Lay Preachers

by E. Lorraine Baugh

 

Blessed Lord, I ask that you guide me, give me insight and wisdom to say the right words in my interpretation of your holy scriptures. Amen.

 

Jesus taught people through sermons, illustration and parables. Jesus' teachings show people how to prepare for life by living properly right now. In today's Gospel the parable is set in the realm of finance or loaned money. It tells the story of a master, a wealthy land owner, who is about to embark on a long journey. Before leaving he entrusts three slaves with his property in the form of Talents. The master has the expectations that the slaves will invest or do something that will increase his money. In those days a talent was the equivalent of 15 years of wages for a laborer and was worth more than a thousands dollars.[i] So in this period this was a fairly substantial investment on the master's part. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to the third one. The first and second slaves play one role and the third another. The key to these roles rest on the phrase found in the text, "he gave to each according to his ability." It is also important to note that each slave was given something. No one was left idle. Why is this so important? It is important because it ties in with the expectations that the master had of his slaves and its ties in with the expectations that Jesus has of us. No one received more or less than he could handle. If one failed in his assignment his excuse could not be that he was overwhelmed. Failure could come only from laziness or hatred toward the master.[ii]

The master expected a return on his investment but had the wisdom to recognize that based on the knowledge of his slaves he could not or should not expect the same return from each. What we do or how we plan to make a return on Jesus' investment is based on using all of our abilities. Not all of us are five talent people. I would venture to say that there are more one and two talent people than there are five talent people. The important thing here is not so much how many talents we have but after a long time how well we have used our talents. It is Mathew's way of saying: "Our master may be delayed in his return, but, in the meanwhile, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you. Matthew was clear, on one issue. God expects a return. We had better not simply bury that which has been given us and return it when he comes.[iii]

When the master returned and called his servants in for an accounting he praised the first two servants who had doubled his investment and said "Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness. The master was not happy with the lack of effort of the third slave and condemned him and sent him out to be punished.

God expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. The phrase "to each according to his ability" in modern languages is translated to mean the gifts, aptitude and flair, or talent we have. To be good stewards of His gifts to us we must use all of our abilities to accomplish it. We must be prepared to use our time, talent and treasures diligently in order to serve God completely in whatever we do.

 

In helping us to understand the point the Gospel is making in today's time let us substitute God as the master and you the members of St. Paul's as the slaves. The talents God has given to you will be what you invest in order for God to get a return on his investment. So you say to yourself what talents do I have to give? We all possess unique talents. Just like no two snow flakes are the same no two people are the same. Each of us is distinctive. We all have gifts and God wants us to use whatever talents we possess to make a return on his investment.

Many of us think that having a talent means having or doing something greater or better than others. Do not apologize for your talent. Do not think or say will my little talent make a difference. Of course it will. Or better still why do you think of it as being little. It does not have to be "the best" or a "big bodacious talent" as long as it is your talent freely given in God's service. If you can sing become a member of the choir. If you can cook join the hospitality committee. If you can write contribute to the web site or help the rector with the weekly bulletin. If you are able to express compassion become a lay minister and visit the sick and shut in. If you can sell somebody the Brookline Bridge use that talent of persuasion to convince someone to donate to the food pantry, the capital campaign. Join the Altar Guild and help prepare God's house for worship. If you are a Jack or a Jill of all trades step up and help. Remember you were blessed with talents by God; return the blessing in full measure by sharing your talents with God and your fellow parishioners.[iv]

As was said God expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. When I think of stewardship I always think of five T's. Three you are quite familiar with: Time, Talent, Treasure. The two additional T's are Trust and Turf. There is no particular hierarchical order for these to be addressed. Today's Gospel spoke in the realm of finance and referred to treasure in terms of Return on Investment. Those of you who make a formal financial pledge each year to the church are not only sharing your treasure but you are making it possible for the Vestry to produce a balanced operational budget because they can count on your pledge as a firm source of revenue. Those who have or are planning to contribute to the capital campaign are investing in the long term viability of the church and its property. For those whose treasure is limited and you are unable to give (in the fund raising world it is understood that if you can not give you should get) you can try to get money for St. Paul's by writing grants to support some of our ministries.

Let me say a brief word about Time. Carl Sandburg said this of time: "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."[v] Stewardship is personal. Only you can determine how much time you want to give back to the Lord for what he has given to you.

A survey conducted by Mass Mutual Life Insurance Corp illustrates this point well. The survey showed that parents rate their inability to spend enough time with their children as the greatest threat to the family. 35% pointed to time constraints as the most important reason for the decline in family values. Another 22% mentioned lack of parental discipline. While 63% listed family as their greatest source of pleasure, only 44% described the quality of family life in America as good or excellent. And only 34% expected it to be good or excellent by 1999. Despite their expressed desire for more family time, two-thirds, 66% of those surveyed say they would probably accept a job that required more time away from home if it offered higher income or greater prestige.[vi]

Do you see something out of sync with this picture? To repeat what Sandburg said only you can determine how (time) is spent.

