Sermon Outline Buckland 19th November 2017

Zephaniah 1.7, 12-18.
1 Thessalonians 5.1-11
Matthew 24.14-30

Three readings – one theme. Zephaniah writing in 700 BC of the terrifying account of the Day of Wrath of God when he will come to visit his people who have gone so far off the plan that he had for them. It is full of gloom and foreboding. God will come suddenly in overwhelming power and the rule of evil will be over.

St Paul’s letter to the Christian community at Thessalonica follows a similar theme – the day of the Lord’s coming – when he will come like a thief in the night. The difference from Zephaniah is that, as Paul tells them, although the coming will be a surprise, they are all children of light and should be prepared. God has destined for them – and us – not wrath but the obtaining of salvation through Christ, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. But there is no way of getting away from it, the day of the Lord will be tumultuous and there will be no escape.

The Gospel reading follows a similar pattern with the parable of the master and three slaves. At first sight the master could be understood as God but this is clearly not the case as he is something of a tyrant. If we were to take the reading literally we should understand that a talent was 6,000 denarii, and a denarius was a day’s wages. The reward for faithful trading is not to be pensioned off with a lump sum, but to be given greater responsibilities. Both the industrious and resourceful slaves are given identical commendation, despite the different amounts they have handled. But the third slave has been gripped by fear and inertia: in playing safe he secures his own downfall.

What do you see as the common theme here? Fear, the wrath of God, surprise, readiness? I see the common theme as complacency or rather a warning against complacency. The children of Israel had become complacent they were following their own ways or rather those of Baal – the theme so often explored by the OT prophets. But be silent before the Lord God, says Zephaniah, for the day of the Lord is at hand. Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “When they say ‘There is peace and security’ then sudden destruction will come upon them…there will be no escape.” And when the slave seemingly plays it safe by burying his talent, he equally is castigated for his complacency.

You may have read this week of the man in Germany who could not remember where he had parked his car and now this week – some twenty years later, I believe - it has been found behind a garage that was about to be demolished. The sad thing was that the car has had to be destroyed because it is no longer fit today’s safety standards.

We come across old magazines or newspapers and marvel at the prices shown in them for articles advertised or the style of clothes shown in the photos. I spoke last week about computers. The IT industry moves at such a pace today that something both today is out of date or superimposed tomorrow.

The fact is that like it or not – and many, maybe most of us - don’t like change but this is the world in which we live. And of course the church is no exception, however we yearn for the half imagined days when the church buildings were full, children behaved themselves and there was universal respect for one another and for property. But we must not be complacent: God has given us gifts – talents if you like - and we are called upon to use them to extend God’s Kingdom.

So as we approach the penitential season of Advent, a time for preparing for the coming of God on earth in the form of his Son, let us not make whoopy and pooh-pooh the writings of the prophets. Let us remember that as we say in the Eucharist “Christ will come again” that we are prepared, ready and waiting. We are reminded that we have talents however small or insignificant they may seem to us and we are called to use them and not bury them in a field.

Jeremy Howell

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