Saturday, November 15, 2008

Talents - a Baptism sermon

One of the regular challenges of this strange and wonderful job that is parish ministry is trying to explain exactly what we think we’re doing here in church week by week.
The trouble is, pretty much whenever we come together as a church family, we find ourselves using ordinary things and ordinary words to point to something far beyond anything we can really describe or comprehend. That can make for stressful sermon prep!
Nothing is ever quite straightforward.

We share bread and wine and that sharing makes real for us the way Jesus shared himself, his life and his love, for the good of the whole world.

We pour water over those who come to begin their Christian journey, and believe that the water represents a whole new start and the beginning of a lifetime’s response to the tide of God’s love that will wash over us, flood every aspect of our lives and literally sweep us off our feet if we’ll only let it.
We trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and tell them that they are marked with the badge of Jesus – that they have become his property from then on for ever.

Ordinary things pointing far beyond themselves.

We don’t have the words to truly explain God’s greatness or the depth of his love for us, so we share stories.
Jesus, you know, was always telling stories…stories about sheep and goats, about cleaning houses and planting seeds…stories about ordinary things…But as he told them, and as we hear them today, we are invited to invest those ordinary stories with heavenly meanings.

That’s exactly the right word for today.
Because, you see, today’s worship is all about the way God invests in us.
That’s something we celebrate as we rejoice in Zachary’s baptism.
It’s also the message of the gospel story we have just heard…
What would you do with 75 years wages? or 30 years wages or 15 years wages? If someone gave you 7.5 million or 5 million or your 2.5 million, what would you do?
That’s not an idle question – it’s absolutely the substance of our reading.
You see, the “talents” that were given out in the story weren’t, as you might imagine, the sort of talents that we admire in Strictly Come Dancing nor even the artistic kind that enable flower arrangers to make a church look beautiful on special occasions…
As you might know, a talent in 1st century Palestine was actually money – and not just a specific coin but a considerable sum. In fact, a talent was roughly equivalent to 20 years’ pay in Jesus’ time…so in our story the wealthy master is taking a huge risk as he doles out those massive allowances to his three servants.
It’s certainly not something that one could recommend in the current economic situation…
He does no research.
He doesn’t enquire into the financial acumen of his slaves…he just doles out his riches and trusts them to make the most of them
What a risk!

We may not be rolling in money – our own or somebody else’s – but actually that’s our experience too.
God risks his all in his relationship with us.
God provides everything we need to satisfy our deepest longings - new life, forgiveness, unconditional love – and invites us to make the most of them.

That’s what Baptism is all about.
It doesn’t affect God’s attitude to us in any way at all…
God loves each of us – Zachary, me, you - completely, non negotiably – as if he had nobody else to love…as if you were the only person who had ever lived or would ever live on this earth.
He invests in you completely…lock, stock and barrel.
He invests, but he doesn’t force your response.

So…if you have been baptised, I wonder what you’re doing with that reckless investment of love and forgiveness….
Some pretty huge promises were made on your behalf…promises that Zachary’s parents and godparents will be making shortly for him.
They sound life changing.
WAS your life changed?
Perhaps not…Perhaps that investment God made is lurking like an uncashed cheque.
It’s quite safe – but you won’t derive any benefit from it until you claim the riches it promises…

That’s the approach of the third slave in this morning’s story…
He is just too fearful.
He decides to play safe….he does nothing…and from nothing comes nothing, of course.
He might as well never have received that talent, for all the good it has been to him.
What a waste. Sad really.

But the option is always open, to present the cheque…to draw upon the love that is held in reserve …and, drawing upon it, to use it to make a difference…
The first two slaves had no guarantee that their risks would pay off…in the current market, they might well have been very fearful…but they trusted that even if things didn’t work out their Master would honour their intentions.
They trusted, and that gave them the confidence to act.

Trust. Another key concept this morning.

Do you remember those huge figures I bandied about earlier?
Imagine that you have truly been given that much wealth.
What will you do with it?
There really is more than enough to satisfy not only your needs but your fears and anxieties too…
There is enough to enable you to give and give again, with no fear that you’ll ever run short.

And that’s what is asked of you.
That you make the same investment of love and hope that God has made…
What would it mean in your life if you trusted that God was the sort of daring fellow of our story, an adventurer who would do wild, crazy things for which there was no script.
What would it mean if ours was the sort of God who would dare, would experiment, would risk losing things – maybe even his own life?

What would trusting in a God like that mean for your daily life?
A God who dares us to follow Christ’’s example…to be reckless in our generosity, bold with all that we’ve been given…God’s own love, God’s own self given with abandon so that we might love and bless the world in God’s name.

We might go anywhere, if we opened our hearts and our lives to a God like that.

Zachary, I’m sorry.
You can’t defend yourself, and you might well hope that the Christian faith would be a safe option, a pleasantly bland set of principles that you could take or leave depending on your mood.
And yes, some people do treat it that way…
There’s always the option of burying that talent.
But the alternative is far more exciting and rewarding.
God invites and encourages you to be adventurous with all you are given.
To play pass the parcel with that love…to invest in unlikely causes…to live your life as a precious gift that can change the world.

Zachary, when you are baptised you will become a Christian – a little Christ….That’s what “Christening” means…and Christ, God’s own Son, risked everything, invested himself completely in his relationship with the human race…
He gave up his life…and in so doing won life for each one of us.

Christianity – not for the cautious…rather, a lifelong adventure story based on the extravagant outpourings of love that the polite waters of baptism merely hint at.

Ordinary things….Water, bread, wine – pointing to the inexhaustible love of God.


Caroline said...

that was remarkably beautiful....thank you.


lorna (see throughfaith) said...

Now I COULD write my intercessions for tomorrow (over at rev gals)

Do you really do that too ? my oh my!
Here it's given to someone in the congregation ....(different person each time) and one burden less for the priest to carry ...

marcella said...

very beautiful. Mind you it reminds me of when the insurance company wanted to do a risk assessment for the toddler group because we included baptism in the possibilities for the activities. Unquantifiable I should think.

Kathryn said...

Lorna, To be fair to my congregation at church in the valley, I should point out that they do write and pray the intercessions most weeks (the vicar is on the rota like everyone else, but that's fine)...the set I had to write over the weekend were for the special deanery service I've just blogged about. And they worked a treat :-)