The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s066g11  Sunday 33  13/11/2011

‘enter into the joy of your master’   Matthew 25.21

The parable of the talents is a sanctification of our daily occupations, the work we do during the week to provide for ourselves and those we love.    Significantly we are not commended for the time we spend in worship, or how often we call on the name of Jesus.  

In the 25th chapter of Matthew there are three parables of judgement, the parable of the five wise and the five foolish bridesmaids which we had last week, today’s parable of the talents, and next week we have the parable of the sheep and the goats.   And I note that none of these parables commend persons for the amount of time they have spent on their knees or how much time they have spent with their hands lifted high in praise.

The next message for me is that there are three parables of judgement because one is not sufficient.   This tells us that God makes sure that as many people as possible are included, rather than the prevailing attitude that God really wants as few people as possible in the kingdom, so God makes it hard to enter.    If there was only one way to be included - the one through Jesus - why would there need to be three parables - side by side?

Following on my words last week, we could infer that the first parable is the judgement for christians - that they have oil and enough to spare to bless others; the second, the judgement for the ancient people of God, the Jews, that they use their talents, and the third; those who know not the king, the judgement of atheists, agnostics and people of other faiths, that they have been charitable towards others. 

So I would conclude that christians are those who have oil for acceptance, healing and blessing of other people in this life.   But God also blesses those who use their talents in this life, to provide for themselves and for others.   And finally God blesses those who are charitable to those around us.   ‘Christians’ are not those whose faith is so personal that it excludes others.   ‘Christians’ are those whose faith recognises that God loves others besides them; people like the ancient people of God who use their talents for the benefit of all, and like people of other faiths and none who are instinctively charitable, given the opportunity.

In all these, God’s concern is for the good we do in this life, our incarnation into the society in which we are placed.   Eternal life is therefore something we make for ourselves in this life, it is something that is essentially corporate.  

And so eternal life is related to our personal faith and our personal relationship to Jesus only as it impinges on others as benefits and blessing.   Where one’s personal faith or supposedly personal relationship with Jesus separates us from other people we are in the realms of delusion.

Recently I heard a preacher talk about the gospel of Mark, in preparation for our sermons next year.   And as he spoke I noted how much the antagonism of the orthodox and the devout is highlighted, how the disciples are described as people of ‘little faith’, who consistently got the message wrong, and how Jesus found, acknowledged and blessed faith in others, strangers he met along the way.   For me (and this was a quite different message than that of the preacher) this highlights the snare even of following Jesus.   When we follow Jesus, as the disciples did, it can be all about us and our relationship with Jesus.   This absolutely precludes us from being faithful!   It sanctifies selfishness, spiritual selfishness, which is surely more reprehensible than material selfishness, which we are ever ready to condemn in others.   Following Jesus really means finding faith in others, the strangers we meet along our journey in life, people who have to work for a living.

Each of these parables calls us into the present, to not be concerned about past generations and what they may have dictated, or our past sins.   Neither are we to worry about the future – concerned with earning our way into eternal life.

For it is the person who hid his money in the ground because he was afraid of the master (who he perceived to be harsh) who is described as wicked and lazy.   And for all they might proclaim that ‘the steadfast love of the Lord endures for ever’ (Psalms 136), it is the orthodox and the devout who are often motivated by fear of God.   If they weren’t motivated by fear why are the details of ritual, the interpretation of scripture, or the details of one’s conversion so critical?  It is the devout and the orthodox who are so frequently worried about the dictates of past generations or what might possibly exclude us from the kingdom.

It is those who are past worrying about what God may or may not think of their daily occupations who have already entered into the joy of the master.

And the rub is that Jesus associated with all, the white collar workers (the tax collectors), the blue collar workers (the carpenters and fishers) as well as the no collar workers (the prostitutes).   And he commends them all.

In the Genesis story, Cain perceives that God prefers the offering his brother brings rather than his own.   Jesus completely contradicts this.   The offering of the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners is acceptable as any other.   Indeed the offering of the poor widow is particularly commended despite its seeming paucity.

If we affirm that no one comes to the Father but by Jesus, and Jesus is the person who tells these three parables, then ‘through Jesus’ means we are commended not for the details of our faith or the name we use for God, but for our living in the here and now, in our incarnation into the society in which we are placed.   Jesus is not concerned with what we do in this world, or how successful we are in the world, but only that we are in the world, and not hiving off into a little holy huddle all by ourselves.

And it is when we get this message, that our God is the perfect parent, caring for each beloved child without partiality whatever their occupation; that we are motivated to ‘enter into the joy of the master’, for we are allowing ourselves to be with others, and hence with God here, today; here now.

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