This weeks sermon begins with a discussion of Judges chapter 4, which describes the deliverance of Israel from oppression by Sisera and the Canaanites. This was accomplished largely through the leadership of two women - Deborah, who was the judge and commander of Israel at the time, and Jael, who killed the enemy commander Sisera. This shows that God has appointed women to positions of leadership in biblical history.
The main scripture passage discussed is the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. In this parable, a rich man entrusts his servants with large sums of money to manage while he is away on a journey. Upon his return, two servants have doubled the money through wise investments, but a third buried his share and made no return. Just as the servants were entrusted with the master's fortune, we are given gifts of time, talents and treasures by God. We are called to make the most of what we've been given, investing wisely so that God's kingdom may increase. This brings joy to the Master. As we live generously and fruitfully, we experience a foretaste of God's coming joy.
Well, it is hard to believe it, but this is the last Sunday of Pentecost, the last of our non-holiday services for the year. I mean, this afternoon we have Thanksgiving up at Spencer, I hope you'll be able to come to that, followed by dinner, and then next Sunday is Christ the King's Sunday, and then we're in Advent. Before you know it, it's going to be next year. As we head into the holiday season, we also head into a time in the spiritual year that is sort of thoughtful and reflective.
In Advent, a time when we get ready emotionally and mentally and spiritually for the arrival of our Lord Jesus. And as always, this is both getting ready for Jesus' birth and also looking forward to Jesus' return. And with both of these events in mind, our calling is to be doing the Lord's work while we wait. So as we look at today's scripture readings, all of them reflect on these thoughts in one way or another of God's arrival and our getting ready.
And to that end, we will be looking mostly at our gospel reading this morning from Matthew. But before I go there, I want to take a short detour. Most of us know that the lectionary gives us three readings every Sunday, of which we usually read two. The third one for today from the Old Testament Book of Judges is completely off topic, which is why we didn't read it today, but it's a passage that I want to mention because it only comes around once every three years and it gives us some important bits of history that I think we need to know.
So for those of you who are writing up the summary of this sermon, skip the next bit. I'll tell you where we're actually going to start the message. Okay. But this is just a major side note over here.
The passage I'm referring to is Judges chapter four. And if you feel like it, feel free to open up a pew Bible and take a look at Judges four. The reading describes a time in ancient Israel when the people of Israel have abandoned God and started worshiping idols. So God allowed the nation to be conquered by the Canaanites who were led by an army whose commander was named Sisera.
Now, back in those days, Israel did not have a king. The nation was led by judges. And so the nation of Israel, like the nations around them, was more like a collection of tribes than the kind of nation states that we're used to today. And the judges were regional leaders, either prophets or prophetesses, who were both civic and religious leaders.
And the people would come to them for advice or to settle disputes. Well, there's a certain strength in this kind of system, and that is that there was a great deal of personal freedom. Many of the twelve tribes of Israel could depend on the other tribes for help if they needed it, but there was no central government, and therefore there was no conscription into an army, and there were no taxes, if you can imagine that. And the only laws that they had were the laws of Moses.
But there was also a weakness in this system, and that was they had a great deal of personal freedom, and that included the ability to disregard God's laws and build altars and manufacture their own gods. And the people of Israel did just that over and over and over, and we see that throughout most of the Old Testament. They would be conquered, and then they would cry out to God, and God would send a rescuer, and they would be set free, and they would celebrate that freedom, and before you know it, they're back over here worshipping idols again, and the whole cycle starts again. So we talk about church history looking like this, like Israel's kind of the same way back then.
It's really nothing new. What's remarkable about this particular passage, though, is that this time, the nation's rescue was brought about mainly by two women, which is a foretaste, a prophecy of the two women in the New Testament who will bring about our rescue, namely Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the book of Judges, the two women's names are Deborah, who was the judge at the time, and Jael, a Kenite woman. Deborah was the leader of Israel at that time, and this is important for a number of reasons.
There are many, many Christian churches today, even today, that will not allow or recognize female leadership, and many of them say the reason is because God never appointed any female leaders in the Bible. This passage proves otherwise. Deborah's role was both religious and civil. She was a prophetess, and she was the judge of all Israel, and she was the commander-in-chief of Israel's army, all rolled into one.
The other woman in the story is Jael, and she was a foreigner who we know very little about, but her loyalty was to Israel's God. And during the battle to defend Israel, which Israel was winning, by the way, the leader of the Canaanite army, Sisera, deserted, ran away from the battlefield, and came to rest outside the tent of Jael. And he asked her for water, and she said, Oh, come on in, have some milk. And she gave him all the milk that he wanted to drink, and he lay down to rest and fell asleep, at which point Jael took a tent peg and a hammer, drove it through his head, thereby winning the war.
So the attacking general was dead, Israel's victory was brought about by two women. I take no joy in violence whatsoever, but I can't let these two women go by in our lectionary without pointing them out and saying, These were bold leaders at a time when bold leadership was hard to find. And on top of that, this story also reminds us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and pray for the peace of Israel. The politics of today's situation is beyond my grasp, but I know this much, that Jesus wept over Jerusalem and prayed for the city's well-being, and so should we.
So please keep on keeping this region in your prayers. So with all that said, it's a very long prelude. Now we head into today's scriptures. Now for those of you who are taking notes on the sermon, it starts now.
