Trust, Not Fear

CALL TO WORSHIP: Listen, everyone! God has always been our dwelling place. He was there before the mountains were formed from everlasting to everlasting He is our God.

Lord, we have all arrived here, some in a hurry like those leaves, some slowly, even reluctantly, but all are here drawn by Your Holy Spirit.

Speak to our hearts today, and show us how to respond to Your words, so that we may leave full of Your power and energy, and ready to serve You in Your world. Amen

HYMN 2: COME LET US SING TO THE ONE-StF.

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Lord God, You are from everlasting to everlasting: And in You we put our trust.

Before ever the world began, You were there at the very beginning. When everything stops, You will still be there. Nothing can sweep You away. We can always trust in Your presence and in Your power.

Lord God, You are from everlasting to everlasting: And in You we put our trust.

Human beings can make all kinds of plans, but You are the one who really decides what will happen. Things that seem to us as if they last for ages go by in your sight like a snap of the fingers. If you wanted to, You could just sweep us all away with Your hand.

Lord God, You are from everlasting to everlasting: And in You we put our trust.

We can put our trust in You, because Your actions show that You love us. Although bad behaviour sometimes makes You angry. Your solution was to send Jesus, to become one of us,  to live a human life, and to die on the cross. Even though our lives are so short in your eyes, because of Jesus, we know that we matter to You.

Lord God, You are from everlasting to everlasting: And in You we put our trust. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: THE LESSON OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Some of you may have been around bullies. Bullies say or do things that hurt others.

The sad thing about bullies is that inside they don’t feel good about themselves so they do hurtful things to hide what they really feel. They believe they don’t measure up, that they are somehow less than others.

They think by hurting another person and trying to make that person feel small, they will look tough – bigger or better than other kids, but it doesn’t work that way.

The Bible teaches us that we should “… build each other up…” (5:11). The Bible reminds us to encourage and help each other. It is good to learn to get along with others, but it is even better when we do and say things that are encouraging and helpful.

There are many examples of cooperation and learning to work together in the animal world. Think of beavers who work together to create a place to live and bees that work together to produce that tasty honey. Some birds work together to build a nest in which to lay their eggs and take care of their young.

When we learn to work together and “build each other up” everyone wins. A person who is generous and helpful to others is a person who feels good about their own abilities. When we all bring our talents together we can accomplish great things.

AMEN

HYMN 677: CHRIST IS MADE THE SURE FOUNDATION – StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING:  Loving Lord, today’s gospel story tells how some people did not make good use of what the master had given them. We want to say sorry to You because we know that we, too, do not always make good use of Your gifts.

We hug skills and talents to ourselves, and do not always share them with others; we do not work to improve our talents; we envy the gifts of others, and do not appreciate what we have.

Gracious God, You made all of us, You look on us and say ‘This is very good’. Help us to appreciate all that You have given us, and then show us how to use every gift to build Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

READINGS: 1 THESSALONIANS 5: 1-11 AND MATTHEWE 25: 14-40

HYMN 364: O FOR A THOUSAND TONGUES TO SING– StF

SERMON: TRUST, NOT FEAR (MATTHEW 25: 14-30)

Today I’d like us to remember something that all of us sometimes forget: that what God requires of us is not success, but faithfulness.

The Gospel we just heard is known as the Parable of the Talents. That word “talent” has a double meaning. Its original meaning in the Greek of the New Testament refers to a huge sum of money. In the ancient world, a talent was worth what an ordinary labourer earned over the course of fifteen years. Thus, giving each of his servants one or more talents, the master in this story is entrusting them with a fortune.

The second meaning of the word “talent” results from one interpretation of this very story. As the master entrusts his servants with talents, so God entrusts each of us with abilities. Talent has thus come to mean ability or skill. We say that someone has a talent for music or cooking or business.

But the Parable of the Talents isn’t really about money or ability. It’s about something even more important. The Parable of the Talents is about trust.

The story opens with an act of trust. The master is about to leave town on a journey. He entrusts his wealth to three servants. Each is given a different sum of money. Yet each is given a big amount — one talent or two or five. It’s clear that the master trusts each of his servants. He even hands over the money without any instructions.

After a long time, the master returns and calls in his three servants. Two of them have doubled their money. The third has made nothing at all; he returns to his master exactly what he received. It turns out that this servant had simply buried the money in the ground, a common security measure in ancient times. He reveals the reason for his action: he was afraid of his master.

His trust in his master was zero, so he reduced his financial risk to zero. Yet he reduced the possibility of profit so that it too was zero.

The story as we have it leaves us with an unanswered question. How would the master have responded to the first two servants if they had not brought in a profit? What if they had put the money at risk and come back empty-handed?

I think the master would have accepted them. After all, in the parable what he commends is not their profits, but their faithfulness. He does not commend the servant who produced five talents more than the one who produced two. Each receives the same commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Each receives the same invitation: “You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.”

And in responding to the third servant, the master makes it clear that he would have accepted anything — even rock-bottom savings account interest — that was motivated by faith rather than fear.

