First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Composers and Cleaning Women

Sermon ~ Sunday, November 19, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

“Composers and Cleaning Women”

Matthew 25:14-30

To me they are more than words, more than a nice little slogan many churches print in their worship programs.  I take very seriously what is stated in the “Staff listing” of our worship program: “Every member, Ministers to the Community.”   This is not something that I believe in some intellectual/theological sense but one that I try to live out in my daily life.  In fact it was this very understanding of my Christian life that ultimately led to my sense of calling to pastoral ministry. 

The Christian life is just this, a life.  It is not a choice as in I chose this hobby or that style of attire.  It is not even a career choice, as in, I think I will be an accountant or an engineer or a fireman.  When one chooses to follow the Christian way it is a choice to follow the one called Christ.  It is more than a lifestyle it is a way of living.  And it was out of this calling to a way of living that God spoke more explicitly calling me to pastoral ministry. 

But as our staff listing should remind us, we are all called, and everyone is called to play their part to the full.  Valuing one another, accepting that the smallest of gifts is important, and believing that, in our uniqueness, God has called each of us, the whole people of God, to serve.

But you might argue a pastor is different (can’t argue with that!  We are a little different!) But it is not so much a different kind of calling as it is a particular calling within the call Christ puts upon all of us.  I am your ‘pastor’, for such is my role and the title I am given for my calling … but you are ministers to one another … I  minister with you, not to you or even more important to understand  not for you. 

I have gifts, but so do each of you. 

I have uniqueness, but so do each of you.

I have been given certain talents, but so do each of you. 

Why am I not a choir director?  Because I can’t direct a choir!  Roger, who is good at this does it for us.  Is that not a ministry, someone’s gifts being used well to the glory of God? 

And the rest of you? 

You serve in many ways.  Writing letters, visiting people, taking a meal to a friend or neighbor or taking them out for a meal! 

In the Church, how much do we value the people who offer a welcome at the front door?  Greeters are the very first impression of our congregation visitors get.  Talk about an important ministry!  The stewardship of our facility …  serving during our worship, Communion, lay readers, a couple of weeks ago we recognized the importance of music.  The ministry of Coffee hour?  All these are forms of ministry. 

In the community, how much do we value our refuse collectors, our community officials, the school bus drivers, the street-sweepers, the shop-assistants, etc.?

One of the lessons we might derive from the parable read this morning is that God blesses people with differing gifts according to the grace given us (Romans 12.6).  It was C. S. Lewis who wrote in The Weight of Glory:

“The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a cleaning woman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord.” This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies.  A mole must dig to the glory of God and the rooster must crow.” 

It isn’t that one person’s gifts are better than another’s, it’s about a belief in the uniqueness of every child of God, and the acceptance that God has a role for them to play –be they Beethoven or a cleaning woman.   God does not value one over the other, we may do this, but God does not!  God values the work that each of you have to do.  After all, it was God who gave you the ability and the work in the first place.  It is a rare position, job, career indeed in which one cannot find a way if you look, to serve God and God’s people.  To be sure, there somethings that some do that are not in service to God and in fact just the opposite, but in many cases it is a perversion of their work.  Brother Lawrence, a former soldier, who joined a monastery and spent the rest of his life working in the monastery kitchen and repairing the sandals of other monks wrote, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

The parable of the three servants also indicates that the reward for work done well is more work to do.  No this is not to be confused with being over-worked and the false sense of importance that can accompany this. Nor is it about always being at the center of things.  It’s about development and growth, not ‘resting on our laurels’.  

It’s not about the old expression, “If you’re looking for someone to do something, ask someone who’s busy.”  We are to care for one another and not take people for granted.  It’s about a joy in our service, knowing, learning and developing our discipleship.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t wrestle with the last part of the parable, the third servant:

But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.  For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  As for this worthless servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Last week we considered the value of prudence and this, the last servant it would seem was in one way prudent in his use of the master’s property.  Yet, he gets the brunt of his master’s anger. It could be said that he is punished for his action or better his inaction.

This whole idea of ‘punishment’ is a tricky one … But it would seem to me that Jesus in using this parable perhaps is saying that there are negative consequences for the people who don’t even try.

I think of it this way …   During my high school years, I was not what you would call a star pupil, if you can imagine that!  I remember sitting in Algebra II and Calculus classes with Mr. Hammond.  (For you math geeks Mr. Hammond told this joke every year!

“Did you hear about the Park Ranger who saved the snakes from extinction?”

“No Mr. Hammond.”  Moans from the older students.

“He built them a log table then they could multiply for they were adders you see!” 

And he would laugh, “Har! Har! Har!”  Every year. 

In Mr. Hammond’s classroom I always choose a seat by the windows.  His classroom was on the third floor of Fryeburg Academy’s south wing and it had a nice view of the mountains!  And when I would get lost in algorithms and hyperbolas, I would wander among the mountains, along the ridges and down their streams, to the fire tower on Keasarge North.  I had a glorious time!  Then when it came time for the math test I would suddenly become a person of  great faith and lean on the power of prayer!  I would pray first that the questions would be easy.  And secondly, that they would be over the few things I did grasp.  After all God is good, right.  Perhaps, but Mr. Hammond was just!  And while I never failed a class I would often fail the tests!

What right had I to rely on the goodness of God when I had not done any work?  What right had I to expect God to show me special favors when I didn’t even try?  And my punishment/consequence?  To accept that my failure was of my own making … to learn that you have to put some work in to make success possible … that I did not have God at my beck and call. 

Is God still good?  Of course. 

Was my failure God’s fault?  Not at all. 

Did God remind me that trying my best is important?  You bet!

And lastly, if someone has a talent and uses it well, then this parable seems to say that he or she will be able to do progressively more with it.  And, vice versa, if a talent isn’t used well or at all, it will inevitably be lost to us.  Any of you who are musicians know this all too well!  But it is the same for all our talents, skills, our spiritual gifts.   Use it or lose it.  Not that God will take it away but without use it will atrophy.

But not only will your witness be weakened but the body of Christ will suffer as well!

Ephesians 4:11-13  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:7     Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Whether composer or cleaning person, preacher or pipefitter, deacon or diaper changer, physician or firefighter, young/old, male/female, God has given you an ability, a gift, and has asked you to use it to God’s glory in service to others.

1 Peter 4:10 – 11    Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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