Nov. 15: Bodil Skjøtt

Matt. 25:14-31 and 1.Thess. 5:1-11

What do you do while you are waiting?

Before coming to HK and to TFS we had to do a lot of waiting. Waiting is not one of my virtues – as my husband can tell you. We get restless and impatient – especially if you don’t know for how long you will have to wait or will what you are waiting actually ever happen.

While we were waiting here there really wasn’t anything, we could do to make what we waited for happen. We could not change the situation with Covid and make it go away. We couldn’t change the way the HK administration here chose to deal with the challenge – closing down offices, only handle  important applications, etc. I am sure a visa application for a senior-volunteer at a Christian institution wasn’t high on their list. It was hard not to ask the question: When? Or will we ever be able to go? However, the most relevant and constructive questions was this: What do we do while we are waiting?

I thought of this while reflecting on the text for this Sunday. Too often we as the church are more interested in speculating on when our master will return or discussing if it is even relevant to believe that He will. But the one question today’s Gospel reading from Matt challenges us with is this: What do we do while we are waiting?  

Luckily, we found good things to do, while waiting. Books to read, people to visit, etc. The kind of things you often want to do but don’t find the time for. From a zoom call we had with some of you and emails from others we learned that you were praying for us and eagerly waiting for us to come as well. That was a blessing and made us eager to get here and exciting about our adventure. I want to thank you for that. I am sure Simon and Thea and Joshua and Levi feel the same.

In the church calendar we are in the season leading up to advent. After service last Sunday we even talked about the advent wreath and I got to know that this is one of the things we as senior volunteers can do: Take care of our advent wreath and make sure it stays fresh. Shops and supermarkets also tell you that we are approaching the holiday season: Shopping malls greet you with Christmas decorations and Christmas music. But, Christmas is not the focus of our waiting. It isn’t when it comes to advent and nor is it when it comes to where we are in the story of Jesus for this Sundays.

In today’s text, we are in the last part of the story of Jesus’ life. He has finished his ministry in the Galilee, he has entered Jerusalem, he knows what is ahead of him in the next few days: His suffering and death on the cross, but also His resurrection. What we are listening to here are some of the very last instructions – or teachings of Jesus. When a person knows he or she has little time left, they will focus of what is crucial, what is important and leave out other things. This is important. Time is running out. And Jesus knows.

Jesus will soon finish his ministry and will leave it to his disciples to continue what he began – until he returns. For he will return. That is what we are waiting for. The questions raised by Jesus in these parables to his disciples – and to us – are these: How to wait? And what to do while we wait? What should life look like while waiting? He will return – There is no question about that.  No, we do not know when. Not even Jesus knows, he says. Only His father in heaven. It will be like a thief in the night. If we knew the thief was coming, we would be ready – call the police or get extra locks on the door. But as the Bible tells us: We don’t know the time and we don’t need to know. And this should not fill us with fear. What we do know is that we, as disciples of Jesus, belong to the day! God did not appoint us to suffer but to receive salvation – to live. As we heard from 1 Thess. Jesus died – so that we might live. We are to encourage each other with this message – not to be scared but to be at peace. We are people of hope.  We are people waiting for the king, waiting for the master. We wait – not with uncertainty – but with anticipation and with hope. We should – as Paul says, “encourage one another and build each other up”.

How do we do that?

Last Sunday we heard about how we should be waiting. We should be ready! Keep watch! We do not know the day or the hour. But what we know is that the wedding feast will happen, the bridegroom will come – the king will return. Therefore: Be ready! Keep watch! Be faithful. Don’t be like the servant who takes advantage of his master being gone – as Jesus says in chapter 24 – or don’t behave like in the classroom when the teacher leaves them for short while.

And then Jesus goes on the tell the parable we just read – still related to the theme of His returning. The question this parable leaves us with is this: What do we do while waiting?

He tells the story of a man going on a journey and leaving his property to his servants. We sometimes call it the parable of the talents. Or the parables of the bags of gold. Sometimes the word talent can limit our understanding. We think of the talents we have as individuals and how we use them. But the story is really about the property of the master and how his servants are to be stewards of all that the master has entrusted them with while is he gone. What they do with it while they are waiting for his return?

We easily focus our attention on the three servants. It might be worthwhile just to look at what we can discern from the story about the master. He is obviously both very rich and very generous. A talent is unit of currency worth more than we can even imagine. One talent – if we can do this calculation – equals many years’ salary. Five talents – or five bags of gold – is more than any person could ever dream of earning in a whole lifetime. We don’t really need to figure out the amount. It is A LOT! That is what those listening to the parable was hearing: This master is a very rich and very generous and trusting. This is the master we are waiting for, a master who has entrusted us with all his riches. We are as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: blessed …  in the heavenly realm with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Paul continues in the next chapter and say:  He has created us in Christ to do good works (Eph2:10). We are called to service and generously equipped to do so. The question is: Will the servants be faithful with what their mater has entrusted them with – will we be faithful.

It is a parable about stewardship – while we are waiting. All that we have really belongs to the generous master who has entrusted us with much more than we can ever imagine. While waiting, what do we do with our talents – our bags of gold? They are ours – to steward – not to own, but to be used for His glory and for the sake of His Kingdom – until He returns.

