Out of the Hole of Complacency - Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (November 19, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Zephaniah 1:7, 12–18 | Psalm 90 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1–11 | Matthew 25:14–30
“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).
What is it that keeps us from making good use of what we have been given?
I can remember as a child, way back when in middle school, discovering a love for writing poetry. We were given an assignment to create a few poems of our own… and I found myself really enjoying it… and was actually quite proud of the few words I was able to put together. I remember feeling like I had discovered some new gift… some hidden treasure… but one that I didn’t know how to handle. In fact, the feeling that stands out the most in these memories is fear.
What if I tried to write more poetry, but then only ended up failing? Or at least, failing to measure up to my own newfound ideals. What if others didn’t like, or didn’t understand my poems? What if I wasn’t as good as I thought I was? All of these fears were swirling around in my pre-adolescent brain.
And so, I did what lots of folks do: I let my fear call the shots, and I stopped writing poetry. Which just about guaranteed that I’d never become a good poet.
But at least I wouldn’t be a failed poet, right?
What is it that keeps us from making good use of what we have been given?
Your passion might not be in poetry… but we all have things in life that do make us feel alive, and gifts we can share with our world… whether we recognize them or not.
But sometimes we all can be tempted to hide away our abilities… to not use the gifts that we’ve been given in life… burying our talents, and letting them just waste away. Which really is a waste.
This all sounds a bit like our Gospel Reading today, doesn’t it? I mean after all, it talks about ‘talents’ buried in the ground… and how that’s a bad idea. What else could Jesus be talking about than reminding us that we shouldn’t be afraid to make the most of our talents, and the opportunities that we’ve been given?
As is the case with all of Christ’s parables, the point is actually a little more complicated than it might seem at first… challenging and calling us to learn how to live in God’s Kingdom, here and now.
The parable of the talents, that our Lord tells is less about failing to live up to our own potential, from a human point of view… and much more about the very real dangers of complacency for God’s people… warning us of the high cost of not being faithful with the precious treasure that has been entrusted to us. A warning we all need to heed.
But as always, the warnings we find in the Scriptures are a vital part of God’s Good News… shaking us up from our spiritual slumber, and complacency… and offering us the way of salvation instead.
In our first reading from the book of the prophet Zephaniah, we heard a harsh warning for God’s people in the kingdom of Judah, about the coming consequences of their continued unfaithfulness to the covenant… their unique relationship with the Living God that was to shape everything that they did. Through Zephaniah, God challenged His people’s complacency when it came to living God’s way in the world, which would not be ignored… and would lead to their eventual Exile in Babylon.
“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,” God says,
“and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.’” (Zephaniah 1:12).
The people set apart by the mercy and grace of the Living God were living their lives as if their Lord was completely removed from the picture. As if their relationship to the Master and Maker of heaven and earth made no difference to them at all.
‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.’
‘So, let’s just get on with things, and not worry about where God fits in.’ Here we find at work a complacency that comes from spiritual apathy and disbelief. A path that we know led the Kingdom of Judah down the path of destruction.
Yet remember too, that even this exile wasn’t the end of Judah’s story. Even though God let His complacent, unfaithful people be cast out from their land, and lose all that they had, He did not abandon them, but held onto them through all of the sufferings that they had brought on themselves… speaking His words of hope to those in Exile… promises of restoration… mercy… salvation… far beyond anything that they deserved.
In short, we are warned that the complacency of God’s people brings disaster. But even disasters of our own making are no match in the end for the saving mercies of our Master.
This light shone by Zephaniah illumines much in the parable of the talents. It too is a warning for God’s people to remain faithful and not grow complacent.
Hundreds of years after Zephaniah, Jesus of Nazareth was now confronting the descendants of those who had returned from Exile… and who were at risk of loosing all that they had been given too. But for different reasons.
Though many in Jesus’ day saw themselves as faithful to the Living God and to the covenant, strictly obeying the Laws and Teachings of Moses… again and again, the things Jesus would say and do exposed their own hypocrisy, and self-righteous self-centeredness… especially in their ongoing opposition to the healing and hope-filled work of the Kingdom that Jesus was bringing about.
And so, Jesus told this and other parables to warn both them, and us about the consequences of becoming complacent with regards to God’s Kingdom… of living our days like it doesn’t matter what we do with this treasure we’ve all been entrusted with.
