1st Scripture reading: Judges 4:1-7 (8-22)
The period pointed to in this reading from the book of Judges is about 11 or 12 hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Surprisingly early in our scriptural history we find a woman, Deborah, named as a judge for Israel, only one of ten, the rest being named as men. And she functioned as a judge, sitting for the people and adjudicating and directing their affairs of state, as well as dispensing justice and mercy. She was also called a prophetess, and seemed to possess some special insight into the future of Israel, and to hear directly the voice and instructions of God.
I have extended the lectionary reading for today to include the rest of the story…. Stopping at verse 7 spares us the gory details, but left me, at least, unsatisfied. Women take the lead in this story – and not “weaker sex” kind of women! Deborah is a strong and respected leader, accompanying her male military leaders into battle. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, invited the frightened and fleeing Sisera, commander of King Jabin’s army to take refuge in her tent. There she hid him under a rug, gave him milk to drink, and when he fell asleep she killed him.
Here the story gets a little convoluted. Jael’s tribal family of Kenites were at peace with Jabin. But Jabin’s rule was vicious and cruel. We don’t know what abuse of Jael or her family might have happened leading up to this encounter, but we do know that men who abuse women sometimes find themselves killed or injured while they sleep. And men are not always strong and courageous in battle. Sisera knew he was defeated, and he tried to save his own life. His entire army was massacred, this reading tells us, including their general despite his best efforts to escape.
So this story reminds us that women can be powerful in their own right, and that God uses women as well as men to accomplish God’s work. We must also take note that these were brutal times, and women were not immune to the effects of such brutality, nor were they always helpless victims of it.
Hymn #625 VU “I feel the winds of God today”
2nd Scripture Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30
Talents in this parable is a weight of coin – a value of currency, in the literal sense. As with many of Jesus’ teachings, there are many layers of meaning in this apparently simple story.
First of all, it is an allegory. Jesus knew by this time that his departure was imminent. He takes this time to make sure his disciples are prepared for the work they must do after he is gone, and before he comes again. He has just finished telling them about the need to be prepared – to stay awake and alert and to be ready for whatever might happen.
Today’s lesson is telling them and us, what is expected of us as workers or servants in God’s kingdom. The story seems simple enough. The master or boss is leaving town for awhile. He entrusts some of his assets to his trusted servants to manage in his absence. Two of them do well, and on his return are able to return his money to him with an increase of 100%. The third, who was given the least amount, buried the money, made no attempt to invest it at all, and returned it to the master indicating he had no faith in the master’s good will or intentions, and therefore had taken the path of least risk and effort.
In the story, Jesus makes it very clear that this course of action (or inaction) was not what he expected, and would not be rewarded. He had entrusted the servants with varying amounts of money according to their abilities. In other words, he knew what gifts they already had, and therefore what they were capable of doing.
In this allegory, money or precious metal anyway, is used to represent the gifts of God. Regrettably this is too often interpreted to mean that “the rich get rich, and the poor get poorer”, an interpretation which is not supported by the rest of Jesus’ teachings. Parables often use images that are well known and easily understood by the hearers, and this use of the image of great wealth in the hands of the powerful would have been easily related to by the followers of Jesus.
It is never easy to talk about spiritual matters to people with very little experience or exposure to such teachings. Stories, parables, allegories are time-tested tools for teaching difficult concepts.
So as I understand it, we are all given spiritual gifts – entrusted with these gifts in this lifetime. How will we use them in the service of God’s kingdom? First of all, we must do a self-assessment of what those gifts are: for some of us it means great gifts of super intelligence, or speaking ability, or musical talent, or great spiritual leadership. For most of us it is more like the servant given one or maybe two talents. But Jesus assures us that we are all given at least one talent! And hiding our gifts under a bushel, taking the safest, least risky path of action is not to do honour to God or to the gifts we have been given.
And what holds us back from doing this? In the story, the unproductive servant said he was afraid – afraid of a mean and nasty Boss who did not deserve his full engagement of talents. Are we afraid that God will not support us if we step out in faith? Are we concerned about the reactions of other people if we witness to our faith? Or are we just too wrapped up in worldly concerns to listen carefully to the call of Spirit?
Jesus knew he would be gone from this world very soon. He also knew that he was counting on the disciples he had prepared to carry on his great work on Planet Earth.
As I close, let me read you a couple of short examples of faithful people living out their lives in accordance with God’s call to them to be workers in the Kingdom.
Elizabeth Dole told this story: “My grandmother practised what she preached and lived her life for others. When it became necessary for her, in her nineties, to go into a nursing home, she welcomed the opportunity. She said,’there might be some people there who don’t know the Lord, and I can read the Bible to them’.”
And I think about the saints of this church: Ed, who, when I started coming here was very old and very frail. He didn’t talk much. But he was here every Sunday, handing out hymn books to us all as we arrived, and greeting us all.
Doretta , whose gifts to this church and this community are hard to list. Her dedication to Fellowship Hour after church, her support of Legion activities, her work with the Thrift Store, not to mention her tireless support of her husband and her family.
There are too many to list here, and too many more who are actively working to express their gifts in this church and in this community today.
Over the next few days I invite you to reflect on what your own gifts, talents, strengths are, and how best to offer them to the work of God’s kingdom here on earth. Listen to the still small voice of Spirit – you will know. You will be guided. You will be encouraged and supported. We are never alone. Thanks be to God.
Hymn # 420 VU “Go to the World”