There is some deep water here this week, depending on how the worship team chooses to address this familiar story. The gospel challenges our easy understandings on a consistent basis; this whole series is likely to do that to some. Certainly, a more traditional interpretation of the parable would be easier, but it could also lead to the idea that what God wants is for us to produce more and more. How do we counter the “prosperity gospel” in this text? Turn talents into abilities and not money is one way. But how do our abilities produce more? What should we be celebrating this week in the life of the community as we gather for worship? Like many organizations in our culture, we seem to want to celebrate the successful. But what about those just getting by, those who protect every coin with a tight grip? Aren’t they worth celebrating, worth entering into the joy of the Master? If not the earthly masters, then the one who calls us into joy in this life and the next is the one we choose to follow.
There is no entry fee to the kin-dom. Your net worth has nothing to do with your eternal value. This is our proclamation for today. This is our invitation to the people of God. You were chosen not for your ability to earn, but because you are loved. And because you are loved, you have an ever-increasing capacity to love in return. That’s what expands; that’s what multiplies as we continue our journey to become disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And then we find ourselves making disciples, even as we are being made disciples.
This is a vital message today. In an era of division and hatred based on external factors such as race and ethnicity, the proclamation that every person has an inherent worth is radical and life changing, world changing. So, how might you celebrate this inherent worth? Find the folks on the margins and bring them to the center. Let the children speak; hear from those of different origins; pray in different languages; testify to an immigrant experience. When it is one of the family of God who speaks, it sounds different from a news report or a social media post. Commit to pray for those without resources, those nearby or far off who live hand to mouth, even one paycheck away from despair. You might even find these folks sitting beside you in the pew or logging on with you as you watch worship online.
Don’t let the parable of the talents become a way of celebrating those who have much. Hear that verse, Matthew 25:29, saying this is how the world works, not how we work. Or perhaps, those who have more grace will be given more, and those who have no grace have no hope in the kin-dom of the Lord. Those who have the capacity to give will have even more opportunities to give, and those who choose not to give will lose those opportunities. However you interpret this verse or this parable, let it not be a point of division. Let it not affirm the cultural understanding that only the wealthy are blessed in this life.
With a title like “Enter the Joy,” this service needs to be a celebration full of life and hope. Let the music be uplifting; let the liturgy be a call to joy and the celebration of life in Christ. Let the images be of acceptance and welcome, of inclusion and fellowship. If you’re projecting or online, let the bumper images be of a recent meal or fellowship event at the church. Use pictures of the children enjoying Sunday school or Bible study, even if you did those online this year. Ask parents to provide images of their kids at worship at home. Remember, however, not to publish these photos on the website; and if streaming, don’t use children’s images with their faces clearly visible.
In every gospel message, there is a call. But let it be a call to joy, not to shame or to heaviness. Let it be a call to the possibilities of transformation and growth. Invite the community to more— more love, more joy, more fellowship, and connection. Be sure and provide a list of ways to connect, to dive deeper into the mission and ministry of the church. Invite all to enter into the joy.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.