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Between Sundays for Week of November 20, 2023

The so-called Parable of the Talents tells the story of a Master who entrusts his three slaves with “talents” – large sums of money that were worth many years of laborers’ wages – then he leaves. The first two slaves take the money the Master has left to them and trade with it and make a return on the money for their Master. When their Master comes back, he’s pleased with what they’ve done. The third, however, is scared and buries what he’s been given so that he doesn’t risk losing it all. The Master is not-so pleased with him, deems him worthless and demands that he be thrown into “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

The message seems clear: don’t be like the third slave. Instead, grow your God-given resources for the sake of God’s kingdom like the first two slaves. But that seems to imply that we serve a harsh God who reaps what God didn’t sow and gathers where God didn’t scatter seed – and that does not square with an image of God throughout Scripture who is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 86:15). What if God is not the Master in this parable and we are not the slaves? What if this parable is a story about Jesus’ own life – and his own fate?

Jesus resisted the systems of exploitation, power and privilege that maintained the status quo. What if the Master in this story are the gods of this world that Jesus refused to worship? What if this is a parable about resisting the masters of this world that are more concerned with maintaining their own status than they are about justice and equity and the welfare of their neighbor? What if this is a parable about what happens to Jesus – who himself was cast by the world into that “outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth” – because he refused to take part in perpetuating those injustices?

Thinking about this parable in these terms underscores just how counter-cultural following Jesus really is. The world wants us to look out for ourselves, to protect our interests, to stay on the good side of those with power and privilege so we can benefit and be rewarded too. The world wants us to believe that being rewarded and blessed by God is our doing. But God isn’t tallying our good deeds and we aren’t trying to earn God’s approval by trying to prove that we’ve spent our time well. We don’t need to live in fear and worry – that we aren’t doing enough good, that we should be doing more, that we might risk disappointing God.

Jesus himself was cast into “outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth” when he died on the cross. But for our sake, he didn’t stay there. After three days, Jesus rose to life again, promising the same for us.

So, this is a parable that invites us to consider: How will we spend our time – and our talents – while we wait this Advent season for the One we serve to come again?

Not by living in fear – that we somehow won’t measure up. But maybe by living in hope – choosing to walk in his ways of loving and serving our neighbor rather than using our neighbors for our own gain – so that we might help this world glimpse God’s kingdom come.

P.S. Want to listen to the readings and hear the full sermon from Sunday on this text? Click here to view the second Sunday of Extended Advent

P.P.S.  Learn more about Extended Advent at Bethlehem, including this year’s theme Beyond Human Time. On Sunday, November 26 at 10:15 am following worship, you can make a festive wreath to decorate your home and visit with your BLC friends!  Sign up at ASAP or contact the church office if you’d like to make a wreath (all supplies provided, along with expert guidance from our resident horticulturist, Brain Edwards!)

Abby and Amy talk about Thanksgiving memories and traditions and the ways we mark these days.

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For what do we give thanks? While it is a national holiday, it is also an opportunity to consider how gratitude is a practice of faith. Read the Salt Project’s Brief Theology of Thanksgiving here and consider your own life with gratitude!