Sermon for the Second Sunday before Advent
19th Nov 2017
The Second Sunday before Advent Year A
The Parable of the Talents
“For we consume away in your displeasure”. Psalm 90.7
“For you are all children of light” 1Thessalonians 5.5
The long series of Sundays which have all been after Trinity have now become Sundays before Advent. Following the many Sundays ‘after’ Trinity’ there is now comes a slowing down, and then a call to listen to what it is to live the Christian faith in a state of alertness, of readiness and of expectancy. The well-known parable of the talents is placed within this framework. Christ is come to transform our lives in relation to one another. He has come to challenge those who, as the Psalmist puts it ‘consume away’ in God’s displeasure. I have here single words used to describe Holy Cross come from a group of us meeting here at yesterday’s Vision Day. Each word was offered by each individual group member as a deep reflection on what this Church means to them. Each word is an expression of trust and hope. We are called to be watchful against those elements which undermine The Faith and try not to succumb to a ‘knock down’ view of the Church which has fallen prey to a lack of trust. St Paul reminds us that “We are all children of light” and so we walk with Him who is Light.
The parable of the talents tells the story of three men, all slaves of the one master, who is about to leave the country for some time. He gives each of them different sums of money: one five, one two, and one only one talent. The first two slaves make money by trading and investing. The third simply digs a hole in the ground and buries it. On the master’s return, he readily rewards the first two for their trustworthiness. For they have doubled the original gift. The third answers him back with cheek, deriding the way in which the other two have gained money but refusing to respond to the master’s original request. He, the one with the one talent, surely had the least to achieve to warrant the same approval as the other two? But he refuses. He is obdurate and makes nothing of what he has been given. This is a difficult parable with no obvious interpretation since it seems to reward the making of money for its own sake.
But there is a deeper meaning. Here is a warning against the squandering of the life we have been given. Jesus is calling us into life’s true meaning, which is in right and loving relationship one with another. The getting of any selfish gain which denies or ignores the need to respect human relationships is a doomed endeavour because it based on greed. The gifts which God has given to each one of us are for our own sakes and not to be squandered. They are most squandered when we work from selfish motives which ignore the obvious and necessary demand for the greater good; the moral and ethical demand. The economic depression of eight years ago was a result of such behaviour, and things have not changed a great deal, and the lure of cheap gain remains seemingly unrelinquishable.
I have been watching a marvellous documentary from the American Public Broadcasting Channel which details the life of the American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his early presidency in the 1930s he was tasked with leading the United States through an unprecedented economic depression, which devastated the country’s former prosperity and placed 14,000,000 unemployed. ‘Depression’ became the byword for all the country’s ills, economic, social and psychological. Many thought, like his predecessor, that nothing could be done. Many thought that Capitalism and democracy would wither on the vine and that anarchy must follow.
Roosevelt’s genius lay in placing human understandings and relationships before simply moving money around. This gave accountability and probity. Roosevelt’s New Deal was to involve the whole country and to imply an understanding and a trust and a working together, hand in hand, to rebuild the country’s social and economic and physical infrastructure from the ground up. He was fond of saying that the trying out of the ‘alphabet spaghetti’ initiatives he instituted was at least better than doing nothing. The enemy was atrophy borne of fear. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” he said in his first inaugural address as president:
Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Many things have emerged from yesterday’s Vision Day, one of which was the declared readiness that this Church should advance and grow, not out of an interest in gain for its own sake, but out of our own glad and confident responsiveness to the Christian Call. As we acknowledge the privilege of the custodianship of this Church at this time, each one of us is being called to do what we can to secure its life and future for posterity. This is not just to be an act of caretaking but of active compassion. It was significant yesterday that a lone Russian wayfarer, Roman, (accidently) came into the crypt while we were having lunch. In the middle of our mission discussion we were able to offer him a place at the table and some food, a small gesture for us, but a significant marker of our express desire to continue to offer welcome and sustenance to the local poor and not to ignore the stranger at our door.
Roosevelt’s greatness lay in his understanding of the suffering and the difficulties of the common American, with whom, in the midst of devastating depression, he had embarked upon his New Deal. He was to lead his country through The Great Depression while recognising the negative aspects of blind human consumption. He had vowed to restore America to its own people. The message of the Second Sunday before Advent is that we, The Church are called to be watchful and active in restoring the Church in the likeness of the active and mindful compassion of Christ. This is the trust that we have been given in this church of ours under God.
It is to a ‘new deal’ that the Second Sunday before Advent now points, even to our Saviour Jesus Christ. He it is who calls us away from mindless material consumption and into in the full life of his freely given grace; ready to find ourselves in one another and in Him, for the sake of His Kingdom on earth, where his true likeness may be readily recognised.