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Toshiki Toma

Being faithful with a few small things

Flutt 12. febrúar 2017 · í enskri messu í Breiðholtskirkju

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen.

1.
Today’s Gospel is a teaching about how we are supposed to utilize the grace that God our Father gives us. We might feel something strange in this parable, but it is probably because that God is described here as a hard and merciless master and also the story is modeled on business, how to earn money. But otherwise, the parable is rather easy to understand.

A master is about going to a journey and before he leaves he calls upon three servants and entrusts each of them certain amount of money. The first servant gets 5 talents, the second one 2 talents and the last one 1 talent. “Talent” is a measuring unit for weight first of all, and one talent is about 35kilograms.

So when “talent” is used for currency, one talent means 35 kilograms of silver or gold. Scholars say that one talent mentioned in the New Testament would response to 1.000 to 30.000 dollars today. Then 5 talents would be at least about 570.000 Icelandic crowns, and at most 1,7 million Icelandic crowns.

Now we can see that this is not a small amount of money, at least for me. Those servants were entrusted money for investment.
And what happened to them?

The first and the second servants succeeded in earning more money using the talents that had been given to them and could answer to the master’s expectation up to certain degree.

But the third one, who had been given one talent, was scared of failing and just kept it in the ground, and naturally he could not show any profit from the money. And the master scolded him harshly since the servant had not made even the smallest effort that was to deposit the money in the bank in order to collect interests.

2.
As we can understand easily, Jesus is not talking about money. Today, the word “talent” is not used to indicate weight or value. “Talent” is used to say about some particular ability for doing something. We can use also the word “gift” to indicate the same thing as “talent”. Jesus is teaching how we should use the talent or the gift that God our Father is giving to us.

Each of us is receiving some talent from God. But it depends on us ourselves if we can use the talent well so that it will bring appropriate fruit and we ourselves can enjoy the talent with thanks to God, or if we are afraid of the failure and cannot make use of our talent like the last servant in the parable.

Some people, like world famous athletes, have outstanding talent, much more than others. I heard that in China, the sport authorities are always paying attention to small kids, and if some kid shows obvious talent, for example in gymnastics, the kid is put on a special course of training so that the child can make the best use of his or her talent.

But for many of us, it is not necessarily clear what kind of talent we have. It’s not so easy to find it out.
And also we don’t necessarily find ourselves in circumstances where we can use our talent or nourish it so that it will bring its fruit in the future.

Some of you are not in the environment where you can use your education or learned skill because you are still new here. Some others are prevented from developing their talents because of their status as refugees.

If we are in such a situation, then how should we understand today’s teaching of Jesus? What is his message for us?

3.
If we look at the Gospel once again, when the master is giving the money to the three servants, it says: “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability.”(Mt.25:15)

“According to his own ability” is a key word here. The master didn’t just give them money. He was paying attention to how each servant was. Which means God our Father does the same to us.

“Ability” has two sorts of meaning in this context. The first and the most common meaning relates to the potentiality each person has. The second meaning relates to the temporal ability in each person’s current situation. Someone might be fighting with illness, some another might be occupied with his newborn baby or another one might be in refuge.

But still God gives us some talent in that situation. Maybe it is easier to understand the word “talent” here as “opportunity”, opportunity to do something that delights God and ourselves at the same time.

I remember I saw a short video a month ago. It was about Syrian refugees in Greece. You know there were unusually cold days in Greece about a month ago, minus 10 degrees or more. In that coldness, some Syrian refugees made a team and they went to visit homeless people in the area and delivered some food that they had spared by themselves.

Those Greek homeless people were thankful for the decent work of the refugees and maybe they changed how they looked at refugees around them.

The Syrian refugees must have their own profession in their home country according to their talent like a medical doctor, teacher or bakery. But in the situation where they are right now, they have decided to do something good for the others. They have used the opportunity that was in their hands.

4.
And there is another key word in the Gospel today. “You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things(…)”(Mt. 25:21,23) To be faithful with a few things is positively estimated twice in the parable.

What do “a few things” mean here? It’s not about the number of things. It is about a small, minor thing that we might not appreciate or value in our daily lives. If I am entrusted a million Icelandic crowns, I wouldn’t call it “a few things” or “a small thing”, but for this rich master, it must have been a small thing. Anyway, that’s not the point.

The point is that Jesus is teaching us that we should pay attention to the small opportunities that we encounter every day and we have in our hands. We are supposed to make use of them well.

Perhaps we may think that the Syrian refugees in Greece whom I have mentioned are good example of using a small opportunity in the way God is fond of. If we ignore the small opportunities in our daily lives, then God will not let us be in charge of something bigger.

About this, there is a famous phrase that says the same thing from the opposite direction. “God is in the details”. Have you ever heard this phrase? Modern architect Mies van der Rohe quoted this and made it well known.

The meaning is that generally in art, a work can be estimated as a whole work and people might praise its beauty or completeness as a whole. But those who know the art well enough recognize the real marvelous value that is dwelling in a tiny small part of the work. Namely, a big magnificent painting, if it is really wonderful work, consists of many excellent small parts. The artist is thus faithful with small things.

5.
Splendor art might be a bit away from us. To make things closer to our daily lives, let me tell from my own experience.

I was ordained as a Lutheran priest when I was 31 years old. Just before the ordination, my teaching pastor told me: “Toshiki, after you become pastor, you will have many opportunities to write short essays to the church news letter or to say short messages in meetings of ladies or young people. First few years, you had better to take good care of each opportunity with your full ability. Don’t make fun of any of those small things. That will be benefit for you yourself.” And I followed the advice.

I recognized that this was one of few “golden advices” in my life after I moved to Iceland only two years after my ordination. I moved to Iceland because I was married with Icelandic woman at that time. When I came here, I had no language, no job, no close friend, no qualification to serve as a pastor in the church. Almost nobody saw me as a pastor. I was just an Asian immigrant.

I could get only few opportunities to speak in some meeting in the church or write something to the public. So when I had an opportunity to speak or write, I did take good care of it and did it with my best. And gradually it began to bare good results and bring me more opportunities for writing sermons or essays.

Once I went to RÚV to make a recording of the morning prayers of the week. I wrote down prayers in advanced and exercised in reading in Icelandic. I was ready when I came to the studio. And the girl who was in charge of the recording was happily surprised: “Wow! You have prepared so well! You know, some priests open the book in this studio and begin to think what they should say!”

I simply cannot do it. I need to prepare well if I want to be faithful with small things. I am not at all an outstanding pastor, but the important thing is that I am enjoying myself in my work by trying to be faithful with each opportunity in this way.

Each of us is receiving from God our Father our life-time purpose corresponding to our own talent and also small everyday opportunities that we can take in our hands no matter how our situation is right now.

And Jesus is already supporting us so that we can stand on the solid foundation. “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”(I Cor. 3:11)

It’s up to us, weather we try to make use of the grace and try to bring more fruit for our gratitude to God or just sleep on the grace. It’s up to us. But I know that we will make use of the grace from God for our life-time purpose by being faithful with small things that we encounter every day, won’t we?

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.

Text is here: Matthew 25:14-30

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