This is the time of year to stuff a Thanksgiving turkey and then be stuffed full by a meal spread out on a table that can barely hold up under the weight; what we learn from the English to call “a groaning board.”
Some preachers may use the “groaning board” to lay a guilt trip for feasting without thanking God, the Creator-Giver, of Whom we sang on our way into worship: All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; That thank the Lord, thank the Lord, for all His love. and, the guilt trip for eating without sharing, not just one day but every day, knowing hunger never takes a holiday.
The Gospel read on this Sunday before our nation’s proclaimed “Day of Thanksgiving,” has us listening to the master Teacher-Preacher, Jesus, Who begins His story-sermon with the line: “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”
Those who stand around listening know the story behind His story: About a generation earlier Caesar Augustus became ruler of the Roman Empire which meant kings of the provinces under Roman rule had to come and plead to be reappointed. That included Herod, king of the Jews, who, while in Rome, had to entrust his kingdom to temporary rulers. If they proved to be wise administrators, they could expect to be rewarded by Herod and by his successor. If not, they could expect to be punished.
Hear, then, with ears that pick up the echo of that time in history and let it take on meaning for us on this “Thanksgiving and Bible Sunday.” Listen on this double-titled Sunday and hear Jesus’ Gospel story serving a double purpose: First, that God’s gifts in creation are “talents” entrusted to us, and second, that the story is read in the Bible, which the Hebrews called Scripture “bread,” and as they read and savored the words, they sang, (Psalm 34:8) “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
Now when the fruits of the fields and trees and seas are harvested, and feasts cause Thanksgiving tables to “groan” from the weight of the yield, pick up the Hebrews’ song echoing through Scripture, and open the Bible to Jesus’ story that revolved around the word “talent,” which His first listeners knew referred to the coin whose weight determined its worth. If it was of gold, one talent by today’s standards (in 2016), would be worth around $1, 250, 000. If of silver about $16,500. When Jesus told the story, it might have been $1,000. which was a sizable annual salary; and so, even the one talent man would have had a substantial income. (From “Talent” Wikipedia)
Think about and celebrate the “five” and “two” talent offerings, not for their original value when weighed, but after being “invested,” in ways that served and blessed others.
Hear how the first and second reported back, saying, “…you gave…I have made more…” Hear, and ask, “If we are able to be one of the two, how are we turning the ‘talents’ with which God had blessed us into ‘something more’ to share, to pass on to others?”
In the setting of this season and the upcoming holiday for feasting, “How might we turn ‘Thanksgiving’ into ‘Thanks-living’?” Or, how might we accept Gandhi’s counsel: “Live simply so others may simply live?”
And, then there is that one talent person in Jesus’ story who reminded Audrey West of her grandmother who claimed to have hidden a small jar of coins behind the garden. After she died, her uncles repeatedly scoured the yard with metal detectors in a fruitless attempt to locate the buried treasure. Years later they discovered a jar of silver dollars tucked behind a can of seed-beans on a shelf above her washing machine. It turns out that’s what “behind the garden” was for Grandma. (Quoted fromSunday’s Coming, from the Christian Century for Nov. 19, 2017) Hear Jesus tell of that third individual and ask, “Am I that person who is ‘burying’ my one, and only one, God-given gift, for fear of having it further diminished by others’ criticism or my own self-judgment that trashes my God- given worth, and wastes the one-talent blessing with which God has blessed me?”
The test is whether or not, like that talent-hiding person in Jesus’ story, we fear hearing the story’s last line: After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.”?
It’s that question which really has Jesus’ story tying Thanksgiving and Bible Sunday together, as He draws us into the scene and has us asking which one of the three we are; the first two who use a national day of Thanksgiving as a time to see ourselves receiving life as a gift from God, given to be turned into prayers and songs of thanks to God and simple gifts that become blessings to others?
When hearing Jesus’ story about talents on Bible Sunday might we let ourselves be pulled in to become one of the two, and, as we let that happen, might we find ourselves saying, “‘We really like ‘getting to know the Book that knows us’?”
An elderly man who sat at the table in his one-room cabin, reading his Bible every night by the light of a candle, was a familiar sight to a hiker who often passed by. One time he stopped to ask the man why he bothered to read such a Book and the answer he heard was “Because I find myself on every page.”
It is the Book that moved William Waldsham How to write: “It is the golden casket Where gems of truth are stored; It is the heaven-drawn picture Of Christ the living Word.”
Some might say they need to “dig up” the Bible, to take it from a shelf, to blow off the dust and begin to work at getting to see themselves on every page. But, the truth is, a Bible doesn’t need to be “dug up.” Now a Bible is as close as a webpage or an Iphone and the webpage address: www.oremusbiblebrowser.com and type in any book, chapter, verse of the Bible and scroll from page to page and find the Jesus Whose stories we read, is waiting to introduce Himself to us, and through Him to God, and to one another, and when we let that happen, the self we get to know is the self that has us saying, “Thanks be to God!” Amen.
Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel is the pastor of Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Collegeville, PA