Moreover, it’s notable that the servant who is given five talents makes five talents more, and the one who receives two makes two more. This doubling in each case suggests that the growth is automatic. It’s not the cleverness of the servants that produces results so much as their willingness to act out of trust.

The parable is not about money or ability so much as it is about trust. The master trusts his servants and acts on this trust. The servants — or rather two of them — return the favour by acting out of trust rather than fear, and they come back to their master with one fortune stacked on top of another.

The third servant paints an ugly picture of a grasping master who demands success. What this servant gets for his trouble is exactly the rejection he fears. He’s a small-minded man who insists that his master is just as small-minded.

The other two servants, however, recognize generosity when they see it. The piles of money thrust their way reveal a guy who’s pretty generous, who takes a risk, who accepts them, even honours them. Finding themselves at the receiving end of such outrageous trust, they feel empowered, and are willing to take risks of their own. The love their master has shown them overcomes their fear of failure. They realize that any master who treats his money managers in this open-handed way is more interested in them than in turning a profit.

This brief story about a master and his three servants turns upside down the standards of the world. It announces that the worst thing that can happen to us is not failure. The worst thing that can happen is that we make God out to be a horrible old grouch who rejects us when we fail.

The story tells us that the worst thing is not losing out. The worst thing is never risking. In the eyes of God, the fear that keeps a treasure in the ground is an act of atheism. The freedom that puts that treasure at risk — and may even result in its loss — that is an act of faith.

We can learn from our failures, and often it is failure that provides the most indelible lessons. But fear teaches us nothing — until we leave it behind.

We understand these pathetic people because we too are given to burying our talent out of fear. We’re made anxious by the ogre idol of our imagination. We know what it’s like to misperceive and mistrust God.

What if the true, living, and only God has no interest in keeping score? What if God’s concern is simply that we all get up and take a turn at bat?

The Good News of Jesus gives new meaning to success and security. Success is found, not in accumulating more than we can ever use, but in our willingness to risk in response to God’s invitation. Security is found, not in keeping pace with our rising paranoia, but in the utterly reliable God who trusts us before we trust ourselves, who risks, and asks that we risk also.

To sum up, let me share with you words from the French scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In his best-known book, The Divine Milieu, he writes:

“God obviously has no need of the products of your busy activity since he could give himself everything without you. The only thing that concerns him, the only thing that he desires intensely, is your faithful use of your freedom and the preference you accord him over the things around you. Try to grasp this: the things that are given to you on earth are given to you purely as an exercise, a bank sheet on which you make your own mind and heart. You are on a testing ground where God can judge whether you are capable of being translated to heaven and into his presence. You are on trial so that it matters very little what becomes of the fruits of the earth, or what they are worth. The whole question is whether you have learned how to obey and how to love.”

The Parable of the Talents is not really about money or abilities. It’s a story about trust, a story about risk. Life’s the same way. What’s important is not money or abilities in themselves, but our decision to use them in ways that show our willingness to risk and to trust. The central question about life is not “What did we accomplish?” but whether we learned to obey, whether we learned to love.

I have spoken to you in the name of the God who desires above all else that we learn these things: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN

HYMN 564: O THOU WHO CAMEST – StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: In the parable that Jesus told, different people used their gifts in different ways. We shall be thinking about this story in our prayers for others.

Let us pray.

Generous God, giver of every good thing, Show us how to use Your gifts.

The man gave his property to his servants so that they could make good use of it. We pray for those with great power; leaders of countries; leaders of communities; managers of large businesses. Guide them as they lead others. Show them how to make the best use of the gifts that others bring and help them to develop their own skills.

Generous God, giver of every good thing, Show us how to use Your gifts.

We pray for Your church everywhere. It is full of all kinds of people with many different talents and abilities. May it always be a place of welcome and encouragement, where everyone’s gifts can grow and bear fruit that pleases You.

Generous God, giver of every good thing, Show us how to use Your gifts.

We pray for those who are learning to use their gifts; for children at school, for students, for those who are learning new skills. Guide them in their choices, and help them to do their best.

Generous God, giver of every good thing, Show us how to use Your gifts.

We pray for those who are sick; for those who are going through difficult times; for those who can no longer use a gift that has given them satisfaction and fulfilment. Show them that whatever their ability, they are still valuable in Your sight.

Generous God, giver of every good thing, Show us how to use Your gifts.

We pray now for ourselves; we think of our own gifts. Some of may be considered very gifted; others may feel that there is little that we can offer. Lord, we are thankful for every skill and ability that You have given us. May we never look down on any gift that we possess, but learn to use it in ways that bring You glory.

Generous God, giver of every good thing, Show us how to use Your gifts. Amen

HYMN 637: SOLDIERS OF GOD ARISE-StF

BLESSINGS: Dear Lord, as we go from here, carry us out by the wind of Your Spirit. Take us to wherever Your work needs to be done, and show us how to use Your gifts to do it. May the Blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit continue to be upon us and remain with us always. AMEN