1. If we don’t do it… Isaiah 58.4-10; Ephesians 2.1-10; Matthew 25.14-30 (Encouragement from the exit door)
You’re qualified, now put it to work ought to be words spoken at every graduation ceremony. Even if you’re heading for post-grad study, at some point you have to make practical sense of all that knowledge (and, we hope, wisdom) you’ve accumulated. It does happen sometimes that a person graduates in a particular area and then realises that it wasn’t their calling – but it behooves them to find what they are called to and pursue that with all their creativity and energy.
So it is with this astonishing life for which the love of God has qualified us; and for the surprising endowments we call the gifts of the Spirit. As you will have heard me say last week our gifts (and talents) mean nothing until they’re put out there to bless and serve others. What God has qualified us for is a very big hint as to what He intends to happen with the miracle and wonder of your life and our lives. We each have a distinctive calling (as part of the work of a greater whole), but if we don’t do it, if don’t risk, or even try it, no-one else is going to and so it remains undone. The sadness of an unfulfilled dream, an ignored or deferred calling is truly tragic. If we don’t do it…who will, who can?
Isaiah’s manifesto for those who would draw pride from their fasting is a demanding agenda of social, missional interaction with those around them, especially those in need. We often give so much focus to what we do in church, or during a service – you might call it our religious performance – that we lose sight of the reason God has gathered us together into one place. He even told us not to turn away from that practice. The purpose of our Sunday worship is to give praise to God in all His persons, and in doing so to remind ourselves of who He is and who we are, but it is also about refreshing us and restoring us for the following week of the ministry and mission to which each of us has a calling. Even if we are highly qualified to lead what happens on Sunday morning that isn’t the end of the story – it has an ongoing purpose well beyond the walls of the church, our call is still outwards. Our task sounds like the manifesto of a particularly feisty political party, and yet this is a God-given task we can’t shrug. [Matthew’s record of the parable of the sheep and the goats is a terrifying reinforcement of that in Jesus’ own words – so we ignore them at our peril.] The message is simple, “it’s you, the chosen people, that I’ve called to set the world free of oppression”. Hence the Civil Rights campaign in the US was spear-headed by prominent and courageous Christian leaders.
God has fashioned you in the work of His saving grace to make you more than a shining example of His tremendous love. According to Paul, writing to the Ephesians, we are the previously unqualified beneficiaries of God’s life transforming grace, releasing us from the burden of our own disabling sin and rebellion. But we are saved to an astonishing purpose (good works) that has been envisioned and set in place from the very beginning. This goes back beyond our existence to the very founding of God’s wonderful plan for us and all humankind. So you are put together in a way that has a particular work of God in view – that’s what constitutes your calling. For this, as we saw perviously, God has generously enabled you with gifts carried by His Spirit straight from the throne room of heaven.
No talent or gift is so small that you can safely bury it, thinking that no-one will miss it, or miss you. So long as you behave yourself – that’s enough right? What could God possibly ask for than for you to be good? Trouble is, as every parent knows, goodness is entirely based in and measured by obedience. Being good is a thing we do – and yet how many times have you been lead to believe that being good was about NOT doing things, rather doing specific things? So for Jesus, the piety of the least gifted one (one talent servant) was irrelevant to the purpose of his favour and giftedness. There was an expectation of some gain, some exercise of faith, some effort, from even a small gift like his. It is too easy to underestimate the significance of our talent or gift if we relate it to the talent of others, and yet in God’s economy, faithfulness in small ways is a matter of huge significance; both for the gifted one and for those they helped, and for the Kingdom of God. So if you don’t put your talent to work, you are the poorer, as is those for whom you were sent, as is the Kingdom, no matter your gift’s apparent significance or lack of it,
It doesn’t matter how well you do it, so long as you do it for His sake and in an attitude of loving service, what matters is that you do – do it that is! Give yourself a break, and give what you can’t keep. Be a blessing. Look for ways to serve, to help, to lead, to change the world in even small ways. If you don’t know what to do ask…tell someone in leadership that you’d like to get involved and with what gift or talent you believe you have from God.
You will change, our church will change, and ultimately the world will change.