Sermon - Sunday, 23 September 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 23 September 2018.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11 / Matthew 25: 14-30

Text: For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.                                                                                     (Matthew 25: 29)


My colleague, Stewart McQuarrie, is chaplain at the University of Glasgow.

Those of you who are Glasgow graduates will know the University has its own chapel, a beautiful sanctuary where among many other couples, my parents were married.

As well as worship services the chapel is open each day for people to pray – and sitting in his office one day, Stewart became aware someone was playing the chapel’s piano.

Looking at the webcam he realised the pianist was one of the university cleaners – and it wasn’t chopsticks the young janitor was playing but concert standard Chopin preludes.

Aleksander Kudajczyk was the janitor come pianist.

Aleksander started learning to play the piano when he was four years of age and, before coming to Scotland from Poland, he had worked as a professional musician.

Until that morning when he was cleaning the chapel, neither Stewart nor any other member of the university staff had any idea of his talent.

And what a talent it was too.

Arrangements were soon made for Aleksander to practice on the chapel piano and he was invited to play at Glasgow’s West End Festival.

Talent: whether it is the talent to play the piano or another musical instrument, the talent to sing, the talent to paint, to bake well or play a particular sport well, I suspect at some point in life we have all admired someone’s talent – and perhaps felt a little envious of it too.

Whatever else it lacks, Cramond Kirk does not lack people with talent.

Whether it is in the life of our own congregation and community, or shared with our neighbouring congregations at the Old Kirk & Muirhouse and Drylaw, or through the Councils and Committees of the General Assembly, one of the joys of being the minister at Cramond Kirk is to see the willingness of so many people to put their gifts and talents to such good use.

As you know, the ministry of the whole people of God is one of the key principles of the Reformation.

And if the Reformed understanding of ministry was to some extent a reaction to the very priestly centred ministry of the medieval Catholic church, one of the purposes of our stewardship project Cramond Cares – will you help us do more? is to renew and refresh this distinctive understanding of ministry as something involving the whole people of God.

Ministry, the life, worship and activity of Cramond Kirk, is something in which we all have a part to play and as Jesus’ parable of the three servants makes clear, we each have a responsibility to make best use of our God given talents.

This is a tough parable with a tough message and as you heard it being read this morning, I wonder if your sympathy was aroused for the third servant, the one who hid his master’s money in the ground and was condemned as wicked and lazy?

And what did you make of the master saying;

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.

Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him

Let me explain…………….

Coming near the end of Matthew’s gospel, and framed by the parables of the wise and foolish brides and the sheep and the goats, the prevailing wisdom of the Biblical scholars is that the 3rd servant in Jesus’ parable represents the religious authorities of Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees.

Based upon what they believed God had given their ancestor Moses, the scribes and Pharisees understood their purpose in life was to teach and preserve the purity of the law.

According to them, obedience to the law was THE mark of faithfulness and because it was THE mark of faithfulness, they sought to keep the law exactly as it was, in their words, ‘to build a fence around the law.’

Jesus sought to tear that fence down.

In Jesus’ view religious truth, the claims and promises of God, the divine gifts of generosity, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness and love, had become paralysed by this obsession with law.

Jesus wondered what kind of religion it was which allowed a farmer to rescue his animal if it fell into a ditch on a Sabbath but forbade him from healing someone crippled or feeding someone who was hungry.

By contrast to this stultifying, life-inhibiting approach, Jesus promised his followers life, life in all its fullness.

Acknowledging the importance of law, and declaring the greatest of the commandments was the commandment to love, Jesus called his disciples to follow his way of love, to risk his way of love, a love that reached out, a love which refused to walk past on the other side of human need, a love which brought healing and reconciliation, a sacrificial love which took Jesus to Calvary and a cross, and a love which gave birth to the new life of Easter dawn.

The harsh judgment of the parable was that the third servant, the lazy and wicked one, knew nothing of this Christ-like love.

There was no spirit in his heart and no fire in his soul.

He gave nothing, offered nothing, did nothing and risked nothing.

Instead he buried his talent in the ground and returned it to his master, unsullied, untarnished and unused.

Here is the heart of the parable, the 3rd servant’s refusal to grasp the God given opportunity to use his God given talent and his unwillingness to risk something for his master.

This is what condemned him.

And here is the lesson of the parable – in the life of faith service is the only ethic, the service of God and the service of one another.

And paradoxically, if the reward for the life of service is not a pat on the back, commendation for good work well done, but yet more service – take the talent from him and give it to the one with 10 talents - then the punishment for a failure to serve is to be denied the opportunity to serve at all.

This is one of the insights St Paul sought to convey in his letter to the church at Corinth.

Although living in Ephesus at the time, Paul had been concerned to learn about factions and divisions in the church at Corinth, of moral irregularities and abuse of the Lord’s Supper.

One of Paul’s purposes in writing was to stress that although people had different gifts and abilities, as gifts of the one Spirit they were equally valuable and were to be offered in the service of the one Lord.

So it was Paul wrote while one person might have the gift of wisdom, another person the gift of healing, another the gift of prophecy or of teaching, each gift was vital to the health and well-being of the church and the building up of Christ’s kingdom.

And if it was a question for the people of the early church it is a question for us today.

Some years ago we took the risk of changing the pattern of our Sunday worship.

We created the chapel area and adopted the present pattern of Morning Prayers and Morning Worship.

Some years ago we took the risk of developing and extending the Kirk halls and thank goodness we did for our halls are at the heartbeat of this community.

Some years ago we wondered how we might support people who were homeless and it gave birth to Fresh Start.

Fresh Start has helped thousands of people make a home for themselves.

So what about today, what about the opportunities and challenges facing us as a congregation, what gifts and talents are we willing to risk for God.

This is one of the questions posed by our stewardship project, Cramond Cares – will you help us do more?

These are challenging times for the Church of Scotland.

With some pride we look back at the rich heritage of Presbyterianism and the way it has shaped this nation, its commitment to education, its concern for social welfare, the breadth of its international vision and the strength of its democratic principles.

Given we do as well as many congregations and better than most, it would be all too easy to hold tight, guard what we have, bury our talent and offer back to God that which we have been given, unsullied, untarnished and unused.

Whatever else it suggests, the condemnation of the 3rd servant suggests in the life of faith that approach was never good enough and never will be good enough.

Just as in Christ God did something, offered something and risked something, as the people of Christ’s church we are called to do the same.

And the exciting thing is, the more we do, the more we will be given to do.

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen