On this, the next-to-the-last Sunday of the church year, we hear one resounding theme in all our readings: "Stay awake. Be alert. Be found working with what you have been given."
For Christians in the early church, this was a message of absolute urgency, especially because much of the ancient church, as we hear implied in Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, believed that Christ's return was imminent. But what about us living in the 21st century? We might be tempted to be a little less urgent in our hope for Christ's return, so being prepared for it also carries a little less urgency.
Yet for our time, there may be another reason to be found hard at work, to remain alert, to avoid burying our gifts in a field while we wait for our master's return. We live in an era of incredibly fast change, and as we struggle to maintain and build our communities, we must constantly be aware of the changes occurring in the needs of the world we serve. What worked in building our faith communities 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even only last year may not work today. The landscapes of this country and the greater world are in rapid transition, and as a church both locally and nationally, we cannot remain as we were and expect to be accessible and open to such a radically changing world.
Prevalent in Jesus' parable today is the fascinating conversation between the master and the slave who hid his master's talent in the ground. It is, in so many ways, a discourse for our times, a study of our struggle as a church in transition: "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."
In a world of change, it may well be that God is in the business of reaping where we least expect the Spirit to have sown, gathering where Christianity's seed was apparently not scattered. Today's Gospel is an invitation for us to look outside of our stayed, historical boundaries at a world where God, at times like an opportunist, is harvesting spiritual abundance in the most unlikely places.
For us living in a land that is increasingly unchurched, this invitation can, in fact, be a declaration of our mission. We can no longer expect to harvest where Christianity once sowed. Our newest members, and our most abundant resources to grow as the Body of Christ, may be found amongst those who have never before darkened the door of the church, amongst those who have never even considered the Christian faith viable.
Our greatest temptation is to be like the bad slave, to be afraid of being bold enough to try something new; to be scared of investing our gifts given to us not simply for ourselves, but for a world in need.
Investing our talents, it seems, means far from hiding them, but carrying our gifts for ministry into the most unlikely fields of mission -- sinking our resources into endeavors that we might not have imagined yesterday; of getting "outside the box" of our normal way of being and doing as a community in Christ and of really throwing our doors open wide; but not only so that people can walk in, but so that we can walk out into a changed world with the message of the Gospel.
What must await us there is the promise of the parable, that some of us will double, and perhaps even more than double, our investment as we participate with God in the practice of reaping where we did not sow, and gathering where we did not ever scatter.
And what also awaits us there is precisely what we seek in the deepest places of our hearts, the one thing we know that will conquer our fears of change, our fears of trying something new. For if God is anything at all like the master in today's parable, when we walk out into the world, we are going to meet God's Spirit there, waiting for us; and not just to settle our accounts, but to invite us into the joy of an abundant life that Christ is preparing for all Creation.