DON”T MISUSE THE GIFT!
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON NOVEMBER 16th, 2008
1 Thessalonians 5.10: “For God has not destined us for wrath; but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we wake or sleep, we might live in him.”
In my sermon last week I quoted from the well-known hymn “O God our help in ages past”. That hymn is based on Psalm 90, which is the psalm appointed for today.
Today I would like to quote another verse of the hymn, which actually derives from the fourth verse of the psalm:
“A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun”.
This verse of both the hymn and the psalm surely captures the essence of our readings today. Each reading talks about the Day of the Lord – though that is not so obvious at first in the Gospel.
This parable in Matthew 25 on the talents and their use, seems to be about using the talents God has given to us. It would be an excellent start to a sermon about stewardship – especially the condemnation of the man who did nothing with what he had been given by the master. However in the current economic climate you would be tempted to do what that man did – bury your money in the garden, rather than even putting it in the bank!
Furthermore, it seems a harsh penalty when the master takes away from that man what he has, and in verse 30 it says: “Cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth”. All that just for being cautious with money!! This is, of course, an image of hell.
The emphasis of the story is obviously the return of the master – the Day of the Lord, the second coming of the Messiah. This is the theme of all the readings today. Zephaniah says: “The Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests” – fitting in well with the image of the heavenly banquet we find in Scripture. But then he immediately moves on to images of judgment and devastation, in rather a severe way.
Zephaniah was reffering to Israel in the 6th Century BC – one of those occasions when they were in captivity and wondering what the future would hold. But like other prophecies in the Bible (for instance Daniel and Revelation) what was originally a commentary on those times is interpreted as an image of the second coming of the Messiah.
In the first letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul is more hopeful about this second coming.
St Paul says no one knows when it will be, it will be like a thief in the night. In fact we can be sure that if some preacher proclaims “The end is nigh” – then he is wrong. And there is no shortage of such preachers in the USA. They are always going to be wrong – for no one knows, only God the Father.
Having said that no one knows, Saint Paul uses images of night and day, darkness and light, to declare that we need have no fear. We are all sons of the light. He says: “For God has not destined us for wrath; but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
What then are we to think about the Gospel?
We can look at the parable as applying to us individually. But might it also refer to the Church?
When we consider that in the Book of Revelation, the second coming is associated with the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, and the Bride of Christ – we understand that these are all images of the Church. Thus the servants in the parable might well be representative of the Church.
What then is the talent the Church has been given by the master? What is this pearl of great price? It was, and still is, the Gospel. The Good News that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” And this Word of God – Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead – is the one through whom we obtain salvation.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is the Gospel – not as some suggest one of many ways, or one of many truths, or one of many choices for life. But THE way, THE truth, and THE life. Thus has the Gospel always been proclaimed. This is the great talent, the gift given to the Church at the beginning of its existence.
So when the Church forgets this, or preaches something different, then today’s parable becomes a warning for the Church. And the warning is – don’t misuse the gift you have been given. Even more specific in this context are the words of congratulations from the master when he says: “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
There are many voices tempting us to change, to discard tradition, to see that God is doing new things – and God may be doing new things. But to give in to all this subtle pressure would be to risk not hearing the words: “faithful servant”.
It seems to me that one of the reasons why some suggest we should reject tradition and the unbroken teachings of the Church is because we live in an age which rejects traditional authority. Most of us go through this in our teens and early twenties – I did my share when I was young!
In my lifetime there has been so much social change and upheaval, enough to make us wonder about the future. This was the case when the books of Daniel, Revelation, and Zephaniah were written. All those prophecies which point to the Day of the Lord were written in times of upheaval and social change. Daniel was written to give hope to captive Jews that God would strike their enemies and deliver them. Revelation was written to give persecuted Christians in Rome the hope that Christ would soon return and vindicate them.
The message running through all these prophecies is – be faithful! It was not a message to please the world, nor to be part of its agenda. In uncertain times, to be part of the world and a part of its agenda has always been a temptation for the Church. To be liked, to be approved, not to be different – all of us face that, and the Church faces it. So in every age there has been heresy and schism.
Of course it proves the old saying: “He who marries the spirit of this age – will be a widower in the next”.
My brothers and sisters we are called to be the Bride of Christ, not a widow of this age.
Ultimately hope is the message of Saint Paul today. So I conclude with the final verse of that hymn:
“O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home”.