Freed from Fear. Imagine That!

The text of the sermon, based on Matthew 25.14-30 with reference to 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 15, 2020.

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Jesus tells a parable about talents. In his day, talents were monetary units of precious metal; each the equivalent of twenty years’ wages of a day laborer. For our day, the root of our idea about our abilities, our talents that enable us to do something.

Viewed through the lens of worldly economics, this story is about our stewardship. Our faithful use of our talents and our money. Using them fully with noble ambition. Investing them wisely with honorable intention. All for which we, at the end of our lives, will give a reckoning through our legacies and bequests.

That’s the point of this parable! Hmmm, maybe.

From a heavenly perspective, this story is about our faithful use of divine gifts. The abilities, capacities, powers that the Apostle Paul, in his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians,[1] tells us are bestowed by God through the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts; among them, wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing and miracles, prophecy and the discernment of spirits. Spiritual gifts, which we never are to use for ourselves alone, but always for “the common good,” for the sake of others. Spiritual gifts for which we must be ready, “awake and sober,” Paul counsels the Christians in Thessalonica, to give an account at the end of time, the second coming of Jesus, “the day of the Lord,” which Paul tells us “will come like a thief in the night” for those who are unprepared.

That’s the point of this parable! Hmmm, maybe.

Today, focusing on two of the four characters of this Jesus-story, I submit that this parable is about an essential, ineradicable aspect of our relationships. All of our relationships; with God and all others.

Which two characters? Not the first two servants. They who invest and double their master’s money. They who make the same speech to their master; who, in turn, word-for-word, praises and rewards them. These first two servants function as literary foils. Like Romeo and Juliet’s Friar whose patience magnifies Romeo’s impatience. Or the evil Mr. Hyde to the good Dr. Jekyll. Or the malevolent Draco Malfoy to the benevolent Harry Potter.

These first two servants, in their exacting similarity, highlight the utterly different relationship of the two characters of my focus. The master and the third servant. The third servant who suffered from a case of fiscal paralysis. The third servant who took no risks. The third servant who buried the one talent and (I imagine, having to dust it off) returned it just as he had received it.

Therein lies the point of the parable! And, no, it is neither a repudiation of disobedience nor a renunciation of idleness (though, yes, disobedience and idleness are not praiseworthy attributes!), but rather a judgment about fear.

Now, I digress to confess that what I am about to say is the fruit of my imagination…

The third servant presumed that his master, who was in the practice of exploiting the labor of others to earn money for himself, was unkind. “I knew you were a harsh man, so I was afraid.” And acting on his fear, “I hid your talent and here it is.” The master replies (as I hear him, with an inflection in his voice that drips with irony): “You knew, did you, that I am as you presume? If so, then you should have done otherwise.”

The point. Whatever we imagine about God and anyone else influences our behavior.

Speaking always and only for myself, if I imagine God or you to be judgmental, I will be afraid. And I will remain guarded, reveal little, and risk less; lest I fail and fall under your judgment. If I imagine God or you to be benevolent and fair, then I am free to take the risk of being open and vulnerable, indeed, to be as loving and just as I perceive God and you to be.

What we imagine, we reflect.

What we reflect, we will be and do, think and feel, intend and act.

If this is true (and, at the risk of universalizing my experience and understanding, I believe it is!), then the moral of this parable is this: Resist and reject fear. Risk faith and trust in our interactions with God and others. For there is our truest freedom!

© 2020 PRA


[1] 1 Corinthians 12

Illustration: Parable of the Talents, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

2 thoughts on “Freed from Fear. Imagine That!

  1. Dear Paul,

    I have often said that I believe some of your sermons were written just for me. Though I obviously know that is not true, this sermon absolutely feels that way! As you know I’m currently laying the foundation to pivoting my career to focus entirely on using my talents as a speaker on dementia and caregiving. I have a tremendous amount of fear about this transition but I know I shouldn’t. I want to use my talents to reach more people and have more control over my time. As you know the rest of my dream is to travel the country but am putting a temporary hold on that part of the dream until I feel the racial climate has improved enough to do so.

    I pray that my discernment over the last few years is leading me in the right direction that will allow me to use all of my talents in the way that God intends for me to use them.

    Your sermon has helped me tremendously and I am grateful.

    Love

    Like

  2. My Dear Loretta,

    Reading your reply, I’ll begin by writing what I oft share with you at the end of our correspondence: Carry on!

    I love what you have written and the language you employ to describe your sense of yourself (indeed, your self) and your life: “…laying the foundation to pivoting my career to focus entirely on using my talents as a speaker on dementia and caregiving…”

    What strikes me powerfully, poignantly about this?

    “…laying a foundation…”, which evokes for me the image of your focused labor of starting at the base, the ground and building up. Another word that comes to mind: cornerstone. You are establishing the sure base or stage on which to stand and go forth!

    “…pivoting my career…”, which stirs up in my mind the image of you, with your head up and your eyes wide open, scanning, looking about and around to you, preparing to turn, the change direction. Moreover, you cannot pivot unless you have balance, an internal, trustworthy equilibrium, which you do! Brava!

    “using my talents…”, which means, for me, that you recognize and honor your giftedness.

    Now, God knows and you know, as you have identified, any great change bears with it an element of fear. Yet the courage of faith and the faith in courage is neither courage nor faith unless it is manifested and employed in the face of fear.

    And, always, I am happy whenever I write or say or do something that you find useful, beneficial. And, truth to tell, if my sermon spoke to you, then, indeed, it was written just for you!

    Love you and carry on!

    Like

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