Sermon. November 15, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
After serving more than a dozen local churches it has been my experience that there are people who are willing to profess a belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior but who have no intention of actually living by and practicing the teachings of Jesus.
What if we understood the teachings of Jesus as a gift, a great and wonderful gift? That actually living by and practicing the teachings of Jesus is a gift to be accepted, embraced, and shared?
By the teachings of Jesus, I mean especially the Great Commandment – Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself; and the Love Commandment – love one another as Jesus loves us. It is by actually living by and practicing Jesus’ teachings that others will know that we are his disciples.
Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ love ethic, is offered to us as a gift. As we embrace this gift our lives and the lives of others are transformed.
In Matthew 25 Jesus shares a parable of the talents. In Jesus’ time a talent was a unit of currency. It was worth about 6000 denarii. The usual payment for one day of labor was one denarii. Working six days a week, with a weekly Sabbath day, a talent was worth 1000 weeks of labor, about 19 years. With the short life expectancy of the time, one talent basically meant an entire lifetime of labor. The tribute a conquered nation paid to the conqueror was measured in talents.
In Jesus’ parable the first is given five talents and through trade doubles this. The second is given two talents and likewise doubles the investment through trade. The third is given one talent, which they bury. With the talent buried there is no increase.
The people Jesus shares this with are unlikely to ever see one talent in their lifetimes, much less two or five. Struggling to survive one day at a time they don’t have the opportunity to trade and invest and increase profits.
In this parable Jesus is using this extraordinary amount of money to point to something greater than money. Something that was accessible to the first followers of Jesus, and accessible to us today.
The gift of Jesus’ teaching. The gift of the Way of Love that Jesus embodied, modeled, coached, and taught his followers to live by and practice.
God gives us gifts of far greater value than a talent. The gift of life one day at a time. We have the gift of today. How do live this one day of life in a way that actually lives by and practices Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ Way, the Way of Love?
How do we embrace, share, and increase love in the world? One day at a time.
What if we understood the talent in Jesus’ parable as a metaphor for how people have responded to the gift of Jesus’ teaching, the Way of Love over the ages?
In the early Church to be a Jesus believer was less about a set of beliefs and doctrines and more about practices and way of living one’s life. Jesus lifts is point up in the Love Commandment. It is by loving one another that others will know that they are Jesus’ disciples.
People engaged with the emerging early church because each small community of Jesus believers practiced loving one another. There were no creeds or doctrines to affirm. There was love to practice.
A network of small Jesus communities spread throughout the Roman Empire. Despite repeated repressive attempts by the Empire to stamp out the Church the Way of Love actually practiced by these communities continued to grow and thrive.
Two talents became four talents and five talents became ten talents. By talent here I don’t mean money. And I don’t mean church size, although the numbers of Jesus believers greatly increased. What I mean by talent is that by practicing the Way of Love the teachings of Jesus impacted and gave value to more and more people.
It took three centuries for Jesus’ teachings to became so widespread among the common people that the elites of the Roman Empire decided to make Christianity the state religion.
This meant being a Christian was not an option, it was a requirement of the state. The mark of being a Christian was no longer practicing Jesus’ teaching, the Way of Love. The mark of a Christian was to affirm a set of doctrines.
During the many centuries that the Church was a state religion to challenge a specific church doctrine or interpret it a different way was to challenge the state. During these centuries as a state religion it became possible to affirm “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” without actually practicing Jesus’ teachings, the Way of Love.
If practicing Jesus’ teachings is understood metaphorically as the talent in Jesus’ parable, the talent was buried for many centuries.
It is time to unearth this talent, time to reclaim practicing Jesus’ teaching, the Way of Love as central to who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. To do this is not to negate doctrines. One can affirm the Nicene Creed, and make practicing Jesus’ Way of Love as core to who we are.
The First Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Nicene Creed that come out of this Council was focused on affirming the doctrine of the Trinity. We face a different set of challenges and opportunities than they did seventeen centuries ago.
Our challenge and opportunity today is to multiply the talents by practicing Jesus’ teachings and becoming a Beloved Community that makes Jesus’ Way of Love central to who we are as disciples.
We practice Jesus’ Way of Love through our Open and Affirming work and commitment to be inclusive of all of God’s children.
We practice Jesus’ Way of Love through sending Christmas cards to each other, engaging in caring fellowship for one another.
We practice Jesus’ Way of Love through offering help to those in need, such as the turkey baskets.
We practice Jesus’ Way of Love through teaching, modeling, and coaching people of all ages to grow in discipleship.
Let us multiply the “talents” of Jesus’ teachings in the way we live our lives one day at a time.