He tells the story of a man who goes on a journey, and puts his slaves in charge of his estate: giving each one a portion of his riches, to manage in his absence.
This treasure was measured in something called ‘talents’, a large sum of money, weighing about 34kg, or 75lbs, of precious metals, worth about 3,000 shekels. And in the story, two servants receive large amounts of their master’s treasure, manage it well, and were rewarded. While the one who received the smallest amount just buries it all in a field. And instead of receiving thanks, this ‘wicked’ slave is cast out, and loses his chance of receiving the reward and the joys intended for him.
It’s worth noting that the wicked slave didn’t try and fail… he simply didn’t try at all. He wasted his time, and the opportunities he had to be faithful with his master’s money. Why? Well, in his words, he was afraid of his master… believing him to be harsh… and grasping… eager to find fault. And so, he thought it best to just do nothing… which is what fear so often tempts us to do.
Fear can become such a powerful snare to keep us from living faithfully. The fear of failure. The fear of not having enough of what we need. The fear of displeasing those we want to share our lives with. Fear often tells us that it’s easier, that it’s better if we do nothing at all.
Fear keeps us complacent. Fear keeps us from being faithful.
And so, in this parable Jesus is bringing the charge of complacency against His people again… of falling into the trap of thinking that how they make use of their life as God’s people doesn’t really matter… and that the precious gift of God’s merciful love, and His holy ways can be handled carelessly… or worse yet, buried… so that nothing good comes from it.
Christ is urging His listeners, then and now, not to squander the time and the opportunities that we’ve been given… to take our calling to be God’s faithful people in this world seriously... to recognize that we’ve been entrusted with the treasure of the Gospel… the Good News of God’s precious saving love, given to the world in Jesus our Lord. And that if we want to share in the great joy of our Master, and have His Good Kingdom grow in and through us, we can’t simply bury it and forget about it, and go about our lives as if it doesn’t matter.
Christ wants us to make good use of what we’ve been given… that is, the faith, the love, and the hope that we have received in Him.
At the cross, Christ shows us the true heart of God, who is not some harsh and unfair master, but our gracious, merciful Lord who longs to rescue His world, sending His beloved Son to reconcile us to Himself, despite all our failures, and fears. Unlike the wicked servant in the parable, we don’t have to be afraid that our Lord is out to get us… waiting to find fault, and cast us away. Because of Jesus, we can trust that He truly wants us to share in His blessed life… and He wants us to be a part of sharing this life with all those around us.
And unlike fear, this deep conviction that we can depend on God’s enduring mercy and love does not lead to complacency, but spurs us on to live God’s way… helping us stay true to the One who stayed true to us to the end… our precious Saviour Jesus Christ the Crucified and Risen Lord.
So as St. Paul implores us, along with the Thessalonians:
“since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).
So, will we make good use of what we’ve been given?
Remember, it’s not about perfection, about never making mistakes, or stumbling… or failing. It’s about trusting in the mercy and grace of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and treasuring the Good News of what He has done for us and for the world… reconciling us to God through the gift of His body and blood, and rescuing us from our own disasters so that we all can find forgiveness and new life in His name.
So, what can we do today to make good use of this precious treasure that we’ve been entrusted with? How can we be faithful stewards of God’s gracious mercy and saving love?
Each of us has our own part to play in God’s Kingdom. Our own gifts from God’s Holy Spirit, given to build up God’s family the Church, and to share His Good News with the world… not perfectly in our own strength, but trusting in God’s perfect love.
So, when we’re tempted to give into fear, and complacency, let’s look to Christ Jesus our Saviour, and ask Him to surround us with the faith, and love, and hope we need to be God’s people today… eager and able to share with the world what we have received in Him.
I want to end now with a personal note, and share a poem I wrote many years after middle school… after starting to confront my fears, and slowly coming to see that doing nothing is the best way to miss out on all the joys of learning, and growing, and living, and receiving grace.
This poem’s called “Perfect”.
Such a lovely and hateful word
to praise and to
An unbearable weight
born by the loving
the peace-wanting fellows
who cannot bear
An unbearable weight
thrown on their backs by
merciless hard hearts
to forget their own
An unbearable weight
shouldered by LOVE
for the sake of
oppressed and oppressor
…you and I
loved us all
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School