... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 22 Year A, Message November 13th, 2011

The Relevance of a Right Relationship

Text: judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Having spent so many weeks looking at the history the philosophy and the necessity of the right relationships God has laid out in the covenant both in respect of our connection to the Divine and to one another, perhaps we might be forgiven if we were to throw up our arms and roll our eyes as we ask, “So what is the relevance of all this talk, especially in the 21st century when religion and church attendance seems to becoming less and less important to life in general?” Ask almost anyone on the street today and 70% of the time the response will be, “church is really not important”. Some will have a nominal faith, some will say they believe in God, but not all the hype about church with the various doctrines dogmas and mumbo-jumbo stuff. Only two days ago I got an email from a friend who stated that he has just come to a realization that he does not believe in any of the Christian or Judeo-Christian stuff. He has come to a philosophy of life concerning Universal Consciousness and the universal Soul. More and more people are making up their own belief systems their own gods and their own ideas of proper worship.

The readings for today speak not only to the turmoil of today but offer both a warning and a hope to those in their struggle with faith and their relationship with God and one another. The reading from Judges is particularly a warning about straying from the path of righteousness. Sin in all its many forms and vicissitudes breaks the bonds of trust faith and hope, setting us adrift. Simple examples might include the malicious spread of a rumour (founded or not) about a friend. The damage inflicted can sometimes be irreparable. In early Israel such breaking of trust between the people as a nation and God seemed to be almost a routine cycle. The people would sin in most cases worshipping various idols and turning from God – and in return they would be punished by becoming subjected to the rule of foreign kings under whom they would suffer poverty, abuse and various forms of imprisonment. At some point the people would realize their mistakes, return to God, pray for forgiveness and help and God would restore them through the raising up of judges. The story of Deborah and her rise as a judge is just one of many in the cycle. But the story is both an admonition and a promise of hope. As an admonition it lays out the root cause of our problems – straying from the right relationship. As a message of hope it provides the step-by-step path into restoration of a right relationship. That path is first and foremost a recognition of the sin and fallenness. Once exposed and admitted there needs to be a reflection and a repentance during which heartfelt remorse is experienced as well as an awakening to be back in relationship. This step often requires restitution forgiveness given and received and finally restoration. The hope provided is that God is faithful and offers the people the path to restoration.

The psalm for today in just a few short verses acknowledges this process and lays the credit and praise directly on God’s mercy and loving kindness.

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians seems to acknowledge this cycle of human sin and divine forgiveness but goes on to surmise that the cycle cannot go on indefinitely. That in this regard God’s final acts of restoration was in Jesus. Since this event the onus is not on people especially those whose eyes have been opened, to live in such a way as to honour God and be prepared for the final day of judgement.

It is this final day of judgement to which Jeuss alludes in the Kingdom parables of Matthew 25. These parables talk of the relevance of Jesus, divine worship and, a right relationship with God both for the present and the end times. The parable of the talents is often times used as a stewardship scriptural passage, and yes! It does lend itself to promote a faithfulness in managing ones talents skills gifts and resources. However the main thrust of the parable has to do with the return of God at the last days, the judgement which comes with that return and how those who await that return have spent and are spending their time. The talents parable is the third in a series of four kingdom parables each dealing with the day of return – the master, the bridegroom or the king!

Seen in this light the parable reveals a great treatise on both the characteristics of God and the third servant. Not much is spoken of the other two servants who had received five talents and two talents respectively. Both accounts of the first two servants are identical and act as a foil to the deeds of the third servant to whom only one talent was given. The thrust of the parable deals with the interaction between the master and the third servant. In this exchange we come to see God from two perspectives – the lens of the master and the lens of the servant.

From the view of the servant the master is harsh – reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not scatter seed. He is a master to be feared, not trusted and prone to labile mood and temper swings. From the mater’s view point this servant is both wicked and lazy and as such worthless, deserving only to be cast out into darkness.

Taking a somewhat closer look at the two, we find that this master had entrusted 1 talent to the servant – a sum equal to 15 years wages and surely that is a sign of the generosity of the master, not a picture of harshness or one to be feared. On the other hand the servant had not gone out and squandered the money or used it for his own pleasure. In fact he dutifully returns the sum to his master. But he has acted so out of fear. It is this action which defines this parable as relevant for all people and believers as to the right relationship into which we have been bidden to enter.

The third servant is an admonition against fear and slothfulness. In fact the word for lazy here is the same one to denote sloth – one of the seven deadly sins. Slothfulness is in reality inactivity procrastination, laziness and failure to strive for one’s potential. Out of this attitude of fear the servant simply ignored what he had been given – he didn’t even put it in the bank to earn interest. He simply hid it. Unlike this servant the first two used what they had been given and in so doing multiplied the gifts. Their attitude had been that of openness and joy in the relationship they shared with their master. I’m sure they did not view the master as harsh fickle or untrustworthy.

To the present the parable speaks to us of how a right relationship with God dictates how we live our lives freely, using the gifts entrusted to us rather than hiding them under a barrel. That may well mean many things to many people. However the common element is that we are called to lvie the present in a manner which reflects the relationship we enjoy in God through Jesus. Thus guided our actions will not only speak to that relationship but will be a beacon to the rest of humanity, inviting them to come and experience to taste and see that the Lord is good – happy are they who trust in Him.