For the last few weeks I have spent time honouring the legacies that have been left to us. Whether it was in honour of Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday or Remembrance Day Sunday we have been spending time reflecting on what others have done for us and how that connects us one to another. Well, today that all comes to a head because in our denominational calendar this is called Legacy Sunday. Part of the purpose of this Sunday is to get us to think about the financial legacies we might leave behind but that’s not all. God is pleased when we share what we have- in all that we have. Portions of this morning’s sermon come from the resource for this Sunday as written by Jim MacDonald. You may recall that Jim came and spent a weekend with us this past February. While it was kind of a different world back then I have drawn on some of our conversations with Jim about legacies to build on our own current church experience.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells the story about a rich master about to embark on a journey. Before leaving, the master entrusts three servants with some of his money. The first servant receives five talents, the second receives two, and the third receives only one talent. When the master returns, he discovers that his first two servants have invested his talents and doubled his returns. He welcomes them to share in his joy. The third servant, however, buried the talent in the ground and hands back to the master only what he was given. The master is angry and sends the servant away. This seems like a simple story about the management of a rich person’s assets. However, if we dig deeper, we discover that Jesus once again reveals something unexpected, something surprising about the kingdom of God.
In the ancient world of the New Testament, a talent was a measurement of weight and a single talent weighed several pounds. We don’t know exactly how much a talent was worth, but one talent could have represented 9-years of wages for a skilled labourer or as much as 15 years of a day-labourer’s wages. So, even the single talent was a huge responsibility. According to the parable, the master evaluated the servants before he gave them the money. He had faith in their abilities and all three should have been able to manage the money. In order to double their investments – an impressive return – the first two servants probably needed to take considerable risks. The listeners would have known that. They would have known that the first two servants could have lost the master’s money. They would have known that to earn those returns the investments might have been unethical or even illegal. The listeners might have been surprised that these two risk-takers were so celebrated by the master.
The servant who buried the talent actually acted in a law-abiding, commandment-following way. He didn’t go to lenders to try to earn interest. By burying the talent, he protected the master’s assets. He didn’t gain the master anything, but he didn’t lose anything either. The listeners might have wondered whether he deserved such harsh punishment. Why was the master so angry?
Jesus was revealing something about the kingdom of God. The people welcomed into the kingdom might not be clean or careful or safe or upright. They might be messy risk-takers. They might be the type who would risk everything for their master. The first two servants saw potential in their talents: an opportunity to increase the master’s assets. They recognized the trust the master had in them, had faith in the master and used their knowledge and experience to grow their gifts. They took risks with what they were given because they could see what they might gain. The third servant saw scarcity, not potential; letting uncertainty drive him. He expected loss, guarding what little he had at the expense of what he could have had. Even though he knew the master expected to reap what he had sown, he didn’t see the master’s faith in him. He did not invest in the hope of growth and overlooked the possibility of surprise. By burying the talent, he denied both the potential of the gift that he was entrusted with and his responsibility to the master.
The kingdom of God is about having faith. The kingdom of God is about seeing the possibilities God presents. The kingdom of God is not about playing it safe but using our gifts, risking them all, for a future of hope, the way Jesus eventually would. Shortly after sharing this parable, Jesus took the greatest risk of all. He left the safety of Galilee to go to Jerusalem, where the religious authorities regarded him as a threat to their own power and privilege and where the Romans would consider him a disturber of their peace. In being faithful, Jesus risked everything God gave him, including his very life. The return was immeasurable, everlasting, and a blessing to all creation.
We are the soil in which God’s gifts are planted. God has given us tools to do God’s mission. What will we do with what we’ve been given and what will it say about our faith? Over the last few months two people have come to my mind as people who left legacies for this church so that we could be prepared during this pandemic. When Pieter Riedijk was finding it more difficult to attend services on a regular basis he approached Mike and I and said, “why can’t we live stream the service?” And I resisted. I told him I didn’t want to be on YouTube, that it was too risky to be online every week. My self-esteem wasn’t prepared to go viral. And Pieter looked at me and said, “This isn’t about you. This is about the congregation.” He helped fund some of the changes needed and pushed us to take the risk and go online. This meant that we had been live-streaming services for nearly two years before the pandemic and so, we had some experience with the technology. Quite a legacy for him to leave us. But now that we have so many more viewers watching on line than in person further upgrades were required- we realized that the quality of the live stream had to be such that it felt like worship despite many of you sitting in your own homes. Doug Beattie had listed the church in his will and left a substantial amount from his estate to us. Some of those funds have helped us upgrade to new cameras, microphones, and a computer (and numerous other things that Mike has told me but I don’t remember). This will allow us to provide services into the future whether it is in person or online or some variation of the two.
Right now, we are living under the shadow of a pandemic. We have no idea what is coming up next. With the future so uncertain, it would be easy to respond like the third servant, with fear. We could protect the gifts we have been given, fail to recognize them or pretend that we never received them. We could bury our funds or heads in the ground. Or, we could be like the first two servants: living in faith, trusting God’s faith in us, stepping outside of our comfort zones to take risks and using our gifts to participate in God’s kingdom and share God’s message of hope.
The third servant’s legacy was fear. The first and second servants’ legacy was faithfulness. Pieter and Doug’s legacy was hope for the future. God confidently plants seeds of ability and faithfulness in each of us. We are given the freedom to choose how to use the treasures we’ve received. We can choose to hoard these gifts, or we can choose actions, great or small, to produce works of love and mercy. We can leave our comfort zones and take risks for God. I’m so thankful for the many people who have helped us live out a legacy of being Comox Valley Presbyterian Church even in unprecedented times. Amen