I ask you, are you caught up on your time-tithe to God? Your time-tithe to St. Paul's? Your time-tithe to your self? Your time-tithe to your family?

Time, Talent and Treasure the stuff that stewardship is made of.

To this stuff I add Turf. Turf as I mean it is not referring to a patch of grass. Turf may be viewed as either an area of expertise or an area of space, a territory, a neighborhood. I'm sure you are all familiar with the acronym NIMBY = Not in My backyard- this in essence says that I am protecting my TURF.

To make the point I want to share with you excerpts from an e-mail I received from a fellow parishioner when I was the senior warden back in 2001. Unfortunately, she passed away a few years ago but I don't think she would mind my sharing with you some of her words which clearly address the issue of Turf, however, in a very positive way....she said ... "I think it's a sad reflection on all of us if St. Paul's can't accommodate and value some new ideas, different approaches, diverse opinions. What happened for me over the past few weeks is that I had a glimpse of what our church community could be with an infusion of energy, enthusiasm, new ways of relating to and caring for each other. That doesn't mean that I don't value the way we have operated in the past. There are things that I love dearly about St. Paul's. I feel fortunate to belong to a church that has a strong sense of community, that looks outside its wall for opportunities to forge linkages (with the school, the food pantry, the Hispanic Ministry, etc.) and to serve-both members and non-members. For those reasons and more, it's a great place to raise kids. It has been a tremendous source of support to me during times of stress and illness"....[vii]

TURF, ah yes, TURF I hope that we can all embrace her thoughts and her commitment to St. Paul's and add the stuff of Turf to our definition of stewardship. Here is someone who is saying YIMBY= Yes in my back yard.

The final T of stuff I would add to stewardship is Trust. I saved Trust for last because I believe it is the most important stuff of all. For me it serves as the very basis for our being:

Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee.

Trust Him when thy strength is small.

Trust Him when to simply trust Him,

Seems the hardest thing of all.

Trust Him, He is ever faithful,

Trust Him, for his will is best,

Trust Him, for the heart of Jesus

Is the only place of rest.[i]

.

I personally have used these five T's to the best of my ability in various ways here at St. Paul's in the 18 years I have been a member. I didn't stumble upon St. Paul's nor was I searching for a church, although I probably should have been because I was a long time lapsed Episcopalian and had not been to church in many, many years.

I was invited to come to St. Paul's by a long standing member of the church who passed away two years after I met him. When he died I had a decision to make, do I continue to go to church and more importantly do I continue to go to Church at St. Paul's? Well you see me standing here today so that question has been answered. The real question, however, is why did I stay at St. Paul's when it is not close to my home, when I pass other Episcopal Churches to get here, when the congregation in general does not look like me? You all have probably heard this statement at one time or another, if you are wondering whether segregation continues in the United States you only have to visit Churches on any Sunday and see the proof.

I stayed at St. Paul's because I felt welcomed and embraced by the clergy and my fellow parishioners and because all my life I believed that I had some responsibility to do something about racial harmony by working with, breaking bread with and worshiping with people who do not look like me or talk like me, but who share similar inclusionary feelings. The Church was there to help me deal with my friend's terminal cancer, the church was there when I was sick and hospitalized, the church was there supporting and encouraging me on the huge project I had undertaken in my community. Putting my trust in the Church and feeling safe and welcomed at St. Paul's has allowed me to be myself, has given me the opportunity to share my talents and abilities in giving back to the Lord for all that I have been blessed with. My ultimate trust is evidenced by the fact that I have already purchased my niche in the Columbarium and expect to be with St. Paul's forever.

My philosophy about stewardship is that: People give of themselves when they feel a responsibility and commitment to do so and when they are given the opportunity. St. Paul's has given and continues to give me the opportunity to serve the Lord. I hope St. Paul's does the same for you.

 

 


 

 

Endnotes:

[i] Chris Haslam, Revised Common Lectionary Commentary, Twenty-Seventh Sunday After Pentecost. Montreal.Anglican.org/comments/apr33m.shtml

 

[ii] Life Application Study Bible, New International Version. Notes on Matthew 25 page 1587.

[iii] Leonard Sweet Sermon, The Parable of the Talents Matthew 25:14-30, www.sermons.com

[iv] Reverend Paul Walker, Christ Episcopal Church, Belleville, N.J. Church Program, The Blessing of Talent, October 19, 2008.

[v] Carl Sandburg, Time: Sermonillustrations.com

[vi] Moody Monthly, December 1989, page 72. Sermons Illustrations. Sermons.com.

[vii] St. Paul's Parishioner, April, 2001.

[viii] Trust. SermonIllustration.com. Source Unknown.

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