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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Talents of Reluctant Prophets - 11/19/2017

This isn't the first time we've heard about talents in the Gospel of Matthew. You might remember just a couple of months ago when talents came up in the parable of the unforgiving servant. That guy owed a king 10,000 talents and another guy owed him 100 denarii. I pointed out then that a talent was about 15 years worth of wages, vs. a denarius, which was about a day's wage.

So this parable can lead us into conversations about money and wealth and giving and faithfulness. Stewardship, in it's full biblical picture, will come up more often as we go forward as a faith community here at Eden. It's something the council has been touching on for a year – how do we understand the gifts God has bestowed on us – whether that gift is a dollar or a innate sense of hospitality? And how do we act on our Lord's urging to understand those gifts as being meant not only for us, but as a way for God to work through us for the sake of the world? How does our stewardship reflect our response to what God has done for us in the person of Jesus?

Stewardship is also something that is on my mind in particular this week after a group of us met to put together a picture of what our 2018 expenditures will look like – how much do we pledge for Mission Support – the work of this synod and the wider church? How much to we pay a pastor? How do we best plan to manage the physical location of this faith community efficiently and wisely?

For now though, I would simply ask that we all be a little more intentional in how we think of our stewardship habits and commitments. Prayerfully consider, for instance, how the ministries of Eden are included in your giving of “talents” as we head into a new calendar year.

There is another way I think we can look at this parable of the talents – it's an angle brought to mind by the pairing of this Matthew text with the words of the prophet Zephaniah.

What if we thought of “talents” as the ways in which God calls us as prophets?

We are all prophets in some sense or another, I think often in many ways. Some of us preach and teach quite plainly – but think about what that really means. Preaching is to proclaim the word of God, and teaching is to use the scriptures to make room for others to grow in relationship with God.

And I think you will agree with me when I say that proclamation doesn't only happen from behind this ambo. As soon as we identify as Christians, in fact, our every word and deed reflects our proclamation of the promise of eternal life we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I think you will agree with me when I say that opening the scriptures isn't relegated only to the Tuesday afternoon bible study or every other Sunday afternoon in confirmation class. Rather is it happening around us all the time – in posted words of encouragement or thankfulness on social media. It is found the coffee clutch conversation that turns to stories of prayers being answered, or how in the depths of confusion and grief, the right people showed up at the door.

So, we are all prophets, you see. It's why I got this tattoo when I was in seminary On one side is the Hebrew word henani. It means “here I am” and in seminary we often called it “the response of the reluctant prophet.”

I know we like to think that when God calls us to something and we hear that call and understand it, we joyfully and without hesitation answer God with a wide open “here I am” answer. But the truth is that is not always what happens. We see it in the bible all the time.

God calls to Moses and Moses says, “Not me, Lord. I cannot speak in front of others. You probably want my sister and brother.”

God calls to Samuel and when Samuel finally figures out it's God calling him and not his teacher Eli, he says “Not me, Lord. I'm just a child.”

God sends a messenger to meet the women disciples at the empty tomb at the end of the gospel of Mark to direct them to go and tell, “Jesus is not here, he is raised!” the messenger says… And the disciples say, “Not us Lord, we are too scared to say anything. You must mean to send others.”

Reluctant prophets all of them. Zephaniah too. He is a addressing the wealthy of his Jerusalem community. Those who are comfortable, included, free to do as they please. They would say they believe in God, but they speak and live as though “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.” (Zeph 1:12b) It's what my dad would have called a milk toast respond – A bland and soggy remedy for an upset stomach.

Zephaniah calls them out on the worship of false idols like gods of wealth and power. He names how they are blinded by their need to increase and hold tight to their wealth, to the point where they end up being extortionists and ignore the growing needs of those who have no wealth. He points out their complacency, their willingness to let these injustices and unfaithful behaviors carry on by rationalizing that it's just the way things work and it wouldn't make a difference if they changed anyway.

So you can see that the work of a prophet is not always the work of the popular.

Zephaniah brings a warning to his people, as our prophetic words and actions can do sometimes too. It's a warning of God's judgment upon those who give themselves over to greed and power instead of God and neighbor. I suspect there were at least moments when Zephaniah heard God's call to speak these tough words of truth and he thought, “Not me, Lord, I don't want to be the messenger of these words. We all know what happens to the messenger. Send someone else, please.”

Maybe we feel that same way when we hear someone use the “n-word” or some other racial slur that is soundly is opposition to Jesus' teachings, and yet we say nothing out of fear of offending.

Or when we see someone taking unfair advantage of those who have less and we keep quiet because it's not really our business and besides, that person may target us next if we say something.

Or when we see someone in need and our ability to help them fails us because they are too dirty, too different, too damaged, too ill and we are afraid to get too close.

But as God's called people we are to respond or push ourselves as best we can to respond to these kinds of situations because God's judgment will fall on them and on us.

Now I know we don't really like to think or even talk about God's judgment – especially from what we read in the Old Testament and also in the Gospel of Matthew – its seems so harsh – all these gnashing teeth and being thrown into outer darkness. Who the heck wants to go around town warning people of that stuff? Right?

Hinani? Here I am, Lord? But are you sure?

Well first of all, in regard to judgment, we know, as followers of Jesus, that work is already done … that account is already settled on the cross for us – this is the Good News we remember again today as we confess our sins, receive forgiveness and share the bread and wine that remind us every time of who we are and whose we are.

So this judgment isn't about whether we are saved. We are. It's about what we do with that truth.

I read something this week that really helped me understand what this concept of God's judgment means when people like Zephaniah and the gospel writer used it.

It is also detectable in the letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. “But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.” (1 Thess 5:4-5)

God's judgment is not so much understood as coming from this angry, omnipotent being who is keeping a tally of our mistakes and sin and failings and just waiting for our day of punishment to come. God's judgment is more like a light of pure holiness that shines brilliantly and finds its way into every nook and cranny of our lives and the whole of creation. On the Day of the Lord it will illuminate all that is pleasing to God – all the ways we do love and worship God; all the ways we do love one another.

And … while it is illuminating these things it cannot help but also plainly illuminate the places where our choices do not represent what is life-giving and full of hope and motivated by love.

If we understand our “talents” to be our callings – regardless of what these callings are – pastor, friend, railroad worker, counselor, nurse, parent, etc – then I think this parable asks us – even warns us – to consider how we hope that light shines on us on the Day of Lord … that day when we come into the fully revealed Kingdom of God.

Do we want to be among those servants of the Lord who shared and grew themselves and others in the roles God has called us to? Or do we place ourselves in the position of the servant who was too afraid to answer God's call and buried it so that God could serve no one through it?

I would suggest that is a worthy question for all of us called prophets of God to consider. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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