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November 19, 2017

Pentecost 24 Year A by Rev Ikani Vaitohi

Theme: “You are all children of light and children of the day.”

Have you been to the You Yangs National Park? I think you would probably agree with me that it is such a beautiful place, one of the many in our region that we are so proud and blessed to have access to. In my previous congregations, often on Sunday afternoon, the young families with all our children, our friends, even our pets, would go up there on a nice sunny afternoon to enjoy the breathtaking views and meet some of the resident koalas and other wildlife. I have also discovered, by the way, that sausages on a Barbie taste much juicier up there.

So after we shared lunch, some would enjoy a game of cricket or touch footy, those who are more fit and energetic would walk up to the top and enjoy the view and the fresh air. What I loved most is watching the sun go down the horizon from Flinders Peak.

In fact, I want to invite you to come with me to Flinders Peak. Imagine yourself being a local of the area; your house is situated down the slopes tucked away near the main highway. As you would often do, one evening you decided to go up to the Flinders Peak to watch the sun go down. The colours stretch across the horizon and mingle orange and peach and butterscotch together. The sky pales into midnight blue as the sun slides down and darkness creeps in.

You wait there until all the light has gone, from across the field, on that mountainside. It begins to get a little cold, so you wrap your jacket around you. With the passing of the light, the temperature drops and you think about going home. You've been up that peak many times. It’s like a second home to you, but as you stand to walk home, the darkness has disorientated you.

Where you thought home was, now you aren’t so sure.

You turn round in a circle choosing which way to go, and eventually, you see the light from your house window, way in the distance. It’s in a direction you weren’t expecting it to be, but you trust it and head on home.

The darkness can easily disorientate you. But your eyes are so fixed on that light and slowly make your way home. Home is where security, warmth, comfort and pleasant company await. Home is calling, and there is always a welcome there.

I have invited you to experience something of the faith journey and story of the people of Thessalonica and the experience of the first-century church in Matthew’s time - both come from our readings for this morning. They were on a high from their personal experiences of the resurrected Christ, but the darkness of despair and hopelessness sets in as they struggled against the wrath of the dominant culture. This morning, the messages of hope from our Holy Scriptures that helped the first audience will also assist us in redirecting our attention to the light that is God as our destination and our place of refuge.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew is a story that Jesus tells of a rich man that was going away and he gave his servants responsibilities over his fortune.

One of his servants he gave 5, the next 2 and the third one he gave one talent. After some time, we are not informed of the length of time; the rich man returns, he called each one of them to account for what they have done with his money. Of course, two of them had done well, for they invested the money and doubled the value. But the third one, who was given one talent, was afraid that he would lose the money, so he did what was seems to be the right thing to do, he buried the treasure. He returned to his master the same amount he was given. So basically that is the whole drift of the story.

So what does this mean for us today?

First, let’s understand some of the backgrounds of this reading. This parable of the Talents is found only in Matthew. There is a similar Parable in the Gospel of Luke 19:11-27 known as the Parable of the Ten Pounds, but there are significant differences. In Luke, there are ten servants, each of whom receives the same amount––a mina–– so the value of talent is far less in Luke than in Matthew.

Also, for Luke’s version, he seems to overemphasize the responses of the Servants to what they were given. So the focus was on the servant's responses. When we read Matthew, who was writing his Gospel late in the first century, in a time that one talent means a certain sum of money – probably 6 thousand denarii. You may recall that when Glen preached on the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, he reminded us that a denarius worth a day's work. So, 6,000 denarii would, therefore, represent earnings for 1,000 six-day workweeks or 19 years for the common man. That is for one talent. Imagine the value of 5 talents and two talents indicated by Matthew here. To understand the value of that one talent in our financial term now, we are talking millions, even billions. Matthews point here is that each one of them receives a generous amount, quite a substantial amount that boggles the mind.

Now, why would Matthew do that you might wonder? The answer lies, yet again in the context of this reading. Two things we need to keep in mind. (1) Jesus is now preparing to die – to go on a journey to the Father. He is in Jerusalem, has triumphantly entered Jerusalem to the sound of the hosanna, he denounced the scribes and Pharisees, he foretells of his persecution, he announces the coming of the Son of man and tells people to remain alert and prepared for his coming. So the setting for our reading is the temple and the time is early Holy Week – between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. So Jesus was just about to walk his final journey towards the Cross where he demonstrates what it means to love so generously.

Secondly, I want to highlight here for you that when Matthew penned his Gospel, the Church was struggling with the issue of Jesus delayed second coming or his Parousia. They had been anticipating this second coming to occur in their lifetime, they have suffered greatly for the Gospel but starting to feel dejected and disillusioned and it seems their hope for the full restoration of a broken world, a world of pain and destruction, is all but vanish.

So, Matthew’s church has been through the most horrific of all persecutions and just about to give up. The parable would have been understood by the original hearers as an encouragement that despite their present suffering, they must persevere as the bearer and custodians of Jesus's Good News, one day he will return, and each one will give account for how they lived out that Good News.

Our first reading, which is from Paul’s letter to the people of Thessalonica, reminded them of the same message. saying to the faithful people of God in verses 4 & 5 “4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, ... for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.” Praise God! Like the early Church members, God’s gift of being the children of the light has been given to you and me so generously. Paul is likewise saying to us the people of Belmont that the light of God has been generously given to us so that we can shine in the darkness of a society where injustices, poverty, and hatred abound. We shine our lights without fear that our oils will never run out.

But the catch is this. As long as we stay connected to the ever-flowing stream of power that is God, the ever giving spirit of generosity of God in Jesus Christ, our light will keep shining even in the midst of darkness and despair. Who knows, your light may be the saving grace for those who are lost in the maze of life, for those who want to find their way home, the light on that window in the darkness of the night.

Our readings today remind us that God has blessed us so generously with the resources and gifts to deal with any issues we come up against in this life – by far too many to count. God has blessed us and tasked us with the responsibility of being light to the world and called to be a blessing to the world where ever we may be.

The fact that God will also ask each one of us how we have used those gifts challenges us to think about the kind of gifts we have been given. What gifts has God given to the Belmont congregation? How are we using those gifts? In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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