RCL reflection, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 28
November 19, 2017
Lessons: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, Psalm 90:1-12, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people wait with anticipation, focus on living as good stewards, and encourage one another.
Key Scriptures: Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“If following Jesus was cake walk, everybody would be struttin’ to the music,” she said. This wise senior saint had a way with words and a way of making plain that the discipleship walk requires commitment and “stick-to-it-iveness.” Even so, this dear lady was always filled with joy and was the first to send a note of encouragement, make a phone call, or a give a hug to build up those who were struggling.
Some days it is simply tough to be a Jesus follower. We hear tales of woe and how our churches are failing and how irrelevant we are in today’s self-reliant culture. Sometimes we find ourselves lumped under the umbrella term of Christian with those whose words and actions seem incongruous with our Lord’s teaching. When the going gets tough, it’s tempting to bury both our heads and our talents in the sand rather than get on with the hard holy work of discipleship and mission. Whatever in the world is a 21st century Christian to do? What does our future hold?
Paul gives us some ideas in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. The believers there were anticipating Christ’s return, but evidently many of them were discouraged and wondering if Jesus would ever be back. They needed encouragement and edification then — just as we need it today.
Paul reminds them that they are children of light and live in the expectant hope of Christ’s return, even though they cannot know the day or the hour. He encourages them to keep on with their work as a community, to be faithful, to love one another, and to keep their hope fresh and always on their minds. In fact, he likens the hope they have to a helmet that both serves to protect them from the wiles of the world and to remember whose they are.
In short, Paul encourages them to keep on keeping on, to pass on the faith, and to build up the Body of Christ of which they are a part. A strong foundation of faith sealed with the mortar of encouragement helps support the entire structure.
When we edify and encourage one another — praying for each other, developing strong friendships and small groups, worshiping together regularly, serving side-by-side, and sharing our time, talent, and resources — all of us become stronger. We are more likely, though the gift of a strong community, to use our talents and take greater risks with more confidence to multiply all that God has given us. We are truly better together, and by working with instead of against each other we can accomplish so much more.
As you consider the needs of both your congregation and the community in which you are planted, be sure to help folks make connections, build bridges, and develop networks of care and support. Help people share their faith stories and bridge Sunday worship to everyday life. Doing so will strengthen all other aspects of ministry and mission. Yes, encouraging relationships and edification of the saints makes a difference because life and discipleship are certainly much more than a cake walk. Blessings on your preaching, teaching, and building up of the Body of Christ.
This Sunday why not build something in worship? Buy some cardboard “bricks” or gather a few used sets of Duplo or other large building block sets. Give each person a “brick” and invite the congregation to work in pairs or small groups. Have each person write their name on a brick or block with permanent marker. Then have the other person or persons identify a “talent” they see or have experienced in the other person. If people don’t know each other, they may have to ask a few guiding questions such as “What brings you joy?” or “How do you serve others?” or even “What do you think is something you can do that makes the world better?” Write that “talent” on the other person’s brick/block. Give people time to pray with/for each other and bless one another in Christ’s name. As congregants are sent into the world, have them bring their bricks/blocks to a designated place in the worship or gathering space to build a structure to illustrate the power of working together and building up the Body of Christ.
Why not use this week’s parable as a springboard to a real, live “talent” show. It’s an opportunity to have fun, to build community, and to reach out to others. Let your youth plan and host the event. Trust them and let them lead. Support them with prayer and resources, but give them the space and freedom to make it their own ministry project. Invite them to consider the talents within the community, as well as the gifts and talents the congregation has to offer to the wider community. When done right, not only will you have an awesome event, you’ll also have a tangible teaching opportunity for intentional faith development. You can also consider linking the epistle lesson (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) to this event, particularly verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
Most children are familiar with some sort of story about digging for buried treasure. Tell them a simple version of how the master entrusted treasure to his slaves and how two of them used the treasure/talents to build more treasure while one went and buried his talent so that it couldn’t even see the light of day. Bring out a large wash tub or plastic tub filled with sand or some other substance in which you can “hide” treasure. Hide small dollar-store items to represent the various kinds of talents children might have that they don’t easily recognize. Let each child in turn “dig” for treasure without looking at what they’re digging for. You’ll have to think on your feet with this activity. For example, a small hand mirror might represent that the child has the ability to show others that they have talents or to reflect the light of Christ. A tiny flashlight might represent shining Christ’s light into scary or difficult places. A heart might represent the ability to share God’s love. A package of cookies of a candy bar might represent that you can share the sweet truth about Jesus and/or feed someone who is hungry. A pair of socks might represent sharing clothes to keep someone warm. You get the idea. The gifts need to be general enough to apply to all disciples but you will need to share them in a way that is specific and affirming to each child. Finish with a prayer that each child will recognize his or her own buried talent and begin to use it in a way that brings glory to God and helps others see the face, hands, and heart of Christ.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
God has gifted each one of us with gifts, talents, and resources. When we build one another up, affirm each other’s gifts, and work to edify one another, then we are better able to take risks for mission and ministry and to share the good news of Jesus Christ. How have you been stewarding your talents? How have you been encouraging others?
Stewardship at Home
Spend time this week making a list of talents, gifts, and resources that God has given you. Make sure to pray about your list and ask God to help you see all that you have been given. Do this for other members of your household, family, or friend circle. Gather at the end of the week to compare your lists. What do you see in each other? Did others see gifts in you that you had not realized you possessed or that you have not used? Celebrate the many gifts you have identified and/or affirmed. Give thanks to God for the giftedness of all people. Identify one gift someone else has seen in you that you either didn’t realize you have or that you have not fully used. Make a plan to cultivate and use that gift, talent, or resource more effectively. Keep growing as God’s beloved and gifted child!
Photos: Steve Spinks, Midnight Believer, and Susan Ackeridge, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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