Zephaniah 1:7,12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
A Changing Mission Field
Today’s gospel includes a parable about a few overseers, who were called to account about how they administered portions of their benefactor’s portfolio. One invested well, another very well, another even better, but another who did nothing with the money, kind of like stuffing it in a mattress. Each of these financial advisors was rewarded for their fine efforts, with even more responsibility being given those who did well. The last manager was fired.
This parable could be the subject matter for one of those episodes of Shark Tank or another television reality TV drama, but it is really a lesson for us Christians today. We are serving in mission at a time when we must adapt our approach to ministry, because the world around us has changed and it is adapting. We must consider our gifts for ministry, and how we put those to work in this changing mission field we find ourselves in today.
If we once again were to examine our lives closely, each of us could identify gifts or talents, which God has given us for times like these. The question is, for what purpose have we been the recipients of so much grace? Some folks say that the blessings we see in our lives are given primarily for our own enjoyment. Some say those same blessings have been intended for the purpose of serving others. God says that our gifts are intended for the service of others and God’s Kingdom. The grace to do that work is not something we can earn, manipulate, or is it deserved.
Prosperity Gospel Debunked
There is a misleading theological fake good news out there, usually shared on some religious television networks, that defines God’s grace as something we can somehow control. Some media-based televangelists assert that prosperity, personal wealth, financial well-being, health, and blissful happiness is something that we can make our own, if we but offer a sacrificial commitment back to God or rather, give specifically to that televangelists ministry. There are some misleading notions about grace in these assertions.
God’s grace is not something you can earn, coax, or manipulate by your own actions. Grace does not depend on what we do, on our status in the world, or our achievements or success. God’s grace flows abundantly and without distinction. God’s grace abounds and it is evident in our lives.
God’s grace is not something to we can hoard or hide away, because it is to be passed on, shared, and given out as freely as it has been given to us. The evidence of God’s favor towards us can be found most apparently, through the many spiritual gifts we have been given.
Grace of Spiritual Gifts
The purpose of spiritual gifts is to strengthen, to empower, and to support our participation in God’s ongoing, transformative ministry of reconciliation. Like all the managers but one, who invested the talents entrusted to them, they returned more to their benefactor than what they had been given. The one manager who hid his master’s gifts, did not manage them properly, did not plan for the future, and did not protect the gift, returned nothing to his patron.
I remember working with a small, local congregation once that had three ministers who struggled with bringing their gifts for service in God’s Kingdome. One was a talented singer, but she never used her gift to further the kingdom. One was a patient teacher, but he never considered leading Sunday school for the kids. One had a pleasant disposition and a friendly smile, but she never would offer her smile in service as a greeter. Each of these ministers were given gifts from God, but they missed the blessing of service, the grace of ministry found, the joy of returning to God that, which had been so abundantly given.
In the same church there were three other folks who also were given gifts of service. One’s heart was moved by the plight of the homeless and misfortunate, so he served weekly at the local pantry. Later, he received more responsibility in this ministry when he helped open a food bank that fed thousands. One loved children and felt called to share the Gospel with them, so she volunteered as a substitute teacher in the Sunday school. Later, she was given the opportunity to create a new class for high school kids and her ministry flourished. One loved the outdoors and found great satisfaction working around the grounds of the church. Later, he was offered the opportunity to form a beautification committee and within a few months, the church looked better than it ever had before.
Some of God’s people recognize their ministry call in the gifts God has given them, and God always offer more opportunities for greater ministry serivce. Others refuse to utilize those gifts and they will miss the blessings of service. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The blessings of our personal ministry become evident from out of the use of the abundant gifts we have been given.
Ministry – Spiritual Gifts in Action
Ministry has been described as the intersection of the world’s greatest need and our greatest gifts. Where there is a need, and a there is a God-given spiritual gift offered ministry happens. Look back on your life and all with which you have been entrusted. Doctors are gifted as healers, lawyers/bankers are gifted as administrators, and teachers are gifted as guides and mentors. Each one of us has been given gifts but they must be used and that is the key to participating in God’s ongoing work of salvation.
The church is the community through which God’s ongoing work of salvation is made manifest in a hurting world, and God will see it through, regardless of whether we participate or not. The gospel will be preached, the sick will be restored, the broken reconciled, the least will be blessed, the lost found, and the lonely will share community and family. The question with which we must wrestle is whether we will actively participate. Engaging with God in the mission of God, means partnering with God to share the kingdom, being in collusion with God to restore all to unity with God and each other, and it means we are walking toward our destination with God.
Nonetheless, our mission field has changed, and it is becoming more and more difficult to adapt to the mission field today. The number of people who participate actively in church today is declining, but there is hope out there. Nonetheless, we are going to have to do things differently, and not just minor liturgical changes. We need adapt to the world around us in order to keep the mission of the church going. For we Episcopalians, we need to be true to who we are and hold on to our beautiful tradition, but at the same time we will need to recognize the need to translate the gospel in a culture that may no longer have familiarity with the gospel, nor understand it.
Ministry in the 21st Century
I want to encourage you to get to know again, the unique gifts of this community. You already have the talent of listening, embracing, and welcoming folks into God’s church today, but God is calling us to mission in action. We can no long gather merely to be fed each week alone. We must be fed so we might be able to go out and feed others. We come here for strength and not merely renewal so that we can go out into the world (our little piece of the world) and be a lighthouse to all who are in need of Grace! Our mission is to show others the reconciliation; love, grace, and mercy we have found in Christ and we do that when we make new friends for Jesus.
We must take a look at our God-given gifts and ask God to reveal how we might use them to further the kingdom. It may be that some of us are called to give meals out to the homeless, or to make warm clothing for the destitute, or to simply make phone calls to greet a new person who arrives at church. Maybe, just maybe, we are merely called to answer the tough question from our friends outside the church, when asked like, “what is it about you that makes you so filled with joy, with peace, and with love.” It very well could be that your answer will be the only glimpse of the gospel your friends may ever hear.
Please do not bury the most important gifts this church possesses; your ministry gifts. Commit to renewing your focus on local mission, so you might meet the needs of the world around you, and in so doing, you will be doing the ministry you are called to do. If you invest your gifts where there is a great return, the gospel will be shared; God’s work will be done, not only in our generation, but in the generations to come. Then you God’s people will can anticipate hearing these words, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy people; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’