Saturday, 12 November 2011

Lest we forget

Yes, gentle reader, some of this is the same as last week - that's the beauty of being in four different churches - I felt some of it was equally relevant this week

Many people know how much I like puzzles – sudoko, crosswords, brain-teasers: I find it hard to walk away from an unsolved challenge. Perhaps that is why I love parables so much: they tease our brains, we wonder what they are about, and we try to work out their relevance to us.

So today we heard the parable if the talents.
3 servants are each given a number of ‘talents’ and treat those talents differently. When the owner returns from a long time away, he asks them each what they have done with the talents they were given, and rewards them or punishes them according to what they have done.

Some people read this story about ‘talents’ quite literally and conclude that Jesus is telling us not to waste the talents – the gifts and abilities God has given us.

Unfortunately, this is ignoring the fact that Jesus probably told the story in Aramaic and it was recorded in Greek – so it is really just a coincidence that the English word ‘talent’ has more than one meaning.

But in the time if Jesus, a talent is a sum of money – so this parable is about money, right? Well.. not necessarily, no. In the parables of Jesus, we are encouraged ot think about what the story of ordinary things teaches us about the less than ordinary things of God. This is why jesus uses the introduction ;the kingdom of heaven is like..’ for most of his parables.

I think this parable is more about how we spend our lives, than how we spend our money. And in the context of Remembrance Sunday I think there is an important message here about how we treat the way that other people have spent their lives – or, if you like, how we ‘spend’ or waste our memories.

In the previous chapter before this parable, Jesus talks about the end of time and concludes ‘Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’.

Then in this chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 25, Jesus tells three stories, all introduced with a single sentence ‘then the kingdom of heaven will be like this’ .

First Jesus tells the parable of the bridesmaids, some wise and prepared, and some foolish and unprepared; then the parable of the talents; and then Jesus tells the story of the coming of the son of man and the separation of all people into sheep (who have done the right things in life) and goats (who have got it wrong).

All three stories speak of people being brought to account in some way – of being tested to see whether they have done the right thing. Are the bridesmaids ready to light their lamps and accompany the bridegroom?
Have the servants invested what they were given wisely – or merely buried their talents?
Have the people been like good sheep – sharing with the poor, the naked, the imprisoned?

The unifying question in the three stories seems to be ‘what have you done?’.
So in the parable of the talents the question is ‘what have you done with what you have been given?’.

The servants in the parable have been given money to take care of – one has buried the money for safe-keeping, whilst the other two have taken what they were given and have invested it wisely, so that it makes a profit.

I said at the start that this could be a parable for remembrance Sunday about what we do with our memories. What do I mean by that?

As we stand in silence at the War memorial later, we will be thinking of those who have died in war. Their bodies are buried, their lives ended. Their souls are in God’s hands, but it for us to decide what to do with the memory of their lives.
If we decide that all lives given in war are a waste, that we do not choose to remember, perhaps because we are frightened of being thought of as glorifying war, isn’t that like burying the talent?

They are gone, we say. Nothing can bring them back. We bury their memories with their bodies, we allow both to decay and leave no trace.
But the parable tells us to use what we have been given, to take the gift and invest it wisely and so allow it to be fruitful.
if we keep the memory alive, if we choose to honour their memory, take seriously the lives they laid down, then we will be allowing those lives to have been spent in making our present and our future better, rather than feeling that those lives were wasted in the past.

When we remember the lives spent in war, we allow our remembering to change us, to make us stronger in our resolve to work for peace, determined to use the lives and the time we have been given to make a difference in our world.

We thank God today for those who gave their lives in war – and we determine to use their gift to us – to cherish their memories and to work to make the gift worthwhile – a sacrifice which makes us and our world richer.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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