A Short Act of Worship Sunday 15 November
Calm me, Lord, as you calmed the storm; still me, Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease, enfold me, Lord, in your peace.
The night has passed, and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.
Please take a few moments of quiet to reflect on the week that has passed and on what lies ahead.
May the Father of all mercies cleanse us from our sins, and restore us in his image
to the praise and glory of his name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus said, ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
(Matthew 25: 14-30)
Take a few moments of silence to think about these words
You may like to spend a few minutes in silence, or slowly read (maybe sing) this hymn:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare,
will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me
Lord God, through your grace we are your people: through your Son you have redeemed us;
in your Spirit you have made us your own.
We pray for … (the Church). Make our hearts respond to your love.
Lord, receive our praise and hear our prayer.
We pray for … (the world). Make our lives bear witness to your glory in the world.
Lord, receive our praise and hear our prayer.
We pray for … (the sick and those in need).
Make our wills eager to obey, and our hands ready to heal.
Lord, receive our praise and hear our prayer.
We give you thanks for …
Make our voices one with all your people in heaven and on earth.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name …
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name …
Heavenly Lord, you long for the world’s salvation:
stir us from apathy, restrain us from excess and revive in us new hope
that all creation will one day be healed in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; you are mine.
When the fear of loneliness is looming, then remember I am at your side.
You are mine, O my child; I am your father, and I love you with a perfect love.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore, Amen
Sunday 15 November, a Reflection
You might be forgiven for thinking that if ever there was a story told by Jesus for our times, this is it. Church coffers are far from healthy. Our bank balances were ebbing away steadily before Covid, now they’ve taken a nosedive.
One’s mind goes immediately to those entrepreneurial congregations who have taken the vicar’s £10 note, and come back a few months later with an extraordinary profit. Kirkheaton Parish Church in Huddersfield proudly reports on its website that its returns ranged from £25 to £1100. They achieved this through dog walking, making chutney, carving wooden light pulls, taking people on wilderness walks and, of course, so much more. I don’t knock their staggering generosity, it’s brilliant, but this famous old story is so much more than a divine fundraising scheme.
Make no mistake, the amount of money given out to each of the three slaves was stupendous. If they’d done half as well as the good folk of Kirkheaton, the returns would have been off any reasonable scale; but this isn’t a story primarily about making money, nor indeed is it, by transference, even about using our innate abilities and gifts to the full. It’s easy, of course, to see how we’ve moved from one concept to the other – a ‘talent’, in Jesus’s story is an ancient measure (a weight) of precious coinage, which morphed over the centuries into those ‘talents’ which, in the sense we use today, describe something we’re good at.
This little word slip should alert us to the danger of taking Jesus too literally. His story is told to make us think and though, for sure, bits of it are allegorical so that we quickly identify the wealthy man with God, or maybe Jesus himself, and we equally readily identify ourselves with the slaves in the story, many of the details aren’t meant to be meticulously deciphered and decoded. For example, we know full well from the rest of the Gospel that God does not glory in human wealth. God is not harsh and vindictive. God does not condone slavery and God has a very special concern for the poor. It’s a story with a point, which Jesus offers us as rich food for thought.
For me, two things stand out. I wonder if they strike you too? The first is about the nature of treasure. Jesus has already made it clear, and most explicitly, perhaps, in a story preserved for us by St Luke, that storing up treasurer in the form of wealth and possessions is not quite how God looks on treasure. Our treasure, where our heart should be, is very different. It’s given to us by God and shown most clearly in the story of Jesus himself. It’s about how we live and what counts to us as most valuable. It’s about healing, compassion, kindness, patience, generosity and above all, of course, about love. And the point, surely, is both that God invites, indeed urges us to share this kind of treasure as generously as we are able, and that if we do so, we’ll find that it grows, often spectacularly.
The second is linked to this and it’s revealed in the actions – or lack of them by the third slave. This poor soul is crippled by fear. He does nothing terribly wrong. Burying physical treasure was a perfectly sensible, even common thing to do in times of trouble or uncertainty (much to the delight of modern archaeologists), but the absentee master’s ire is directed at someone who has let fear overcome faith, who has failed to see that following Jesus means that we have take every opportunity to put love into action. On this point there is, it seems, little wriggle room or compromise.
But there’s a third point that begins to emerge from this story too if we look at it in the kind of way I’m suggesting, and it’s linked to the danger of needing to be busy all the time and feeling that we must use our talents, however we understand, them to the full. And it’s this: In order to seize the moment, in order to recognise and use God’s most precious treasure in the way I’ve suggested, we need to be gentle on ourselves too. We need to give ourselves time to think.
The master in the story does not tell the slaves how they are use the treasure they’ve been given. It’s up to them to work that out. Like them, we need to learn discernment and wisdom.
The point of the story is not that action is more important than inactivity, it’s that faith trumps fear, and sometimes faith demands that we take our time, look carefully, listen and reflect before we act like headless chickens. The danger of what some people call the ‘Protestant work ethic’ is that we’re so busy doing things that we end up doing all the wrong things. A lovely old Franciscan priest used to warn me, early in my ministry, that I was becoming so busy that I was in danger of becoming no *** good. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten, but one that I have seldom taken to heart in the way I should.
Putting our faith in God is about responding to and trusting in love. The kind of ‘laziness’ that the story so strongly objects to is the laziness of not daring to open ourselves to others and reaching out to those in need. It’s the laziness of not being willing to take time to wait upon God and of looking and listening to God in other people.
Now, of course, if anyone is prepared to take £10 and turn into a £1000 worth of wooden light pulls, I’ll be thrilled to bits and so will those who have the unenviable job of balancing the church’s books. Raising money to pay for the church’s mission is not an optional extra, but in Saint Paul’s words, if we do not have love we are little more than noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. And the charm of such a din is, even of gold clinking in a treasure chest, is somewhat limited.