Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sermon: November 16

Faith is a verb. I know the dictionary doesn’t say that but it is true.

Our faith, what we believe in, is lived through what we say and what we do. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Taking those first steps of faith are important because they en-flesh what we believe but our next steps are just as important for they also speak of our faith

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” - T.S. Eliot These words from T.S. Eliot remind me that our call to live out our faith, to take that first step and the next, and the next after that, is a risk, a risk that will lead us to where God calls us to go, further than we can imagine, even when we can’t see the staircase, or it is a risk we are unwilling to take. For that is the point of the parable in the gospel…the servants are rewarded not because of the results of the talents they earned (God is not a bookkeeper checking on results) but because they were faithful servants who used the talents given them; the faithless servant refused to use the talent given him and buried it away…that is not enough says the master…that is not enough says God. We can’t live in fear for our faith calls us to risk, for without faith, we are lost…

“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” How true it is that when we have talent, a gift, if we do not exercise it, if we don’t use it, we tend to lose it, as if it had been taken away… In college…I learned sign language and become somewhat proficient at it, but after college, I have used it less and less and now I barely can remember much of it, same could be said of my Spanish… I suspect we all have gifts, talents that remain unexplored, untried, or left to dust…

The Parable of the Talents is a stark reminder that we each have been entrusted with faith and we each have been entrusted with gifts, talents, charismas. God does not want us to sit on those gifts, does not want us to hide our faith under a bushel basket in fear but God wants us to use the gifts, to show our faith, for the good of others, to build up the Body of Christ, to help restore those who have fallen away & those in need.

I think of a story about the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who despite his artistry, was not known for his social grace, who was often uncomfortable around others and gruff with people. There is a story that when the son of a close friend died, Beethoven rushed to the home of his friend to express his grief. He had no words to offer, but for the next half hour, he sat at his friend's piano and expressed his emotions in the most eloquent way he could. When he had finished playing, the maestro quietly got up and left. His friend later said that no one else's visit meant as much to him and his family. [Philip Yancey]

Greatness in the kingdom of God is not defined by the talents and resources we possess but by what we are able to accomplish with what we have been given. Some of us possess great skills in medicine, in science, in literature, in the arts; some of us possess the ability to listen, to offer encouragement and care, to translate compassion into support and healing. Every one of us has some measure of talent, ability or skill — "talents" that have been entrusted to us by the "Master." Jesus teaches in today's Gospel that our place in the reign of God will depend on our stewardship of those talents: whether we "bury" them in fear or selfishness or use them readily to reveal the presence of God in our midst. [Connections]

And to use them to help others discover their God given talents too…

There is an organization called Five Talents’ International. Its mission is to fight poverty, create jobs and transform lives by empowering the poor in developing countries using innovative savings and microcredit programs, business training and spiritual development. It is based on the Parable from Matthew we have just heard (Matthew 25:14-30). They carry out this mission in partnership with the churches of the Anglican Communion.

Here’s one story from their ministry (and website):

After Joy’s husband died of malaria, she found herself alone, taking care of six children in the Kabale District of Uganda, near the Rwanda border. Instead of giving up in despair, she started a brick-making business. With a small loan of $150 and some savings she was able to purchase a small piece of land and employ eight people to make bricks. In just four months, she sold $150 worth of bricks with an inventory worth $400 available for sale. Since 2003, she has gotten several additional loans to enlarge her brick-making business. She also has expanded into growing potatoes and operating a small store. The profits from her business allow her to provide for her children's education and to hire 13 employees who now can support their families as well.

What is the impact of Five Talents?
• More than 20,000 people were helped in 2007.
• Thousands more since it began in 1999.
• Now supporting 13 programs in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Dominican Republic, Tanzania and Peru.
• Currently providing technical assistance in Bolivia and Ghana.
• Repayment rates average more than 90%. (our banking industry would like to see such repayment rates!)

The ministry of FTI is to help people identify their gifts, train them with skills to nurture those gifts and then provide a community of support to sustain them in their use. Indeed its ministry is to help increase the talents and support them in their work!

Five Talents International is in a risky business. for the entrepreneur with the risks of starting one’s own business and there is risk for the giver, to “encourage…and build up” our brothers and sisters and release control of the gift into the hands of the recipient and trust them with it.

There is much God has given us, but we must be willing to take that first step, trust our God given talents and continue in faith to take our steps and help others take those first steps too… MLK, Jr. & T.S. Eliot were right, faith is taking that first step and understanding that those who will risk going too far by continuing to take steps are the ones who can find out how far one can go in life. Only by using our talents, by trusting our faith in our God who is faithful, can we risk going too far…

So let us learn from Scripture, let us number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom, let us in humility and faith live our lives, taking steps, taking risks, using our talents so that God’s glory may be made manifest through what we do. Then at the last may we hear… “Well done, good and faithful servant of God; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Amen.

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