And we begin with our scripture reading from Matthew. In the book of Matthew, this is the second parable in a series of three parables that Jesus is sharing with His disciples. The first one being about the ten bridesmaids and their oil lamps, which we heard last week, I believe. And then the third one being about the separating of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment.
So this is sort of the meat inside the two pieces of bread there on that sandwich. And all three of these parables contain warnings against complacency and encourage the disciples to be prepared and to live mindfully and generously as they follow Jesus. So the parable for today talks about a master who is a very rich man, who decides to go on a journey, and he gives some of his wealth to his servants to take care of or to manage while he's gone. And he gives five talents to one and two talents to another and one talent to a third, according to their skills.
Now one of the things that's really remarkable about this story is the enormous amounts of money that Jesus is talking about. Depending on which Bible scholar you read, a talent was worth about five years' wages for the average worker. So in today's terms, approximately $300,000 to $500,000 per talent. So the man with five talents had somewhere between $1.
5 and $2.5 million handed to him. And the man with two, somewhere between $600,000 and $1 million. And of course, the man with the one had between $3,000 and $5,000 handed to him.
Now if you're anything like me, at this point you're probably thinking, I wish somebody would drop that kind of talents right here, you know? Bring on the talents. If someone did, if someone dropped a million or two in my lap or yours, what would you do with it? What would, think about, how would you invest this for God? Anybody have any thoughts on this? There you go, good. Anybody else? One of my first thoughts was take some of this down to this inner city schools and find the top, best five students and put them through med school, all the way through school. You know? Something like that.
All kinds of possibilities that you could, when you sit and think about it, it's like, Oh, we could do this. Anyway, not to pour cold water on all these plans, but years ago I worked for a company who had a business manager who called large sums of money like this a pain in the neck amount of money. A pain in the neck. Why? He said, Because $1 million is not going to change the world.
It will not end world hunger. It will not end a war. It will not fix the entropy in Washington, D.C.
It will not put an end to gun violence or any number of the social problems that we would love to take care of. A million dollars is not enough to accomplish any of these things. Oddly enough, as I was writing this sermon this past week, I got an email from the Pittsburgh Symphony, one of those tell us how you're doing surveys that you get a thousand times a week. And I usually delete them, but for some reason I did not delete this one.
First off, because it was addressed to the symphony's donors. Now, I am a subscriber. I have a one-quarter season subscription, but my donations are so tiny and so irregular that I'm amazed they even noticed. I was on that list somehow, and they wanted to know what we as donors think they should do with their money.
What would our priorities be if we were in charge of the symphony? And one of the questions on the survey was this, If you had $100,000 to donate to the symphony, how would you designate it? Again, bring on the $100,000. What they were really asking, what they were asking was, Would we use the money for things like educational outreach, or for paying for guest soloists, or for composers to write original works for the orchestra, or to do repairs on Heinz Hall? I mean, you get the idea. There's all these worthy things that you could use money for. What would we choose and why? I told them I would underwrite the orchestra's next European tour if they let me tag along.
[laughs] But getting back to Jesus's parable here, a talent being worth a million dollars is not going to change the world. But it is an amount too big to be lazy about. It needs to be taken care of. It needs to be kept safe.
It needs to have plans made for it. And if we're wise, we invest it somehow so that it will still be around years from now, still doing good, still multiplying to support family and loved ones and people outside the family as well. And one thing is for sure, Jesus had the full attention of his listeners, and he also gave them a promise of something even better. Jesus says that this master, this mortal human being in this story, invites his servants to enter into his joy after they made wise decisions and investments.
How much more, Jesus says, will our good and perfect God invite us to share God's joy? The real surprise in Jesus's story is the one guy who goes and buries his talent in the ground. Now, this may not seem quite as strange back then as it does today. I mean, there were, there's very little on the way of banks in those days. There were no investment companies.
So when people needed to keep something safe, burying it was a common thing to do, actually. And the thing is, we're talking about almost a half a million dollars or more here. Who would bury that much money? I mean, wouldn't you at least go shopping first? You know, I mean, this third servant could have done something with some of it, but instead he makes excuses and refuses to take responsibility. So the meaning of the story, of course, is that God has given each of us fortunes to work with.
We are all owners of fortunes, fortunes of time, fortunes of abilities, fortunes of relationships. And the amount of fortune is different from person to person. Some have more than others, some have less. Some of us have specific gifts in art, music, science, math, business, working with people, working with analysts, so many possibilities.
The point is that we all have a small fortune to work with. So what are we going to do with it? And then taking the story one step beyond that, we also have a group of people here who have talents and gifts. And we're all together in this church, and our talents become a collage of personalities and skills. And we begin to see that our talents come together in ways that meet the needs of people in our community.
That's what Jesus is getting at. We are far more wealthy than we know, both as individuals and as a church. And investing who we are in the lives of the people around us is a joy because we are being and becoming exactly who and what we were created to be by God. One more thing about this parable, and that is that the Master's return is delayed.
And we don't know why, and we don't know for how long. But this parable tells us not to worry about that too much. We just need to get down to business, investing those talents. And when the Master returns, we will enter into his joy.
So where does that leave us today? We are holding in our hands a fortune greater than we know. We are being challenged to be creative and fruitful and bold. Not reckless, but daring as wisdom allows. And the investments we make are a foretaste of God's coming kingdom.
They are for our joy, for all of us. Amen. Thank you.