? But when the God we know is the God of grace made known to us in Jesus Christ, it shapes more than our expectations about God. It also alters the way we perceive our own potential, shifts the lens thorough which we view our purpose in life, and transforms the way we relate to others.
The Parable of the Talents doesn’t reveal what opinion the first two slaves had of their master. All we can say is that their actions were 180° removed from that of their fellow servant. That the both of them are described as having gone off “at once” to make their investments suggests that they approached their mission with enthusiasm. As if it were an opportunity rather than a test.
I’m getting over the squeamishness I once felt about this parable. As the God I thought I knew growing up has been replaced with the God I experience today in Jesus, I’ve discovered that investing my life in God’s purposes feels less risky all the time. I’m even finding that it generates dividends of joy that I have to share with others.
God of extravagant grace, every time we think we know you (when we really don’t), surprise us again and invite us deeper into the joy of life invested in you. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 236,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
- For the family and friends of David K. Shumway, Jr., former treasurer of the historic MA Conference, UCC. David died on Oct. 13
- For those in the path of Tropical Storm Eta
- For a peaceful continuation of election and transition procedures for this nation
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For all those who participating in local, state, and national elections and exercised a civic duty to make their voice heard
- For all Veterans who have served this nation in its armed services
Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:
Christ's Community Church, Chicopee, MA
First Congregational Church, UCC, Chicopee, MA
First Congregational Church UCC, Chesterfield, MA
First Congregational Church of Chester, Chester, MA
The United Church of Chester, Chester, CT
First Congregational Church of Cheshire, Cheshire, CT
Chepachet Union Church ABC/UCC, Chepachet, RI
First Congregational Church UCC, Chelsea, MA
Central Congregational Church, Chelmsford, MA
First Congregational Church UCC, Chatham, MA
Federated Church of Charlton, Charlton, MA
This Week in History:
November 11, 1970 (50 years ago) The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought by Massachusetts on the legality of the Vietnam War. The case was brought in defense of MA residents claiming protection under a MA law that allowed residents of the state to refuse military service in an undeclared war. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case with a 6-3 vote, leaving questions about states' rights and Congress' unique duty to declare war.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”