Tithing can be a good thing. But it can also lead us to believe that when we have given the 10 % the rest is for us to use. Or we can become Sunday Christians. My Christian life is lived on Sundays or when I am together with other Christians and we do Christian things together. When you travel the train here you sometimes hear this as you leave the train to step onto the platform: “Mind the gap, please!” Perhaps we should have sign over the door of our churches as we step out into Monday and the rest of the week: Mind the gab! – the gap between Sunday and Monday. The gap between who I am when in church and who I am at work.  Or a sign I saw once over the door of the church building as you left after Sunday service: Welcome to service! These are actually the words we will hear at the end of this service when we are sent out with the words: Go in peace to love and serve the lord.  

We have masters whom we serve, our bosses, our leaders. Those who pay our salaries. Yes, but as disciples of Jesus we also have another master and whatever we do we should do it as for him: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord (Col 3:23). This is true for the teacher, the shop keeper, the repair-worker and so on.  It is a wrong division when we talk about secular work and Christian work. We are all disciples – missionaries or stewards – of what the generous, loving and risk-taking master has entrusted us with – till he returns.

God’s word is never just words – the word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. We know what God says from what God does. We hear his word by doing what it says. Christian faith is never a philosophy or a theory, but it is a life lived where His people demonstrate who their master is. And we do so as we cry out “God have mercy” – on us and on our brokenness – as we live our lives in a broken world but also a world that God still claims as His own and a world to which He will one day return to restore it. How do we live our lives while we wait for that day to come? That is the challenge – or the question – to us from today parable.

It is becoming much too obvious in our world today that stewardship has been treated as ownership. This is true when it comes to the natural resources in our world. We have spent, used and overused – and not been caretakers.  We have let greed and convenience decide. It has created imbalance in nature bot also among people. Therefore, we see refugees and people leaving their home in search of life somewhere else. We have created a dangerous imbalance also among peoples and in our greed, we took what was ours to steward as if it was ours to use and to own.

The parable tells us that the servants are different. The master entrusted them with different amounts – all according to their ability. This is not a competition. God will not hold us accountable beyond our ability. This is a good thing. And whether the servants got five, two or one, they all got a lot! The master is generous. The servants with the five and the two bags we are told are eager to return both the five that have become ten and the two that have become four. They know themselves to be stewards – not owners. They did well but they did not create something that was not there. Only God creates out of nothing. They took care of what the master gave them. We, too, are to be caretakes. Not owners. We can never give to God what is not already his. But as the master here, God is pleased with what we do with what is already his. Listen to his response to the two servants: Well done good and faithful servant! Go share in your master’s happiness.

This is what God’s kingdom will one day look like: A day of joy and happiness. But this kingdom is already here, and it is to be seen in our lives here and now. There is joy in using all the gifts of our master to his glory. May this be where we find meaning, and our purpose and our joy – a joy filled with hope and a joy that cannot perish. Because it relates to eternity – to the return of the king.   

We cannot avoid the last part of the story. Here we meet the servant who knew his master as a hard man. And we can wonder where that impression came from. He was certainly also generous master who had trusted this servant.  This servant has not waisted the money – like the prodigal son did with his inheritance. But he had refused to be a steward or neglected it and gone on strike. Is that what we do when we become hearers but not doers of God’s word. Not willing to commit. Are we Sunday Christians, giving our tithing and keeping the rest to ourselves? We are not called to bury our talents – to be passive. We are called to be doers of the word. It is interesting to notice the story Jesus tells following this one. It is about the sheep and the goats, those on the right and those on the left. And the question asked by those on the left side who were not allowed into the kingdom but rather told: Depart from me. They ask: When did we see you hungry or thirsty or in prison? And the answer is: You saw the hungry, the thirsty and the prisoners. But you ignored them. You chose not to use the talents I gave you to steward.

We are chosen not to be passive or only to hear, but to be doers of God’s word – while we wait. It is said that the phrase. “Do no harm” is the boast of a stone. We are called not just to do no harm, but to do good!  Called to love God and we do that be loving our neighbors.

One thing most preachers would rather avoid is to have to talk about hell. But Jesus talks about hell. He does so in all the parables here in Matt 24-25. Let’s not ignore that. There is a warning. But is comes from a generous master who has entrusted us with every spiritual blessing in Christ and who longs to say to his servants: Good, well done, Come and share your master’s happiness. In love he calls – and in love he warns us. In love he says to us: Be watchful, keep watch, be faithful with what I have entrusted you. In love he says: Be warned. I love you too much to leave you ignorant.

As the people of God, we live in anticipation of the master’s return. Yes, we have done so for more than 2000 years. But we do so considering His resurrection and in the presence of our resurrected and risen savior. This is our assurance and hope in a broken world. We are people of hope – and waiting. The question this day is: What are you doing to while you are waiting. Not just for advent, not just for Christmas, but for the return of our king who longs to say to us: Come and share your master’s happiness.  

Bodil F. Skjoett, TFS senior volunteer