I’m endlessly fascinated with the parable of the talents. It puts forward some obvious truths, that our society rejects, in passing. It’s main comparison – the one the entire judgement is based upon – is something that we miss because we take it as obvious, but then don’t observe how we act. A couple of those obvious truths: 1) God is not about fairness. “He gave to the servants according to their ability.” 2) With what it given to us we have absolute discretion. God is much freer in how he entrusts than we ever are. 3) What God entrusts is never a small amount. Even the least servant got a full talent, a stupendous sum. I think those three truths might form our typically brief against God. He’s not fair; He’s not present to help; He hasn’t given us enough to work with.
And that brief against God, when you get people being honest, is what leads to the parable’s real comparison. The first two have faith in their master’s judgement. The last servant views his master as a hard man and stingy. It isn’t really the performance of the first two measured in money that gets praised. The master doesn’t take any of it back and in fact says “you’ve been faithful in little, I will set you over much.” In the sermon I take this roughly as “you’ve been faithful in this short sinful life, I will give you eternal life.” It’s the faith in the judgement displayed in their actions, not the absolute return. The last servant thinks what has been given – this life – is a complete set up. That the master is out to get him no matter what. The picture of God is of an ogre. When of course the revelation of God is Christ, on the cross, for us.
Real pagans I think tended to be much more honest. They did their sacrifices more to keep the gods far away from them. Running into a pagan god never went well for the human. They were ogres. (And well according to Paul they were demons, so…). I think our society has that view, but you have to scratch off the veneer. The veneer we have is that “of course God is good.” Of course we define good as nice. The first time we think God is unfair or doesn’t show up, the brief against God comes out. In some ways the modern church in what it teaches forms people into the servant with 1 talent. When what Jesus wants us to see is the stupendous nature of the grace that has been given. You have life. You have this life right now. You have the promise of eternal life. “The joy of your master.” God is the lover of mankind. He has set you up to succeed. Yes, not is the way we often define success, but in the way God does – the following of Christ, his son.
Anyway, this is getting as long as the sermon which is a meditation on these themes of life given to us, and our response.
Pay attention to the stories people tell you over and over. They are telling you about themselves. The stories that we as Americans tell over and over right now are toxic. They have erased the old stories. Their only fruits are division, death and lethargy. This sermon is about a better story. It is a story that Jesus tells about the Kingdom, which of course is a story about himself – God. And it is a story full of mischievous life. There is always work in the Kingdom. The pay is unfair, but always right, and better than we deserve. Go work in the vineyard. You won’t regret it. You won’t regret an identity built on this story.
Most of the parables tell us more about God – Father, Son or Spirit – than they do about us. The stuff they tell us about ourselves we already know, like that we are prone to insane double standards. Like, I never have to pay my debts, but you, pay it right now. What the parable of the unmerciful servant tells us is that staggering amount we have been forgiven by God, and how God did that while we were still trying the play the con on him.
The difficult thing that this sermon attempts however briefly to think about is what is demanded of disciples in this world. The radical forgiveness of Jesus is required of us for those within the church. That is Jesus’ answer to Peter, “seventy times seven”. That is the moral lesson of the parable. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had on you?” To fellow disciples we must practice forgiveness. The question then extends to the world? And this is where you cross into the imitation of Christ. We are not the messiah. On the one hand radical forgiveness of the world is not required and may not be wise. On the other this is the model of Christ and it is an open and costly road. Such forgiveness as Christ is an act of faith that the Father repays.
Recording Note: This recording is done after the fact. Our equipment glitched on us this morning.
This sermon is the completion of Jesus’ Parable sermon. It is a string of parables of the Kingdom. And I think we often miss the gospel in these. The way we immediately try and understanding them betrays the “Yes” that the disciples give to Jesus when he asks if they understand. Because we almost always take ourselves as the main character, when the main character is God. This sermon attempts to preach the good news of that before how it relates to the Christian Life.
Biblical Texts: John 7:37-39, Proverbs 2:6-7, Romans 1:16, Psalm 103:17-18
The day was the Feast of Pentecost. That is supposedly the feast that Jesus is speaking out at in the John text. And the first part of this sermon addresses that. The day here at Mt. Zion was also Confirmation. Confirmation is the completion of typically a two year cycle of study of the Luther’s Small Catechism. We throw in a few practical bits as well, like a “how to build a prayer life” and “comparative world religions,” but most of it is knowing the basics of the faith as taught in the Catechism. It ends with a confirmation of the faith of their baptism. One of the traditions of confirmation is usually a specific confirmation verse. It is chosen in a variety of ways by different congregations, but I’m a tyrant. I choose it for all of them. I also try and through it to give them the blessing of a Spiritual Father. The second part of this sermon is those blessings.
(A personal note. I’ve now confirmed my three living children. I went back through my files and gave my older two the verses chosen for them and gave them that personal blessing again. Something like that is the purpose of this. It is something that can be revisited multiple times.)
The service itself was a very traditional lessons and carols. This sermon didn’t really focus on any one of those texts but upon the themes they present as what the light could mean. The sermon speaks for itself I think more than any summary I could give it here.
A short homily for a thanksgiving sermon that asks what are we giving thanks for? Certainly, for our daily bread which in this land we have an abundance, but also for “every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.” We give thanks for this body and life, which should lead to thanks for the much greater grace we have been given in Jesus.
Jesus’ predictions of His passion each elicit responses by the disciples. Those response are often quite telling. They highlight some false idea which the disciples are clinging to. But there is something else that swirls around the first two – Jesus offering what the church calls the Keys. What you bind is bound and what you loose is loosed. The first offer of the Keys leads to the passion prediction which Peter responds roughly “not going to happen”. In this second passion prediction Peter doesn’t directly confront Jesus, but in this sermon’s conceit starts succession planning. The sermon of Jesus that follows talks about what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like which is nothing to start succession planning over. Instead of leading with the offer, Jesus ends with the offer of the Keys. His followers will be humble or childlike or little enough to not demand the law or their due with each other. The church instead is based on confession and absolution. The church is based on offering and receiving grace.
I guess this is the cliche/classic “what I did on my vacation” sermon. It centers around the contrast between father and son and the son’s surprising statement that re-centers the entire experience between fake and real, between (pseudo-) law and grace.
The text for the first Sunday in Advent always seems a little off. There is an alternate to the Palm Sunday Triumphant entry, so I had to check if that was because this was a change in the appointed readings that went along with changing Palm Sunday proper to Sunday of the Passion. But that is not the case. I guess someone else just had the same odd feeling that you don’t expect to show up in Advent and hear Palm Sunday.
But the text actually establishes the time. Jesus is committing a political act declaring himself a king. But not like any King the world would recognize. Neither the Galileans marching him in, nor the residents of Jerusalem, as Matthew makes clear, understand. Both want a messiah of their own making. Not this messiah who comes humbly. Not this messiah who stops to give sight to the blind. Not this messiah who is willing to suffer violence instead of inflicting it.
Nothing has really changed. We still want Jesus in our image. But thankfully we don’t get that. We get a King who comes right now in grace. To those with eyes that have been opened, this kingdom calls us to be its witnesses and its hands. One day this Kingdom will come in glory, but right now, it comes humbly. Through flesh and blood, through word and sacrament.