15 October 2017 – A Warning

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Rev’d Jonathan Gale

I love the story of Deborah. It is a great example of one of those bloodthirsty and entertaining Old Testament accounts where those who oppose God’s people get their come-uppance.

Sisera, a Canaanite general, was a bully on a grand scale. He had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years.

When Sisera and his 900 chariots are defeated, he flees on foot hoping to escape the Israelite troops. Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, had set up camp near Kadesh and when Sisera comes running past she offers him shelter and something to drink. He falls asleep and she drives a tent peg through his skull. End of story.

And that’s got nothing at all to do with want I want to share with you today – although it does act as a warning: don’t bully God’s people.

It’s warnings I want us to think about today. We have examples around us of people ignoring warnings all the time. People ignore weather warnings and find themselves in need of rescue, whether they are motorists or trampers.

Just about every generation has to learn the hard way about ignoring the warnings of the older and wiser, whether it be about not being lazy at school or not drinking too much alcohol and a whole lot in between.

My great grandmother used to point out that I had different colour eyes with the warning, “You’ll never be able to run away from the police, you know.”  I used to think, “Well that may have been a problem for you when you were 8 yrs old in Lancashire, but I don’t intend running from any policeman. Why would I?”

We’re surrounded by warnings all over the place. Road signs warn us of danger. Advertisers do the same thing in order to try and sell us stuff. We heed some warnings and ignore others, depending upon what we think the motivation of the person doing the warning is and upon whether we think the danger is serious enough or not.

Paul hands out some pretty stark warnings in his epistle to the church in Thessalonika. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!

It turns out he is warning against spiritual turpitude and torpor: moral laxity and spiritual sleepiness.

“Wake up!” is what he’s saying.

But the real warning today is in the Gospel passage in the Parable of the Talents, Jesus told. The story is often perceived as harsh.

Yes, there are consequences for us for what we do with what God entrusts to us. We read 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

We will all have to give an account for our lives: the extent to which we have either ignored God or treated him like an authoritarian figure and simply obeyed rather than loved him.

You’ll notice that the man with one talent was hauled over the coals for being wicked and lazy. But what did he actually do? Well he tells us he was afraid, and because of that he played it safe and hid the talent in a hole in the ground.

He was not prepared to risk anything, to step out in faith. His fear is the clue. Fear can drive extreme and inappropriate behaviour. It’s the opposite of faith because faith always involves putting yourself out there and trusting God that you will not drop the ball.

Intrinsic to faith is risk. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. These men took risks. They traded. That takes faith.

We will not grow in Christ if we want to play it safe. That’s the bottom line.

How does Jesus respond to this faith-filled, risk-taking behaviour?

“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.”

Good means good and trustworthy means reliable. This is not simply a description of their behaviour; it’s an evaluation of their character based on that behaviour. Clearly, if we have faith and take risks for Christ we are deemed to be good and trustworthy.

So where’s the warning in this?

If we perceive God to be the kind of person who is going to let us down when we stick our necks out on his behalf, it’s a vote of no confidence in God. Our fearful and conservative behaviour will have us burying our talents in the ground and we will lose them.

We will lose them in the sense that they will grow moribund. They will become lifeless and inflexible. In effect, we lose our talents ourselves. God doesn’t have to take them away. They become ineffective. That’s the warning.

Early on Wednesday morning I read the following in The Word for Today:

“You either venture or you vegetate. Nineteenth-century American preacher and abolitionist Phillip Brooks wrote, ‘Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your power, pray for power equal to your tasks.’ You don’t tap into God’s resources until you attempt something that seems humanly impossible. That’s when you discover: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4: 13). All progress involves risk. In tennis you can’t return every ball while your foot’s still behind the service line. And progress involves overcoming fear.”

May I suggest something? In your prayers, ask God to give you an opportunity to stretch your faith. Ask him to provide you with an opportunity where you need to overcome your fear, perhaps do something you’re not that familiar with. It may be something you say or simply something you do. Either way you will experience the exhilaration that is known as joy.

“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.”


Readings for today:

Judges 4: 1 – 7

1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 11

Matthew 25: 14 – 30