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Worship and Sermons
November 15, 2020

“Accepting Your Mission” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, November 15, 2020, Year A / Proper 28 – Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and Psalm 78:1-7  •  Judges 4:1-7 and Psalm 123  •  Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 and Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12  •  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  •  Matthew 25:14-30

THEME:  Accept God’s mission for your life and pursue it to know his joy.  

These past few weeks, we have been journeying through a section of Matthew’s gospel commonly called the little apocalypse.  Like the books of Revelation and Daniel, it gives us a picture of the end time judgment, and how disciples should prepare for it.

Picture Jesus seated with his disciples somewhere high up on the slope of the Mount of Olives.  It’s nighttime.  They’re looking down on the city of Jerusalem across the Kidron valley.  It’s Tuesday of Holy Week and the city is full of pilgrims who have come to celebrate the Passover.

It should be a happy, joyous time, but under Roman occupation it’s become a dangerous time.  Major religious festivals like this one were prime opportunities for Jewish rebellion.  So, the Roman authorities are on high alert.

The religious leadership is also on edge.  Just the day before, Jesus caused an uproar by clearing out the money changers from the Temple courtyard.  When the Pharisees and Sadducees confronted him, Jesus silenced them with his teaching.  Their indignant anger has since turned into deadly plotting.

Meanwhile, Jesus is giving his disciples a picture of what to expect in the tumultuous times ahead.

And, frankly, it’s a bit ominous.  The Temple will be thrown down.  The city will be destroyed.  The people will suffer and the disciples will scatter.  False messiahs will pop up, misleading the people.  Then Jesus will finally return in judgment.

And they need to be prepared.  So, Jesus tells them a series of unsettling parables, including the parable of the talents.

One talent is a small fortune – the amount that someone would earn in 20 years of working.  2 talents is the total of what you might earn during all your working days.  5 talents is an outrageously large amount of money, beyond conception.  Clearly, this parable is not about investing or banking.  In fact, it’s not about money at all.

The talents represent the mission Jesus gives his disciples, each according to his / her own ability.  Whether a disciple has been faithful in a 2-talent mission or a 5-talent mission, the reward is the same:  an invitation to enter the joy of the master by taking on an even greater mission. 

'Well done, good and trustworthy slave,” Jesus the master says, “You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  That is what God’s grace looks like.

For faithful disciples, there is joy in doing God’s work.  And doing more of it brings more joy, both to disciples and to God.

But this last slave misses that.  He sees his master as neither gracious nor joyful.  He completely misunderstands Jesus and misrepresents his character. 

When the master entrusts him with a one-talent mission, he sticks it in the ground and then hands it back when the master returns.  And he explains himself by claiming to know Jesus is a harsh man who reaps where he does not sew. 

But we know that’s not true.  The only place Jesus has reaped is where he’s had his disciples plant seeds. And, regardless of the results, he has rewarded their faithfulness with joy.

So, Jesus responds by punching a hole in this slaves’ argument.  If he wasn’t going to undertake the mission, the least he should have done was give it to someone else to do. 

But he didn’t even do that.  And we have to wonder why.

Was he lazy? Was he fearful? Or both?  Did he think the mission only had to do with him?  Did he think in the time of judgement all that would matter is his personal faith and holiness, and not what he does to serve others?

We don’t know.  But, whatever he was thinking, he ignored the mission Jesus gave him.  And, at the time of reckoning, he pays the price.

Not only that, for all those years, as his mission lay unpursued, this unfaithful slave deprived himself of the joy that comes from cooperating with Jesus’ mission of sharing God’s love with all.

Friends, our greatest temptation is to be just like him.  Maybe we, too, are frightened to undertake the mission God has set before us.  Or maybe we are too comfortable to step outside our comfort zones.  Or maybe we’re just afraid we’ll fail.

Or, even more likely, maybe we just aren’t sure what our mission is, if only because we’ve never really considered that God has a mission for us.  I suspect this is probably true for most people.

The great Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr claims we often misunderstand Jesus’ teachings of how to live because we fail to realize that our life is not about us.  “Jesus,” he says, “wants to situate us in a larger life”.  That larger life has a name.  It’s called the Kingdom of God.

Sadly, most people don’t think like that.  They assume that if they obey the commandments and treat others the way they like to be treated then that’s good enough.

But there is something bigger and more specific that God wants each of us to do.  And that is our mission.  The question is how do we find out what that is?

Let’s start by assuming that God made us with our mission in mind.  He gave us each a specific set of skills, abilities and passions for the express purpose of working for his Kingdom. 

So, then our first job is to take a personal inventory.  Let’s start with our spiritual gifts. 

Some of us have been given gifts of ministry – to be apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors.  Some of us have gifts of the Spirit’s manifestation – exceptional faith, wisdom and knowledge, healing and discernment.  And some of us have gifts of motivation – serving, teaching, encouraging, and giving.  And all of us have the gift of love. 

These are the spiritual gifts as Paul describes them in I Corinthians.  Their primary purpose is to build up the church.  We learn to recognize them and develop them as we grow in the faith.

Other gifts are given to us the moment we are born.  To identify them, the question is “What are you good at?”  Are you good at working with people?  How about working with numbers?  Are you good at speaking or writing?  How about designing, building or repairing things?

The next question is what do you enjoy doing?  What would you do with your time if money were not a factor?  In other words, what do you enjoy doing so much you would do it even if you didn’t get paid to do it?

God has also made us with unique personalities.  Do you get energy by working with other people, or do you prefer to work alone?  How do you process information or make decisions? 

And then we have our experiences to consider. What does our family history tell us?  What kind of education do we have?  What occupations have we had and what do those experiences tell us?

Finally, we have to ask ourselves the crucial question:  where is the need in the world around us that calls out for our gifts and passions?  Because that intersection is where our mission lies.

The Presbyterian Pastor and author, Frederick Buechner, famously wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Sometimes it takes a while to figure this out, maybe even years.  In the meantime, we follow Jesus day to day, sharing his love wherever we are, however we can, with whomever is in need.

But we do so, knowing that somewhere, sometime, God has a bigger mission for us.  And what we are undergoing at any given moment may in fact be preparation for his mission.

That was true for Beth and me.  In the first year of our marriage, we both found ourselves laid off from our jobs.  As you can imagine, it was a shock, not to mention a source of stress and anxiety. 

But, as part of the outplacement process Beth participated in, she was introduced to a set of tools that ask some of the very same questions I’ve outlined in this sermon.   

As a result, we both gained a new sense of direction for our careers, me to marketing at American Express and Beth to investment management at General Motors.  And we both got more involved in the church.

What neither of us realized at the time, was that this was God’s way of preparing us for the missions he would direct us to today:  Beth helping individuals, especially women, integrate their retirement funds with their quest for a more just world, and me to parish ministry. 

Friends, God has a mission in mind for all of us.  And even if it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, you can bet God is preparing you even now for that mission.

For different people, his mission will take different forms.  It will unfold at different times, in different places, and under different circumstances. 

But at its heart God’s mission is the same for each of us:  to invite others to experience his Kingdom by sharing Jesus’ love with them in tangible ways.

Our reward does not depend on the success of our mission – that’s up to God.  It hinges solely on our willingness to undertake his mission and commit ourselves to it.  We plant the seed; Jesus makes it grow.

Whether it’s a one-talent mission or a ten-talent mission, the most important thing is accept it.  May we all know the joy that comes from doing that.

May it be so. 


Last Published: November 18, 2020 12:15 PM
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