2nd Sunday before Advent 2014
It started with three young men making fruit juice “smoothies” in their kitchen for friends and family. Now the company produces over thirty different recipes, sells more than two million smoothies weekly in the UK and overseas, and gives ten per cent of its profits to charity.
The company’s founders began with a passion to help people live more healthily, plus £500. They spent this on fruit, made their favourite recipes and set out a stall at a local music festival. Above it, they put a sign: “Should we give up our day job to make these smoothies full-time?” Customers could vote by placing their empty bottles in either a “yes” bin or a “no” bin below. By the end of the day, the “yes” bin was full. The three friends had pledged to resign their jobs the next day and put all their energies into building their business if the “yes” bin was filled. The key to their success had been the willingness to take the risk of starting out with the resources they had, and a tenacity that refused to give up.
In his parable of the talents, Jesus contrasts two servants who began and sustained their enterprises with a third servant who did neither. Jesus’ story depicts the economy of God’s kingdom, as the absent master apportions talents between his three servants and trusts his resources to their stewardship. These resources were considerable. In the New Testament, a talent is a unit of money worth what would take a labourer around fifteen years to earn.
These days the word “talent” refers to personal qualities and gifts rather than material commodities. However, two servants demonstrate skills and inner qualities of character as they respond to their master’s trust. They rise to the task of putting his money to work and generate a growth that doubles what each had to begin with. Though the master is away for a long while, they maintain their sense of responsibility without his immediate oversight, and offer him the full fruits of their labours with his provision on his return.
The returning master’s delight in these servants is evident. His trust has been well rewarded and they are rewarded, too. These servants gain a greater share both in the master’s work of managing his resources and in his joy at the abundance of growth created.
This sense of expansiveness and generosity is absent from the third servant, who has hidden and hoarded his master’s goods. He has been inactive on his master’s behalf, shunning accountability for what has been given. He even attributes his own meanness of spirit to his master, accusing him of being harsh and exploitative, as an excuse for shrinking back into himself and refusing his master’s commission. The servant has shown that he wants nothing of the invitation to be part of the life of the master’s estate. So the stewardship that he regarded as a liability, not a privilege, is taken away; he no longer belongs in his master’s house.
Jesus tells this story on the brink of his passion, and in the context of his ultimate return at the end of the age. When God comes among his people, through his prophets or in person, he entrusts them with his resources to use for the sake of his kingdom. Like all good stories, Jesus’ parable poses a question for his hearers: how are they using what their heavenly master has given, even in his apparent absence? Have they faithfully offered his word and worked to grow God’s kingdom, or have they sat tight and buried his message in the ground? What will they have to show the master when he returns?
As God’s people awaiting Christ’s return, what has the master entrusted to us: material advantages, gifts, skills, time, opportunity? Whatever we have been given, it comes with a call to put the master’s resources to work for his glory and others’ blessing. As you know, we have recently started a youth club for 7-11's - 6 people offering their time and their love and their care for children - and we have seen the need there is with some 35 children already signed up. Jesus parable highlights that not all are given identical talents. What particular ones have you been given that can be used to help grow God’s kingdom as we seek to grow over the coming years?
Living as the master’s stewards involves an active response, putting ourselves out to make a start, perhaps being creative with a new enterprise. It will mean persevering when it seems as though the master has not been around for some time. We will have to come out of our comfort zones and take some risks.
I have asked for the Mission Action Plan response forms to be returned on or before Advent Sunday - please use these to help us discern where the needs are for both the church and the community we are called to serve in God's name.
We do this because God himself has already taken the ultimate risk in unconditionally sending his Son to die for our salvation. How will we share that love unconditionally today?