Graceful Living Week 10

O Blessed Lord, who hast commanded us to love one another, grant us grace that having received thy bounty, we may love everyone in thee and for thee. We implore thy clemency for all; but especially for the friends whom thy love has given to us. Love thou them, O thou fountain of love, and make them to love thee with all their heart, that they may will, and speak, and do those things only which are pleasing to thee.

(St. Anselm )

Daily Readings
Day 1: Psalm 90:1-8
Day 2: Psalm 90:9-12
Day 3: Psalm 90: 13-17
Day 4: I Thessalonians 5:1-11
Day 5: Matthew 25:14-30
Day 6: Zephaniah 1:1-9
Day 7: Zephaniah 1:10-18

Weekly Reflection and Questions

Read Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the talents follows immediately after the parable of the wise and foolish maidens. A talent was the largest monetary unit of the ancient world. One talent was equal to 6,000 denarii.  The amount entrusted to the servants is huge, implying a great deal of trust on behalf of the master. 

The servants in the parable do not know how long the master will be gone, but they are to be vigilant and faithful until the master returns. The servants will be held accountable for how they use the resources entrusted to them while the master is gone. 

Note the familiar theme of grace in the parable. All are given the gift of talents; none is left outside the gift of grace. The challenge in this parable (as in all of Matthew) for the disciple is: What will we do with the lavish, generous gifts the master has given? 

The first two servants “went off at once” to multiply the gift (vs. 16-17).  They trusted in their relationship with the master. They were future-focused, willing to risk for the master’s increase.  In contrast, the one-talent servant fearfully focused on the past.  “I knew you were a harsh man… so, I was afraid.” He did not trust that his relationship with the master could risk failure.  He did not trust his own abilities. His fear immobilized him and led him to hide the gift until the master’s return.

Applying this parable to the church, the message is clear.  Do we encourage one another to try to avoid disaster; or do we foster an attitude of trust and faithfulness, of willing risk-taking for the increase of the kingdom?  There are some who put the gifts into action. And there are some who, out of fear, doubt, or selfishness, choose to keep it all for themselves and fail to see that the gifts given are intended to be invested on behalf of others. To these is spoken the word of judgment: If you try to keep the gift for yourself alone, you will lose everything. 

There was once a village chief who had three sons – each with a special talent. The oldest cared for the olive trees, providing the village olive oil for food and trade. The second son was a shepherd, keeping the herds in good health, providing food and clothing for the village. The third son was a dancer, bringing cheer, beauty, and joy to the village.

One day, the chief had to go on a long journey and left the village in his sons’ care. For awhile, things went well, but then the cold winds began to blow. The olive branches, cracked from the ice, failed to bloom. Soon the villagers had no fuel, and they begged the first son to cut down the trees.  He finally relented, for he knew it was foolish to save the trees only to lose the village.

The ice made it impossible to travel, and soon the villagers had nothing to eat. They begged the second son to kill the sheep so they wouldn’t starve. At first he refused; but he finally realized it was foolish to save the sheep only to have the people perish.

The villagers had just enough food and fuel to survive, but the hardships broke their spirits.  They lost hope and became desperate. One by one they left the village in search of a better home. The chief finally returned to find smoke from his own chimney alone.  Troubled, he rushed into the house, surprising his sons.  “What has become of the trees?  Where are the sheep?  And what has happened to the people?” 

The first two sons with sorrow explained what had happened to the trees and the sheep.  The father consoled them, “You did your best to save the village. But what has become of the people?”  The third son spoke up.  “It hardly seemed proper to dance during such suffering.  And besides, I wanted to conserve my strength to welcome you.”  “Then dance, my son,” the father said, “for my village and my heart is empty.”

But as the third son went to get up, he grimaced and fell. His legs were so stiff from sitting that they were no longer fit for dancing. The father, filled more with sadness than anger said, “Our village could survive with little food and fuel; but it could not without hope.” And they wept. 

(Adapted from a story by William J. Bausch, Storytelling: Imagination and Faith, Mystic, Connecticut:  Twenty-Third Publications, 1984)

1. How do you asses the stewardship practices of each of the servants?

2. Where do you find yourself in the parable?

3. What is the message of this parable for you?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

No one knows when the end will come. Paul did not know. The Thessalonians did not know. We just don’t know. 

It will be like a thief who comes in the night without warning. Or the end comes like for a pregnant woman who experiences labor pains. At that point, there is no escape. The only thing we know for sure is that we do not know.

Paul spends very little time on a topic about which he does not know much information. He simply doesn’t want his beloved congregation to worry about the end of time. He understands them to be connected with Christ and describes them as children of the day. They live transparent lives, easily observed by others.

Paul affirms the congregation again and again, but the Thessalonians still needs encouragement and guidance. He reminds them to not fall asleep and become complacent. Instead, they are to stay awake and be ready.

Just as Paul began his letter to the Thessalonians with a favorite triad of faith, hope, and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3), he now concludes his letter with that same triad. (5:8)  He encourages followers of Jesus to not just be ready, but to wear the clothing of battle. “. . . put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8 NRSV)

Paul is fully engaged in faith, allowing his love for Christ to provide a lens to see the world. He uses images to strengthen faith and motivate discipleship. Paul desires nothing less than a full commitment, both inside and outside.

The bottom line is captured in this phrase: “whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”  (5:10) So what else matters? This theology frees Paul to boldly live. Yet, he does not live in isolation.  He wants us to be freed by Christ and for Christ. He encourages others and builds up others.  To Paul, that is an important part of being a Christian. He lives in community—despite his many miles away from those whom he loves.

Living among God’s faithful people is a privilege of being part of the church. There are no perfect people in the church. The Holy Spirit is at work in each of us. When worries send us down a path away from God, it is helpful to have others in the church encourage us.

Paul suggests followers of Jesus wear the apparel of faith, hope, and love. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:8)  Imagine having a fashion show where people of your church were encouraged to create their own breastplate of faith and love. Take a moment to imagine what helmets and hats of hope would look like.

1. Do you find these words reassuring?

2. How much time should we invest trying to figure out when the end will come?

3. What makes Paul’s theology so freeing?

4. When do we have opportunities to encourage one another?

5. When has the church helped you through a difficult time?

6. How does worshiping with a faith community give you perspective?

7. What can you do to remember to wear faith, love, and hope each day?

Reflections and Questions from McCullough-Bade, “Daily Discipleship,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2005.  McCullough-Bade, “Daily Faith Practices,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011.
Prayer, “The Oxford Book of Prayer,” Ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg 163.